An Interview With a Professional Filmmaker
This week I sat down with Brandon Thompson to discuss his career in the film field, how he got there, and his company BT Media Pro. Brandon is a graduate of Middle Georgia State University whose career focuses on documentary-style production including actual documentaries, promotional videos, and news. In his own words he has conducted “Lots and lots and lots of interviews.” His company offers free lance as well as full service editing. Here is what he had to say about his past, present and future career:
Adam: What made you want to get into film?
Brandon: So in high school I started out doing high school stuff like IT design and stuff like that so I guess you could say I was kind of already in multimedia but not quite video production. So I got started at Macon State and a guy that I knew, he was actually my high school drama teacher’s husband at the time. He was in MSCTV and in the communications program and when I started interacting with him I got into MSCTV, which is now Knight TV or whatever the current name is. So meeting him and getting into that, that got me into the CIT program Communications and Information Technology, that’s what the NMAC program was at the time. I got in that, I had planned to go to UGA but I ended up liking the program and stuff and ended up running MSCTV my junior year and that’s what got me interested.
Adam: After you graduated how did you get started in the film industry?
Brandon: So I had done a few internships while I was a student. I had done WMAZ when I was in my sophomore year which, um, I enjoyed but also realized I didn’t want to work in broadcast news. For multiple reasons. One being the pay. Like a reporter around here might make $23,000 (per year). As a student still I did an internship with Graduate Sky Productions. I learned a lot from them. After I graduated I got in touch with a few people, but the one that worked out was Scott Park with Spark Media. He had put out an ad for an intern, I got in touch with him, I said, “Hey I’m not interested in an internship but I just graduated, here’s some of my work, I’d like to work for you for pay if you’re interested.” He got back to me, he was interested, I did some freelance work for him, both field and editing, a good mix of both, did that. So I probably started that August after I graduated, which was May 2009, so I worked with him about 15–20 hours a week. He kind of changed his business models and plans a little bit after. Nothing bad, he was just moving in a different direction at that point. And that was when I bought my first camera, you know, nice camera, and started my own business. I guess you could say January 2010 was when I started my own thing.
Adam: What are some of the biggest struggles you encountered in the beginning starting your own film company?
Brandon: It’s kind of hard to think back. Um, initial start up costs. My first camera was about $3,000, I bought new, should have bought used probably. I just used a credit card I’m sure. I guess I probably already had computer software so it mostly was just that camera. I had to still be living at home to start up. And getting clients in the beginning. So I was working with a group of guys then, they all had occasional freelance work before me but I honestly learned a lot and they were actually a couple years younger than me but I learned a lot from them about large sensor videography, using your interchangeable lenses on a cinema size sensor, it’s a lot different. Getting good clients in the beginning was difficult. Couple things, kind of serendipity for me, just kind of worked out, clients just seemed to work out for me. I started with Wesleyan, Summer 2010 on a retainer so that kept me very well going. If it hadn’t been for that there’s a good chance it might have not ended up working out for me. That carried me through 2013 or 2014. I also got a client later that year in 2010 that, for at the time, was good budget for me. Some clients were really difficult to work for. I also learned at that point what people who have a sociopathic tendency are like, so I got to learn early on what kind of people you don’t want to work for. Con-artist kind of people, people who just kind of want to manipulate. The tech stuff wasn’t a struggle, learning that side was the easy part. It was getting started that was the hard part.
Adam: What are your biggest struggles on a day-to-day basis in your film career?
Brandon: That’s kind of something I’ve been giving some thought to lately, and the honest thing is that there’s not any more. I don’t have many struggles anymore, and I don’t like that. I don’t want to be comfortable. When you’re comfortable is when you need to continue evolving and expanding. I drove 1200 miles in a week a few weeks back. Freelance jobs are coming pretty quick nowadays. So with a freelance job I may know the city but I may not know exactly where I’m going to be until the night before. Google Maps is awesome but Google Maps doesn’t tell me where to park in metro Atlanta. So normally the people producing will be good about getting that information to me and I got to figure out where I’m going, but that doesn’t make me uncomfortable anymore. At one time it was a little bit nerve wracking, but it isn’t anymore. It’s not that I don’t have struggles. I don’t enjoy editing a ton. At least getting it started. Half of my work right now is freelancing the field. Finances are definitely a struggle. I make good money a job-to-job basis, but keeping quantity of work is the hard part. If I have one job a week, one or two jobs a week that’s great, but I might go a couple of weeks without a job.
Adam: What’s your favorite part about filming and what you do?
Brandon: Working with different people. I get to interact with lots of people. I’m finding myself happiest these days when I’m on the road getting out to somewhere. I find myself happiest when I’m getting out there, working with people, shooting, getting to see something really come together. You know when you’re setting up a shot, or editing, and it comes together and you see it? Up until that point, you know, something will just be fine, but when you get it right you know it.
Adam: What do you consider your worst moment in your filming career?
Brandon: Kind of back to what I was talking about earlier, those rare occasions I’ve had to work with bad people… bad people sounds kind of childish, it’s not very explanatory… working with people who are manipulative. It doesn’t happen often but it drags you down, especially if you have to continue working with them. Like if it’s a short job it’s not bad. But I had one recently, the guy was ok, he wasn’t that bad but he just refused to simply give me a start time and it completely messed up what he wanted me to get just because he wouldn’t give me that small fact that needs to be done. But I’ve only encountered a few out of the several dozens of people I’ve worked with between clients and colleagues but those few stick out with you.
Adam: What is your best moment?
Brandon: I don’t have like any one thing that sticks out but I could list a few. I did a shoot for Time, which is pretty cool, just to be working with time, back in December. It was with Dennis Scott, the former NBA player, all-star. So that was fun. This past weekend I got to film Ludacris, Bastille, The Roots, Kid Rock. The Roots and Ludacris were pretty awesome. So with a lot of my work I don’t get to so much use my ideas, which I’m more of an execution type person in letting other people come up with their ideas and letting me carry them out. I don’t get to come up with my own ideas and work on them too often, so on the occasions that I really fully get to self-correct is pretty awesome. I did a travel log series. Someone local came to me and wanted to do it. Unfortunately I got sick and didn’t get to go on the trip, but I got to do the edit. Stuff like that when I get to really have fun doing the full process and still get paid for it, those are always highlights. The way I see it right now, I’m kind of in a growing phase I think. I’ve learned that I can be comfortable going off, having little information, getting the job done, endurance, travel, I’m good at all those things so I feel like something’s in the works for me later. Not that I’m not enjoying what I’m doing right now, but I’ll get to kind of figure out a little more what my niche is and stick to it at some point. That’s what I think is going to happen at some point down the road.
Adam: Where do you want your film career to go in the future?
Brandon: I honestly don’t know. That’s kind of what I was talking about earlier. I feel like right now I figured out what I can do, and do it well, without being uncomfortable. I can get the job done but now my next step is figuring out my niche and what I really want to be doing. I feel like I might be doing the travel log type series or something like that. I think that’s what I want to be doing, I’m not really sure. But I do think I want to stay in the documentary style, non-fiction. Narrative’s never been my thing. I’d love to do some for fun, but I just don’t see my career being in narrative and, you know, TV shows, as far as dramas go, nothing like that. But I hope to see in the next 5 years where it’s going to go.