Jo Michaels, director of JM Digital Media

Jo Michaels at work: ‘It’s not just about people putting together a load of clips to be shown at a party’

by Alex Galbinski

When Jo Michaels’ husband put together a surprise 40th birthday film of messages from her family and closest friends, the couple received several compliments on a job fabulously done.

“He got my kids involved and it was a real entertainment piece for the evening,” Michaels says about her husband’s home-made effort. “It was such a lovely surprise. It was so well received that my friends started asking me for their own mini-movies to be made for their special occasions.”

Michaels got thinking and in 2012 set up JM Digital Media to help others who wanted to make their special occasions even more special.

Among other work, JM Digital Media has put together mini-movies for batmitzvahs, significant birthdays and charity fundraisers.

The company also works with established television presenters, actors and sporting stars and has assembled showreels for boxers James DeGale and Nicola Adams, Britain’s Got Talent stars Ashley and Pudsey, Magic DJ Nick Snaith and presenters Victoria Milligan and Mark Wright. It also works with new and up-and-coming presenters to create promotional films to send to potential agents and production companies.

After studying business at Manchester University, Michaels, 42, started a job in advertising sales with publishing company NatMags. After staying there for two years, she travelled around the world and on her return went to work for a media recruitment company, hiring people from across the board, including television, radio, magazines and newspapers.

She went on maternity leave in 2005 to have the first of her two children and, once they had started school, began to work out ideas for a business. “I have always had a passion for media and have an in-depth knowledge of the industry, so I wanted to find something that reflected this,” Michaels explains.

After going on an editing course, she started getting referrals. Now JM Digital Media provides tips to clients on how to film successfully on their mobile phones or tablets, although Michaels can arrange for others to do the filming at an additional cost. The footage is sent to her and she edits it, with the average length of a mini-movie running between seven and 10 minutes.

As to what sets JM Digital Media apart from other companies, she says: “When I researched the marketplace, I saw there were quite a few companies that could edit videos, but there was nobody helping with the creative side and helping to plan the narrative itself.

“In other words, it is not just about people putting together a load of clips to be shown at a party, it is about sitting down with the client, planning a theme and working out the content so that the mini-movie does not appear as a mix of clips that have been thrown together. This was the inspiration behind JM Digital Media.”

Michaels can suggest themes for the mini-movies, although some clients come up with their own. Past ideas include takes on Britain’s Got Talent or Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. but not all are as ‘glitzy’.

One of JM Digital Media’s variations on a theme

One of JM Digital Media’s variations on a theme

“For one batmitzvah, all the girl’s mother wanted was heartfelt messages from family and friends,” says Michaels, who gave her ideas of what people could say and guidance on how to get the children involved.

Another client asked Michaels to edit a 30-minute video for her husband’s 30th birthday that was solely for him to watch, including lots of pictures and messages. And one husband gave his wife a video of the first year of their baby’s life, including footage of the baby’s first holiday, first footsteps, photographs and some of their favourite songs.

Michaels, who lives in Mill Hill and attends Mill Hill Synagogue, says the videos are reasonably priced. The cost is around £400 for a mini-movie for a 40th birthday, but more for filmed souvenirs of bar and batmitzvahs.

“I wanted to keep the end product budget-friendly,” she says. “I soon realised there were a few production companies that produced fantastic, short movies and/or music videos for special occasions, but they were expensive.

“People are still cost conscious, but want something very personal and bespoke to be shown at their event. This is JM Digital Media’s niche, because we produce high-quality, affordable mini-movies.”

Michaels loves the feedback she receives from people who have seen her videos at a party. “It’s great when you bump into a husband and he says ‘It made our evening’. I’ve been at a party where the video was being played and people were coming up to me complimenting me] and I was really proud.”

She says interpersonal skills are extremely important in her role. “You have to be good with people. It’s a fun experience, but some people can be stressed, so I take out the stress for them.

“One woman had been so stressed out and she started crying with relief when I showed her the video. It’s really touching and you get a real sense of satisfaction. It’s about making someone happy.”

Her advice to someone starting a new venture is to persevere. “It’s easy just to give up but if you’ve got your heart set on something and you’re determined to do it, then you’ve got to go for it,” she says firmly.

As for Michaels herself, her philosophy is simple: “I want to grow the business and continue to make people smile.”

• Details: www.jmdigitalmedia.com