Inspiring The Aspiring

DJay Brawner
Executive Producer/Partner
Tuff Contender

What advice do you have for new directors?

Include whatever you feel will be helpful...

As an executive producer who has been managing a production companies for nearly 15 years, I’ve seen a lot of director reels/websites come through my inbox. I’ve seen great work, I’ve seen okay work, and I’ve seen the work that makes you jump out of your seat and want to sign the person right away; but I want directors to know that they should not think that they will sign with a company immediately following the completion of a couple projects. Obviously, there are many directors who get signed early their careers, but many do not.

We get a lot of reels/websites that are filled with commercial spec work, and I find commercial spec work to be an amazing way to build reels and even define your voice as a director, but sometimes specs feel like specs. If you make a perfect spec, and I mean, one that really feels real top to bottom (great locations, actors, set design, editorial, color, vfx, etc.), you have a better chance tricking us that it’s real. Make your specs amazing, don’t make them too long, really make sure that they look and feel like something that’s on TV or YouTube. If you make a spec feel real, you have a better shot at getting production companies and agencies excited to work with you. Focus on taking your time, do your research, see what brands are doing, and do your version of something that they might do -- make sure you have great casting, find the right locations -- all of this will help your piece shine. Brands are doing a wide range of video content now, and it’s easier now than it’s ever been to create a spec, just make sure it doesn’t feel like a student film.

Also, DO NOT GIVE UP. If you have talent, drive, and ambition, you have a shot at making it as a “professional” director. It’s really easy for new directors to look at their peers or others on Instagram and feel like they are succeeding quicker than they are. Which could be true, but it doesn’t mean that you cannot still succeed, and even surpass others. Sometimes you have to just grind it out to get noticed. To have work that speaks to new audiences, it takes time to find and develop your voice – don’t expect it to happen overnight. It didn’t for me, it didn’t for many of the directors we work with at Tuff Contender.

Any tips on how to balance career and personal life?

Balancing personal life and your career can be challenging, but I’ve actually figured out a really solid way for myself to “do it all” - I started saying no to projects that would tie me when I didn’t want to be tied up. Of course this isn’t a perfect science, it doesn’t always align perfectly. It’s okay to say no, just don’t say no to often.

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