We sat down with content creator Gene Nagata, better known as Potato Jet, to talk about what makes a successful videographer freelancer, his favorite gear, and his best tips on how to grow a big following on YouTube. Let's hear what he had to say about it!
A chat with Potato Jet
Q: What's the most important thing, according to you, to be a successful video freelancer?
A: I think there are many different ways to be a successful freelancer, but I think I consider the most important skills to be focused and flexible. It's hard to balance the two, but it's important to have enough focus to push a project through to the finish line without taking shortcuts. And flexibility is key because we all know that no videos, clients, and crews are the same. It's also a field where everything constantly changes and evolves, so without the ability to adapt to new ideas, creatives, and technology; it's easy to fall behind. And with the combination of the two, you'll be ready for when things go wrong.... And they will go wrong. Shoots will get rained out. Talent will show up hungover. Planes will fly over you as soon as you try to record a line of dialog. It's all part of the process, but with the right mindset, you'll be able to blast through it.
Q: Which three pieces of gear would you not be able to live without?
A: I'd first grab my laptop (MacBook Pro 16"). I spend 90% of my life editing, so that's important. Then for sure a camera, which would currently be the Canon C70. And for the third, I'm having a hard time deciding between a tripod or a microphone... But let's go with the microphone. I suppose I can always find something to set the camera on, but you can't get very far without good audio.
Q: What are your best tips to grow a big following on YouTube?
A: Well, this is something I'm still trying to figure out… But aside from the typical things we have all heard a million times, like consistency, bringing value, etc., I think it's important to make content that you, yourself, would like to watch. Most of my best ideas came to me when I thought: "I wish there was a video about _____"
Q: What's the number one software, tool, or gear on your wishlist?
A: Easy.... Arri Alexa Mini LF.
Q: When it comes to editing, what are your favorite go-to effects?
A: There are a million effects I would like to use regularly, but I usually don't because I'm pretty lazy in post-production. My post-production workflow typically consists of editing the video, watching it back, and thinking about how boring it is, so I cut out half the scenes... Then I do that again and again. Eventually, I hate the video slightly less and decide to hit render so I can go to bed.
Q: Can you talk us through how you started your video creator career and tell us about your main milestones?
A: Well, it started with my parents' black and white camcorder and doing the VHS to VHS editing, which many of us 90s kids had to do. Eventually, my brother showed me how to capture video onto a computer and edit it. That eventually turned into landing music video gigs on Craigslist.
I also entered a few contests, and when I realized that they weren't impossible to win, I went on a contest entering spree which eventually led me to make spec commercials. Spec commercials are kind of like contests, but if you win, they buy out your commercial. They were great because if you win, it's a great payday, and even if you don't, it's material for your reel.
From there it's a pretty slow and long journey where every month I would pick up a new client, shoot a new project, meet someone new, and so on. I can't think of any major milestones but more like many, many steps on a staircase.
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Q: What's your secret weapon for making your videos stand out?
A: I don't really know... Some people tell me it's blunt honesty. Some people say it feels relatable. I just hit record and usually, I don't even know what I'm going to say when I start vlogging.... Sometimes something decent comes out of my mouth and I'll use it in a video, but usually, I end up deleting the clip. My personal method for making a YouTube video is very inefficient, so I wouldn't recommend following my lead on that one!
Q: What keeps you motivated in your work?
A: Well, right now, we moved into a fixer-upper house and I've demolished the kitchen with a sledgehammer to get some cool slow-motion footage. But that's before I realized how expensive kitchens are, so I guess the idea of having a kitchen is pretty motivating. Also, that Arri Alexa Mini LF would be pretty cool to have one day. Jokes aside, I really enjoy what I'm doing, so it's not too hard to get myself motivated. I did feel some burnout during the lockdowns but by slowing things down and going at the pace I wanted to go, I feel like I've been able to refuel. Doing the whole "stop to smell the flowers" thing, I guess. Also, I want the dogs to be proud of me.
We hope you enjoyed this interview with Potato Jet, and that you got some useful expert tips along the way.
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Potato Jet is a Los Angeles-based videographer, YouTube content creator, and Dog Dad with a goal to make educational, yet fun, content.