EventDV Contributing Editor David Chandler-Gick came up with the Continuing Education concept and has written most of the training-title reviews we've run under that heading, conceived this extended look at the CVP Complete Collection as a dialogue between himself and EventDV editor Stephen F. Nathans in the Imaginaire Café, which he imagined existed in the mind's eye somewhere between his Ft. Wayne, Indiana studio and EventDV's Madison, Wisconsin editorial office. The sign on the door says, "Welcome . . . enjoy the wait."
The conversation touched on each element of the Complete Collection and zeroed in on many of the key themes. Unlike most other videography training materials—including the many worthy entries reviewed in Continuing Education—the CVP set is not concerned primarily with practical videography technique. Rather, the emphasis is on how you approach and think about your work—"what goes on between the ears," as DJ says.
Of course, there's also quite a bit here about what goes on behind the camera, in the editing bay, and at the designer's desk—as well as at the drawing board—that's well worth exploring too.
Creativity: The Missing Think
The first part of our discussion focused on Brett Culp's contributions to the DVD set: the Capturing Creativity book and his DVD, Creativity: The Missing Think. Like the other two DVDs, Brett's disc begins with a talking-head segment that introduces the topic—sources of creativity and inspiration and their practical use and application in wedding video—and proceeds from there to explore said topic. Brett's disc adheres most closely to the talking-head format, but does include some excellent examples of the ideas he discusses. In some ways, the DVD underscores several of the points made in Brett's excellent book, Capturing Creativity, as discussed in the September Nonlinear Editor. For the sake of brevity, we've truncated the published portion of our conversation about the book, since it has already been covered fairly extensively in that earlier issue.
SN: I think the key point of the whole book, Capturing Creativity, is that creativity and imagination are not ethereal concepts. Creativity is a skill that anyone can hone by looking at elements you might not have associated with each other, or associated with wedding video, and putting them together to create a new synthesis.
DJ: Absolutely. The linchpin of this whole set is the book. In my estimation, it's the best read of the industry since John Goolsby's The Business of Wedding & Special Event Videography.
SN: A lot of times, if you read a book or even a magazine about videography, something that's inherently a visual art, you'll find yourself thinking, "This might be more effective if it were visual. This might be more effective if I were seeing some video and not reading words on a page." But what he is talking about in the book very much belongs on the printed page. It's about concepts rather than video techniques.
DJ: It's not paint-by-numbers. A textbook might say, "Insert tab A into slot B." This book is more about how to get into the mindset of being innovative—looking at things we take for granted every day and asking, "What if we did this instead?"
SN: Valuable as that is, it's good to have the visual components too.
DJ: Because we're talking about a visual medium, it's not just "Tell me." It's also "Show me." The thing that would improve the book and DVDs is interactivity. Which is why a hands-on workshop would be ideal for the CVP team.
SN: I think you bring up a good point about interactivity, since there is no element of interactivity in this whole set, which is kind of ironic. One of the overarching themes is "Don't do it our way. Use these tools to figure out what your way is, and do it better." But being that there are no interactive elements, it may inspire people just to receive it passively and imitate the CVP approach.
DJ: The obvious extension of this idea, to make the visual learning experience even better, would be to make it interactive. This is what we're working at. Play with it yourself. The PixelPops Photoshop training DVDs, Creating Graphics Clients Love and Pay For!, are a good example.
SN: Agreed. Let's talk about the individual DVDs, starting with Brett's.
DJ: The one thing that disappoints me about Brett's disc is that it is only about 36 minutes. The information and ideas are good—very inspirational. But I wanted more.
SN: A couple of things are interesting, including the way that he goes from talking about a concept to illustrating it. One example that stands out is the idea of a stylized flipbook as a recurring visual motif in a wedding video. One of the team members thought of a concept, didn't have any use for it at the time, but came back to it a year later. That's a very creative way to think about your business: instead of barely thinking past the current project, keep ideas around that you can't use now that may be perfect later on.
DJ: Or at the very least, be inspired by an idea that brings to light something else. As they say, stupid ideas can lead to better ideas.
SN: One thing that's kind of humorous on that disc is the segment where he talks about the way they used a projection technique to create an effect that made segments of a wedding look as if they were shot in the rain. What I think is interesting about that is the way he shows us a clip of the end result and then goes back to the brainstorming session. I would guess that most brainstorming sessions at CVP are much more electrifying than the one on the DVD, which was grinding and slow. It makes it all the more remarkable that such a cool idea came out of that session.
DJ: This is why event videographers should stay behind the camera. But they managed to come up with an idea that they were able to use for a project, and it was a neat effect. I know that, as a videographer, if someone watched it, they'd ask, "How did they do that?"
SN: That projection approach is a very adaptable technique. You really just have to think of what images you want to use in that way, and say, let's go to the projector. It's not going to work with everything, but that's a technique that a lot of people could take from that video and use with their own materials, their own ideas, and then have other videographers saying, "How in the world did they do that?"
DJ: I've already thought of a half-dozen different ways that I could use the projector.
SN: I like his picture-frame concept too, the idea of making a stylized PiP using physical antique picture frames. That's another universal point, too: we all like the idea of PiP, but it's so obviously a video effect. You can only do that with technology, and it all looks the same when you're so dependent on the technology. The idea of getting that cool effect without submitting to the clichés of it is great.
DJ: During the CVP presentation at the Chicago WEVA Town Meeting, one of the ideas that was drilled into us was keeping an idea book, a journal. I took that to heart. I've got notebooks littered all over the place—one in my car, one in my briefcase, one in my office, one at home, and I've got another dozen blank ones ready to go. I get an idea and I jot it down. That's something that I learned from CVP, and I'm glad they included it in Brett's DVD too. They've got good ideas and they're not afraid to share them.
Image: The Missing Ink
The second DVD in the set is Image: The Missing Ink, starring CVP graphic designer Monica Arellano. In the disc, Monica discusses her approach to design, the design principles she adheres to, and specific techniques she uses in creating unified designs for DVD menus, labels, and cases, as well as Web sites and other materials that define a videography studio's image. She also talks about the importance of applying consistent design elements in everything a studio produces to create a distinctive and cohesive image. While Brett Culp's DVD is talking head-oriented, Monica's DVD is much more visual, walking viewers through each example and including a number of additional segments and features outside the main presentation.
DJ: I guess the concept of the idea book for videographers came from Monica. That brings me to her disc. What do you think of it?
SN: I think it's excellent. Before we get into the specifics of the disc, there's one thing I'd like to ask you about. Monica's role is very clearly defined as the designer—
DJ: The image person.
SN: How common or uncommon would you say it is for a videography outfit that has multiple full-time team members to have somebody that's dedicated to design?
DJ: Honestly, I don't think it's common at all. I think CVP and PixelPops are the exceptions here.
SN: To me that's very interesting. To have one of your full-time people be a design person seems like a really effective way to put your business together.
DJ: I agree, but I have to question whether it would be possible if they didn't have a really strong salesperson. At CVP, that's what Brett's father brings to the table. When Brett's father started selling for them, they started booking heavily. That's key to kickstarting any business, to have a good salesperson and presentation. Then you fill in the rest of the components as needed. Honestly, I don't think that a successful business comes from a talented shooter or a talented editor alone. You have to have someone out there who can sell, who can network, who can schmooze. Obviously you have to have something that's worthwhile to sell, with a consistent image and a consistent message, and that's what Monica has done for CVP. Just look at the packaging of these DVDs and the book: they all have these central consistent themes, and they all look like they belong together.
SN: This goes back to one of the themes she talks about on the DVD. The design elements are very simple on all their products. The book is so nicely put together. There are no flashy design elements to it at all.
DJ: It's a very clean design. That's one of the things that I like about Monica's DVD. She does a step-by-step walk-through of all the elements of what she does. Bring your elements together, organize them, think about color and font usage. Simple is better, fewer is better than many. You look at some successful videographers' Web sites and marketing materials, and you have to wonder, how are they so successful when their message is all over the place? Having a good, consistent, clean design and message is so important. With the ideas that Monica presents on her DVD, anyone in the visual arts—not just event videographers—could benefit from watching this DVD.
SN: To me, the key moment of her whole DVD comes when she says—and I'm paraphrasing—"It's better to use one great design element than to use a bunch of pretty good ones." She plays that out when she talks about designing DVD menus. She'll take one image, identify the most important part of that image, and blur out the rest—
DJ: Adding negative space—
SN: And never use more than two fonts for all the text.
DJ: Another great feature on Monica's DVD is a walk-through of an interactive DVD that CVP has created where the viewer can assemble his or her own DVD menu and never watch the same DVD twice. That just blew me away. I also like that there isn't a long talking-head intro. She gets right into the meat of the matter, and there's a lot of b-roll, a lot of cutaway. She actually shows different logos and ideas and talks about some of the history of graphic design.
Efficiency: The Missing Link JT
Fannin's contribution to the CVP set is called Efficiency: The Missing Link. The focus of the disc is efficiency in shooting and editing, beginning with an extended discussion of JT's approach, followed by a walk-through of a pre-ceremony wedding shoot, and an in-the-editing-bay tutorial in which JT demonstrates how his economical shooting and largely template-based editing approach gets him through a rough pre-ceremony edit that will closely resemble his final product in a matter of minutes.
DJ: Efficiency is the longest disc, clocking in around an hour and 15 minutes. The first 20 minutes is nothing but a talking head. Honestly, he about loses me because there's no b-roll, which really would have helped at times, such as when he discusses firehosing. Somebody new to the industry might not know what firehosing means. It's when you turn on a video camera and pan all over the place looking for a shot. Instead of just talking about it and waving his arms around on camera, which is what he does, JT could have shown a clip of actual video footage being firehosed and explained that it's poor technique.
SN: I agree. The disc picks up when he moves to a real wedding shoot and walks you through shooting the pre-ceremony preparations of the bride and some detail shots in the groomsmen's hotel rooms.
DJ: I like that they go behind the scenes and show how efficiently he moves through the room and gets only the shots that he's going to use. Then in the following segment you actually see what he's shot. The entire pre-ceremony took up 11 minutes of raw footage. He spends less time shooting the dress than I do, and I don't spend much.
SN: There's a great moment when JT is in the church and finds a candle with the couple's names on it. He gets a shot of that and says, "This is what I'll use for my titles." Then, later in the DVD, when you see the final product, there's that candle.
DJ: He knew that, right then and there. That's about planning your shoot, shooting your plan, something that I've heard for a number of years from our own Ken Ehrhart. I've had the opportunity to work with him on a number of occasions and it's amazing how little raw footage he comes back with. That's a very strong theme in JT's DVD.
SN: His other key point is that assuming that you're going to fix everything in post is woefully inefficient.
DJ: That's the strongest feature of this DVD: It's nice to see how others are performing the job, not just the final product, which is a real benefit. You see the behind-the-scenes footage of the pre-ceremony shoot, then the actual raw footage, and then the final product—but only after you spend a few minutes with JT as he edits this stuff. You actually see the timeline and watch JT edit through it. In just a couple of minutes he says, "I'm a quarter of the way through the raw footage here." Throw some music in there, render it out to the timeline, and boom, he's got a very solid foundation for the final product that essentially uses every shot that he recorded. Very little was thrown away in postproduction. As an editor, I wish I could do that.
SN: One thing he talks about is having templates for his timeline. How versatile would you say that creating templates to use in your timelines are? Are you going to have to edit, say, all your pre-ceremony videos the same way to make use of your templates, or could you do creative work with it?
DJ: I think you can have variety and creativity in something that is so structured. For example, how many of our opening credits are going to change? We're going to say, XYZ Productions presents. Hopefully, we as videographers and as businesses have a logo, and we're using that logo consistently from one video to the next. What I got out of JT's template approach is his letterboxing: he's got a letterbox already made. He's not recreating a letterbox for each and every video that he edits. He has one that's already made and just plops it where he needs it. He has an opening title with the bride and groom's names. Those names are going to change, obviously; maybe he'll alter the font. Starting with a template isn't a bad thing, but getting locked into a template is a bad thing. I don't like stock animations. One thing you don't want is to have a bride come back and say, "Hey, you used the same animation on my best friend's wedding and I thought you were going to create something custom for me." This is her wedding; she doesn't want it to look just like her friend's wedding.
SN: Even though she probably hired you because of how much she liked her friend's video.
DJ: Right. But she still wants creativity and individuality. And if you can be creative, unique, and efficient at the same time . . . Well, that's exactly what CVP is showing us how to do.