Adam Hamwey has all the skills a videographer ought to living and working in New York City. However he doesn’t work for a production house, or in a marketing department — he follows somebody around all day and vlogs for them. That’s right, he’s the personal camera crew for one John Henry, a young entrepreneur based out of NYC.
The New York Times ran an article recently about Gary Vaynerchuk’s idea of having a personal camera crew follow you around being copied by other entrepreneurs. If you want to know what it’s like to be filmed in this way, then read their article. If you want to know what it’s like to be behind the camera, then I hope I can help with that. Spoiler: it’s not easy to document somebody’s life for them.
I spoke with Hamwey about the nuts and bolts behind the scenes, and have come to the conclusion that content like this is being created every day of the week. It’s the landscape of new media and we had better get used to it. “Influencers,” detested or not, are an important marketing channel for brands. The numbers are out, and last year 70 percent of teens felt that YouTube creators were more relatable than a regular celebrity. So why not take that “one of us” attitude and use it to sell yourself?
Day to Day
Hamwey can expect to wake up at 5 a.m. some days, coinciding with Henry’s busy schedule. “You have to have the hustle,” said Hamwey. Unlike a regular documentary or wedding videographer, there’s no script. Luckily Hamwey and Henry are a strong team, and can expect to turn a vlog out in a day if needed. They will also film talks, interviews, and pieces to camera in order to keep the content fresh.
He shoots on a Canon 80D, a staple in the vlogging world (although he’s moving to an Sony a7S II). Understandably, his kit bag needs to be small and versatile. He’ll bring three lightweight Canon lenses: 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6, 24-105mm f/4, and the classic 50mm f/1.8 prime. The subject will have a lavalier mic on them as often as possible, and a Rode VideoMic Pro is at the ready. All in all, everything should allow for as quick a turnaround as possible.
In a regular day Hamwey can expect to easily fill up a 64 GB card, more if he needs to film a talk. That footage can then be edited and exported before the day is up. He mentioned that outsourced editing doesn’t normally work because he’ll finish the job much quicker having just filmed it. With that much work and so little time, it seems like following an entrepreneur around doesn’t come with much sleep.
“Five days a week like Gary Vaynerchuk is impossible for anybody other than Gary Vaynerchuk,” Hamwey jokes. “We shoot with purpose. There’s days where Henry’s just sitting on his laptop.” On those days he might not be shooting for Henry, since he’s a freelancer. For example he also shoots for Christine Drinan, the founder of Galvante. These are usually retainer deals that fluctuate based on what’s needed.
How You Can Do It
In exchange for sleep, there are a couple reasons why you might actually want to get into this new market. You can travel, hang out with some (hopefully) brilliant minds, and get paid handsomely enough to do so. It’s not the worst job in the world if you’re vehemently against a desk job. As Hamwey put it, “It’s a good opportunity for any young, entrepreneurial, creative person.”
Hamwey started out on iMovie, and then Final Cut Pro, while in middle school. After the Army National Guard, he was a sales rep. Things began to take shape when he was hooked by drone photography, and eventually he found himself traveling to NYC from Boston to get his foot in the door with a fresh skill set. That’s where he met Henry, and immediately clicked. The pair wouldn’t be the first to try this type of self-marketing, and over time Hamwey started marketing his services to anybody who’d hire.
“Almost every single client has come from Instagram...Just sending DMs,” he explains. That way, he can scout for clients that will work with him, not against him. He has a specific kind of person in mind, where other people in the field might not. He notes that “it can literally be anyone who wants to document their story. Usually with an entrepreneur they have more than one thing going at a time.” This makes total sense, and hopefully by choosing the clients he works with he can avoid wasting time trying to come up with interesting content. After all, great reality TV is based on events that would happen with or without the camera.
Hamwey also likes to do his first video for free. A lot of videographers are very against this, but I don’t blame him for wanting to test the waters before he starts committing to somebody. Besides, with this being such a new avenue of work for videographers, I’m sure clients are more than a little apprehensive.
So let's say you’ve got your first client — how do you best deal with them? Aside from all of the usual invoicing, time management, and workflow issues that one would face, Hamwey highlights something obvious: these people aren’t reality TV stars. “A lot of these people have never been in front of a camera as much as this,” he points out. While the kinds of people who hire a camera crew might be more on the charismatic side, there’s nothing saying that they can do the job of a trained presenter. Just like getting the best headshot in a studio, this will only work if you’re willing to build up a trust and rapport with the client.
Then there are advertising and talent agencies that create packages for the likes of Henry to buy into. The New York Times pointed out that you can spend $25,000 a month getting a basic package from Vaynerchuk’s VaynerTalent, which would include marketing strategies and further guidance. This is what you’re up against.
Is It Crazy?
Remember when vlogging was crazy and stigmatized? Sure, it still kind of is, but it’s so much less deliberate than hiring your own personal crew. Will this be the future of self-promotion, following in the footsteps of Beyonce and Vaynerchuk? I don’t think so. In fact, much like Hamwey, I think that this style of documentary will eventually win out over the regular line up of influencers we see on Instagram today. Take a look at Boyfriends of Instagram if you don’t think that influencers are already using personal camera operators. This is just a less fake version of what’s already going on.
According to Hamwey, “it does look narcissistic,” but when shooting the likes of Henry, he “genuinely documents this process to show kids.” It’s inspirational, educational, and then vlogging — not the other way around. While potential fame is a by-product of Henry’s endeavors, supposedly there’s more to it. If Henry wasn’t working to help startups in Harlem and bring diversity to the industry, you might say he was just in it for himself. Whatever you might think about narcissism, at least he’s got a good story to tell.
Rich kids on Instagram have nothing on Henry’s story: “People are going to get sick of you sitting in a Lamborghini. They want real content.” If that content is fueled by people who want to promote themselves beyond the norm, then there will surely be a class of videographer who deals exclusively with these new tastes. Will I be one of them? Lord no. But you might.
Chime in below and let us know what you think, and better yet, if your day-to-day life would be worth hiring a crew for. If anybody wants to come and film my life you’re more than welcome; maybe there is an audience for mediocre gym sessions and lazy food tutorials.
All images used with permission.