Doug Johnson Productions

Pro Bono Work

Occasionally, DJP will take on work pro bono. But it doesn't happen often. We get asked to do work for free, or in exchange for advertising, quite a lot. And most of the time we turn down. Not because the causes aren't worthy, because they usually are. But here's why...

What it Takes

Let's take a peek at the minimum of what it takes to produce a professional-quality, multi-camera video...

  • A venue capable of supporting our Mobile Production Unit
  • Professional Switching and Recording Equipment
  • Professional Cameras
  • Professional Audio Equipment
  • 3-4 Hours for Setup and Testing of Equipment
  • 2 Hours for Tear-down
  • Experienced Video Engineer
  • Experienced Technical Director
  • Experienced Camera Operators
  • Experienced Audio Engineer
  • High-Quality, Bright, Even Lighting

DJP is capable of providing the checked items for pro bono events, or all of the above when there is budget to do so. Other items may require a bit of effort to schedule, especially if it is being done without compensation.

Crew

Unlike many professions, live event video production requires a crew of significant size. It typically isn't something that one person can handle on their own. Which means we need to find staff to coordinate our efforts and physically operate the equipment.

It's really hard to find professional, experienced crew members who are willing to work for free, even when given something in exchange. Which generally means that the other option is to rely on less-experienced, or even completely inexperienced people to fill the jobs necessary to put an event together, or put in a lot more time begging and pleading with professionals to take on yet another freebie (we get asked a lot). It's much harder and far more time consuming than finding a crew that will be paid for their work.

Going with an inexperienced crew would be okay if the quality of the work doesn't matter. If we're just sending a video feed to a projector inside the venue, we don't need top-tier camera work -- the video is serving a supporting role rather than being the area of focus, nobody outside the venue is ever going to see it, and it's pretty unlikely that anyone at the venue would know what company is responsible for the video production anyway. But if it's going to be streamed or recorded and posted online, the quality of the production starts to matter a lot more.

Why Does Experience Matter?

It may seem at first that it doesn't take a lot of experience to run a video camera. And if you're just talking about following instructions on where to point the camera, that may be true in some circumstances. But there's so much more that goes into making a video look good.

For multi-camera productions it is especially important to have experienced operators -- we need for operators to be able to frame a shot without constant instruction from a director -- after all, a director has enough to do just operating the equipment and watching the video feeds from multiple cameras, and there just isn't time to coach every operator through the process of getting a good shot. There's also an art to framing a shot to make it interesting. The natural tendency of untrained people is to put a subject dead-center in a shot, and much of the time that isn't the best way to go. The most interesting shots also frequently involve some kind of motion -- zooming in or out during the shot, or a nice panning motion across a scene. And these motions require years of experience to perform smoothly, even with the best equipment available. In many settings we also need for camera operators to be able to adjust camera settings like exposure and white balance on-the-fly, particularly in outdoor environments or those with changing lighting conditions. Sticking someone on a camera who doesn't have practice doing these things will virtually guarantee that something in the final video won't look right.

Video production is also a bit unique in that the end result of our work is, almost by definition, going to be seen by a wide audience. If an electrician helps you wire an outlet in your home as a favor, only you and that electrician will ever see that work and know that it was done. If a video production company produces a video for free and cuts corners to do so, any of the potentially many people who watches that video will know that it was done with limited resources.

DJP's Role

...which brings me to DJP's role in doing pro bono work.

I want the work that we do at DJP to be something we can be proud of. If our name is going to be on a production, I want it to look and feel professional and fully polished. The last thing I'd want is for someone to see us associated with something second-rate. It would be tragic if a potential customer was to see a video with our name on it that features low quality production -- poor lighting, bad coloring, hard-to-hear or noisy audio, shaky cameras, etc., judge us by that work, and then choose a competitor to produce their video as a result. That kind of performance doesn't represent who we are, and to have the DJP name associated with that is counter-productive toward advancing DJP's goals of providing a top-quality product to our customers.

At a very minimum, if DJP does agree to produce your event using a volunteer or inexperienced crew, we're going to require that this be stated prominently any place the finished video is going to be visible: “Produced as a public service by DJP (www.djprod.biz) using a volunteer crew” or something similar to make it clear that the quality of work doesn't represent what we normally do.

Work in Exchange

Very often DJP is offered something in exchange for no-cost production work. This, unfortunately, rarely works out.

The most common offer is ‘exposure’ or ‘free advertising’ -- including our name on a website, in any advertising materials, programs, etc. In my 25+ years in the business, I don't think I've ever gotten a single call from this type of exposure. It's also difficult to justify having my company name on these types of materials if the quality of the work is not up to our usual high standards. If this is the only type of compensation you're able to offer, perhaps working with another video production company is a better option.

Value

These types of offers also cheapen the value of what we do. Video production -- especially live production -- is a very expensive business to be in, and requires a crew with a lot of experience if it's going to be done right. This is especially important when we only get one shot at capturing an event. Asking for pro bono work also sends a message that an organization doesn't consider video production to be a service worth investing in, or that the quality of their video isn't something that they care about. Most people wouldn't ask a plumber or mechanic to work for free. Professional video production, which is much more resource-intensive and takes just as much experience (if not more), and we feel it should be treated with at least as much respect for the craft.

There are also other hard costs for consummables (batteries, recording media, tape, etc.), and wear-and-tear on the equipment -- which is actually more significant than one might think. It has to be routinely serviced, and is only good for so many hours before it just needs to be replaced. Those costs have to be covered by someone, which is why they're built-into the rates we charge our customers. And the more we take on free work, the more we have to charge our paying customers to compensate.

Accepting a pro bono job also means we're giving up other opportunities for at least the duration of the event, plus preparation and post-production time. It is very often difficult to justify losing this revenue.

Bottom Line

A fully polished, professional video more than pays for itself for promoting an organization or cause. In these days of the dominance of online and social media, your image is everything. When the right resources are invested, you'll end up with a product that highlights your message and brand in a positive way and will help draw others to you. A poorly produced video, on the other hand, will reflect poorly on you and your message, and cause potential customers or supporters to look to someone else with a more professional image. When organizations cut corners they're essentially wasting their own resources creating a video that will probably end up not being useful. If done right, a well-made video can be one of the best marketing tools available.

When it comes to DJP, we have elected to be very judicious in our selection of which pro bono events to take on. And unless you have a particularly compelling case, it usually doesn't make sense for us to be involved. If you are willing to take on the task of finding a professional and experienced crew yourself, let's have a conversation about putting something together. Otherwise, maybe searching for people who are new to the business and are actively looking to build experience is a better option for you.

Thanks for your understanding,
-Doug