I went to business school and started my first business at 18, so I default to the "business of art" side. This comes naturally to me and a few of my peers at my local British Columbia videographer association, the BCPVA, but I get the sense that I am in the minority when I ask other videographers why they got started in the video business. The overwhelming majority talk about the passion they have for video, their magical first experience with a video camera, and express other emotional sentiments.
I got started in the video business when I realized that it was an emerging field that was under-serviced and showed lots of growth potential. I also wanted to return to the world of entrepreneurship after four successful years as a franchise owner in the residential contracting industry. I learned a lot about what I didn't want to be doing the year I accepted a career job working directly for the franchisor. When I found video, I found the old passion that resided in me: the passion I felt as a business owner.
Whatever the reason you started your video business, and which way you lean on the fulcrum of art/business, we all have the same goal when it comes to balance: to do what comes naturally to us on our strength side and to work hard at our weak side. The goal is to achieve a balance and, in doing so, have a successful and rewarding business that operates in the creative field. We might always default to seeing markets differently, but we have to also learn to see it from the opposite perspective to do our jobs effectively.
I'm heavier on the business side, so I see a niche market like dance recitals as a renewable source of work. Dance studios have recitals every year and repeat business is desirable because you can build relationships with your clients. It also has sufficient barriers to entry in its technical requirements that take skill and the right equipment to master.
The technical side keeps Uncle Charlies from challenging you, and your relationships with the studios will prevent your competition from replacing you. Recent advancements in NLE technology—most importantly, multicam editing—have made the editing process more efficient and allowed editors to make better decisions now that they can see all the available angles at the same time. This means a better-looking edit, which takes less time to produce, and allows you to handle more contracts.
This analysis comes easily to me, but I had to learn the artistic side as I worked through the challenging exposure issue that stage lighting presents, namely to have the proper iris setting under the ever-changing lighting conditions that are part of nearly any dance recital. Knowing when to start a pan with your medium-follow camera is an art. It takes timing, an appreciation for the choreography, and the ability to feel the music.
My technical side tells me to count the beats in a measure (usually four) and to pay attention to the transitions between the verses, the chorus, and the bridge. This basic knowledge only gets me so far. It is my artistic side that feels the phrases, aligns my anticipation of the choreography with the rhythm of the beat, and prepares me for how to tighten my framing as the music slows and widen it as the tempo increases. When I think and feel my way artistically I am thinking like the choreographer and their dancers and am able to add some weight to my artistic side.
I opened this column—my first as successor to the esteemed Ed Wardyga—by telling you that I love to dance. This does not make me unique, and this love doesn't make me a professional dancer. It takes years of instruction, practice, and study to become a successful dancer.
The same goes for video. Your passion for the art of business or the business of art will only take you so far. So find out what skills you are light on and balance yourself by adding some weight to the areas that are holding you back. Whatever you do, remember that the video world often recognizes creative excellence openly, but your bank account is what is rewarded when you achieve a balance between business and creativity.
Shawn Lam is an MPV-accredited videographer and business owner based in Vancouver, BC. He specializes in stage event and corporate video production and presented a seminar on the business of producing dance recital videos at the 4EVER Group's Video 07.