Just by Michael
After a chance opportunity, Michael Shepherd took off to London and his professional career as a Photographer and Filmmaker began on the set of a Bollywood film. Now as a Freelance Videographer and Director of Just By Michael, Michael has worked with numerous small to medium businesses across the UK and continues to expand his portfolio and use his creativity to produce modern and unique video content. Here he shares his journey as a Freelancer and details why you should trust the process when growing as a young creative.
North Core Creative: How did you get started in your journey to being a videographer?
Michael Shepherd: So, it’s sort of the same typical story you hear from any Photographer/Filmmaker – using cameras from a young age and finding any opportunity to take pictures on disposable cameras or on my parents’ phones.
As I got older, my interest in taking photos and videos only grew with me. I started filming my friends creating homemade skateboarding videos, which I did for years on a small Canon Handycam and eventually upgraded myself to a Fisheye Lens to screw on the end. Looking back, this was some of the most fun I’ve had filming as there are no expectations except having a good time and seeing what creativity comes to mind. Needless to say, my editing skills have come a long way since then.
When I went to college, I took up photography as a course, which to be honest, gradually put me off photography as the way it was taught was not interesting to me at all; putting Sellotape on pictures and washing them in water wasn’t really my thing; if you know you know.
I briefly went to Uni for a grand total of two months and dropped out as it wasn’t for me. I picked up my old summer job delivering pizzas before rediscovering my passion for photography and filmmaking. After a year of delivering pizzas, I found myself working at the Pleasure Beach as a Portrait Photographer, taking pictures of visitors at the park and hard selling them keyrings, photos, and anything you can whack a photo in. I loved this job for a short while, before gradually realising that my worth wasn’t completely valued there. After quitting twice and going back (due to running out of money and having no clients to keep me going), I said to myself that the next time WILL be my last.
I found myself in a slightly better position than the previous times that I had left, yet I had about £13 to my name and things weren’t looking great. I spent a night writing down ideas on how to get clients; deals I could offer etc. When I woke up, I had a message from a friend whose brother saw some photos I had done and asked if I wanted to work on a film set in London. Quite literally, I was shocked at the opportunity and timing, yet I knew this had happened for a reason. I packed my bag within the hour and off I went on the next train.
I spent the next 2-3 months working on two different Bollywood feature films, “Rangroot” and “Firrkie”. I’d sleep on sofas, strangers’ spare beds, and in my last week of filming I was blessed with my own hotel room. We shot across mainly London, Birmingham, and even Manchester. This was the pivotal point where I realised this is what I am meant to do and had to carry this momentum. Also, one of the best experiences of my life, as well as being pure carnage.
Since then, I have grinded away working with local businesses across Lancashire, a handful of brands, and even some celebrities such as Charlotte Dawson. From then, everything has gradually fallen in place and I am now looking to keep growing as a young creative.
NCC: Do you have any fellow professionals who give you inspiration for your content?
MS: There aren't many local talents that I follow, but I do follow a lot of Youtubers, mainly the work of Mark Bone and Danny Gevirtz. I’m always looking to improve my style and develop as a professional, so I don’t really get overly invested in one individual but like to listen to a variety of opinions and styles. Yet the above examples don’t shoot the same content as myself, I find I can incorporate it into my own work.
NCC: What’s your process? Pre- and post-production?
MS: Listen to what the client wants, give them advice and direction using previous experience from similar projects as to why their suggestions may or may not work, and stay away from jazzy transitions. I focus on a clean, minimal style to ensure that no matter what the project is, the message is delivered clearly and is understandable for the viewer. If your content isn’t completely clear on the message it’s trying to deliver, it will fail.
NCC: What effect has COVID-19 had on you and the media industry in general?
MS: For me, I’ve been ridiculously fortunate. I met with a prospect before the first ever lockdown (feels a lifetime a go now) to shoot luxury and high-end real estate videos. Once early restrictions were lifted for video production, my business has done the best it ever has. It’s hard to generalise the impact it’s had more widely as event video production has come to a complete holt, yet controlled environments have had a little bit more slack, yet still not completely normal. It’s provided a great opportunity for some, yet complete standstill for others. In comparison to other businesses, I think the media industry has been quite lucky overall.
NCC: And how have you had to adapt?
MS: Not that I completely have a solid business plan in place in all honesty, as I believe as Filmmakers and Photographers it’s hard to predict where you’ll end up and what’s you’re calling – but my initial plans were put on hold and so I pursued opportunities that presented themselves, such as the property market booming and putting my focus there for the short term. Which has massively benefited me through tough times, but also my brand awareness.
NCC: What equipment do you use?
MS: I’m a DSLR shooter, which I know all “professionals” turn their nose up at, but as a Photographer and Filmmaker it works best for my workflow. I use Canon EOS R paired with a variety of mainly Canon lenses such as the 16-35mm 2.8 II and 24-70mm 2.8. 90% of the time I’m on my trusted Ronin S for stabilisation, however I’m having great fun experimenting with handheld shooting which is something I’d like to focus more on for the right projects.
NCC: Tell us about your favourite project or the project that changed things for you?
MS: As mentioned before it was the Bollywood experience for me. Seeing how an actual film set works and operates with the longlist of assigned roles that go into the production. It taught me lots, technically, about creating good stories in your content, but the main lesson was taking opportunities when they come and be more of a yes-man. It’s easy to say no to things you’re either scared of or not interested in doing but giving things a go and seeing where it leads are usually when the best things happen.
NCC: What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow their passion in video work?
MS: My best advice would be don’t go full time freelance straight away; save up for gear and buy what you can when you can. You don’t need all the best equipment right away, just make the right decision about what would help get you a better finished product. A lot of people disagree with the saying that “post good content and the work will come,” but I’ve never done ads or any crazy outreach strategies, only post my best work, mainly on LinkedIn and Instagram – LinkedIn is very underrated, and every creative should be using it.
So, in summary, I’d say just focus on chipping away and getting your work better than the last project and post it all over LinkedIn. I still don’t have a kit I’m fully satisfied with but even when I do, I’m sure I’ll want something new and shiny again. It is a long process and it’s easy to be discouraged when looking at your favourite creators (I do it all the time), but as cliche as it is, just focus on your own journey and trust the process.
You can check out Michael’s work on his website Just by Michael | Videographer - Blackpool, Lancashire and North West. Or connect with him on LinkedIn @ Michael Shepherd – Filmmaker and Photographer