For those of you who don’t know, I’m a signed director with Great Guns alongside some amazing talent like David Nutter (Game of Thrones), Dan Tratchenberg (The Boys), and Tom Shankland (House of Cards).
And lot’s of director’s ask me: “How do I get signed???” or “how do I get repped?”
To be honest… breaking into the commercial world is a tough nut to crack.
If you’re not signed it can be hard to break into it. Before getting signed, I was pitching on average projects and the budgets we’re lower than I wanted.
Also working alone and constantly trying to promote yourself can be exhausting. You are a filmmaker, not a sales rep… but unfortunately, you probably feel like a sales rep / producer 80% of the time.
You’re busy trying to sell your services, land gigs, and hire people. And barely have time to be creative.
Friday comes around you spent the entire week paying bills and sorting through spreadsheets. You haven’t touched a camera at all.
You’re stuck at that level below commercial director and can’t seem to break the glass ceiling.
I’ve been there…and after SEVEN YEARS I of hustling I started having conversations with commercial production companies.
The dream is to be rep’d by a production company. When you’re signed they sell you.
This means more jobs, better creative briefs, higher budgets, and more credibility.
It also means a company that supports and helps you grow with a team of talented producers and sales reps.
Being rep’d means you can concentrate more on what you love. The creative vision. The story. And most important… DIRECTING.
This sounds like a dream. So how do you breakthrough and get signed? I wish it was a straight forward path. But maybe my experience can help.
STEP 1.) DO AMAZING WORK
The first step is doing amazing work. It can be a short film, music video, or commercial spot. Needless to say, your work needs to be high level and stand out. This is the cornerstone for getting noticed by production companies.
My CEO at Great Guns breaks it down perfectly:
“You get ‘spotted ‘ and you do that by making an incredible piece of work that cannot go unnoticed. Your work talks for you, you don’t talk for your work.
Your passion project is a start, keep shooting, don’t copy your idol, find your style, express it in your work, ask for help, don’t be shy.
Film-makers always give their time if asked in the right way. Ask them when you’re ready.
Curate your work, don’t have any work online that you have to excuse.
Best to have one amazing piece of work, and a promise, than 4 examples that let each other down.“Laura G., GREAT GUNS
I love her advice. One solid piece of amazing work instead of four average spots can change the game for you.
I’ve been saying this all along, but start making stuff. Shoot, create, and create some more. It’s the key to getting noticed, landing more work, and connecting to production companies.
STEP 2.) Be Unique
When I first started out making films in college I shot everything. Weddings, road trips, goofy social media spots… everything.
Over time, I’ve started to niche out my style and create things in my own unique voice. I’ve developed a style that balances grit and beauty. I tell stories that are grounded in real human experiences.
That being said… I don’t do a lot of comedy, VFX heavy work, or polished/clean spots.
When it comes to building your work as a director… you need to do the same. If you’re a generalist, you won’t be noticed for anything. Get specific with your work and become the BEST in that niche.
You could become an expert at food spots. You could even become the ‘rube goldberg’ expert.
After you specialize, then you can start to move into different areas and spread your wings.
Build your foundation first though.
STEP 3.) Build Relationships
The commercial director world is big and small all at the same time. It overlaps with narrative filmmaking, but also contains a different breed altogether.
You can connect with industry folks like Executive Producers and Studio Heads a few natural ways. The most effective route is events.
The creative industry has a lot of awards shows and events throughout the years. There’s big events like Cannes and D&AD. But you can find smaller events that celebrate creativity too (film festivals and advertising awards).
If you live in a smaller town, it’s probably a little more difficult to connect in person. You can still get on a person’s radar by getting your work featured on sites they care about (vimeo, directorsnotes, etc).
Again, your work has to be amazing first… but you can still connect virtually which leads me to my next point.
STEP 4.) Promote Your Work
After you’ve created work that’s unique and solid, it’s time to get it in front of people. I wouldn’t recommend emailing it directly to production companies. But you can do your best to get it featured in places they hang out.
Vimeo is a perfect place where filmmakers and creatives hangout. A Staff-Pick can go a long way and help you get noticed in all the right ways.
I had a short film featured on SHOTS back in the day before I was signed with a company. That gave me some exposure and credibility with industry folks.
Lastly, promoting your work in odd places can definitely help too. LinkedIn groups and Facebook groups are filled with industry professionals.
Create an amazing film and post it in these groups. They love giving feedback and checking out work if it’s solid.
STEP 5.) Work Hard and Get Lucky
Even after you’ve got solid work and started connecting with folks in the industry… it can still feel impossible to break into the commercial world.
I was an unsigned director who started making a name for myself. I did work for McDonald’s, Nissan, and received some decent features online for my work.
I kept making passion projects with my friends, and I’d spend hundreds of hours on them (and my own money).
After a few years, I had a decent reel with a few bigger clients on it. I kept grinding and finished my 5th passion project, WEIGHT about a wrestler.
I posted WEIGHT into a LinkedIn group and got great feedback from the editors in the group. One of the editors was an in-house editor at Great Guns. He passed my film onto a few of the EP’s there. They liked my work and saw potential in me. Next thing you know, the conversation started.
I hope my journey inspires you to keep filming and hustling. Pick up your camera. Write a treatment. Make stuff.
Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let me know if I can provide more specific insight into the commercial world!