"I was an art student at the time, so I had a bit of an eye for this stuff, but I was basically winging it," Fowler says of that first videography gig. "I charged $100 and, apparently, I did a better job than the professional who had shot the bride's sister's wedding video."
Soon thereafter, with an associate's degree in hand, Fowler enrolled at Springfield Technical Community College in Massachusetts, where he studied video production. "I also started attending local and international trade shows and seminars, joined the professional associations, and read the trades," he says of his gradual immersion into the profession that would one day become his livelihood. Before there was Video Experts, there was "I See Video," and before that, there was Fowler working from a spare room in his parents' house. "I later moved to a condo, where I had a home office," he says, but the company soon outgrew the space.
"The vision I've always had is that I'd one day have a place where clients could view their movies in a real live theater," Fowler continues. "In May 2004, I happened to drive by a development where the downstairs facilities are commercially zoned businesses and the upstairs facilities are residential condos. The spot was perfect."
At that moment, he says, "I had to ask myself, ‘Do I want to scale back or move my business to the next level?'" After giving the matter some serious thought, Fowler says he decided to "go with it and grow with it," signing a lease for the 1,475-square-foot office from which Video Experts operates today. "I was able to design the studio exactly how I wanted it and I did a ton of the work myself. When clients come in," he adds, "they see a complete business." That business includes three editing rooms, an equipment storage area, a private office for Fowler, an attached garage, and—the coup de grâce—a ten-seat, stadium-style movie theater with a 72-inch screen and a Dolby Digital surround-sound system.
Fowler is particularly proud of the theater, which Video Experts uses to make presentations to new clients and to screen completed projects for existing customers. "Part of what customers get from us is the ability to view their movies in our theater," he says. "We make a big deal of it when a project is completed. We invite clients to bring up to ten people to the screening. We serve cheese and crackers, we make our own soda and popcorn. We have both an authentic movie theater popcorn maker and a soda machine that makes 20 different flavors of soda. It's real movie-going."
Fowler says clients love the fanfare and the way it makes them feel about the work. "When we first started doing it, clients would say they weren't interested," he recalls. "Then we started just giving it to them as part of their packages, and they loved it. You can hear them laughing and crying through the walls of the theater. They come out afterwards and they're all fired up. We don't just give them a video. We give them an experience."
Since its inception, Video Experts has shot more than 665 weddings, 100 bar and bat mitzvahs, 200 corporate events, and 500 other projects ranging from dance recitals and retirement parties to theatrical performances and medical procedures. As for the type of projects Video Experts takes on, Fowler says, "There really aren't any specific criteria they have to meet for us to accept them," but he notes that about 75 percent of the studio's revenue comes from weddings. Although most of the events Video Experts shoots are held in Connecticut and Massachusetts, Fowler says his team has accepted projects as far away as Texas.
"With each project we take on, we look at the type of project and the investment the client has chosen to decide how many people we'll need for the shoot," he explains, adding that most events are staffed by a main camera operator and an assistant. The studio's five pricing levels start at $1,895, though one client paid $9,000 for Video Experts' services. According to Fowler, the levels are determined by the number and complexity of features clients want in their videos.
"Our goal for each project is the same, regardless of type or investment level," he says, "and that is to satisfy the customer's needs and wants. During the initial consultation, we show clients our previous work and ask them what they'd like to see in their video. If they have new ideas, we try to implement them."
And the Award for Best Ensemble Performance Goes to . . .
A devoted Red Sox fan, Fowler knows what a team can accomplish when its individual members work together. Although his is the name clients and industry observers are most apt to recognize, Fowler is quick to point out that Video Experts wouldn't be where it is today without the expertise and passion of Corinne Bernard, editor and videographer; Michele Condron, office manager; Dave Hay, videographer; Kevin Huss, senior editor and videographer; Caren Pheasant, videographer; and Cara Sutton, editor and videographer. "I started this thing, but it's important that people realize the team effort involved," Fowler explains. "Video Experts isn't just about me. I might have shot the footage, but I didn't necessarily edit it. I'm too busy with business operations to do everything.
"To be a good leader," he continues, "you have to know a little bit about a lot of things. My brother used to own two supermarkets, but in the end, we weren't successful because we tried to do everything. I learned as an 18-, 19-year-old that you can't do that. You have to hire good people whose strengths are in your areas of weakness."
To date, those strengths have helped Video Experts rack up an impressive collection of accolades from the 4EVER Group, WEVA, and the Professional Videographers Association of Connecticut (PVACT). In 2005 alone, the studio earned two diamond, three ruby, and two emerald Artistic Achievement Awards from the 4EVER Group in the "Wedding Reception Coverage," "Best Overall Wedding," "Wedding Ceremony," "Concept Video Production," "Corporate Productions," "Social Event Production," and "Photomontage Production" categories, as well as a bronze Creative Excellence award from WEVA in the "Short-Form Wedding Production" category.
"It takes a lot to win awards," Fowler says of Video Experts' success. "This business is competitive. You have to have the right client who [views the work as] an investment. Things have to fall in place on the day of the event. You have to have good subjects. It's also about what you do in postproduction."
What Video Experts does, he continues, is "take a more cinematic approach" to shooting and editing. "We do what it takes to get the creative shots while still being respectful of the day and respectful to the customer, the clergy, the guests, and so on. In postproduction, we customize the footage to the customers' needs and strive to make each couple's video their own. Many times, people can't even explain why our videos are better. They just see that they are."
By way of explanation, Fowler offers this example: "We had a bride in here not too long ago who hadn't wanted a wedding video, but the groom's mother insisted on it," he says. "A week before the wedding, they contacted us and asked for a fairly high-end package with a documentary style. They came back a few weeks later to see their movie in our theater, and one of the first things the bride said was what a mistake it would have been if they hadn't done it. We ended up entering that video in a WEVA competition and winning. This bride and groom hadn't wanted it originally," he says with a laugh, "but they ended up with an award-winning video."