If you’re someone who aspires to work in creative spaces along with commercial ones, whether that be music videos, art films or narrative shorts and features, there’s no skill more important than hustle. You can learn all the tips, tricks and techniques in the world, but without the hustle, you’ll be left in the dust. 

And, while each generation would like to think that they invented this concept of “hustling,” to quote the great Fran Lebowitz, “Contrary to popular opinion, the hustle is not a dance step — it’s an old business procedure.” Which is to say, this grind mentality has been around a long time.

So, how does the modern film and video professional really perfect the grind?

Here are five salient pieces of advice from Tom Ruddock, a writer and filmmaker who’s been there. We interviewed Tom for his take on what balancing this hustle really looks like in practice. Here’s how to use your creative projects to land more commercial work (and vice versa!)

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Determine the right balance for you

The crux of the creative vs. commercial debate really does come down to balance. Not only in how you balance your schedule, but really in how you balance your life. At what points of the day are you creatively-minded vs. commercially-minded? It might be hard to clearly define between the two at times.

To help illustrate this, we spoke with Tom Ruddock, a talented writer and director based in the UK who co-runs his own production company called View 35 Films. Ruddock has carved out a successful career both with his creative projects (including award winning short films like the Vimeo Staff Picked “Jacob’s Blessing”) as well with his commercial work.

“…Understand the purpose of each job, even while you’re switching between creative and commercial projects, you’re still trying to nail down what you’re trying to say.

For me though, I definitely have different workspaces for my different project types. My home office is the business space, whereas creative projects take place in more inspiring spaces like libraries or the cafe at my favorite cinema.”
Tom Ruddock, writer and director

However, if you want to really capitalize on both, you’ll need to be able to segment what you can. If that means keeping different calendars, or separate email addresses, or even creating different brands altogether complete with websites and Vimeo profiles, so be it. The more you can do to differentiate your two minds will help you when you need to bounce between the two.

Develop separate reels

Another way to approach finding this balance is by putting together separate reels. For those unfamiliar, in the film and video industry many professionals (along with agencies and companies) have reels to showcase their best (and often most cinematic) shots and projects.

These reels pull from all the projects which you’ve ever shot, edited or produced and are meant to showcase a basic example of your skills.

“When you’re first starting out in film, it can be really hard to build a portfolio, yet everytime you pitch a project producers want to see a reel — whether that be a commercial project you’re pitching to a client, or a creative project which you’re pitching to investors or friends.”
Tom Ruddock

For Ruddock, this meant that his reels developed slowly over time as he honed his craft until he was able to fully carve out his distinctive niches for each. Now, thanks to his time hustling on both creative and commercial projects, he has portfolio reels to show off to any interested producers, investors or clients — commercial or creative.

Tom’s cinematic reel

Tom’s commercial reel

Accept the challenges of both creative and commercial work

Ruddock is a great example of how one can use these different types of projects to challenge yourself to become a well-rounded filmmaker. 

While we’d all perhaps love to be paid to create short films and music videos full time, for many the opportunities early on are the commercial and corporate which — depending on how you look at it — can seem less exciting.

“I always say that it’s easy to make ice cream exciting; anyone can do it really. However it challenges you much more as a filmmaker to use the right storytelling techniques to make the more mundane commercial and corporate projects just as exciting as the ice cream ones.”
Tom Ruddock

As Ruddock puts it, these “ice cream” projects are the short films and music videos and other creative outlet projects where the excitement comes much more naturally. The real trick is learning how to develop your filmmaking skills like cinematography, lighting, directing and editing to make those non-ice cream projects feel just as exciting to everyone.

Pick projects that will translate

By the same token, if you are taking on both creative and commercial work, you can also help to streamline your work by focusing on similar subjects and areas.

For example, if you’ve done a lot of documentary style projects for fun and for the creative-side of your brain, you can focus on developing a career in documentary-style projects for companies or brands.

“They say if you give five different directors the same script you’d get five different films, so you’re always trying to bring your unique vision to every project no matter what. For example, how do you make a narrative story out of selling a whiskey bottle? If you view it with the right lens you can always try to use every project as an opportunity to become a better filmmaker.” 
Tom Ruddock

These don’t have to be the only types of projects which you take on, but if you can find projects which line up closely with your own creative projects, your pitch for these projects will always be strong simply because you’re coming from a prospective of passion rather than just purely profit. 

Build your brand with both

At the end of the day though, while you may have separate reels, journals and maybe even brains, you ultimately want to develop your brand as a filmmaker overall. Having these segmentations will help you find work and new clients perhaps, but you’re really looking to build value in yourself with your vision and skills.

For Ruddock, and many other filmmakers and video professionals across the globe, it still comes down to that hustle. You wake up everyday and you work hard at your craft, no matter the subject or project. 

“Filmmaking costs money, cameras are expensive. However I’ve found that you really can create a model where you find the right balance between the projects which provide an income and the projects which provide a spark — and eventually, more often than not, you find projects that do both.”  
Tom Ruddock

It’s about using those projects as a way to develop your skills, build up your cameras and gear, expand your network with clients and collaborators, and ultimately be the best filmmaker possible.

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