First, they took a real-world project—a retrospective photo montage for a Long Island man named Jim Cox on his 50th birthday—and invited a half-dozen videographers to participate in the battle, with a $500 cash prize at stake. They gave the contestants 135 scanned photos and a four-week window preceding a set-in-stone delivery date of December 4, 2004—the date of Jim Cox' birthday party. The Cox family then got to choose their own winner and show that montage at the party.
Two videographers, Lucy Galbraith of Nevada City, California-based Visions Multimedia Group and Josh Fozzard of Bourbonnais, Illinois-based Moonlight Memory Video Productions, faced off in the actual battle. The 4EVER Group selected four judges from various walks of videography life, including three leading event videographers—Digital Dream's Merrill Moore, David Robin of EventDV Main Event and Boulevard Video fame, and the Fast Forward Club's Mike Martin. They invited me to sign on as the fourth judge, and promised EventDV an exclusive story on this battle, and the opportunity to announce the judges' selection on EventDV.net first.
For the record, the judges deadlocked, leaving the client, Renee Cox, to choose the winner. And choose she did, casting the deciding vote for Josh Fozzard of Moonlight Memory as winner of the 4EVER Group's first Battle of the Videographers.
Other Battles Ahead
The 4EVER Group plans on doing multiple videographer battles per year as they continue to expand their programs. Likely future topics include Love Stories, editing styles, ceremonies, and receptions, though with each topic, Ryan says "we're considering how to implement them" for best educational effect.
It's worth noting that the 4EVER Group has other battles ahead, perhaps more challenging than choosing and shaping future contest topics. As the latest wrinkle in an ongoing lawsuit filed by the Wedding & Event Videographers Association against the 4EVER Group in December, WEVA has taken issue in a May 13 filing with US District Court Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, with the 4EVER Group's use of the "Battle of the Videographers" name. WEVA has been doing Battles of the Videographers since 2002, when Tim Ryan and Steve Wernick were WEVA contractors for conference and program development. While WEVA never trademarked the name, they have claimed "Battle of the Videographers" as their own intellectual property and have sought "preliminary injunctive relief barring the 4EVER Group from further unauthorized use" of the name. We'll continue to report on this case as it develops.
Round by Round
But enough with the undercard. The entries from the headline battle--which the 4EVER Group is streaming from its Web site--presented two sharply contrasting styles that underscore the range of approaches that leading videographers take to photo montage work. Visions Multimedia ("Montage #1") took a straightforward approach, relying on basic titles and simple, in-out zooms and dissolves that kept the source material front and center. Moonlight Memory ("Montage #2"), meanwhile, deployed a dazzling array of effects and techniques, ranging from an opening mosaic to a panning-across-a-scrapbook sequence and puzzle-piece maneuvers.
Of the two videographers, only Josh Fozzard of Moonlight Memory exercised the option of contacting the family to talk about the montage as he was planning how to do it. "I had lots of photos, but nothing I could pull together as a story," Fozzard says. He ended up dividing his montage into sections, he says, each with signature effects mostly achieved in After Effects. He arranged the older, faded photos with their rough edges clipped and pinned into a scrapbook that the "camera" passes over in the first section. He then used photos of Jim Cox as a young man, before his marriage, with a stock-footage effect called "film clutter" used between cuts in the second section. He captured Renée and Jim's courtship and marriage in the third section using "a pile of photos flying in" and assembling like puzzle pieces, all done in After Effects; and he showcased their children in the fourth section using a 3D sphere effect from a the 3D Assistants plugin from Digital Anarchy. In the final section, he resorted to more traditional pans and zooms, ratcheting down the intensity of the effects as the montage pushed past the 10-minute mark.
Lucy Galbraith has a different take on photo montages, one that's reflected in her entry, and one that also reflects the type of work she does regularly: memorial-service photo montages that are by their nature stately, respectful, and straightforward, with a minimum of flash. "I like keeping my montages simple," she says. "I want people to get into the photo, and get a feeling for the lives of the people in it. Primarily I do not so much weddings and birthdays, as memorials where lots of flipping is not really appropriate." Galbraith says she "put movement to the photos" in Canopus Imaginate, and compiled the montage in Adobe Premiere. She says she also spent a great deal of time on the preliminary work of cleaning and repairing the scanned photos. "There was lots of dust and artifacts in the images, and I really want pristine photos," she says, since they are the focal points of the piece.
Beyond that, she emphasizes the real-world restrictions of the project in the strategy she took with the montage: "This was a real job with a time limit, and I gave it as much time as I could afford," she says. "It all boils down to the participants having the time to really play versus the demands of your career. I treated it like a job, and wanted it done."
In part, Ryan says, Renée Cox preferred Fozzard's montage because "there was more visual eye candy. She also liked the way he separated it into categories; she found it very orderly, with a better sense of the chronology." When Ryan presented Montage #2 at the birthday party in December at the Cox home, Jim's reaction showed she had chosen wisely. "The reaction was overwhelming," he says. "When I saw the honoree's tears well up in his eyes, that was inspiring."
Fozzard will be discussing his photo-montage techniques at greater length in the summer, Ryan says, in tutorials at 4EVER Group Video Summits. "We're going to take Josh Fozzard on the road, to teach people how he does these things."
Ryan notes that Galbraith will also be a part of the Video Summits, although she will be teaching on different topics ("She does a lot more than photo montages," he says). "We'll be showing the montages at the Summits and presenting the judges' comments with a panel of videographers and brides and grooms. We'll have our panel discuss the montages and the judges' comments so the education and commentary will continue throughout. There are many more opinions out there, and videographers should hear them all."