Lights, camera, emotion: Video firm deals in storytelling | Crain's Twin Cities

Lights, camera, emotion: Video firm deals in storytelling

Video producer Jeff Brandt specializes in creating promotional films with an emotional edge. | Photo by Scott Cohen

Jeff Brandt realized about a decade ago that he needed a new career. He just wasn’t sure what direction it would take.

The Navy veteran, now 47, had earned a degree in English, played guitar in a rock band, tended bar, introduced educational software, written and sold a never-produced movie screenplay and flipped distressed properties in Chicago.

It wasn’t until Brandt volunteered to shoot a fundraising film for his kids’ school that his true calling emerged: Producing promotional videos with an emotional edge.

By 2012, he had finished cinematography classes at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, invested in lights, cameras, desktop computers and editing software and founded his company, Storyboard Films. Word of mouth soon spread, and he has since hired two employees and booked multiple video projects at corporations, schools and nonprofits. One of his proudest achievements: a 2015 MSP Film Society award for his documentary “Not Done Loving,” which tells how Marine residents rallied around a sick neighbor.

As the Stillwater resident recently traveled to Duluth to film a video for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Crain asked about his business growth over the past few years.

Q: Who makes up your current client base?

A: We’re doing more work with nonprofits, and a lot has to do with fundraising. I’d say 70 percent is nonprofit, and the rest is corporate.

Q: How would you define your revenue growth?

A: We’ve probably grown 25 percent each year, maybe more.

Q: What’s your working territory?

A: We mainly focus on [the Twin Cities] metro [area] but travel occasionally. I had two projects in California this year.

Q: How would you define your competition?

A: We occupy a pretty unique base in the sense that underneath us, the sort of people I would call videographers really just have a camera and shoot what they have to shoot. On the other end of the spectrum are agencies and big production houses that are very expensive. We sit somewhere in the middle, where we’re able to deliver a really high-end, finished product at a very competitive price.

Q: What do you consider your niche market as a videographer?

A: An emotional story or emotion-driven piece. I’d say that’s the core of our business. The best project for us is when people are after a story, and we hear what they’re saying and piece it together in a way that has an artistic and emotional element to it.

Q: What’s your favorite kind of assignment?

A: When nonprofits are doing important work and we have an entrée into seeing that work firsthand and hearing about the impact. At first, they’re really budget-conscious and see [a promotional video] as a cost, not as an investment. Then they use it to raise money — and get more than they’ve ever raised — and it becomes a different kind of relationship. They really get into it and start to think about what stories they have. That, to me, is when it gets exciting and fun. At least two clients have crushed their [fundraising] records.

Q: What are some trends in your industry?

A: [Clients] know it’s not enough to have a website; they understand it needs video content. One big challenge I’m still trying to figure out is how to produce a lot [of website content] in a way that’s economically viable.

Q: What are you most proud of achieving in your career to date?

A: I’m now doing work I chose to do, as opposed to just taking any work. A lot of times when someone calls me – especially for the corporate, scripted voice-over things – I tell them we don’t do that, and they’re kind of shocked. I don’t have any problem walking away because I think the biggest value we can bring is helping structure conversation in a way that makes a meaningful story.

Q: What’s in your five-year plan?

A: I don’t think we’d ever turn down a really thoughtful nonprofit, but I want to get to the point in two years where we’re making [mostly] original content, meaning we wouldn’t really have clients. We’d be doing documentaries funded through grants or a different revenue model; Minnesota has a pretty robust grant infrastructure for the arts. [Until then] we want to develop a [history] that says we can do fiction or non-fiction, so when we’re trying to raise money for original projects, there’s a good track record we can point to.

I’d also like to see us grow to the point where we have two fully staffed creative teams so we can do multiple projects on the same day.

Q: What are you working on right now?

A: This summer we’re doing an original short film, an adaptation of an anecdotal story I’ve been telling [about a childhood friend] for about 25 years. Part of me would love to look at [other people’s stories] and what their origins are and adapt them to short film.

Another idea I’m kicking around is trying to assemble a theater/video company. Young kids [today] consume media very differently from my generation; they go to YouTube channels and just watch these shorter pieces over and over. This would be a collaboration between us and the actors with ideas we produce, put up on online channels and grow as a brand.

Q: What’s the greatest reward of your work?

A: Having a video that makes people say, ‘That was great! You guys did that?’ It never really gets old.

July 18, 2017 - 11:34am