A Familiar Beginning
While attending college in the early '80s, Velasco, a longtime still-camera aficionado, got his hands on a Super 8 camera. "I quickly fell in love with all aspects of video: shooting, developing, editing, and making a story," he says. "After college, I immersed myself in film, and I got involved in film schools here in Manila."
Velasco's friends and family soon began to recognize his skills, which led to his first wedding and event video jobs. In 1992, he officially set out on his life as a professional videographer, leveraging his existing client base and body of work to grow his business. "We didn't advertise that much, and it was a very small operation. I was doing the sales as well as the shooting and the editing."
It stayed that way until 1996, when Velasco booked the wedding of a major celebrity in the Philippines. "The broadcast networks were barred from covering that event, but we had the privilege of documenting this private wedding. A few weeks later our work was broadcast on TV, and the celebrity even endorsed us," he recalls. "That hit us big. We got phone calls left and right, and from there it was a steady climb."
Today, Imacron's client list includes many of the highest-profile jobs in the Philippines and Malaysia. Velasco often works with tycoons, celebrities, and other VIPs. Velasco says his wedding work has yielded a growing client base in corporate video. "Our wedding clients are usually captains of industry or their children. So once we do the weddings, we have a sort of backdoor path for the corporate accounts instead of going through the front door to the product manager and courting them."
Imacron's corporate clientele includes a local call center and one of the biggest daily newspapers in the Philippines. They've also done work on advocacy videos, including one that highlighted the hazards of mining.
Gaining an Edge
One constant in Imacron's history has been Velasco's consistent investments in the latest technologies available. "I'm an early adopter of technology. If it can ease our work and make us do things faster and better, I want it," he says. "We were editing nonlinear in 1996 and 1997, and using full digital production in 1998 and 1999." To stay ahead of the competition, Imacron has always "adopted technology that was a step higher than what [competitors] were doing."
Staying on the cutting edge while working in the Philippines poses challenges that U.S. videographers rarely face. "It's been difficult because we didn't have any support here," he says. "We've had to rely primarily on electronic bulletin boards and online forums."
A prime example of this occurred in the late '90s when Velasco was looking for a new camera. "I called up the local Canon dealer here and told them I was interested in purchasing a Canon XL1. The product manager said, ‘What's a Canon XL1?' When I explained, he told me they didn't have that in stock, but suggested I call back in a couple of weeks," he says. "When I did, he said, ‘Sorry sir, we can't bring it in because you're one of only two people asking for that camera and it's quite pricey.'" Disappointed but undeterred, Velasco asked a cousin in San Francisco to buy it for him from B&H in New York.
"We don't have easy, affordable access to technology," he says. "Sometimes I could fly to the United States to buy equipment and still save money compared to buying it here."
Another issue is service. "If my camera bogs down," he says, "I can end up with it in service for weeks and even months. If I had my operations in the United States, I could just send it through FedEx. It would probably be easier, technologically, if I were operating there instead of here."
A New Opportunity
All that said, Velasco's business continues to thrive and grow. Not only does he stay busy with his own local accounts, he has also taken advantage of his area's low cost of labor to embark on a new venture.
In 2003, as Velasco was finishing up his master's degree in business, he noticed a high-growth area in his local community. "Here in Manila, one of the biggest industries is call centers," he says. "When I looked at a benchmark for that industry, I saw a great potential for doing business beyond my country." Velasco had also been reading Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat, which "really opened my eyes to the opportunities available on the internet: any service that is digitized can be outsourced."
Around that time, Velasco was in touch with Carlito Frias, a Filipino-American living in Orange County, California. "Carlito believed that U.S. videographers had chronic problems with their editing backlog," he says. "On my side, though, I saw strength in production, in creating or editing video. So starting an outsourced editing business meant matching strengths to the opportunities we saw."
And the primary opportunity was one that took advantage of the same principles that were driving outsourcing across many industries: the availability of cheaper, high-quality labor. "I was asking videographers in the U.S. how much they charged for editing weddings, and heard fifteen or even twenty-five dollars an hour," he says. "I said, ‘Oh wow, that one hour can pay almost a day's work here.' On the economies of scale, one is to ten."
Velasco and Frias started informally doing business, focusing their initial marketing efforts solely in California. But the business wasn't growing at the pace they had expected. "We would get a client, but then there wouldn't be any repeat orders. They'd say that business was slow and they'd call us back when they got more accounts," he says. "We needed something that would really make people remember us and could create an impact."
So, Frias set off to check out WEVA EXPO 2005. At that event, Frias found some of the inspiration Imacron USA needed to keep plugging along. "There was a speaker there who was widely respected in the industry who said that wedding videographers had already hit a ceiling and could not expand beyond their current capacity. Number one, because they can not expand in terms of equipment; and number two, because they don't have enough people working for them," says Velasco. "That matched our initial perception about the market that yes, this is a viable business opportunity."
Through the connections nurtured during that show, Imacron's outsourced video editing business began taking off. But they really put themselves on the map at WEVA EXPO 2006, where Imacron's work received four Creative Excellence Awards, including Gold for best wedding demo video, Silver for wedding reception video, Bronze for corporate video, and Bronze for social events.
Today, their business is thriving, built on the concept reflected by their tagline: "Why hire an editor when you can hire a company?"
Imacron USA's workflow begins when videographers ship their raw footage to Frias in Orange County, where once a week he packages them up and ships them to Velasco in the Philippines. Velasco also has his customers include a sample of their work that will be used to guide his editors to match a videographer's style. "We're not reinventing the wheel for them. We're just following their pattern," he says. Once the videos arrive, he assigns them to an editor, who views the sampler, and then starts editing.
When that editor finishes her first pass at an event, she uploads the video to an FTP server where the client studio can review and comment. Their notes are sent to the editor to tweak the video more to their liking. Imacron then invites their customer to review the revisions, and they repeat the process until the videographer is satisfied.
Contrary to concerns that this review process may limit the cost-effectiveness of outsourcing, Velasco says that it usually takes only a couple of passes to get it right. "It's really not that difficult. The effects that Americans want are usually very simple, very predictable: blur, black and white, and so on. And their constant feedback helps us make sure there's no room for guesswork," he says.
What's more, Velasco says his U.S. customers know their craft and tend to give clear, concise instructions, even down to the precise percentage by which they want the speed of a shot to be reduced. Velasco credits the local wedding work as battlefield experience for his editors. "Filipino brides are more demanding than their U.S. counterparts, which means that we've gone through hell with Filipino obsessive-compulsive brides," he says. "So doing this for the U.S. market is really very easy compared to what we've gone through with some of our clients."
Geoff Daily is a frequent contributor to EventDV and EContent, and a contributing editor to Streaming Media.