Julian, who handles the business and marketing end of New Orleans-based videography outfit Custom Video by Terry and hosts the local TV show Wedding Planning Experience, stayed put until well after the storm made landfall. His wife and son evacuated on Sunday with enough equipment to keep their business going, and Julian rode out the storm at their condo in the Uptown area of New Orleans. On Tuesday, the day after the storm, Julian left the condo and walked to the studio to check for damage. To his relief he found just one window pane broken in the two-story Greek revival building. As he walked backed to the condo he was told that the levees were breached and that the city was flooding. Authorities advised that there was a 4-6-hour window to evacuate before the only escape route from the city would be closed down and martial law would be enforced. Julian quickly packed a bag and joined his family on higher ground elsewhere in Louisiana.
The next morning, all three drove to Oklahoma, far away from the mounting wreckage in their city. "Now I don't when we're going to be able to go home," he says, "and if there will be any commerce when we do."
As many wedding videographers around the country know, the "Terry" in Custom Video by Terry is Terry Taravella. She and the couple's son, Joe, handle the videography side of the business, shooting and editing weddings and producing the TV show. Recognized as one of the most celebrated studios in the south along with the success of their local TV show, Julian, Terry, and Joe have established themselves as leaders in the New Orleans wedding industry. They have largely based their enterprise—and its ability to attract a high-end clientele—on New Orleans' reputation as a unique and inviting wedding destination. That "destination" status is now indefinitely on hold. "Until we get the water out," Julian says, "we don't know what's going to happen. Of the 24 weddings we had left between now and the end of the year, we'll do maybe four or five."
Brides and grooms with pending wedding plans in New Orleans couldn't keep them if they wanted to. Many New Orleans hotels won't even be accepting guests during the next few months, Julian says. Most of their rooms will be reserved for emergency personnel. Meanwhile, some of the leading wedding venues in the area will be shut down for at least the next six months; Julian says one New Orleans-area plantation that usually does 150 weddings per year "will not be re-opening before April 2006."
Not surprisingly, he expects the local, "staple" wedding market to be hit just as hard as the destination market. "When local people do come back, they'll be focused on rebuilding, rather than spending $40K on their daughter's wedding."
Realistically, Julian and Terry acknowledge that the future of their business may not be in New Orleans—at least not the near future. They spent the first two weeks after evacuating mostly staying with their friends Mark and Trisha Von Lanken of Picture This Productions in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Shortly after I spoke with Julian on September 9, the family was due to travel to Dallas to set up camp with PixelPops Design. Their first order of business when they get to Dallas, Julian says, will be to set up their editing stations in the PixelPops studios so Terry and Joe can catch up on the backlog of editing they have from existing clients whose weddings they've already shot. After that, they'll be doing some short-term projects with PixelPops as they gather capital and begin planning their next move.
Going back to New Orleans—eventually—is one option. "If a few of us go back, maybe we can maintain for a while and prosper later. But like any small business owner, we're taking a tremendous risk that the market we had will ever come back in our business lifetime."
Many aren't willing to take that risk. Julian says he's spoken with a dozen New Orleans wedding vendors since the hurricane dispersed them and four told him "there's no way I'm ever going back."
In the interim, he says, "Terry and Joe are taking offers to shoot weddings in different parts of the country." Julian says they may ultimately decide to relocate their studio near a busy airport, re-structure their business as a mobile operation, and do their shooting wherever the jobs happen to be.
But for now, he insists, it's all guesswork. "A city in our country has never been totally displaced before," he says. "Three months later, do we all just go back and see what we can do? I don't know."