© Gerald Mabee/Brent Foster Photography & Cinema
Photographer and videomaker Brent Foster is pitching his video work to potential clients by offering them what he knows best: how to tell a good story. A former newspaper photographer with years of experience creating photos, video, and multimedia for commercial and wedding clients, the Windsor, Ontario-based photographer has for the past two years made big investments in high-end video equipment like a crane, slider and an unmanned aerial vehicle. Now he’s launched Brent Foster Cinema as a separate entity and has begun a new promotion to show select corporate clients how they can benefit from having Foster’s company tell their stories through video.
“I think that my experience of being a visual journalist, and that focus on telling stories, is what’s going to make us unique,” says Foster. “We’re not just trying to make catchy videos but to tell the story of the company and get their message out as well.”
Foster says that he and his wife, who acts as producer and audio engineer for the company, spent weeks researching companies they wanted to work with, poring over company websites, looking for “companies that have a good story to tell.” They included companies that have a Web presence or a social-media network where they can share finished videos. But they also wanted companies that would be willing to invest money and, Foster says, “understand the capabilities of video to get their messages across and also understand why the investment is necessary.” One challenge is that companies that hire photographers to shoot stills sometimes expect video to be done during the shoot at a minimal cost. Foster says he wanted to take the opposite approach. “We’re saying: We can produce some amazing videos for you and, oh, by the way, we have 15 years of experience in still photography and we can provide stills for you for the same campaign.”
Foster has built the capabilities to produce high-quality videos by steadily investing everything in new gear. Brent Foster Photography shoots 30 to 40 weddings a year, as well as commercial assignments. Foster and his wife live on the money they earn through these gigs. They use the money the company has made from video—for clients ranging from NGOs to small businesses—to reinvest in the video side of the business, mostly buying equipment. “It’s a way for our business to evolve,” he says.
The company first bought “a ginormous amount of lenses and camera bodies” including digital SLRs that shoot HD video. Their next big investment was a small Steadicam, “and then a larger one.” They also purchased an 8-foot crane, made by Kessler, to which Foster and his second cameraman, Gerald Mabee, can attach a camera. “It allows you to get the camera moving up and down and swooping across,” he explains. “You can start high and come down, or if someone’s biking, you can start [shooting] at the tire and go up into the trees.” Foster says they’ve put the crane to use in shooting a music video and a promotion for a hotel. They also purchased a motorized slider, which allows Foster and Mabee to perform advanced camera movements, control the speed and movement of a camera during tracking shots, and create time-lapse or stop-motion videos.
Foster believes the company’s latest purchase will pay for itself quickly. Foster and Mabee recently got training to run an Octocopter, a remotely powered aircraft, which carries a camera. Before buying the device, Foster contacted some production companies that were interested in renting it for their own use, as well as paying for an experienced operator. In addition to renting it out, Foster plans to use the Octocopter to build a reel of videos that show how it can be used to create aerials for resorts, real estate companies or golf courses.
The additional capabilities that all this gear provides have helped distinguish Foster’s company from its competitors, and the investments have paid off. He landed jobs for a health care organization and a boutique hotel, for example, when they asked him to submit a bid and a storyboard, and he could show them the variety of shots he and Mabee could create. “Being able to offer all these things to clients is beneficial,” Foster says. He adds, “I don’t see a lot of other photographers pushing in this direction.”
The push now is to promote the company’s video capabilities to a range of businesses that haven’t previously made videos “or haven’t done them well.” With the help of designers, Brent Foster Cinema has made a series of e-mail blasts and brochures that will be sent to the 51 companies Foster and his wife researched and decided to contact. They range from a small brewery that based its labels and beer names around a local legend, to “start-up companies that have a great story about how they got started,” he says.
Each promotion features the corporate logo of the targeted company, and an individually worded appeal that explains why Foster wants to work with them, and how the company’s story could be told and shared with customers through video. “Every brochure that goes out to each potential client has their own logo on the front,” Foster explains, as well as a sketched storyboard for a video about their company, and a link to a website with the company’s name in the URL. Each of the landing pages that were created for the targeted client, Foster says, “has their own logo on the page. We say, ‘We would love to work with you,’ and we include some call to action on the bottom.” The pages also load a video that Brent Foster Cinema created on assignment for a hotel. “It’s a video that we feel overall will show the quality we offer,” he explains. “It has crane shots and Steadicam shots, and it also shows the details of the hotel really well.”
He hopes that the use of a personalized appeal and the company’s own logos and names will intrigue potential customers. “If someone sent that to me, I would go to the landing page just to see what was being offered, because my logo was on it, and someone took the time to do that.” The promos were sent out in March, and Foster and his wife plan on sending follow-ups via e-mail.
As the cinema business grows, Foster wants to continue to reinvest in the business. In addition to diversifying the kinds of photographic and film services he offers, his long-term goal is to be able to pursue his own storytelling. “My goal is to take a month or two months to work on stories that are important to me. That’s a long-term goal.”
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Watch two of the videos by Brent Foster that were discussed in the article: