How do you break into this potentially lucrative field? What's worked for me is to contact those responsible for these events directly. School events (traditional and dance) are the easiest to produce and should be the first ones you explore. Make initial contact with the principal or other school head. The second tier would be department heads (choral, band, drama, etc.) or parent group (PTO, band parents, etc.). But before you go off running to your local school with dollar signs flashing before your eyes, prepare yourself with a few important pieces of information. You'll need a demo (unless you have tons of referrals), pricing structure, and sales and distribution plans.
What if you don't have a demo? Do you have a child or young relative? If they are involved in any type of school activity, contact the school and offer to videotape the event for free, provide the school with a couple of free copies, and make copies available to other parents for a nominal fee (try to keep things informal to minimize the commercial aspect). You will gain respect and needed assistance, and secure the optimal spot to shoot from by asking permission. Do some homework. Gather as much information about the production as possible: lighting, sound, plot, or anything that will affect your shoot. Attend the rehearsal. Depending on your expertise and adaptability, your first shoot may not be of demo quality, so be pre-pared to repeat this procedure a couple of times.
Once you have a demo (a polished, full-length production), put together your business plan. Prepare a price list. Although I can't tell you what to charge, I can tell you what to factor into your decision. The most important is the length of the production. This determines your total time for producing the event, taking into account setup, the actual performance, intermissions, breakdown, and travel time. You know what your time is worth and what the economic conditions are in your area.
Once you have a pricing schedule, you'll need to deter-mine how many videos you need to sell to make the production profitable. Do not shoot "on spec." I always contract with the sponsor of the event to guarantee a mini-mum number of copies. They agree to pay for any videos not sold to meet that minimum. Some stage videographers charge a "taping fee" in lieu of setting a minimum sales figure. Experience has proven that "minimum sales" is more agreeable; the final numbers may be the same, but the minimum sales approach works better from a marketing standpoint. The only time you should pursue an up-front fee is when the cast is small and the job wouldn't otherwise be profitable. A good rule of thumb for determining your minimum sales number is to count on selling to 25-33% of the cast of the show. Proven fact: the younger the performers, the more videos you will sell. While pre-school and elementary levels enjoy very high-percentage sales, the numbers drop drastically as you approach high-school level.
Work with the event sponsor. It is not only good PR; this could be your contact for other events and, if you're lucky, repeat events. Another idea that has been received with open arms is working the sales of your videos into a fundraiser for the sponsor's organization. Try following this model: after you set your price and minimum quanti-ties, present them to the sponsor and suggest adding a few dollars to the price of the video to benefit the sponsoring organization. The added amount can vary, but charging too much will decrease the number of sales. Have the sponsor recruit volunteers to take orders and collect the money, with all the checks made out to the sponsor's organization. Provide them with simple 8"x11" posters and order forms. Once all the orders are collected, the organization orders the videos and issues you a single check. This is a win-win situation. The organization has incentive to promote and sell the video, and you get "free" sales help, leaving you to concentrate on the production.
As most likely you have noticed, you aren't in wedding land any more. Your mindset has to change in order to succeed in this field. You also have to invest in a few additional pieces of equipment for a production to achieve the "wow status" that separates you from a parent with a camcorder. Although the equipment required varies with the type of production, the basics include a multi-channel audio mixer, cardioid condenser mics with stands, and noise-canceling headphones. Many of you may already have most of the items on this list, but how the equipment is set up and used is going to be a bit different than what you are used to. Most video professionals are already aware of the importance of audio in their productions, but with a stage performance, attention to the audio will make or break the shoot and determine if you will make it in this field.