We may be based in Chicago, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only city in which we have roots and resources. The knowledge and know-how that comes with seasoned experience is not always present in the zip code of your project.
What does it mean to be “local”?
With remote working on the rise, it’s becoming normal to live and work in multiple cities. I find it more and more common in our industry to meet people with apartments in multiple markets, racking up miles flying coast to coast on a regular schedule. Recently, I even saw someone promote being local in four different cities. But is that even sustainable? I can understand when a stylist who lives in San Diego would promote that they are local to Los Angeles, or a photographer or director with a Philadelphia zip code stating “Based in NYC” on their website. They can take advantage of a regional lifestyle, and have access to work that comes with major metropolitan areas. But is marketing yourself as “local” across the nation, when you’re paying your own expenses out of pocket, a short sided move?
Working as a local
There is also the occasional “work as a local” mentality that’s determined on a per-project basis. We’ve all been there: You’re asked to cover your own travel and hotel for projects that are not part of your local market. For the record, I’m not a huge fan of this approach. Yes, I’ve done it. I’ve even asked others to do it. But I believe it sets a standard that we don’t have the energy or resources to maintain.
Do we really want to make a practice to pay out-of-pocket for travel? Can we even afford it? And yet, we justify it. In the backs of our minds, we think, “What if they go with someone else, because I’m not willing to work as a local?” We talk ourselves into the idea that we aren’t sought after because of our talents — that we can be easily replaced by someone cheaper. This is dangerous territory! Let’s fight for what we’re worth, and prove that we are indispensable out on the job.
Why “seasoned” beats out “local”
In every project, be it our first or 50th time working in that market, we become a local expert. That’s what seasoned producers do. We learn a city, we research the labor laws, and dive into vendor nuances and capabilities. We can curate a list of local eateries, give a summary on local traffic patterns, and find the best hotels in any market. Can a producer who already lives in that market (or is simply working like a local) show up and work like Grey House does? Will they be as diligent in staying a step ahead of what the client wants — not just what they need? If I actually believe we produce shoots like no one else (which I do believe, wholeheartedly), then it doesn’t matter if I’m bidding against someone local, or someone who will work as a local. What if, instead, our clients measured our services and input on the same scale with which we are valuing our own worth?
The power of taking a pass
I’ve been asked several times if I would work as a local in other markets: Alabama, Minneapolis, New York City, Austin, Los Angeles. And each time, I’ve weighed the pros and cons. Ultimately, I’ve let most projects go because of this ask. And you know what? Not compromising to “work as a local” means I’m available to actually work on what I want to work on. I’ve even been fortunate enough to have many of those clients circle back to say they wanted Grey House regardless, and they’d be happy to travel us out.
Of course, it would be naive of me to assume that every person and project would part the seas to bring Grey House on board. First of all, I know we’re not a perfect fit for every project, just like every project isn’t a perfect match for us. But I also know that there are times when no matter how much someone believes in the value of a strong producer, at the end of the day, they’re working within the limitations of a budget or corporate travel policy. So we are always happy to have an open dialog about the challenges and approaches for each shoot.
Think like a producer
At the core of any good producer is the ability to maintain flexibility. Listen to both sides — yours, and the client’s. Use that to evaluate your needs and abilities. Maybe a particular project fulfills a personal desire, so you can make it work. But, if it turns out that you can’t make it work for both sides, don’t burn a bridge. Be generous with your resources. At the end of the day, all of us should be lifting one another up and working towards a common goal: bettering the industry as a whole. The more we value our own work, the more others will value us for our work.