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A Day on the Job with ... Jason Magbanua
Posted Jun 1, 2007 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Having the chance to spend a day with Jason Magbanua of Jason Magbanua Wedding Videography on a shoot in the Philippines is like having the chance to meet a rock star. Maybe this is because the Philippines is so far away (14 hours by plane from Los Angeles), or maybe it’s because I have to travel for an additional 10 hours after touching down in Manila by taking two planes, a bus, a tricycle (that is, a motorcycle with a sidecar—the Filipino version of a convertible taxi), and one outrigger boat just to get to Boracay Island where the wedding is taking place!
 Or maybe I feel like a groupie simply because I’m going to see one of the most influential videographers in the world at work. Jason won awards for virtually everything he entered in the WEVA CEAs and 4EVER Group AAAs in 2006, in addition to making the EventDV 25. He even won best in show at the 4EVER Group’s Video 07 convention with an inconceivably good Same-Day Edit! I I knew then I had to meet this guy in person and find out how he works.
 I meet Jason the evening before his shoot and am welcomed by his lovely wife, his two children, and his four team members. This is quite a crew to bring all the way from Manila! The first thing they do (in my first glimpse of great Filipino hospitality) is offer me a seat at their table and buy me a beer. It’s the evening before this destination wedding and we go out for dinner along with the photographer and his crew. Altogether, it’s a table of about 30 people. We talk all evening about trends in wedding video and the difference in our markets and ways of running our businesses. And, of course—given that Jason edits on a Dell with Premiere Pro and I edit on a Mac with Final Cut Pro—there is some light-hearted Mac-versus-PC bantering as well.

figure 1Pre-Ceremony
On the morning of the wedding day, I walk down the crystal-clear beach to meet Jason and his team at his hotel. They normally have relatively little gear, though on this occasion they’ve packed even lighter than they usually do. This is, after all, a destination wedding for them as well.

First we’re off to the bride’s room to shoot some preparation footage. Jason says he always shoots this segment. It is customary that preparation coverage be included in wedding videos in the Philippines. "Plus," he says, "I need it for the On-Site Edit!" Jason’s On-Site (that is, Same-Day) Edits are brilliant and leave me wondering how he gets the shots he does. What I discover as I watch him work is that there are a number of factors that contribute to his excellence. On one hand, his personal assistant always sets up a light or two in the room and even in the church. This is something that most of us would never be able to do back in the United States. It allows for much better and more directional lighting. I don’t believe I saw a light on top of Jason’s or any member of his crew’s camera the entire day—not even during the outdoor reception!

Another key element is talent. Jason and his team have tremendous camera-handling skills. They shoot with the Sony FX1 camcorder in widescreen mode, and I get the distinct impression that Jason may know this camera better than some of the folks at Sony do—at least from a shooter’s perspective! In rapid succession, he decides what he wants a particular shot to look like, composes the shot, and then sets the advanced controls in the camera to get the proper color saturation. Again, this happens very quickly! While Jason is shooting the bride, his assistant, Sherry, heads to the groom’s room to get some shots. She’s an expert as well, and it’s cool to see how she and Jason shoot almost identically. Watching the footage later, it would surely be difficult to tell who shot what unless you had been there when the filming was taking place. This, to me, is a fine example of a studio that is well run. With consistently creative shooting and editing, the sky is truly the limit!

figure 1Back in the bride’s room, another assistant named Cecil sits with Jason’s laptop and a small camera she uses as a deck. Her job is to capture footage as Jason and Sherry hand tapes to her—all of this in preparation for the Same-Day Edit. She also takes time to search through Jason’s music library to find the perfect tune for this particular couple’s Same-Day Edit. The bride gave Jason a CD with songs she prefers earlier this morning—how is that for preparation time? But unfortunately, the music she suggested just won’t work. It’s very clubby/techno and not at all appropriate for her beach wedding. Fortunately, she is very laid back, and gives Jason permission to use a different track, hence the search for music in the hallway!

Church Set-Up and Ceremony
The bride and her "entourage" (as they call the bridal party in the Philippines) are running late. The Catholic service is due to start at 3 p.m., so everyone except Jason leaves for the church to begin setting up at about 2:30 p.m. Two big lights are placed at the front of the altar with colored gels to get the right color balance.

A wireless microphone is used to patch into the church’s audio system, and a microphone on a stand is placed in front of the church’s speaker for backup. Jason comments that this is how he gets the audio for the mass most of the time. This illustrates another contrast to most churches in the States, which would balk at such prominent and visible mic placement.

figure 1As any experienced wedding videographer will tell you, getting amazing shots during a Catholic ceremony is not easy. Jason’s team, however, seems to have it down to a science—without even communicating. It’s almost like a dance. Only one camera is on a tripod, and this is the camera collecting the main audio and the static shots. The other camera is operated by Jason, handheld except for when he attaches the Glidecam for a few shots just before the ceremony begins.

During the ceremony, he trades off and on with another assistant, so the assistant can begin preparing for the Same-Day Edit by looking at the footage being captured on his laptop—right there in the church.

On-Site Editing
After the ceremony, it’s off to the hotel, and that’s when the magic really begins: the editing of the Same-Day/On-Site Edit. It’s up to Jason’s team to shoot the rest of the event, and they do a fantastic job while Jason’s fingers move at lightning speed on his Dell laptop. The first thing that amazes me is that he’s not stressed at all, and he isn’t bothered by people constantly looking over his shoulder to watch his progress (or if it does bother him, it doesn’t show!).

When I say Jason’s fingers move at lightning speed, I mean it. He zooms through all the footage that his assistant has captured, demonstrating an uncanny eye for the best shots. Each time, just a few seconds zoom by in the capture window and he stops, sets in- and out-points, and drags the new clip onto the timeline. Each time, it magically matches the beat of the music (and by the way, he doesn’t lay out markers to aid him in editing to the music). When the clip and the music don’t align, Jason adds a little bit of slow motion and it works perfectly. Watching Jason do one SDE makes me change the way I think about editing. I feel like I always have to use perfect shots in my edits. As I watch him make his shot selections from the edited footage, I keep thinking to myself, "I don’t know about that shot. What’s he going to do with that? I like the one right before or after better." But watching Jason (and seeing how his selections work in the SDE) makes me realize you don’t always need the perfect shot (given our preconceived notions of what the "perfect" shot is). In fact, it’s almost better if you think outside the box and don’t use those shots. It’s much more interesting to the eye. It’s what you do with the shots you have that counts. Of course, he has so many amazing shots to work with that there really aren’t any bad ones, so I’m sure that has something to do with it too!

figure 1The other very enlightening thing I learn about Jason’s SDE style is that he doesn’t add many filters to the clips. Watching his SDEs online, I always thought that there must be several layers of filters that enabled him to get that signature look. He does apply some filters, but they change the clip only in minor ways. Most of the color enhancements are done in-camera.

It’s 8:30 p.m. now, time for the Same-Day Edit presentation. In the Philippines, it’s more common than not to have an outside company set up all the audio-visual equipment, and that’s what’s happening at this wedding. The only thing that Jason has to do is make sure that the projector can display the movie in 16:9. If this hadn’t been the case, he would simply have made a copy of the movie in a 4:3 timeline so it could be displayed correctly.

I can’t tell you how amazing it is to have spent about 10 hours around Jason and his team, only to watch one of his Same-Day Edits being debuted right in front of my eyes! I will never forget it. The crowd is silent, their eyes glued to the screen. The bride and groom are laughing or crying with emotion during the entire presentation. At the end, a huge roar of applause permeates the area and I hear a big sigh from Jason. His mission is accomplished, and he sits down and begins encoding the clip for his blog. He was calm before, but he’s even calmer now.

I leave shortly thereafter, with big hugs from everyone, walking down the beach to my hotel just as the fireworks are going off (literally) for the newly married couple. My impression of Jason is that he is a wonderfully humble, yet incredibly talented individual who is leading a fantastic team. You don’t find this combination very often.

After this experience, I consider Jason to be a good friend, an excellent Filipino host, and one of the most talented videographers on the planet.

Julie Hill is co-founder of award-winning Southern California studio Elysium Productions. She has been a featured presenter at 4EVER Group events, including a "Live Edit" seminar at Video 07 in Jacksonville.

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