I recently had the opportunity to talk with Chris McClain about his videography business, Chris McClain Productions. One part of life that I absolutely enjoy is the arts, and so I had a great time learning about his work and also seeing some of the great videos… including his latest award-winning film… he’s created for other people. I’ve posted a couple of those videos in this interview.
Reading time (Full transcript): 12 minutes.
Reading time (main ideas in bold): 3 minutes.
Listening time (Full interview): 23 minutes.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?Chris McClain
My name is Chris McClain. I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. I am currently 31 years old, married almost 8 years. I have a son on the way coming in the next few weeks. It’s very exciting. And that’s pretty much been occupying most of my time for the last 9 months almost. We’re getting the house ready, child-proof type stuff, buying a crib, baby sheets, clothes, things like that. What else do you want to know about me?Mower
I wear a 14 on some days and a 13 on other days. It depends on the weather.Mower
What can you tell us about your business?McClain
I’m an event film maker which basically is a fancy way of saying I film weddings. A lot of times people will think, “Oh, he’s a video guy.” And that’s basically what I do, but there’s more to it than that obviously.
I started out part time doing an internship with another company, and I found that I really liked it. I got good enough to the point that the owner of that company said, “You know what Chris, you’re doing awesome. I think you should go out on your own.” And so I did. That was about 2 years ago. That was 2008 when I started. I’ve been doing it ever since. I did it part time for about a year, so I’ve been doing it full time for a year now.
While I was doing part time, I worked at The Cheesecake Factory as a bar tender, trying to build up the business doing marketing and getting whatever clients I could, just to prove that I was legit. It’s a difficult business to get into. A lot of times people think, “Oh, I can just go to Best Buy and pick up a camera and go shoot a wedding.” And they can, and it’s better than nothing, but if people are really interesting in preserving that wedding day, that special day, it’s important to have a professional do it because it’s all they do. They’re dedicated to it and know what to look for.
I really enjoy it. There are so many resources out there to help people in the business become better and more efficient. And that’s been my goal. I wanted to start the business right, not grow too fast or take on more than I could handle. I’ve been really dedicated to doing it right from the very beginning: keeping things organized like the books, keeping client material organized so that I wouldn’t lose anything.Mower
Is this something that you studied in school, or is it something that you found an interest in after graduation?McClain
Kind of both… When I was a child, my dad picked up a Sony video camera, one of those big ones that you strap the VCR around your shoulder. My brother, sister, and I started filming shorts. I was about 12 years old, and my brother would have been 15. We would re-enact movies. We redid Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Terminator… the funny thing is that all these movies are rated R. My brother was the terminator, I was John Conner or Kyle Reese, and my sister was Sarah Conner. We’d go through scene by scene and do the whole movie. We’d cut it and edit it ourselves and add music. It all started back then.
When I went to school, I studied those so-called safe subjects: finance, marketing, economics. I ended up graduating in economics. People were like, “What are you going to do with that degree?” and I responded, “I really don’t know.” And I went into the restaurant business, and I was a manager. Before I was at The Cheesecake Factory, I worked at Joe’s Crab Shack. I started out there as a server; I worked myself up into a management position and opened up a few stores. I just wasn’t happy doing that at all. The hours are really long, the pay is horrible, you get talked down to a lot, you have ridiculous expectations, and you always work when everyone else is playing. I’m still working on the weekends, but it’s a real pick me up because weddings are one of those fun events. It’s something so special in somebody’s life that I feel it’s more like an honor for me to be there. It’s like a party every weekend, and I get paid for it. It’s great.
I decided I wanted to go back and study film, so I did. I was at the University of Utah, and I took a bunch of classes up there. And that’s where I found this guy to do the internship with. I did my internship with David Perry Films and he is now one of my best friends. We work together frequently. We have a great time and career relationship. He refers people to me when he’s booked, and I do the same for him. He’s been a great mentor, teacher, and support to getting my business up and running.Mower
I think it’s cool that you have someone who you refer business to and they refer business to you. It seems a lot of people are selfish when it comes to business.McClain
Yeah. There’s an organization here in Utah, I’m the president this year, and it’s called the UPVA. It’s an association for videographers and filmmakers. We come together once a month and we typically have a topic that we talk about. Next month our topic is efficiency. We’ll have a speaker, maybe a guest speaker or a member, talk about what they do to become efficient. It’s like a support group where we all get together. Although people see us as competitors, I don’t really see it that way. I see us more as collaborators and colleagues. There are so many “non-professional” people out there who want to jump in and do it, but it’s important to have that education and support.
For example, without the support I would have been in serious trouble. Last June I was on my way to a wedding in Bountiful and a semi truck grounded me. Without the support group I wouldn’t have had anybody to call. But because I was in the UPVA, I was able to call a few guys, explain what happened, and within 20 minutes, they were at the temple waiting for my wedding party to come out of the temple. I would have missed the wedding otherwise. Other people who are by themselves and not in a support organization like this would have been S.O.L.Mower
What’s your favorite part about owning your own business?McClain
My favorite part is the flexibility, creating my own hours, being my own boss, and being creative in my own way. There’s nobody telling you how it’s supposed to be. I have complete freedom of editing the way I want.Mower
How important is creativity to your business?McClain
Very important. If I wasn’t creative and unique I would be just another guy with a camera. To be competitive, especially in Utah because there are so many competitors out there, you have to be different. If you’re not different, you’re like everybody else and there’s nothing special about that.Mower
So how do you make each event unique?McClain
It starts when the couple wants to book me. I don’t take their money right away. I like to get to know them first and before I will take their money to reserve a day, I want to make sure they’re a good fit for me and I’m a good fit for them. I want to make sure our personalities jive together because if we don’t, that wedding day is going to be awkward. They’re not going to be themselves. It’s going to be hard for me to do my job. It’s not going to be as fun.
I make it special by getting to know each couple individually and their stories. When they know me, and I know them, I show up on their wedding day and I’m a friend with the camera. And they trust me completely. They’re not worried about anything, they can be themselves. And when they are themselves, I’m able to capture their day uninhibited because I’m not saying, “Okay, pose like this.” I’ll pose and do shots here and there for dramatic effect, but I focus more on capturing the candid moments as they happen.
I feel that their films turn out infinitely better because of that. It’s not all staged, it’s not like a movie: it’s real life.Mower
This is a two-part question. When you first got started, you mentioned that you found clients while bartending. Can you shed some more light on how you found those clients and how you find them now?McClain
In the restaurant business people are typically pretty young. They’re still in school, and maybe they’re married, and maybe they’re not, so when a server or somebody in the restaurant was getting married I’d say, “I’m a videographer, I’m just getting started. How would you like me to film your wedding for you?” and I’d give them a deal significantly less that I charge now. So that was a way to get my foot in the door and get experience and get material to have a demo to show people so they would book me. Over the span of that year I had enough material to put together a good demo disc.
They also have bridal shows that occur throughout the valley at various locations: Provo high school, Thanksgiving Point, Southtowne Expo, Grand America, all these different places. I did a few bridal shows just to get my name out there. I’d have a booth where I’d hand out my demo disc and a TV playing that showed some weddings. That’s how I got my start.
I still do bridal shows now, but not as involved. I don’t like to have a booth there anymore, because I feel like a used car salesman. People are usually there for the free stuff or the discounts, and I don’t do any discounts anymore. My prices are fixed at the lowest I can do to remain profitable. So what I do instead is put flyers in the gift bags that they give away at the door so I don’t have to physically be there anymore, which is very nice. I can be focused or be filming a wedding that day instead of being there, or I can be working on other projects and finishing things up for other clients.
Most of my business now comes from referrals. I’d say 90% of my work comes from referrals and 10% from new people finding me on the internet. Referrals are the best way to keep in business. These past clients that I’ve worked with feel comfortable with me, and they love their wedding video, so they’re comfortable recommending me to their friends, saying “You know what? This guy will take care of you. He does a great job.” And most of the time these people call me and say, “You did my friend’s wedding, I loved it. I want the same thing…” It’s not going to be the same. I always tell people it’s going to be different and unique specifically to you. That’s how I get most of my business now, through referrals.Mower
What’s the worst part of owning your company?McClain
Paperwork. I hate accounting. I took accounting classes in school and I thought I liked it, but I absolutely can’t stand it now. It’s one of those things that I wish I didn’t have to worry about: handling the different accounts and keeping it all organized. By spending time on things like that I’m losing valuable creative time. It eats into my creative thinking worrying about stuff like that. That would probably be my least favorite thing. I love everything else.Mower
Have you found that social networking has been important to your business?McClain
Absolutely. I try to do a lot of networking with other vendors be it florists, photographers, reception centers, or videographers. I work with tons of photographers. It’s like that organization (UPVA); it helps out a lot.Mower
What’s the best advice that you’ve received?McClain
I guess it’s more like an attitude recommendation. A lot of it comes back to just being supportive of other people who are just getting into the business. I really do want to help people because I was helped. Without that help, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Without David Perry Films, there’s no way I’d be where I am now.
I remember I went to one of these meetings and he said, “A raising tide raises all boats.” I’m a boat; the tide is the information, knowledge, and skill. We all help each other and raise that tide. All of us will be raised. We can all raise the bar. That’s what I’m trying to do. That’s what all of us are trying to do I think, raise the bar.
We’ve all seen those cheesy 1980s wedding videos that are just awful. Go to YouTube and type it in, you’ll just die; it’s like, “I don’t want this at my wedding! Why would I want this?”Mower
And then they end up on America’s Funniest Home Videos.McClain
And the bride’s hair catches on fire.Mower
What’s your view of failure?McClain
Not an option. I have not been cursed with that, knock on wood. Obviously things don’t always go the way you’d want them to. My whole attitude with filming is that things aren’t going to go the way you want them to all the time. Maybe you’re dealing with a difficult photographer who monopolizes the time and doesn’t let me do anything. Or maybe I’m dealing with a really small venue and I can’t get as many shots. I could get frustrated pretty easily with that which could cause me to fail. But I always view things as opportunities.
I was filming a wedding a couple weeks ago. The photographer was taking a really long time to do things. I wasn’t going to have time to do stuff with just the couple. There’s nothing I could really do about it. This other photographer was there and they were getting pretty frustrated with how long he was taking. I was like, “There’s not anything we could do about it. Let’s just enjoy it. If our frustration shows, the bride and groom will know it and that would affect their day.” That would be a failure to me, if my performance or my attitude affected their wedding. I don’t want that. I want them to enjoy their day like I wasn’t even there and then be able to relive it from my non-biased eyes. I think that’s my goal.Mower
What were your fears when you were first starting up?McClain
Everyone has fears when they first start a business. Am I going to make enough money to survive? The answer to that is not yet. I haven’t made a ton of money yet. I’m barely making enough to get by as it is. So that’s a big fear and I think anybody starting a business has that fear.
Am I adequate? Am I able to do this job? And then I guess the fear of failure. Nobody wants to start something and fail at it. I mean it’s going to happen. Inevitably people are going to start and then fail. How many first year businesses go out of business? A lot. What do they say? If a business gets through the first 3 or 4 years then they’re probably in business to stay. I’m not there yet. I’ve only been doing it for 2 years. So there’s that fear, am I still going to be here in 1 year, 2 years, 3 years? And if I’m not, what am I going to be doing? Am I going to be bar tending again? I hope not.
That’s my fear. Would I regress? I don’t see myself doing that. I have faith that I will continue to improve and that people will continue to use my services and that I’ll keep getting better and actually start making money hopefully.Mower
What advice do you have for other people looking to start a business?McClain
Get to know people within that business. If you want to be in photography, get to know photographers. Videography, videographers. If you want to be in marketing, you’re probably going to want to do an internship somewhere. You always have to have experience. You see these movies where people are trying to get hired. They just graduated from MIT, they’re smart, they have a 4.0 GPA but nobody will hire them because they don’t have experience. Get experience first. Find out if it’s something that you really love and are passionate about. If you’re not passionate and don’t love it, then you’re not going to be happy.