Good Taste: Christian Remde

After years of creating films for corporate clients, editor and director Christian Remde's career took an unexpectedly tasty turn when he started giving away his art for free.


A New Year’s resolution changed Christian Remde’s life, but let’s starts at the beginning. Remde spent the first 15 years of his career bouncing from San Francisco to New York to Los Angeles and back again, taking on a delightful mish-mash of jobs ranging from directing corporate spots for companies like Verizon, Blackberry, and Citigroup to designing DVD menus for films including Kill Bill, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Finding Nemo. His first comedic short, The Wine Bar, came out in 2006 and played at more than 50 film festivals, claiming ten awards in the process including several audience favorite prizes. Remde moved to Austin, Texas in 2010 and continued directing shorts until a New Year’s resolution in 2011 changed his career trajectory.

I was going to make a short film every month in 2011 and it became this thing called the Twelve Films Project. I started making videos that went up on the web,” Remde explains. “I wanted to use it as a way to push what I was doing.”

Remde’s fifth film, a documentary on an Austin food trailer entitled Farm to Trailer, gained online momentum when the film’s culinary star won Food and Wine magazine’s best new chef for 2011. Remde made another documentary on Austin’s local charcuterie movement, which got picked up by The Huffington Post and Food and Wine magazine online, establishing Remde as an expert in culinary films and attracting other paying food-friendly clients. Today Remde specializes in creating branded culinary web shorts that have been shown on Bravo TV online, New York magazine’s Grub Street site, and Food and Wine. He writes a food blog for The Huffington Post and has just wrapped a film series for the Hong Kong Board of Tourism on the culinary scene and directed some micro-documentaries for the American Lamb Board about shepherding in the U.S.

Get In Media: A lot of artists put up free content, but have trouble turning that into paying opportunities. How did you do it?

Christian Remde: I just kept making films that interested me and I think that that was really the big catalyst for me getting paid work is finding a niche and sticking to it. Because it was something that I loved, I was willing to put more time and more effort into it than, say, if it was about something that I really didn’t really have that much of an interest in. Because I just kept putting out content it kept being seen and picked up, local businesses, local restaurants, and culinary brands would see them and say, “Hey, this guy obviously knows how to make a film about culinary,” they would get in touch with me and offer to pay me to make videos for them.

GIM: What’s the process of making a branded film?

CR: The first thing I’ll do is go see [the client]. If it’s a restaurant, I’ll go eat at the restaurant. I’ll look them up online and kind of see what people have written about them. I really try to find one or two things that are specific to that restaurant that you can’t find anywhere else. I’ll go to that restaurant and talk to the chef, talk to the owner, go through and kind of get a sense of what they’re hoping the video will be and then I’ll pitch them an idea or two for what I think it should be.

I think marketing and branding videos are really kind of morphing into this new thing. People don’t want to be sold to. I feel like a lot of times when a client comes to me, they want to make a commercial and it’s my job to have their video not feel like a commercial, so you kind of have to sell them on this idea. Sometimes it’s really hard to do because I think they want to fall back on [what] they’ve been doing for a long time. [The clients] are like, “Hey, come to this restaurant and try our salad bar and try our this and try our that.” It’s my job to say, “You know what? Nobody wants that anymore. They want to learn something. They want to be told a story.” Sometimes people are very receptive to it and sometimes they’re not.

There’s a restaurant here in town called Contigo. I’ve been doing a whole series of web videos for them and each video focuses on just a very small part of the restaurant. For example, all of their furniture is handmade by this guy named Brian Chilton, so we interviewed him. There’s no food in that video, but I think when people watch it they go, “Oh wow.” The next time they go to the restaurant, maybe it enhances their experience a little bit more because they know they’re sitting on something handmade by this guy. They’ve seen it in the video how he does it, how he bends the steel, cuts the wood, stains it, and stitches the leather for the back of the. Maybe it enhances it just a little bit. Maybe they don’t even think about it; that’s the kind of thing that people want to know. They kind of want to go behind the scenes and it’s not just for restaurants, it’s for any kind of brand. They want to know how that brand works.

GIM: You’ve stated that your videos tend to be about four minutes long. Why so short?

CR: I think that for the kind of stories that I tell, you don’t need more than that. I actually have read in several places that three to four minutes is the threshold for the average viewer on the web, unless it’s big explosions and things like that, so I try to keep it around there. Some are longer. I recently did one about a ramen restaurant that was basically just sort of breaking down how ramen is made. That one is eight minutes. It’s a pretty involved process, so I felt like I would take the chance. Honestly, it’s had more views than anything I’ve ever done.

GIM: If you’re doing culinary, you’re probably in the same sorts of environments routinely. How do you make that visually interesting?

CR: The key is really finding interesting angles. The Canon cameras, they have a very small footprint. They’re very lightweight so you can mount them to hooks or you can mount them to wherever and get interesting angles. I also use GoPro cameras a lot, which are even smaller. They’re incredibly lightweight. For the ramen video I did, we actually put one in a ramen basket pointing straight up and had the guy put the noodles in there and drop it in the water because they’re waterproof and they’re temperature proof and they’re shockproof. So that shot, the minute it comes up everybody goes nuts for it because it’s an angle that you would never see otherwise. The technology is there. The new iPhone. I mean it’s really high quality video. It really is and they’re small. You can buy mounting brackets for them, tripods for them, and you can stick them up at interesting angles and just let them record for a while. There’s time lapse apps for them now. Every kitchen’s different, but if you’re in the same kitchen over and over again, just find the most interesting angles to shoot it from and the technology really helps you with that.

GIM: As far as equipment, for someone who’s just getting started in web video, what do you recommend?

CR: I couldn’t recommend anything more than just getting one of the Canon cameras. I use two 7Ds when I shoot but those are a little bit more expensive. The 60D is a good camera. Any of the Canon cameras are really good. It’s full HD, it’s 24 frames a second. The only issue is you can’t record audio onto them. You have to have an external audio recorder. They have a microphone on them, but it’s really kind of lousy, so you have to have an external audio recorder, which you should have anyway. You should have somebody recording your audio separately with good microphones and at a high data rate. Audio is so unbelievably important. but the other thing is, with the lenses you can get for these cameras, you can get that shallow depth of field and those really beautiful blown out backgrounds that kind of bloom. It really does make all the difference between using something like that and using a fixed lens camera or a Handycam camera. There’s nothing wrong with starting with something like that too. If you’re just starting out and you know nothing about it and you have a camera laying around or you have a cell phone laying around, iPhone, use that. Practice with that until you get to the point where you feel like you want to graduate up and then do that. Then buy the better camera.

GIM: You’ve said that the number one mistake people make with web video is skimping on sound. What do people need to know in order to have high-quality sound?

CR: They have to know enough to hire somebody to record it. It’s usually just me and a sound person. I’m sitting behind the camera and I’m watching the screens to make sure that everything’s in focus and the lighting’s good and all of that stuff, plus I’m trying to ask questions for the subject and be engaging and try to draw out some kind of fun something from them. That’s enough for one person to do. To have to also listen to the sound and making sure you’re not hearing the mic rub against a shirt or make sure you’re not hearing too much background noise, for me anyway, it’s just too much. If you have someone else doing that, then that’s being taken care of and you can focus on being engaging as an interviewer or just concentrating on the visuals.

RELATED: Documentarian Kip Pastor left the Washington beltway for Hollywood, shining a spotlight on the organic movement. 

GIM: There are so many people doing web video now. How do you differentiate yourself?

CR: If you really want to make web videos, figure out what your niche is and stick to that for a while. If you go out kind of scattershot, people won’t be able to identify you as a brand. You’re making branding videos for people, but you have to treat yourself like a brand as well. I decided culinary was going to be my niche so that’s all I did was culinary videos. I love culinary. I love food. I love food culture. I think it’s fascinating to me and that’s why I picked it. The first ten videos you make, you’re probably not going to get paid for, so you’ve got to love it. You’ve got to really be able to go into it with enthusiasm and love because all of that enthusiasm and love is going to come out on screen.

Find blogs. For me, there’s a million food blogs out there now. Send your videos out to every single one of those blogs. And don’t just send it out to the small blogs. I was sending mine out to Food and Wine magazine and Bon Appetit and they used them because these blogs need content. They need posts to put up to get people to keep coming back to the blog over and over again because they want page hits. They need content and if your video is good, they’ll use it. For them, it’s free content and for you, it’s getting your name out there. It’s free publicity. It works.

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