Using Spec Spots to Land Real Jobs

Chris Collins / Production

By: Chris Collins

Here at Wide Open Camera we like to take measures into our own hands.  That’s part of the reason I have been such a strong supporter of going out and shooting spec commercials as a means for mastering your craft.  Director Ilya Polyakov and I began shooting spec spots together about two years ago for a contest website called Poptent. These are the kind of run and gun shoots that we produced for $50 and a few Subway sandwiches.  After a while we began winning some of the many contests we entered.  Not only were we compensated for our endless hard work, but often times we were asked to do reshoots (with small but fair budgets) for the winning spots.

Winning is one thing.  However, there are other ways to land legitimate work through specs in today’s age of social media and youtube.  Ilya came to me with a job that he had just picked up this way. The budget was certainly lower than we would have liked, but I kept my crew and equipment lists small and was still able to make a proper rate. How did we get the job? I’ll let Ilya take it from here…

It’s strange to think how much of my paying work started with a contest. The Smokefree assignment was no different. It started in July 2011, when I decided to do a spot for Blue Electronic Cigarettes (see below) as part of a contest they were running. First place won $10,000. What resulted was a commercial entitled “Sex With a Robot,” which, despite garnering 450,000 views to date, lost the contest to some chick playing a ukulele (still bitter…me?), and fell to the wayside as just another spec spot. That is until 6 months later, when it was discovered by an SEO in India, who contacted me to rebrand the spot for a client of theirs, Smokefree Electronic Cigarettes. I proposed doing an original spot instead, and they agreed, as long as we used the Robot around which the original spot centered. We finalized a script after some email back and forth, and my team and I were left to execute the spot with surprisingly little brand input. The above video is the result.  The client was happy, and has consequently greenlit a 20-second TV spot, which we will be shooting in the coming weeks, with promise of six more to follow in the future.

Here is the orginal spec spot (shot by Justin Anderson)…

Moral of the story… keep shooting. Get your hit counts up to where people start paying attention, and next thing you know you’ll have a proper budget job in the works.

Chris Collins
Chris Collins is a cinematographer living in Los Angeles who focuses mainly on documentaries and commercials.
  • Bradley Jenkins

    Hey you guys got any Robot openings?

  • http://citylimitfilms.com/ Christian

    But here’s the million dollar question – how do you get your hit counts up for a spec spot?

  • http://citylimitfilms.com/ Christian

    (without having “sex” in the title of it)

  • SpecBank

    It helps to start with a great concept. Fun spot! If you’re looking for more specs to shoot that aren’t for competitions, check out SpecBank.com for nearly 800 spot scripts from top ad agencies.