How to reach 1000 genuine followers on Instagram, connect with some great people (and maybe even get some paying jobs out of it).

The world has bigger problems than trying to amass followers on Instagram, you might say. Yes. It does.
But there are also more than a billion users on Instagram.

That means everyone’s competing with a billion other people for attention.

As a result, a lot of people create great content that languishes unseen and unappreciated.

If that’s how you feel about your own profile and content,  then read on.

Here are the main points I learned as I broke the 1000 followers barrier…

1.     MOST PEOPLE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU AND WHAT YOU POST. FIND THE PEOPLE THAT DO.

2.     MAKE SURE YOUR PROFILE HAS A CLEAR FOCUS.

3.     USE HASHTAGS.

4.     POST CONSISTENTLY.

5.     POST STUFF YOU ARE PROUD OF. NOT STUFF YOU HATE.

6.     LIKE, COMMENT, FOLLOW. REPEAT.

7.     WHAT TO DO WHEN COOL PEOPLE DON’T FOLLOW YOU BACK.

8.     BALANCE OUT YOUR FOLLOW / FOLLOWERS ON A REGULAR BASIS.

9.     SPONSORED POSTS WORK BUT THEY DON’T COME CHEAP.

10.  BE GENEROUS AND NICE.

For more details, keep reading.

DISCLAIMER

This blog post is written mainly with content creators in mind, which is precisely what Instagram is designed for. People who like to shoot videos, draw cartoons, photograph sunsets, or make jam.

Maybe you hope to go viral? Suddenly your post is trending and recommended to everyone. It happens for some. But it certainly hasn’t happened to me, so I can’t help you there. Sorry.

If you are inside The GTA – the Golden Triangle of Awesome – a) already famous, b) world-class at something, or c) ridiculously good looking (or all of the above), read no further. My advice isn’t for you; you’ll get there just fine on your own.

Also, if you see nothing wrong in buying a few thousand followers with bitcoin, you can stop reading and go and do that right away.
I’m not stopping you.

Finally – if you’re quite happy with just your mother and your good friends seeing your content? Well, you probably stopped reading a long time ago, because you have a life.

Still here? Let’s get started with a hard truth that I finally embraced:

MOST PEOPLE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU (AND WHAT YOU POST).

For years I’ve had an Instagram profile  where I posted my own content; fairly competent macro and landscape photographs from semi-exotic locations, drone shots, and the odd drawing. My mother, wife, and friends have been kind and loyal and liked my stuff, but my list of followers was stuck at around the 150 mark and the needle refused to move.

This frustrated me. Surely my stuff was fantastic, witty, and worthy of other people’s admiration?
But I finally realised that assumption was so very wrong. People didn’t care.

Let’s repeat it: MOST PEOPLE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU (AND WHAT YOU POST).

Ouch.

Unless you’re inside the GTA that I mentioned earlier, there are only two types of people really interested in your shenanigans: your friends or those who share your passion for whatever it is you like posting about. Everyone else doesn’t care. It doesn’t mean they hate you. They are just indifferent.

So, spend your energy on the people who DO care.

MAKE SURE YOUR PROFILE HAS A CLEAR FOCUS.

Think about it. If you visit a random profile, are you more or less likely to follow or go through the pictures  if it’s full of random content?

Less, right?

Mine was a jumble of photos, texts and random situations. It still is if you scroll down far enough.

I wanted a break from taking photos, so I posted some drawings. And I realised that I got a lot more positive feedback from my art than from my photographs, mostly from other artists.  Because, for those of us outside the GTA, the people who like to look at drawings are mostly other artists. Clearly my art was more unique than my photos, so I decided to make drawings my Instagram focus for a while. It worked.

So, make your profile mostly about one thing. And mention it in your bio. This way, your potential followers know what to expect from your posts and can quickly see if it matches their interests. Otherwise you risk wasting their time and especially your own.

Some people make a separate account for the family to share the personal stuff. That’s not necessary in my opinion unless you suddenly become a bona fide influencer. Just make sure you balance things.

USE HASHTAGS

Hashtags are no guarantee that people will see your posts and recognize your genius, but without hashtags, they absolutely will never find you.

POST CONSISTENTLY.

Post at least a couple of times a week, but don’t overdo it. I recently unfollowed a very famous and otherwise brilliant illustrator as his prolific posts blocked the arteries of my feed.
Once-a-day should be the maximum, in my world.

POST STUFF YOU ARE PROUD OF. NOT STUFF YOU HATE.

Only post stuff you’re proud of.
Some people will post a picture and then go to great lengths to tear their own work apart.

I know it’s very tempting to get in there yourself before some random stranger does, but in my opinion if people don’t like your art they’ll mostly just ignore it. If you hate it yourself, why subject other people to it? Also, your best work is much more likely to generate a positive response. Quality does matter.

LIKE, COMMENT, FOLLOW. REPEAT.

This is where Instagram really starts becoming a major time suck. Perfect for lockdown, I guess.
You need to follow, like and comment on other people’s posts.

Not just the people you’ve connected with but also complete strangers.
A like is similar to a tiny business card that you send out. It’s a ping from a satellite, reminding the world that you are there. And it’s good karma.
You might make someone’s day.

Every day, I check the latest posts for a few specific hashtags. In my case, especially the ones associated with art and Procreate, which is the drawing software I use. There are millions of posts so when you scroll through the latest ones there is a good chance the person who posted is still online. This gives them and you instant feedback.

If I see some art that I think is OK, I give it a like.

A like is super quick and easy. Just a double-tap. Roughly one in ten of the people whose pictures you like will return the favour and check out your profile. If they like what they see, they might even decide to follow you.

If I see something really quite good, I might write a comment. People, myself included, like friendly comments. Again, they may check out your stuff.

 If I see something I really connect with, I’ll follow the person. You get the idea.

The probability of response is proportional to your effort. So a comment or a follow is more likely to generate traffic than just a like on its own.
You can increase your followers by 15-20 a day, maybe more. That’s 500 over a month or the magic number 1000 in roughly 2-3 months.

You can, of course, choose to just follow anyone and everyone. This might work for you and it’s a lot quicker. I prefer there to be meaningful connections though, even if takes longer.

Note that there is a limit to how many likes and follows you can gift humanity with every day, but the number equates  to a lot of tapping (+700 likes), so don’t sweat it too much.

WHAT TO DO WHEN THE COOL KIDS DON’T FOLLOW YOU BACK.

There can be many reasons for people ignoring you.
Maybe the stuff you post is not interesting to them. Maybe they can’t handle more content in their feed. You might get lost in their avalanche of followers. Maybe they only want to use Instagram to post, not to follow. Who knows?

I know several artists that are a big deal on Instagram. I’ve worked with them. We’re connected on LinkedIn and Facebook friends. But they don’t all follow me back on Instagram. To them, Instagram is a work tool. Not a place where you wish each other happy birthday. Don’t be offended by this. I try not to be.

BALANCE OUT YOUR FOLLOWING/FOLLOWERS ON A REGULAR BASIS.

Some people think it’s desirable to follow as few people as possible versus how many follow you. Unless you’re The Rock or a Kardashian, this is a bit limiting and maybe also arrogant.

However, once you follow more than 800 people, they will generate so much content there’s no chance you can see it all.

Someone following 3000 people will probably have most of them on mute.

Once in a while, I go through my list of people I follow. Not the entire list, but the ones I have connected with most recently. Instagram makes it tricky to access this info and there are apps that can help you with this. The one I tried was crazy buggy, so I do it the hard way:

  • In your profile, click the “Following” number and sort people with “Latest” first.
  • Click on the first person’s profile and then on their “Following” button.
  • If they follow you, you should be at the top of their list.
  • If they don’t, you can decide to unfollow them. Or if it’s a person that inspires you, just keep following them. As I said, it’s rarely personal.
  • Go to the next one on the list. And the next.

This procedure also weeds out the people who follow you at first and then unfollow you a few days later.

SPONSORED POSTS WORK BUT THEY DON’T COME CHEAP.

Once you hit a certain number of followers, you can turn your account into a business account. This gives you a few more tools, including sponsored posts. I tried it a couple of times. You get some likes and you gain some followers. But the followers ended up costing me something like 2 dollars each. That money should rather go to curing world hunger or saving the rainforest. So, if you do a sponsored post be sure you know what you’re trying to achieve, more traffic to your e-commerce website, for example.

AND FINALLY; BE GENEROUS AND BE NICE.

If someone writes to you asking about the tools you use, what other people they should follow, or just that they enjoy your work, write back! It doesn’t have to be an essay. Make a lottery and give away some art. Promote other artists. Say please and thank you.

It’s all good Karma and suddenly someone might just turn into a paying customer.

Have fun out there.

New short story EXHALE

“I open the bowl and light the flame. The string of smoke rises. Her eyes go wide and she makes little cooing noises. I step back and let the smoke do its thing. Searching, sniffing the air. It strikes within seconds and, as it pulls that final breath out of her, I can see that it shines bright. It’s like a searchlight compared to Frank’s flickering candle.”
Jacob’s taking lives, one breath at a time.
They’re dying anyway, so it’s not really murder is it?

Read it here.

How to survive your first day as an On-set VFX Supervisor

So you’ve been dragged away from your natural habitat behind the screens and tasked with being the on-set VFX supervisor on a live action shoot?
Congratulations.

The project might be a large production with a crew in the hundreds or a small setup with just a handful of people.
You might be an independent contractor or representing the VFX house handling the post work on the project. Maybe you’re the artist who’ll be doing the work afterwards. Regardless, it will be your job to ensure that the footage will enable the VFX team to do their very best work.

A movie set is a unique place, yet it’s one of the industries where things work pretty much the same way, whether you find yourself shooting in Thailand or Norway.
You might even notice that certain jobs on the set attract the same types across different cultures. (Somebody really should do a research paper on this.)

But it’s also a place with a lot of unwritten rules and where every minute costs a lot of money.
Maybe you’re one of those people who can turn up in a new environment and absorb the culture in 60 seconds and then fit right in. Maybe you already know everything about film-making.
If so, stop here. I don’t want to waste your time.
If that’s not you, keep reading.

In the following, I’ve mainly summarized my own experiences.
The aim is to help others avoid at least some of the many mistakes I’ve made over the years.
Full disclosure, this advice is probably less useful if we’re talking guerrilla film-making, where everybody wears multiple hats.
As an unscientific rule of thumb: check if there’s a food truck or “Craft services” (a table that used to be full of cake and chocolate but which is now mostly fruit, nuts and herbal tea) on the set.

If there is, there is a good chance my advice applies.

Please also note that though this is written from the viewpoint of an on-set VFX supervisor, I’m not going to get technical.
There are many great articles and blog posts out there getting granular on Greyballs, tracking, Lidar and lens grids. This post is about the other stuff.
Let’s dive into it – here are 15 pointers to help you survive being an on-set VFX supervisor.

1. When you arrive.

  • Show up on time. If you get a call sheet before, check it. Then check it again. There will be a time where you are supposed to be on set, and a time for a pickup and a ready to shoot time. Don’t be late.
  • Prepare for the shoot. Look at the storyboard. Check the VFX breakdown if one exists. Read the script. Get as much info as you can. And again, read the call sheet. You’ll be amazed at how much information can be squeezed into an A4 page.
  • Make sure you don’t bring more gear than you can carry by yourself. Find a place to put your stuff where it won’t be in the way. And be prepared to move it at a moment’s notice. And then to move it again later. It’s also a good idea to mark your bags or whatever you carry your stuff in, with an easy to read “VFX” so that if someone else needs to move it, they can let you know.
  • Dress for the location. Wear sturdy clothes and shoes. Wear layers. Check the weather forecast if you’re going to be outside. There will be a lot of standing still and it can get very cold/hot.
  • Introduce yourself to the producer and the AD (Assistant Director) who should be your best friends on the set.  If it’s a small production you’ll of course meet the director and DOP (Director of Photography ) right away. If it’s a big shoot, you’ll meet them when they need you.
  • Beware of cables and stuff you might knock over. And remember that things get moved all the time so just because there wasn’t a cable to trip over an hour earlier doesn’t mean there isn’t one now.
  • Check out the phone/photo etiquette before getting cosy with your iPhone.
    On some sets, people are on their phone constantly, other times they’re not. If grips and wardrobe have their phones out and you really have nothing to do, you’re probably ok.
  • Don’t get in the way, don’t get in frame, don’t block lights, and keep quiet during takes.

2. You’re not really wanted.

But you’re needed. Accept it and move on.
This has gotten better over the years as people recognize what VFX brings to the table, but there is still some truth to this.
On the set, you’re making things difficult for the rest of the crew. You’re that person who complains about the quality of the Green screen that it took 6 people hours to put up, the thickness of the cord used for a harness or a reflection in a door.
You take up valuable bandwidth with the DOP and director and need time to measure sets and take HDRIs while people are trying to shoot the next scene, move the lights, go to lunch, get stuff done.

And, you are one of the others – the people involved in the movie production that happens AFTER the actual shoot, which some film workers regard as a completely different industry.
But, you’re also the person who can say, Don’t worry, there’s an easy fix to what looks like a big problem on set.
And, once the edit is locked your decisions on the shoot will make a huge difference for the final look of the film and can potentially save hundreds of hours in post.

3. Make friends with the Script supervisor and the AD.

The Script supervisor’s job is to make detailed notes about every single shot.
They are usually very friendly people who are highly organized.
Have a talk with them about what kind of data you’re looking for in the scenes and they might help you get it. (A lot of useful data gets embedded in the meta-data but it doesn’t always move downstream to the VFX artists.)

The AD is the link between the director and the rest of the crew. They know everything about the shoot. If you need a clean plate, a slate, or have a question about the next shot, they are the person to talk to.

4. Stay close to the DOP and the director but don’t crowd them.

They might need you unexpectedly but, when they don’t, they have other stuff to think about. 
And don’t volunteer your opinion about the director’s or DOP’s artistic decisions unless they affect the post production or you’re specifically asked. This is not to say that you can’t say something looks great, but hey, keep it constructive.

5. Don’t do another person’s job unless asked / Respect other people and their jobs

While it’s perfectly cool and respectable to pick up a couple of bags if the video village has to be moved at a moment’s notice or to help someone who’s struggling with a prop, don’t just start moving lamps or cameras or other very expensive equipment. You might be interfering with someone’s job. Also a flight case full of Cook lenses can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and you DON’T want to be the one who drops it. (The craft services rule-of-thumb applies here.)
Everybody’s trying to perform at their very best. From talent to runners. Show them respect and they’ll respect you. Also, you might meet them again, so be nice.
(I’ve been on a shoot where one of the extras – who are generally seen as barely above child-actor’s parents in terms of the film-making pyramid – turned out to be the director’s dad.)  

6. Stay out of office politics.

Unless you’re working on a VFX-heavy show, often the on-set VFX supervisor is only present for the days where it makes sense to pay you, when there is meaningful stuff for you to do.
This means that there might be all kinds of intrigues going on from previous days that you’re happily unaware about.

Keep it that way.

7. Take notes / Take pictures.

You might be an outlier who is able to remember all lenses and angles, camera moves and focus distances months later. Good for you.
The rest of you: Take notes about the shots. Digital or analogue.
You’ve probably got a camera anyway to make HDRI and reference for textures, tracking etc. Make a habit of taking some shots while you’re standing around anyway. They can come in extremely handy if you need to recreate something later digitally. Let production know why you’re taking the photos though and don’t share stuff on social media unless you get the OK or the photo contains nothing sensitive to the production.

8. Careful where you wander.

There might be hours on end where you have nothing to do. You might be tempted to go for a walk around the area you’re shooting and collect some data. Check with production first. They’re paying for your time. Not only might they suddenly have an important question for you, you could also be walking into an area where you really shouldn’t be.

(Yes, I’ve done it.)

9. Celebrities.

There might be people with a certain level of fame or general juice on a shoot.
Cool people you desperately want to become best friends with and hang out with for barbecues every weekend. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. I’m still hopeful.
Most of the celebs are ok and very hard-working people but the more successful they get, the more they tend to be insulated from other people.
Use your common sense here and err on the side of caution unless you have super-crazy social skills.

10. Try your very best. Even if the project isn’t.

Making any kind of movie, even a bad one, is crazy hard.
A film shoot demands that everyone does their best regardless of the project’s budget and ambitions.
Besides, it’s only once the film is in the can that you’ll really know if it turned out good or not. Movies are weird like that.

11. You screwed up. Don’t panic. A lot can be fixed in post.

You made a mistake; didn’t get enough tracking points on the Green Screen; or didn’t get the lens info. If you’re working directly for the production, let them know. If you’re representing VFX, let them know.
It’s not good, but you probably won’t die. Things might take longer in post but it’s often fixable. These days almost anything is possible with enough time and money.

Try and avoid it though. Someone will have to pay for it down the line.

12. Try not to complain about the work.

Even if other people do and you’ve been working for 14 hours and you’re cold and tired. This is hard, many of us enjoy a good rant, but it’s bad form during the shoot. Save it for when you’re home again.

13. Be ready to go.

It’s no good if you need twenty minutes to set up your HDR-rig or your gear is back at the hotel.
Set up that rig in advance, you’ll be happy you did.

14. Keep cool when things change.

Don’t panic if they’re suddenly setting up a shot that you haven’t prepared for.
Talk it through calmly with the stake holders and work out the best possible way of doing it. If it will significantly affect the amount of post-work, let the production know. Then they can decide if the shot is important or not, if they need to find more money, or some other solution.

15. If you notice a potential issue with a shot just as everyone’s ready to shoot.

If there’s an easy fix, like asking to move a C-stand out of frame or suggesting to the camera operator he only keeps the physical set in frame, say something.
If they are about to do something which will add a lot of money to the post bill or you might have a better method, do speak up.  
That’s why you’re there.
If it’s a small thing for post but tricky to avoid in live action, consider letting it go. Quite often the frames in the shot you’re worried about won’t even make it into the cut.
Also, if you can make the day better for the production, this is sometimes a good trade off. It’s better to add two days of post for one man rather than half a day for a live-action crew of 100.

Good luck and remember to enjoy yourself.

Thanks to my old colleague Peter Hartwig for valuable input.