What’s a typical day like in your job?
So first, I work as the Series Producer for a series run by Indigenous Media called “60 Second Docs.” As such, I work a nine to five in an office in Culver City, Calif., though a typical day at work for me varies a bit. My responsibilities include overseeing the entire production team, which include freelance producers who are shooting branded spots for us, as well as the production and research team—these are the folks that are digging up ideas, tracking down subjects, hiring and prepping local hire filmmakers, and seeing pre-production through. I’ll say though that my primary responsibility is overseeing all of the creative for the series. This is to say, I shape what the content is, ranging from the concepts that I greenlight, to the scripts I create from the interview transcripts, to song choices for the videos, and then the look and feel of the individual episodes. We release four original videos a week, so there is an extremely high turnover. In summation, a typical day for me is making sure that these stories hook and retain the viewer’s interest, and are told in a succinct, emotionally compelling fashion.
Trends - Where do you see your industry five or ten years from now?
If I knew the answer to this I could become rich. The digital marketplace is totally fluid, and new platforms emerge or dissipate frequently—as do the patterns of its users. Notably, YouTube, Instagram, facebook, and Snap are all really different from one another, and all could provide unique five year projections. It does seem that the future of content in general is headed toward specialization and verticalization. This trend has began, as who you like populates your feed. I believe in a few years time this process will see refinement, as creators and publishers alike are devoted to hitting their core demo. The current limitation though, is that a flooded content marketplace amplifies a chaotic consumption ground. In short: there is too much content for the stuff you’d like most to necessarily find you. I believe in five years, there will be a streamlined process for you to find the stuff you want to spend your time with, like the “You Might Like” suggestions that Netflix gives you. It is anyone’s guess where the digital media industry is in ten years. Likely it will continue to be the forum for the most experimental content. What that looks like we can only guess.
Insights - What surprises you most about your job?
What goes viral. On many occasions, videos I wasn’t too proud of have gone bonkers. A content creator can anticipate to a certain extent what people will like, but the X factor in all this is that people are turned on by what they haven’t seen before. So the content you make that is more experimental or different in some way will often fail hard, or occasionally go nuts.
Advice - What can students be doing now, here at Hamilton, to prepare for this career?
Well, there’s a few things that can help you for a career in the film industry. First, know movies and TV shows. There’s obviously a ton of stuff out there, and far more than you can fully get through, but you absolutely must know the touchstones, and have your favorites that you can talk about at length. References are the currency of pitching. And in order for you to present as informed and intelligent, you must know what’s out there, what you like, and why—in specifics. The other major factor is that this industry is absolutely about who you know. Period. So know as many people as you can. Network unabashedly. Intern where possible. And be out in the field.
Resources - What resources are helpful to look into? What should a student who is interested in film next steps be?
This is a good question, though there are a few basic texts and resources to check out. “The trades” are a great first place to understand the market, and the nuts and bolts of what’s going on in Hollywood. Deadline.com and hollywoodreporter.com and variety.com are the industry leaders here. As far as understanding story goes, the screenwriting text Story by Robert McKee is a heavyweight, as is The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. For visual theory I highly recommend The Visual Story by Bruce Block. You should write your own stuff, come up with ideas for content, and keep curious!
Assignment - What project have you done at work that you felt added the most value?
This is a simple one, because the series “60 Second Docs” has been crash course training as a documentary film producer and director. I came from narrative filmmaking, and making 370 documentaries in two years has served my ability to break story, script and understand what is going to work and why quickly. I shall be grateful for it long after I have moved on.
Do you have any other words of wisdom or helpful tips for students interested in the film industry?
Hamilton has a long history of connecting students with alumni and parents whose advice, expertise, and resources help talented young people achieve success for themselves and in their communities.
Ask questions and work your butt off. The entertainment industry is not big, and it’s filled with people that are trying to get ahead without a lot of intelligence, thoughtfulness or talent. Come in ready to start at the bottom and rise through the ranks by excelling at every task put in front of you. This is how all the big careers were launched. Stay humble (or appear it—everyone does this), work hard, and follow your heart in making content that you believe in.
Dan Leonard is an award-winning Producer of visual content in Los Angeles and currently the Series Producer for “60 Second Docs.” The series has more than 2.6 billion views to date, and 5.6 million followers across social media platforms in just 26 months of existence. Dan has Produced content for clients including FOX, Viacom, Focus Features, Paramount TV, Red Bull, AT&T, GM, Sony Music and many more. He is a graduate of the American Film Institute, as well as Hamilton College.