Veteran Videographer Justin Sandmann's Top Advice For Making Great Movies

Heavy Chef interviews Justin Sandman the founder of Sandmann Film & TV Productions to talk about what it takes for a visual story-teller to make a name in the South African Film Industry. Justin shares compelling advice, not only specific to aspiring filmmakers out there, but also to those who have chosen creative professions in the digital age.

Justin Sandmann, who has partnered with Heavy Chef at many events over the years.

Justin Sandmann, who has partnered with Heavy Chef at many events over the years.

HC: Justin, what advice do you have for young filmmakers wanting to get into the game?

Justin: Apart from the obvious advice of learning to develop your creativity, to think-out-of-the-box, be professional, etc… I think the single most important trait to develop going forward into the industry is to be adaptable. With technology changing so rapidly, there’s no way you can sit back and just do things the same old way. If it works today, tomorrow there’s a new, easier and better way. I’d also be bold enough to say; “Don’t specialize.” We are now entering the era of the generalist. With budgets ever shrinking and expectations ever rising, the more you can offer your client or employer the better. No longer can you just be a camera operator or just an editor to survive and flourish – you will need a diverse set of skills.

HC: Who are the South African video producers/ directors that you admire?

Justin: I can think of two. The first one is Bruce Patterson, founder of Pilot Films. He entered the music video industry about 10 years ago as the ‘new kid on the block’. Now he’s the kingpin who owns the whole block. What I admire about Bruce is that he has dominated the industry, winning SAMAs and hitting YouTube views well into the millions. He keeps raising the bar as he grows from strength to strength as a music video producer/ director. The second is the Mattys Boshoff. Since film school, Mattys always wanted to make movies. He hit the industry hard as a commercials director but made his movie debut with his highly acclaimed short film ‘Vlees van my Vlees’. Now he’s just written and directed the feature film ‘Rachel de Beer’, which is set to be monumental for the SA film industry. What I admire about both these guys, is that they have always known what they wanted to achieve. They have set their minds to it, put in the hard graft and are now doing what they love most. #Respect.

HC: What gear do you recommend aspiring filmmakers should have at their disposal to get started?

Justin: The first video camera I ever owned back in 2011 (which I’ve still got) was my precious little Canon 550D DSLR with a 50mm prime lens. It opened a world of filming that I never knew was possible. I finally had a proper ‘depth of field’ in my shots. I couldn’t believe it. I was like a kid who discovered that there was this thing called ‘the Internet’. The possibilities were endless.

For the aspiring filmmaker/ videographer, I’d reckon the following as a great starting point, depending on the budget of course:

o A decent DSLR camera (preferably Canon). A good starting camera should be the Canon 200D. I mostly film with the Canon 7DM2.

o A variety of lenses. A 50mm prime lens (obviously) and a lens or two with a bit of variety, like a 15-55mm zoom lens and/or a 70mm 300mm lens.

o A couple of SD cards (can never have too many). Make sure the card rating is Class 10 for HD filming.

o Spare camera battery.

o LED camera light (with a ‘hotshoe’ mount for your camera).

o Zoom audio recorder. (This also takes SD cards but it won’t have to be as big or fast as the card for your camera).

o Earphones.

[Editor’s note: Heavy Chef hires its gear from Orms, probably the best and most professional photo and video outlet in Africa. Check out their store here.]

HC: What should businesses understand when briefing a videographer/film producer in terms of producing a kickass corporate video?

Justin: The age-old ‘brief’ is quite a tricky bugger. Whether you are building a house, commissioning a painting or making a corporate video – it all starts with a properly detailed brief. Over the years, I’ve learned that businesses need to understand:

1. The brief needs to have defined parameters. I don’t know how many times I get asked; “How much will it cost for a video?” It’s like asking, "How long is a piece of string?”

These are some of the questions that I usually ask in return, and can help a business understand what we need to see in the brief:

a. “What duration do you want the video to be?”

There’s a big difference in work and cost between a 1-min and a 5-min video.

b. “When’s the deadline?”

This helps to plan a delivery schedule.

c. “What’s the budget?”

Often it’s the elephant in the room, it’s usually the ultimate deciding factor, so kinda important that we talk about it and get it out the way as soon as possible. We all want more ‘bang for our buck’ and I get that, yet businesses need to be realistic when it comes to budget. It’s also up to the professional videographer to educate the client in clearly outlining what the costs are so that the client doesn’t feel that they are being ripped off either.

2. Another element that helps the brief is a good reference video or treatment. It can be a scene from a movie, an existing TV ad or even a bunch of stock images from the net. It’s a tangible yardstick from which everything can be measured. This can either come from the client, agency or the videographer but either way, I find that this helps with setting the right expectations.

I’ve worked with a lot of great clients, but one that comes to mind is the profile video I created for Lew Geffen from Sotheby’s International – Midrand Office. The client knew exactly what he wanted, and showed me a reference video that he liked. From that point onwards I knew exactly what I needed to do and what it would cost to make it happen. The result – happy client – and a kickass video.

HC: What's your biggest challenge in being a creative entrepreneur? And what's the thing you're most excited about?

Justin: The term ‘creative entrepreneur’ almost seems like an oxymoron to me, yet I can’t be the one without the other. I founded Sandmann Productions over 7 years ago and still, my biggest challenge has been merging the two worlds, the creative side and the business/entrepreneur side, and somehow making them work as one. I love the creative aspects of what I do. Every day, I’m doing something different. I never saw myself as an entrepreneur, but I saw a gap in the industry and I took it. Yet there are days when running my own business seems to suck the creative juices out of me like a thirsty leach. What has helped me is to outsource/ delegate the things I don’t enjoy (plus not good at) and to focus on what I enjoy.

And what’s the thing I’m most excited about? It’s got to be technology. Being in such a tech-heavy industry, it’s so awesome to see every year cooler and crazier gadgets, gizmos, and software, pushing the horizons and allowing the impossible. If I think of the gear I have now, my drone, 360 VR camera, the super steady-cam gimbals, etc – 10 years ago it was almost unthinkable. Imagine the gear we’ll have 10 years from now?

HC: Hey, thanks for reading guys. If you think that you have an inkling on what the future of technology in the film industry will bring us in 10 years, then feel free to comment below. To follow up with some research on Sandmann Productions, then check out Justin's website and his 2019 showreel: