And they lived happily ever after ...
This ubiquitous idiom—generally associated with fairy tales—presupposes a life of unending happiness until death. It's a universal goal to which most brides and grooms aspire when exchanging their marriage vows.
But this isn't a story about happy endings, per se. Rather, it's about the joy of the journey and the wisdom to be found in one's professional peers, about open-mindedness and risk-taking, and about making the most of opportunities. For Sylvia Broeckx and Niels Puttemans of U.K.-based Ever After Video Productions, 2008 was a transformative year.
Launched in 2002 as a self-described "one-woman band," Broeckx and Puttemans' studio is now basking in the glow of "Best Wedding Day Film" of 2008 honors from the U.K.'s Institute of Videography (IOV) and making the most of the industry's newfound interest in its work by launching a training division. It's a whole new chapter for the Belgium natives, and therein lies the challenge-and the happy pursuit of their fairy tale ending.
ONCE UPON A TIME
Growing up, Broeckx and Puttemans weren't the kids in the AV club, obsessing over the latest gadgets and shooting techniques. They were born 2 years and roughly 12 miles apart-he in Vilvoorde in March 1976; she in Asse in June 1978-and came to know each other through their involvement in a local orchestra, where she played the trumpet, and he played the bass clarinet. "We got to talking and found we had similar interests," Puttemans recalls, including a passion for music, "and in 1995, she asked me out on a date" to a performance of Mozart's "Requiem Mass in D Minor."
Over the next several years, they pursued degrees at universities in Leuven, Belgium, and Sheffield, England, about 3 hours north of London. Her academic credentials include a B.A. in art history (1999) from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (K.U. Leuven) and a B.A. (Hons) in film studies (2002) from Sheffield Hallam University; his include an M.A. in musicology (1999) from K.U. Leuven and an M.Phil. (Master of Philosophy) in sound design (2008) from the University of Sheffield. Besides music, their shared hobbies include Latin and ballroom dancing (as students, they participated in a competitive dance program jointly run by their respective universities in Sheffield) and scuba diving.
By their own admission, Broeckx and Puttemans knew little about the profession they would ultimately choose for themselves. Broeckx's study of film history, theory, and criticism at Sheffield Hallam had exposed her to the art form, but the intricacies of event videography itself weren't part of the program. Even as they planned their own Sept. 1, 2001, wedding, they eschewed the idea of hiring a professional videographer because, as Puttemans puts it, "The state of Belgian videography wasn't something we'd consider spending money on." Instead, they turned to trusted friends to shoot the festivities.
Imagine Puttemans' reaction then when, one night the following spring, Broeckx announced she wanted to start a wedding film company. "I was about to graduate with my film studies degree and had noticed that there weren't many jobs in our area," Broeckx explains. At the time, "most film-related work was based in London, but I didn't like the idea of relocating. Because we had recently gotten married, our wedding was still in the back of my mind. Putting the two together resulted in the idea of a wedding day film business." Puttemans admits he "was so surprised" by the idea, he "wasn't sure if she meant it or was joking."
And yet, within minutes, the two were thinking about company names and a business plan. "We wanted a name people would easily remember and associate with weddings," Broeckx continues. "We wanted a name that sells a dream rather than a commodity-something that speaks to the imagination." Determined not to use "technology-related terms such as ‘DV' or ‘DVD,' even though that was quite popular in the U.K. at the time," they assembled a list of possibilities and checked domain name availability. "Ever After turned out to be our favorite, and the whole thing just snowballed from there." A few weeks later, Broeckx was filming her first wedding-at no charge-with borrowed camera gear. "At first, I provided technical support only when needed," Puttemans recalls, "but I was quickly bitten by the filming bug and am now an integral part of the business."
Since those early days, the couple has filmed roughly 150 weddings, mostly in the U.K. They work from their four-bedroom home in Sheffield, employing freelancers when needed. Broeckx serves as the main camera operator and editor, while Puttemans manages the equipment, sound acquisition, and DVD authoring. They offer four standard packages priced from roughly $2,300 to $4,400 (the "higher-end of the U.K. market," Broeckx says), as well as a "World Package" that includes all travel expenses; two Wedding Day Edit-only packages priced for basic or extended coverage; and a menu of add-ons, including Trash the Dress, movie trailers, end credits, and photo montages.
Last year was pivotal for Ever After in more ways than one. After 6 years of operation, the studio entered its very first awards competitions-the IOV Awards and inaugural MCPS Musical Marriage Awards, held concurrently in Coventry, England, in mid-October. To the partners' great delight, all three entries did well: Ever After's Trash the Dress entry was chosen by the British public as one of three runners-up for the MCPS Musical Marriage Award; its 2008 show reel earned second place in the IOV Awards' Open category; and its video for the dramatic Dec. 8, 2007, wedding of Claire and Brian at Allerton Castle, in North Yorkshire, earned the top prize in the IOV Awards' Best Wedding Day Film category.
The timing couldn't have been better. Given the state of the economy in 2008, Puttemans and Broeckx had "briefly flirted with the idea" of doing corporate work using a different company name-mainly, he says, "to protect ourselves from the global economic downturn through diversification." Ironically, they learned of their IOV victories just before they were due "to make a final decision" about whether to proceed with the plan. The wave of industry attention that followed changed everything: Suddenly, "fellow videographers were contacting us with questions and asking about possible training opportunities," he says.
"There's only so much you can describe in an email or on the phone, so we thought, ‘Why not demonstrate it in a typical wedding situation?'" Broeckx said in a December 2008 IOV story announcing the studio's first-ever training workshop. Structured as a "fun and intimate learning experience" with a high degree of interactivity, the Feb. 21-22 event gave 10 participants an opportunity to shoot a faux bride in a variety of locations using unconventional camera movements and setting techniques demonstrated by Broeckx and Puttemans. On the second day, the couple walked participants through Ever After's editing process using footage they captured on Day 1 and helped participants edit their own footage using some of those same techniques.
Puttemans says every Ever After Video Training workshop will be "tailored around the needs and wants of the participants" and will likely cover topics ranging from cinematic shooting and editing techniques to equipment selection and search engine optimization strategies. The training division, which he oversees, also provides exclusive one-on-one sessions with both partners and training DVDs. Adds Broeckx: "Offering training rather than branching out into corporate work allows us to keep the focus on our first love: wedding films."
CHAPTER AND VERSE
Not surprisingly, Ever After's style is heavily rooted in Broeckx and Puttemans' art history backgrounds. "Because Sylvia knows a lot about film theory, we've tried to incorporate some of those ideas and techniques into our wedding productions," Puttemans explains. Their "personal art preferences" are also an influence, having led to their "use of darker, highly saturated colors." When they aren't working, Broeckx adds, they try to see "at least five movies a week, spanning the entire spectrum of styles. Quite often, we'll discuss a shot, sequence, composition, or soundtrack-sometimes [as we're watching] the film!"
They're quick to cite other influences as well. "After joining the IOV, we were introduced to the massive array of tools available to our profession," Broeckx says. "It's also important to acknowledge the opportunities the internet has provided. Apart from attracting most of our customer base, it introduced us to the worldwide community of wedding videographers. Once we joined forums such as Video University and WedFACT, we realized there was much we didn't yet know. The welcoming attitude of American and other videographers has allowed us to improve and differentiate our work beyond our wildest dreams. The sharing of information through forums, conventions, seminars, and training DVDs [has] made a big difference."
"One specific example of this can be seen in our same-day edits," Puttemans elaborates. "We learned about the concept through the VU boards and an article in EventDV. After studying the Wedding Day Edits DVD produced by [four-time EventDV 25 honorees] Mark and Trisha Von Lanken, Sylvia decided the U.K. was ready for this concept, so we began marketing the idea to brides and videographers alike. We're happy to say that our seminar on the subject at the IOV's 2006 annual convention convinced several other U.K. videographers to give it a try."
Clearly, Broeckx and Puttemans aren't the only videographers adapting and evolving; the videography industry within the U.K. has gradually changed as well, and with it, the general public's appreciation for the services it provides. "When we founded the company, we noticed that our fellow videographers were happy to talk about the equipment, but they were very hesitant to show each other their work or to discuss methods or styles. It seemed most people were worried their style would be ripped off" by a competitor, Puttemans says. "In the past few years, this attitude has started to change. U.K. videographers have begun posting clips on their websites so others can see what they're doing and so the public perception of the profession might change. People are finally starting to realize that the only way this can happen is through information-sharing."
Marla Misek Clark (mjmno1 at aol.com) is a freelance writer and editor based in Alexandria, Va.