From Teacher to Videographer
Magbanua first discovered his fondness for video in college in the early '90s. "Even though I was initially an economics major," he says, "I shifted course my second year and took mostly production classes from then on."
Magbanua's first job out of school was as a college instructor, teaching a bit of English but mostly taking charge of the curriculum for the communication arts degree. "There I taught video production while learning the intricacies of the Videonics MX2000," he says.
Shortly thereafter, he began receiving inquiries from people to have him shoot their weddings. His first customers were primarily older sisters of his students, and then it was friends of friends as his circle gradually grew.
Magbanua was surprised by how profitable this video work was proving to be. "The income I earned in one day as a wedding videographer was staggering compared to my paycheck for a whole month as a teacher," he says.
In 2000, Magbanua decided to become a full-time wedding videographer. His move coincided with the birth of a site called weddingsatwork.com, which started as a Yahoo! group of brides-to-be and has since become the Philippines' version of TheKnot.com. "Since the start I've been friends with the webmasters and moderators," he says. "They egged me on to join my first bridal show at the time when I was unsure about whether I should go full-time with weddings or not."
All in a Day's Work
Today, Magbanua and his four-person staff are producing more than 100 weddings per year. He has drawn the most attention for his Same-Day Edit (SDE) work, winning WEVA's CEA Gold for SDEs in August 2006 and the 4EVER Group's Diamond award for SDEs in January 2007 (along with "Best in Show" for the SDE and seven other AAAs).
Magbanua first introduced SDEs (which he brands "Onsite MTV") into his product offerings two years ago. "Ever since we started doing SDEs, presenting to 200 guests on a weekly basis has done wonders for marketing. Our referral base has widened and word of mouth has spread like wildfire," he says. "When they see the SDEs at the reception it's gotten easier to say, ‘So that's why he's expensive.'"
Achieving success through SDEs has been hard work, though. "It's very stressful to edit an SDE," he says. "I used to use a direct-to-disk recorder but the weight held me down and cramped my shooting style, so I've retired it and gone back to tape. At set points during a wedding—like after the veil has been placed on the bride or right after the kiss at the church—an assistant captures the footage. When there's enough footage to work with, I start editing. Faster laptops have enabled me to play around with curves and filters. The key is to streamline the capturing so there's more time for creative editing."
A Widescreen View
Another way Magbanua has worked to differentiate his services is his "Widescreen Wedding" product. "I wanted to raise my prices but I didn't want to go the usual route of adding stuff to the package," he says. "I had just purchased an FX1 and wanted to exploit its capabilities. HD was out of the question, as delivery methods were still unclear. I studied what competitors had to offer, which was all 4:3, and decided that 16:9 was the way to go."
Magbanua launched the concept with brochures and full-page ads in two nationally circulated magazines as well as at bridal shows. "It was a tough sell at first," he says, but gradually clients warmed to it. "I realized then that ‘if we offer it, they will come.'" Another focal point of Magbanua's marketing efforts has been his willingness to distribute demos. "We were the first to do this locally," he says. "We handed out discs to everybody in sight. Not just prospects, but passers-by, fellow videographers, and photographers." Showing demos made raising prices much easier.
"At the time, the prevailing mindset was ‘I'm afraid my style will get copied by others.' We decided this was baseless paranoia. All art and style is derivative of other work. The key is keeping one step ahead of the competition and continually learning, adapting, and evolving to suit the market," he says. "I don't care if people are copying what we did yesterday because I'm doing something else today. Besides, it was flattering that competitors emulated our work. We even took extra time to answer any inquiries about the videos and the process involved in creating them. Later on, we formalized the help we gave into seminars and workshops, and our colleagues became open to the idea of pushing the creative envelope. Better videos across the board means better market acceptance of high-quality, higher-priced products."
Most recently, Magbanua has introduced pinoyvideomaker.com, an online resource for Filipino videographers, as the first step toward establishing a videographers' association in the Philippines. Magbanua expects the association to be formalized in early 2007.
Here vs. There
Not surprisingly, shooting weddings in the Philippines differs in some fundamental ways from shooting in the United States, as Magbanua has learned from his active participation in online forums such as VideoUniversity and WedVidPro. "Most competition here comes from studios who package photo and video together," he says. Because brides are accustomed to booking the two services together, "video becomes an afterthought." Only recently, he says, have clients started looking specifically for video.
A huge advantage of weddings in the Philippines is better audio and lighting. "I have read that ceremonies in the United States are mostly not amplified, which explains why people there are so crazy about iRivers and multiple wireless setups. All ceremonies here, whether church, garden, or beach, use sound systems," he says. "North America is not too crazy about auxiliary lights either. That explains so much ado about lux ratings and onboard lights. Here, when we bring two 800-watt ARRI Blueheads, that's lighting conservatively." On the downside, he adds, "Weddings are 10-12 hour affairs, and they pretty much have us for the entire day," he continues. "The ‘per hour' additional charge does not work here."
Weddings in the Philippines tend to be lavish and extravagant, "a personal family affair but also a societal statement. But budget brides also abound. Haggling and devaluing video unfortunately seem to be universal."
All Weddings, No Apologies
Magbanua has a clear vision of who he is in the video business. "I'm an unapologetic wedding videographer. I do this not as a stepping stone to something ‘bigger,' nor do I view broadcast or film work as the holy grail of the profession. There will always be video professionals who look down on weddings and consider it the lowest rung on the ladder." What they don't realize, he says, is "that wedding videography in itself is multi-disciplinary."
But it's not just the creative challenges that make weddings so compelling to him. "I love the atmosphere of weddings. They're very joyful events here where everyone is in their Sunday best," he says. "I love the idea of preserving the events of this once-in-a-lifetime occasion. I also like the freedom of being self-employed. And, of course, the money doesn't hurt either."
But money is not the only factor that drives Magbanua and his team. "Passion for what I do pushes me to learn new skills and techniques," he says. "It drives me to shoot like it was my last wedding and to create a flawless and brilliant SDE. Pride, too, fuels our product. We want to be the best at what we do. And we make damn sure that we deliver a product that exceeds all expectations."