Tim Tadder just completed his motion reel and in doing so reflected on what it took to create the content and add ‘director’ to his title.
Two years ago I challenged myself to learn to shoot motion. It was all the rage; everyone was doing it. There was an urgency to to add ‘director’ to your title, whether or not you really understood what being a director is all about. Photographers were being hired to ‘direct’ without a real grasp of the medium. If you wanted to learn, the opportunities existed.
I was fortunate enough to take advantage of some of these opportunities early on. I saw the writing on the wall so to speak. Budgets needed to be maximized, resources pooled, and the channels for displaying work converging. I had to get a serious handle on it. I felt like it was the same industry crossroads when the world moved from film to digital. You either evolved or you were left behind. I saw it first hand back then and truly owe my photography career to my strong positioning during the digital transition. I had understood the medium and all it’s benefits and most importantly it’s flaws. I had used them to leap my way past photographers that were slow to adapt. I did not want to be a late adopter so I aimed to do the same thing with motion.
During my annual time of reflection and goal writing (the week between Christmas and New Years, the only time this business sleeps). I reflected on how I challenged myself with digital ten years earlier. Learn to shoot it, edit it, finish it, and then market it. The “it” of course being the meaningful motion storytelling pieces. Back in 2004, I left my film camera behind and learned to deal with digital, and nothing makes me learn better than forcing quality output to share with the world on the web. I learned then to become a strong retoucher, and what pieces of puzzles I needed to make a composite. I learned to polish images and make them feel highly produced (even though I was literally shooting in my garage). It took about two years before my digital portfolio was strong enough for ad work, and in 2006 my career exploded.
Back then two years felt like a generation, today two and a half years into my motion career, it feels like I started yesterday. But drawing from that original experience was invaluable. I used the same back to the basics approach and it worked. By learning from the ground up with small projects and building them with my own hands, I learned what works and most importantly what does not. I learned that the difference between shooting stills from shooting motion is far more complex than many photographers and art buyers understand. Its a different approach all together.
The biggest difference all boils down to frames.
In the still world we make stories come to life in a single frame. We live and die through the decisive moment, coordinating a symphony into a single frame. We craft lighting to the nth degree to lead the eye through the frame layer by layer, because we know that each and every important element needs to read quickly for our viewer. Creating a masterful still can be incredibly complex. That’s most likely why directors are not adding photographer to there title, because story telling in one frame is mighty might hard.
In the motion world, we have 24 frames every second to build a story. Does that make it easy, HELL NO. I first learned this when I dove into editing motion, just like learning photoshop, it’s where the pieces of the puzzle come together. And a puzzle without all the pieces is never finished. Nothing prepared me for the edit ‘oh no’ when you realize you don’t have the shot that completes the story. In the still world we can fudged this a bit. It seems with one frame you can fix a lot of problems quite effectively, not so in the motion universe. Miss a shot, miss the story. Through pain of my failure I learned to not make those mistakes again.
How do you avoid the critical shot missing mistake? You need to quickly realize that motion requires about ten times the planning that stills requires. Seriously, motion requires a ton more work. More work than I ever imagined and more work than those that are on the outside looking in realize.
This is because to tell the story, you need so many more shots, sets, locations, details, people, props, on and on. For a stills campaign I have one frame. Motion I have to build and build the story, ‘directing’ the audience towards resolution. I have to transport you off the couch and into the world, and to do that I have to give you countless points of visual reference, not just one.
After a few months my stories worked, and my portfolio started to grow. Opportunities exploded, and my work accelerated exponentially. If you had told me on Christmas of 2014 that I would write a commercial and direct a spot featuring the darling of the Olympics, Simone Biles, and that the spot would air prime time, I would have told you NFW. That happened and that fall I had national spots airing prime time during NFL games, insane.
But I still had (and have) a lot to learn, and tons to improve upon. I am betting I’ll feel the same way about those spots as I do when I look back at the work I created in 2006; sophomoric.
True to my spirit I went back to the grind and worked harder, read, watched, absorbed, failed, got back up and kept firing. I became a better editor, a better script writer, a better leader, and director. I learned that directing is not about working with actors and telling them what to do. It’s about leading a huge team of people toward a creative vision. It’s about motivation and focus. For me I had to learn to not look through the lens to create, but all around it.
Before 2014 people would ask me the difference between shooting motion and stills and I would quip ‘add another zero to the budget’. A few short years later I realize why that extra zero is needed. Motion is a mission, not just an add on. To do it well, you have to work ten times more (the reason for the zero, if you hadn’t caught that). Right now I am in the throws of finishing my best spot to date and for that one :30, months later still working, coordinating, adding touches and revision 45 is the one that gets aired. At times it seems endless and for all those photographers that think motion is the panacea, realize this. You will work tens times more and make the same as stills, so be careful what you wish for.
2017 has been the biggest growth in my motion work by far. We have made work I am truly proud of. I feel like I have discovered a new passion for commercials and film and I am charged up to keep pushing. My goals are now looking beyond just learning, but toward a mastering. My wife’s Super Bowl Sunday is watching the red carpet during the Oscars. I told her one day I would take her experience it live. Behind her back I am secretly setting long term goals of being invited. Eighteen years ago, when I started in photography, had you told me I’d be here, I would have again quipped NFW, so while Oscar goals might be far fetched, check with me in 18 years maybe the wife and I will be dancing down the red carpet. True to my passion for craft I want to earn the title of director not just slap it under a logo.
To see more of Tim Tadder’s motion and still work, check out his website.