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The Art & Science of Being a "Preditor"

So you want to be a "preditor" (producer-editor).

Cool word, huh? Preditor - kind of has that lone wolf feel to it. Have DSLR, will travel. And that's kind of what you're doing - being a one-man (or woman) production studio. The more you can do yourself, the more likely you'll get work. That's the reality of video production these days, at least for the web. A potential client wants to fill up his site with video content, and he wants one person to be able to do it. That person should be you. That means that you have to be able to plan out the shoot, execute the shoot - serving as shooter, gaffer and audio tech - then take it home and edit it together on your laptop with basic graphics. Next you export it, send the client the video file or go the extra mile and upload it to Vimeo or YouTube for them, writing up a text description and maybe putting in a tag or two. 

Make no mistake about it - web video is a growing industry. We've all seen the stats on the power of web video, how it juices up a website's SEO effectiveness, how it gets branded messages out to potentially hundreds of millions of viewers, how much more likely it will convert to a site-visit or - that most holy of grails - an actual purchase. The trick for you as a pro is to show the client why he or she should use you rather than shoot something himself on his cellphone, then cut it together with Apple's iMovie.

The short reason why is this: you're a pro, or would like to be some day. This is what you do. This is your calling. That doesn't just mean that you have the gear. Anyone can buy a DSLR or a slider (what's a "slider"?). 

There's more to it than that. 

Keep in mind that, no matter what you're doing, you're telling a story. I started out as a print journalist, and that helped enormously in figuring out how to make effective videos for my clients. Like a news story, I would start with a lede (lead?): that all-important first paragraph that not only summarizes what the story's about, but serves as a hook that draws the viewer in and makes him/her want to see the story through to its end.

Then you construct a logical narrative with a throughline that starts with the major details and works its way down to the minor ones. Put some thought into the beginning and the end as structural elements to the piece, and try to let the subject (be it a store-owner, a lawyer, whoever) tell his own story in his own words. In my experience, unscripted, documentary-style videos seem to get the best results. 

Assuming your basic skills are there (can you focus the camera? Get usable audio?), you should find this a winning approach for making effective videos. You're a storyteller - keep that your focus. Happy prediting!

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Author's bio: Steve Janas is a New Jersey-based producer, editor and writer with a long list of professional credits to his name. He's also co-owner of the production company Reel Stuff Entertainment, which has completed more than 1,500 projects since 2005; for clients including The Discovery Channel, The Travel Channel, AOL, Yelp, Groupon, and Zagat. He can be reached at stevejanas@yahoo.com.