The group began soliciting entries last spring by sending out emails and postcards to everyone on their various lists, and enlisted the help of local associations to get the word out to their members. From the outset, the group wanted its awards to be different from WEVA's 15-year-old Creative Excellence Awards, which also were announced in August (See Stephen F. Nathans' "WEVA Expo 2005," http://www.eventdv.net/Articles/ReadArticle.aspx?ArticleID=10648). "It's easy to look at and honor wedding videos, but we also wanted to emphasize the event side of our industry," says Steve Wernick, director of development for the 4EVER Group.
"We wanted to consider the best ideas in every other prominent competition, revise the ideas to suit our competition, and enhance that with our own views," Wernick says. To that end, the 4EVER Group augmented ten of the categories WEVA also uses in its awards with three of its own: Best Overall Wedding Production, Best Stage Production Segment, and Best DVD Authoring. In addition, the Artistic Achievement Awards include a Demo Video Production category that isn't limited to wedding productions.
Perhaps more notable than the additional categories—after all, both awards include social and corporate event slots—was the 4EVER Group's innovative approach to judging. After collecting hundreds of entries and settling on a panel of five judges who reflected varied levels of experience and disparate geographical locations, Wernick and 4EVER Group director of education Tim Ryan sent entries out to each judge for evaluation at their home location. In this first round, each judge viewed reels from several categories, though no single judge viewed every video, and judges did not view entries from their home region. What's more, the judging was blind, so that unless an entrant's name was on the credits, the judges didn't know whose video they were looking at; additionally, none of the judges knew who the other judges were. (For a complete list of categories, winners, and judges, see www.4evergroup.org/artisticachievementawards.html).
Wernick says that judges were given specific instructions to encourage the use of objective criteria in addition to the inevitable subjective analysis. "For example, ‘focus' is one element we ask the judges to consider. We all understand when something is properly in focus," says Wernick. "Many of us have seen instances where auto-focus is used, and the camera hunts for a target, changing the focus without reason. But a purposely out-of-focus shot could be used artistically, and that's where the objective and the subjective cross paths."
Judge David Chandler-Gick says that, for him, the first round involved lots of note-taking in addition to filling out the provided scoresheet. Wernick took the scores from all the judges, averaged each judge's scores in a given category, and then selected those that scored higher than the average for viewing in the second round. "In round one, let's say my average score in a particular category was 7.5, while another judge gave the videos from that category an average of 6.3," says Gick. "All entries that I judged that scored 7.6 or above and all entries from the other judge that scored 6.4 or above were included in the final round."
The second and final round took place at a New York hotel and marked the first time any of the judges found out who the rest were. In that round, judges were not permitted to discuss or comment on any of the videos until they completed scoring for each category. "Each judge was brought in because we respect their accomplishments and views," says Wernick. "We didn't want any one judge to influence any other when it came to the scoring process."
Once the viewing was completed for each category, the judges submitted their scores, with high and low scores thrown out, "Olympic style," says Gick. While Wernick tallied the scores, Ryan interviewed the panel about the videos and the process. "This interview process was done not as part of the judging process, but more for Tim's own information to use during upcoming seminars and workshops," Gick adds.
The judges found themselves mostly in agreement about which videos were the clear winners, says Gick. "There was some debate and disagreement (among the judges), but not so much about the entries as about the process," says Gick, who feels that a double-blind first round—where each entry is viewed by two judges in order to avoid the intrusion of personal bias—would be a fairer approach. In fact, Gick says that he recognized the work of one entrant in the first round, and recused himself from judging that video, which was then automatically placed in the final round for viewing by all judges. "But no process is perfect, and this increases the time involved. We tried to place a fair system on the judging process to determine awards. In the end, awards received were deserved."
Ultimately, the top three entrants were awarded in each of the fourteen categories and recognized as Diamond, Ruby, and Emerald winners. In categories where the score differential between third and fourth place was close, the 4EVER Group also recognized those finalists as Pearl winners. Quibbles with the judging process aside, Gick says he was both impressed and discouraged by the entries he saw, and at least two entries knocked his socks off. The Diamond winner in Pre-Ceremony Production, from Walter Chelliah (formerly of David Mathew Bonner Video Productions in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, now of DeFiNiTiVe ProjX) surprised him with its innovation. "It was just so unique that it stood out," Gick says. "I'm somewhat surprised that it did win, because it was so different. And apparently, from the reaction of the other judges in NYC when it was announced, I wasn't the only one surprised."
Also impressing Gick was the Stage Event Production Segment winner, a contemporary dance festival shot by Peter Boardman of Lifestory Video Productions in Harleysville, Pennsylvania. "It was gorgeous," he says.
On the other hand, Gick says he both saw and heard plenty that made him shudder, from bad camerawork to rambling, unfocused productions. But it was the audio quality—or lack of it—that really surprised him, he says. "So many of the entries had poor audio," he says. "Music so high you can't hear the dialogue, transitions so abrupt that it's noticeable, inconsistent audio levels. Audio was the weakest link throughout."
With the inaugural Artistic Achievement Awards a wrap, all that's left is for the world to see the winning video. In addition to posting the video on the 4EVER Group Web site at the link noted above, the 4EVER Group has already begun using the winning videos in their education programs. In their third Video Summit, held August 30 in Dallas, the 4EVER Group used the four award winners in the AAA Post-Ceremony category as fodder for the Summit's culminating panel discussion. Ryan showed each of the four videos in succession and then asked for commentary from each of the panelists, who included Cannon Video's John Goolsby (a multi-AAA winner himself who had delivered a packed-house seminar on "The Business of Wedding and Special Event Videography" earlier in the day), Moonlight Memory's Josh Fozzard (Photo Montage challenge champion who had deconstructed his winning montage before a capacity crowd in an afternoon session), DFW Professional Videographers Association president LaDonna Moore of LaDonna Visual Artistry, and EventDV editor Stephen F. Nathans. Other presenters at the Summit included three EventDV contributing editors: Luisa Winters, presenting her complete tutorial on the Adobe Video Collection; Stage to Screen columnist Ed Wardyga, with "Improve Your Stage Productions"; and Strictly Business columnist Steve Yankee, with a seminar on "Breakaway Marketing."
Following one more Video Summit in Chicago on November 7 at the Hilton Northbrook (registration and program details at www.4evergroup.org), the winning videos and videographers will take center stage at the 4EVER Group Video Convention and Trade Show in Orlando in January. The Group will recognize all winners at the Convention's opening gala ceremony on January 9. Wernick also hopes to get some of the winners to present and deconstruct their work onstage at the Convention, drawing as much educational value as possible from the awards process.