6 Ways to Become an Influencer Behind the Camera
Kids at Play founder Jason Berger offers these takeaways for helping your content studio take off.
We all hear about kids who make a gazillion dollars a year opening up toy boxes on YouTube, but what about people who are making the magic (and the money) happen from behind the camera? We picked the brain of Jason Berger, founder, executive producer and pretty much everything in-betweener of Kids at Play, a content creation shop whose film, TV and digital credits include Key & Peele and branded content for the likes of Bud Light and Dunkin' Donuts. Read on to learn how Berger launched his business and gain insights into how budding directors and producers can pursue passion and profit at the same time.
1. Don’t be afraid to get dirty -- and exhausted.
“I started in the entertainment industry in 2002, and by around 2004 I had finally worked my way up from picking up trash on the Universal lot to becoming a producer at a well-respected production company. The road to becoming a producer for me was all about learning every aspect of the production process so that I would have some knowledge of how to literally and physically create content. From driving a forklift and picking up trash at Universal, I went on to become a runner, then a production assistant for a show. And while I was a PA I went around to every department -- lighting, sound, camera, production and post -- and asked to help in any way, even if it meant carrying equipment to and from trucks or transcribing. Soon after I met an executive producer, Frank Sinton, who needed an executive assistant. I was a good assistant, but I was also hungry for more work, so while on his desk I PA’d on several of the shows he was producing. My hours were literally 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on the show, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. as his assistant and then from 7 p.m. to midnight I was back to being a PA.”
2. Don’t sleep on opportunities.
“My boss was (and is) so incredible that while I was working on his desk, he let me help develop shows. He asked me to go out and shoot tape on what the concept looked like for two of them, so I literally picked up a camera and a few mics and went out and shot tape for Fearless and The Sports List, and worked with the editor to create sizzle reels for them. Both shows ended up getting picked up to series. From there I went on to shoot a short film in Chicago, and soon after I was asked by Frank Sinton to go and produce two of the episodes of one of the series that had been picked up. We got nominated for the Emmys. I was 25.”
3. Nabbing financial backers.
“The best way to get funded is to have a vision for the content and then go create the content. It sounds simple, but finding your niche can be difficult. Stick with it -- creating content that an audience loves will turn your audience into ambassadors for what you're doing. Because I create content across several platforms, funding content can come from multiple sources. Some content is created then licensed by an outlet, which is far riskier but with greater rewards in the long run. Other funding for content can come from creating a proof of concept or a sizzle/presentation of the idea and then pitching it to buyers who will then fund the entire series or will fund further development. On the feature side, it’s important obviously to have a great script, but to also have a great team around that script. Then it’s all about meeting with buyers (independent financiers, studios, banks, etc.) and seeing if you both have the same vision and also like each other. You have to want to go into a storm head-on with your team, and that includes the ones who are putting up the money. Pitch them, but also let them pitch you. Getting funding for your business in my mind is all about creating solutions. If you can find solutions or holes in the marketplace, you can find the funding -- or the funding will find you.”
4. Be your own worst critic before pitching.
“The best way for me to prepare for a pitch is to know the outlet I am pitching, and then focus on my why my pitch won’t work for them. I find the holes in the pitch. By putting myself in the buyer’s shoes, I am able to understand where I may be falling short and address those issues. Once I have exhausted the problems and found the solutions, I think I am ready.”
5. Build a company culture that matches your brand.
“We call our offices The Playground because Kids at Play is all about working hard and playing hard. I don’t know another company that has as much fun as we do while also delivering on time and on budget. I wanted to create a physical space that wasn’t traditional and also hire people who aren’t good at just one thing. I like triple threats. We create a ton of content every year across multiple mediums, and this is a place where we all wear many hats -- we’ve got creatives who also are incredible editors, producers who are fantastic directors, assistants who are writers. Every voice is heard and every person is expected to voice their opinion. I don’t care where the idea comes from; a great idea is a great idea.”
6. Take risks early and often.
“Michael Jordan said, ‘I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.’ I love this quote because failure is an integral part of being an entrepreneur. In the content business you are going to hear the word ‘no’ 90 percent more times than you will hear the word ‘yes,’ and if you can’t learn and pivot from those failures, you won’t succeed. I equate this business to learning how to ski. You’re going to fall and it’s going to hurt and it’s going to happen a lot. But if you don’t keep getting back up, you’ll never make it down the mountain."