Editor’s Note: This blog is part of our latest “We Are EM” series, focused on a new generation of consultants. What does employment look like for Millennials, who came of age during the internet explosion and entered the workforce during an economic recession?
Storytelling Through Video
How did a routine visit with a chiropractor launch Alexis Keenan’s video production business? Knowing that Alexis owned a nice camera and was trying to build her portfolio, this chiropractor did what any digitally-savvy (and thoughtful) person would do. He asked her to create an introductory video describing his practice for its website.
Alexis quickly realized she could be on to something. How could she help people tell their stories in a compelling way through video?
Through similar freelance projects, she learned how to make chocolate and cheese, as well as the ins and outs of yoga, fitness, and theatre production. Really diving into her clients’ businesses helps her find unique story elements to make the biggest impact on their audiences.
How Alexis Got Started
You could say Alexis “fell into film.” Initially, she was attending the University of California, Santa Cruz for an art degree. She claimed she was miserable while figuring out that fine arts was not her passion. Then, she happened upon a film class to fulfill a general education requirement. She loved it. That was the tipping point to change her major to film theory.
Around 2007, the economy was brutal to fresh college grads like Alexis who were looking for work. With a desire to go into film editing, she took an unpaid internship logging and capturing hundreds of hours of footage for a documentary producer in Mountain View. Luckily, another film producer down the hall noticed her work and asked her to be a production assistant, where she got to work on videos for large corporations.
Later, when that producer moved on, Alexis decided to take things into her own hands. Seeing how a friend had spent five years waiting for his “big break” at Skywalker Sound but not getting too far up the ladder, she resolved to buy her own camera and create her own footage. Over the next several years, she gained experience working in various production roles for different filmmakers and producers around the Bay, including the 48-Hour Film Festivals in San Francisco.
After creating her chiropractor’s video, it sparked the beginning of a freelance career that exposed her to many interesting stories that could be told via video. Alexis said, “Talking to businesses and getting to know people by making a video for them, I got to see inside a lot of different careers and paths and people’s lives that I would never get the opportunity to do otherwise.”
Why Freelancing Works
A long-term stint as a restaurant server: that’s the closest Alexis has gotten to any sort of employment at one place, with a boss and a hierarchy. With video production, she has always worked as a freelancer. In fact, she says typically 50-75% of people in this profession try to freelance — if not all the time, then on the side. It opens things up and you get paid more that way.
“In some ways, I view as a bit of a detriment,” said Alexis. “But if I think about everything that I do, it’s pretty cool.” For one, she believes your creativity is limited if you’re working in one place. “When you work as part of a production company, you end up doing just one thing over and over. So, it can get a little dull.”
Alexis has been in situations where a company would say, “Be creative! Do whatever you want! We want to see what you have to bring to the table!” Then she gave them creative work, but they would say, “What’s this? No. No, we want it like this. Please make it this way.”
Freelancing has also allowed Alexis the freedom to travel for extended periods of time. She recently journeyed on part of the John Muir Trail with a high school friend who shares her love of backpacking and being in nature. While she ventured to Paris this year, she also loves to spend extra time with her sister in Austin. Forget the weekend jaunt there which doesn’t quite cut it. Alexis tries to go for at least two weeks to shed the day-to-day life, appreciate new surroundings, and absorb the full experience.
How EM Marketing Helps
While 85-90% of her business comes from networking and business referrals from previous clients, Alexis was able to help several companies with corporate video production through EM Marketing. “I really like the team at EM. I’ve met some great people that I’ve continued to stay in touch with,” said Alexis. “And Ken’s [Ken Chen, Founder & President, EM Marketing] approach to the whole thing is really wonderful. He’s honest, upfront, warm, and welcoming.”
Alexis wants to take her work further into documentaries. She started her first one about a shop in Hayes Valley, San Francisco. Finding so many topic paths to go down, she succumbed to a “deer-in-the-headlights scenario.” In the process, she realized this might be a project (currently still on the back burner) to pursue with a team.
Not only would working with others keep her accountable, but she thinks sometimes two, three, or even four heads are better than one. Alexis said, “If you have a director and a writer and a team of people that you can talk to, then it’d be better to hash out than just myself in front of the footage.”
Whatever happens to that particular documentary, EM Marketing and the greater Bay Area are lucky that this talented go-getter fell into film. Alexis has truly found her passion in video production and now loves to “give people and ideas a stronger voice.” Perhaps it could be yours.