Interview with viral film-maker Phil Beastall and Marc Ford MBA, YBKBS

Multi-skilled creative Video Producer, Director and Videographer. In 2018 his Christmas film called ‘Love is a Gift’ went viral. It was watched by over 50 million people around the world and shared over 100,000 times on social media. He was personally asked by Lewis Capaldi to direct the music video for his number 1 single ‘Someone You Loved’ which starring BAFTA winner Peter Capaldi.

This interview is ‘Business Lessons from a £50 video’. We talked to Phil Beastall. 18 months ago Phil was all over the news where after making a video four years ago for the equivalent of fjust £50 it had been viewed almost as many times as that Christmas’s John Lewis advert. He’d been all over the press, all over the TV, all over the radio. And yes, we bagged an interview with him. He took some time out of his very, very busy schedule to have a chat with us about the business lessons that you should learn from making your own video.

YBKBS: So obviously, let’s get down to the nitty gritty, all of this video buzz has just gone nuts. When did you first find out? All of a sudden I went from several thousand views to several million views.

PB: Let’s be honest, we were monitoring it really closely because I was there when I first posted it. I was a Sunday morning. I put it up on the (Facebook) Tewkesbury Noticeboard Local Community, which is where I live. And it got some traction. We had a few thousand views and it was it was doing all right. I was quite pleased about that. And then it just started creeping up very slowly. And then we hit 10,000 and then we hit 20,000. And I remember I joked with my partner, I think I went to bed at night. I said, “If you wake up in the morning, it is 50,000.” And then I did wake up…it was 60,000. And then it just got that curve of growth that just starts to speed up. And I think by day two and three we were heading into the hundreds of thousands and towards million.

YBKBS: That’s a rare kind of feeling. Does that give you pride, because everybody wants something that goes viral? In what kind of way were you shocked? Stunned? Would you just suddenly feel like “This is the big time!”? What was going through your mind?

PB: It is weird. I’ve come I’ve gone through some phases. So it’s because it is kind of the dream really for any video producer or filmmaker to create something that goes viral. So when it started to pick up, I didn’t quite believe it. And but equally, I was thinking, “Oh, my God, is this actually going viral?” And then it started to speed up and I didn’t know it. It never really felt real. And it felt like it’s happening to somebody else. Such a bizarre way to say it. The fact that people have seen my film on the opposite side of the globe and not only have they seen it, they’ve enjoyed it so much that they can’t help us share it and private messaged me. I just felt privileged.

Now, I guess we live in such a fantastic age right now where, you can literally connect with anybody, in any part of the world. It’s just astounding.

YBKBS: Run us through the the idea behind the film. Where the idea came from because it’s such a great story.

PB: So I studied film production at university, but after I graduated, I fell into a corporate video production role. I worked for an agency for about five years and then when I left there, back in 2012, I always had this idea that I was going to start exploring my creativity again a little bit more because I had that freedom. And then in 2014, I was just desperate to make a Christmas film.

I’d done one. The thing was two years prior, actually, with my son. And for me, something says something about Christmas because it’s so magical. I just think it lends itself to telling stories. And so I was just out on run on a Sunday afternoon. I was just thinking about the concept. And then just suddenly this idea came to me and I raced home to my partner and told her about it. And I just knew straightaway that this was a story that I really wanted to share.

Within a couple of days, we were filming it. Chris, is a friend of mine and we had worked together on corporate productions. And because he’s got an active background, we just thought we should just make it a bit of a mission to see how much I can achieve with next to no budget and with tiny crews. I think that I’ve heard so many stories of people that do big productions and there’s people just stood around doing nothing. I mean, that’s a lot of money to be wasted, so it just intrigued me as to what can be achieved off a tiny budget.

YBKBS: And if anything, you’re now living proof of what can be made or what can be achieved…

PB: What I’m pleased about is that I think I’ve noticed and I’ve actually been affected a little bit by all of this, is that there’s some great content coming out online, but it’s very much relying on editing, which is which is an art form in itself. But I’ve found that through camera operating, this kind of storytelling has lost its way a little bit. And there’s a lot of reliance on effects that can be achieved in posts you made.

You know, it’s the classic let’s fix it in post (production), and I’m much more traditional and I like to come in with a story. So actually, because I filmed it four years ago, I’ve progressed since then. But there’s no sort of layers of production on top. It is really simple and just about story, which so for that to take off, has been amazing for me.

YBKBS:  You see, that’s really interesting. It’s what I alluded to a little bit earlier is that you’re an overnight sensation four years later. And as a business point of view there is no such thing as an overnight sensation. It normally means that at best, several hard yards have gone into it. But unless you actually you know, unless you’d said or let it come out that it was four years ago, actually people wouldn’t know that it had been filmed four years ago. It’s still it’s quite timeless in its in its in its storytelling, isn’t it?

PB: It is. And it just goes to show as well as you say, people wouldn’t realise. And I’ve got this kind of ratio when I went to every type of job release that you as a filmmaker, you want your work to hit 100%. There’s many areas in which you can reach 100%. And one of them might be production values and things like camera work. And you might have trained shots in that. But actually your audience probably only notices about 80% of it. So that 20% on top tends to get noticed. And so as it as in a business sense, I’ve had to really be sensible. So I used to put our heart and soul into everything and I still do, in terms of energy. But sometimes 20% gets lost and so I think what we’re noticing here is that I could have shot this on a much better camera. I could have hired a bigger crew and we could have done so much more. But actually, with that, I’ve been noticed. And how much value are we really getting out of that top 20 percent, whereas the bulk of the 80 percent, which is the emotional content and the story is really what resonates with people.

YBKBS: That’s interesting as when I talk about video in workshops or coaching, I’m encouraging businesses to reflect their personality, to reflect who they are, what they’re about through video. I’m seeing a lot of bad stuff out there, including some ‘career-enders’. I call them ‘career-enders’, because they basically just go on for three minutes telling everybody about how lucky they are and how everybody else wishes they were them, but perversely I’m always encouraging people to tell a story. So obviously using both sides of the coin, you’re doing it for yourself, telling your own kind of stories. Please give us three big tips on how a small business, somebody with an iPhone and a microphone and a tripod can aim to tell their story of their business or what they do and  how they do it.

PB: I think for me, the first thing I would say is that it’s classic marketing. Imagine if your friend came in to Cannes, could have met you and started blowing their own trumpet and was telling you about how great they are. Immediately you’d feel on the defence and feel ‘you’re bragging a little bit here’.

But actually, if you heard from somebody else that was a third party to say, “Hey, you’ve got to meet Joe Bloggs, they’re so good at the X because of X, Y, Z…”, you’d kind of be more willing to believe that because it’s a recommendation. So personally, what I’ve encouraged my clients to do is rather than standing in front of the camera and presenting their ideas is actually how about we hear it from your customers?

So if you truly believe that what you offer is a great service or your products are fantastic, well, then prove it. Let’s hear from the customers that you’ve dealt with that are able to recommend you. An example of a good recommendation from someone would be a wedding. When it comes to the actual practical side of filmmaking or video production there’s a lot of aspects that are that are involved, but often get ignored. So one of them is quite often sound design or sound recording. And this is for some reason, it’s always left to the last. This is right at the bottom of the pile. So you could up this amazing looking video, but with terrible sound. It just doesn’t really reflect you guys in the best way from a production point of view. If your customers talk about the things that often get unnoticed others will have ‘Aha!’ moments.

But fundamentally, it’s just going right back to the basics and thinking, what story do you want to tell here and see it from your audience’s perspective. What do they want to hear? Because it’s quite easy to get self-indulgent and say, “I’m great…”, but is this trying to step into your audiences shoes for a second? Think what matters to them? Why are they here? Why are they watching this video? And what do they want to get out of it?

YBKBS: Obviously you’ve planned out plenty of films, how important is script storyboard? I mean, we’re still in a way, blessed and cursed at the same time with things like Facebook lives, which can be quite interesting. You used the phrase self-indulgent. When businesses are giving us tips it’s that they sometimes Facebook lives do come across as quite self-indulgent. It’s like “Look at me”. “I’m here at this massive event. You’re not in yet. You should feel jealous”. That type of thing. So when you’re planning out these videos and you’re quite right, it should be for the client and the customer, how important are scripts and how important a storyboard?

PB: I think it’s really important because without a destination, you are just walking in the dark really don’t really know where you’re headed. And I think even when you watch a documentary on TV, they would have known what they wanted before they’d even started. And it allows you to work backwards from your destination so you can figure out what it is that you need to do to get all the relevant content. And so with a concise script, it just means everybody’s singing from the same hymn sheet. Everybody knows what we’re doing with a storyboard. You can pass that onto people and they can quite clearly see in front of. This is what it’s going to look like. And then it just means logistically. You end up spending a lot less time creating the content because you’re just much more time efficient.

And when you’re on the set, you can just blast through everything and just spend as much time and energy on that one shot rather than think you will get five shots just in case, which actually might end up being five watered down shots that don’t really tell the story. And I think the best visual visionaries and directors, they will they will know exactly what they’re looking for. But before they’ve even started, it’s just really key that you get that down on paper so everybody can get on board with you.

YBKBS: One of the things that that people talk about, especially in the world of technology that we’re in right now, people there are a lot of people out there that just don’t do video. They don’t get themselves out there enough. They’re not so setting themselves in front of their business. How easy is it to get started with video and start promoting yourself or your business?

PB: I think it’s quite easy, actually. I mean, obviously, equipment is a lot cheaper these days. Everybody’s got an iPhone and that’s a great starting point. However, what I would say is that although it is very accessible, it’s as important that you consider the way that you’re being perceived because an iPhone video, or other brands are available, is it doesn’t necessarily say that we’re a big company and we’ve invested a lot in our advertising, which subliminally says a lot.

But if you’re trying to create content, that is a bit of a behind the scenes and giving your customers an insight into what you’re like as a business and actually shooting things on phones and doing small scale things like that is quite good because it’s got an element of realness to it and rawness. So that is I mean, if you shot something and it was high production value and you said this is genuinely what we’re like behind the scenes, your people may not believe it so much.

There’s a wealth of producers out there now and camera operators. It’s crazy. I mean, that’s something I’m dealing with at the moment, is that someone who’s now got a camera is now a camera operator. I’m a director now because I own a camera. So there’s lots of people out there shooting great content. It’s just note to be careful as to who you’re working with, so do the research. And again, just bring it back to your brand and make sure that it fits with what you’re trying to deliver.

YBKBS: I think in the stuff you just raise there is a really important point. That everybody with a phone is really a camera operator or a film director. Chris Ducker talks about it a lot. Every business owner or every business is, in effect, their own media company, because they can choose when to put stuff out, what to put out and how they put it out any time of day. It’s probably one of the first times in our lifetime that we can that we can now run our own campaigns or marketing campaigns and ad campaigns without ever having to contact the TV company, which is just quite weird, really, isn’t it?

PB: It’s weird, but it’s great. I suppose producing a TV campaign was the best way with video to get out there back in the day. But you were relying on huge budgets and it was only accessible to some, whereas actually so many businesses now can just upload content. Everybody is a broadcaster, but equally it’s the fact that it’s so fast paced and it’s just being rushed out the door.

I see that a lot businesses have this tick box with video. And as long as it’s ticked, they’re doing their job. Actually, it’s not just a tick box exercise. We do need to put a lot of thought into it and make sure that what’s being broadcast is is actually is on point. But it’s a great age to be in, and I mean, for me, as well as a filmmaker and a video producer, it is just this. Everybody wants it. So is it’s a win-win situation

YBKBS: What if you could go back in time, go back to four years ago where you felt when you first filmed it? Is there anything you would change about it initially?

PB: A really good question. And it’s reminded me that when I first released it, as in rereleased this year and it started to get views, I was thinking, “Oh, no! This doesn’t represent who I am now as a filmmaker in terms of the production value, because I’ve got better kit. Now I’m a better cinematographer and I’m a better director. And this is something I created a long time ago”. But the more I start to think about it, the more I realised no, I think the charm comes from the fact that it is low budget and it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that come with like the John Lewis advert, for example. And it’s just a stripped down video or film that just has a core great story.

And so I don’t think I would go back and change it now. And I certainly couldn’t feel like that because of the response I’ve had if I changed it.

YBKBS: So what does the next 12 months hold? Have you got people banging on the door, wanting you to come and do their corporate videos all of a sudden?

PB: I have yeah. I’ve got I’ve had a lot of inquiries and that I mean, I’ve got a wealth of different of clients. So starting from small local businesses, you want to tell emotional stories of their brand and quite exciting calls with Canadian producers and talking about doing content and working on other projects. Yes, it’s great and I think the reason I focus on it is because especially in this area, Gloucestershire, which is tucked away, there’s a lot of filmmakers and producers who are excellent at what they do, and some of them will never get noticed and some of them will probably give up. So for me, It’s a dream come true. I’m not suggesting I’m ahead of myself, or am guaranteeing that I’m going to be able to build on this for my career, but just this kind of thing doesn’t happen that often.

So I just want to embrace that. I keep telling myself how lucky I am and I’m not getting complacent at all. But I’ve become a ‘yes man’ with everything. I’m just taking every single opportunity that’s coming to me because I just think I need to embrace that and just see what happens so I can’t predict what the next twelve months holds. I know it’s gonna be busy. That’s a guarantee. But yet I don’t think I still don’t know what where I’ll be in twelve months time. I hope that I’ll be doing another Christmas campaign, whether that be for myself or for a brand of some sort.

YBKBS: You know, you see that that comes with its own pressure now, doesn’t it? Because obviously people are going to want to see lightning in a bottle twice.

PB: I know it’s like an album curse thing, isn’t it? You know, bands releasing content. I just it’s a dodgy second album. I am worried about it a little bit, but equally I’m trying to not to think about it.

‘Love is a gift two?’ I don’t want to be doing that. I don’t want to be selling out. I just want to stick to my core values and try and tell a nice story that speaks to me. And I think that’s what filmmaking is. It should be about what comes from within you. And I don’t want to do that. I want my audience to enjoy my content. I don’t think it’s right to come in with the idea that you’re creating content just for your audience. Otherwise, it’s disingenuous. It will have to truly reflect myself as a filmmaker. So if I make another Christmas ad or film and people enjoy it, then brilliant.