“Do it because you love it. Period. That is the only way you will make it through the ups and downs. In this line of work it can often be feast or famine and if you’re not in it because you love it, you won’t make it.”
Tom Kranzle- Venture Visuals
Commercial Production Studio
Just over ten years ago, Tom Kranzle started Venture Visuals to address the growing digital content needs he saw clients having. He is now the founder and lead director/ DOP of the boutique commercial production studio and works from Santa Barbara, CA. They strive to grow brands through visual stories that inspire, empower and create more authentic connections with customers. Over the years, Thomas has been fortunate enough to work on projects for brands such as Apple, Google, Ford, Land Rover, Dollar Shave Club, UGG, Specialized, Tommy Hilfiger, Budweiser, Carl’s Jr., and many others. Read on to find out more.
How did Venture Visuals start?
Venture Visuals didn’t start with the idea of building a production company, rather it started with the thought that productions could be more nimble and more efficient with each clients production dollar. The year was 2005 and I was working on traditional commercials and music video shoots in LA. The big union crews I was on had their place, but even back then I saw a growing need for high quality production with smaller teams to serve the content needs of emerging digital platforms. I was working on a side project at the time – a climbing film on freesoloing (climbing big walls without ropes). Through that production, I got introduced to some of the brands that were sponsoring the film. They began to ask me to help produce small commercial projects and that is where it all clicked. I began to see the market and need for the kind of production structure I had been thinking about. It began slowly as me freelancing and hiring on the right crew for each project. That evolved over time and a little over a year later we had an office and our first two employees.
Who has helped you in the process of following your dream?
There have been many great people along the way who have helped me make connections or given me opportunities to prove myself. I am deeply grateful for each of them. However, if I had to choose one main source of influence that allowed me to follow my dreams, it would have to be my parents (a little cliche, I know). It’s not that they pushed me in any specific way, but rather that they just believed in me and supported my journey even when I did a complete 180 and changed career paths to pursue film in my studies. My folks have always been behind me 100%. Also, they have always worked for themselves, running the only grocery store in the town that I grew up in in Germany, and then pursuing real estate when we moved to San Diego in the late 80’s. I know it’s a small detail, but growing up seeing them run their own businesses rather than working for a bigger corporation gave me a sense of possibility to pursue my own ventures later in life. There was never a hesitation about building my own business and not having a steady paycheck. I just didn’t know a different way of doing things.
How do you make sure you deliver videos in line with your clients expectations?
I think it’s important to remember that in any creative business, you (the artist) need to temper your own creative desires and vision by what’s best for the client. Sure, they are coming to you for a reason and hopefully they love your creative vision. However, it is important to ask yourself early on in the creative process “How is this going to work and serve my client best?”. You may have a great new shooting style or lighting technique that you really want to explore, but if it doesn’t best serve the goals of a project, then you need to save that for another time. Maybe a personal project down the road. I’m not saying you have to limit your creativity, you just need to implement it within the parameters a clients needs. If the video (or any other creative project) doesn’t end up addressing the clients needs then, in my mind, what you created is a failure. It may well be beautiful, or inspirational, or witty, but it didn’t work! That is why we start each project with really asking the client “Why are we making this?”, “What are the goals and objectives?”, “What does it need to do?”, “What action do we want viewers to take?”. This in a sense gives our video a job description and those all important parameters within we can be creative and develop a concept that works.
Where do you go for inspiration?
I am a big fan of the outdoors. I get outside whenever I can to surf, climb, hike, or ski with my family. That is where I recharge, and get much of my inspiration. It’s not just the natural environments, but also the quiet time that is conducive to creative thinking. Most big ideas normally come to me in these settings when my mind can slow down from the day to day. Aside from that, on a more practical level, I try to surround myself with creativity that falls outside my field. My wife and I love studying modern architecture and design, we often go to art shows and the opera, and read as much as we can (though there never seems to be enough time in the day for as much of that as I would like). I’ve also made a point to slow down the night before a production and either watch a film with great cinematography or go through a photography book to give myself some visual stimulation and ideas to implement on the following days shoot.
What blocks your success and how do you overcome this?
I think this is a hard one to answer because the measure of success is so different for everyone. Even now that I’m at a place that I would have considered successful a few years back, I find myself striving for something different. Not in a discontent way, but rather wanting something different, or having different goals because of where I am in life now. Yes, in running your own business there are practical hindrances such as finances, finding the right people, making the right connections, etc. However, in all honesty the biggest hurdle to success has been me. I’ll give one practical example. Early on in starting Venture Visuals, I was creating in a vacuum. I would obsess over the shots I was creating and hoped someone would notice, but never did anything to meet the people that could use the work I was creating. I was just hoping that by uploading it to Vimeo, someone who needed the kind of work I was creating would take notice. Sadly, in most cases, this approach doesn’t bring much. I knew the value of networking and meeting the right people, but was doing nothing to pursue it. Probably because I’m a bit more quiet and reserved by nature. This caused the business to plateau after a couple years and growth went stale for quite some. This only changed once I made a change and began pursuing more meetings with the people that would hire me and need the kind of video work we were producing.
Venture Visuals is all about sharing peoples’ stories. Tell us more about what you believe.
We’re creating commercial work, but not in the traditional sense. Sure we produce a few 30sec broadcast spots each year, but the majority of what we create are short form stories. Yes, there is a brand behind most of them, but it is a brand that is smart enough to realize that people, their stories, and experience are more effective in engaging audiences rather than simply pushing a product on people. We love this mode of advertising because it is the most authentic way for a brand to create connection. Through sharing real stories, a brand has an opportunity to share more of it’s personality and vision with people. They can give people an insight into the “Why?” behind the brand and build deeper emotional connections. We as people have always communicated through stories. Through oral tradition things were passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. It’s exciting to see that much of advertising is swinging back from really condensed formats to embracing something that allows more time for engagement.
How do you deal with criticism and how do you learn from it?
I’ve been lucky to mostly just have constructive criticism come my way. Sure you get some off color comments occasionally, but it’s best to just ignore that. Practically speaking, I think constructive critique is the best way to improve in your craft. Often we as artists are to close to what we are creating to see it objectively. That is why at Venture Visuals we always have multiple rounds of pier review…often by people who aren’t involved with a project. That is the best way to get objective feedback on your work and grow. There is one deeper level of criticism that I will speak to and that is internal critique. I have never been totally satisfied with a project. Sure, I have been happy with projects and am even proud of some, but I find that after each shoot I am critiquing my own work internally feeling that I could have done it better. I’d like to think that that is a good thing that keeps me improving in my craft. At least I tell myself that this little amount of dissatisfaction and tension is what keeps progression going.
What is it that you love about what you do?
I love that I get to make a living off creativity. It is really cool to look around the office and and realize that all this is sustained by what is in our minds. People are paying for what we create and that is pretty stinking neat. Outside of that, I love that there is always something new to work on. Our projects generally run a few weeks and it is always nice to have a new creative challenge on the horizon. We are always solving some kind of creative problem and we very rarely encounter the same one twice.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
Do it because you love it. Period. That is the only way you will make it through the ups and downs. In this line of work it can often be feast or famine and if you’re not in it because you love it, you won’t make it.
What are you most excited about for the future?
I love the time that we are living in. Technology is evolving so rapidly, methods of media delivery are constantly changing, and new formats for storytelling are arising all the time. It is an exciting time to be a creative. There is more and more opportunity for content creators as more and more content is being consumed. Now, it is just up to us to embrace and work with these changes to continue to engage audiences in effective ways.