"Do you pack back-up equipment? How many weddings have you missed?" These are the questions Mike wishes brides would ask. What would his answers be? Always and none.
Reliability, creativity, and "rock-solid videography" are what Mike prides himself on—not equipment, which "changes every three years," he says, likening the videographer's camera to an artist's brush. "Do you or I really care when we look at that painting what kind of brush it was painted with?"
Remembering When . . .
It was an artistic bent that steered Mike toward a career in wedding videography more than two decades ago. "My dream through high school was to be a cinematographer and make motion pictures. I was involved heavily in photography, and all my initial training in those creative aspects came from photography," he says.
In 1982, while Mike was serving a mission in England for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, his brother and cousin started Remember When Videos (RWV) with "the novel idea of taking quality, professional equipment and Hollywood cinematography techniques and bringing them to the home consumer," Mike says.
Mike joined them in '84. At the time, he aspired to be a "real" filmmaker, but he soon realized that that road was too bumpy for his goals of having a family and owning a home. Event videography, on the other hand, "was making little movies," he discovered. "It had that creative aspect that I just loved, but it had regular income."
Still, there was a long dry spell in the beginning. Operating RWV out of "a basement right next door to a wedding reception center, I lived at home and drove my dad's car," he remembers, laughing.
His partners' personal situations weren't set to weather the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, so shortly thereafter, they left Mike to run the business solo. To help keep his business in the black, or at least out of the red, Mike armed himself with an accounting degree from the University of Utah.
While his books were balanced, making a sale in those early years proved to be an uphill climb, given that in the early '80s, few brides even owned a VCR. Mike remembers, "I would approach brides, and they would just look at me and ask, ‘Why would I want to videotape my wedding?'"
As video gained ubiquity, though, Mike soon found that he was located in a wedding videography hot spot. "Seventy-five of the state is LDS [Latter-day Saint]," a lucrative market for several reasons, the key one being that the LDS faith revolves around marriage, relationships, and family, according to Mike. "Finding a group of people who value weddings so much more is not only important and fun, but it's lucrative," Mike says, a point he illustrates with an anecdote.
"I was at WEVA Expo last year talking to a very prominent speaker, who commented how depressing weddings are. He said, ‘You get an invitation, and the first thought in your head is, these idiots, how long 'til they get divorced?' It was so sad to hear this negative attitude. And it's not just him, it's in American society, it's in our videography industry. [Nationwide,] half of our brides get divorced. But with LDS temples, that's not true," Mike says, citing stats that show that LDS temple weddings have half the divorce rate of non-LDS, or "normal," weddings.
"When you meet with an LDS bride who's getting married in the temple, you know she values weddings more than the average person," he says. "And that you can sell her things as a result of that." LDS couples buy more of Mike's products than non-LDS couples, who make up a full third of his wedding clients. LDS couples buy more love stories, larger photo transfers, and more bridal elegance videos, he says.
Another reason their weddings are more profitable is that LDS temple weddings take place all week long; at least a quarter of Mike's LDS weddings take place Monday through Friday. "That's business you wouldn't sell with normal weddings," he says. By way of explanation, Mike says that there are only roughly 50 LDS temples in the U.S., and they are "first come, first serve." But because marrying in one is such an honor (couples must be deemed "worthy"; e.g., chaste and free of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco), they would sooner wed on a Wednesday morning at 7:20 a.m. than wait for a Saturday afternoon to open up (temples are closed on Sunday). "It's unheard of to book a temple wedding a year out," Mike says.
You'd hardly think that Remember When Videos could keep up with this kind of demand. But the studio can do up to four LDS weddings in one day. Indeed, the average-size temple can easily do four weddings in one hour because couples are married in private "sealing rooms" (large temples like Salt Lake City, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles, all of which Mike has shot at, can do as many as ten weddings at a time, or more than a hundred in a day). What's more, Mike needs just one camera for each wedding. For starters, cameras are not permitted inside temples, so there's no place for elaborate multicamera setups to capture the ceremony.
Then there's the "newness factor." For the remainder of the day, the couple is virtually conjoined, so only one camera is needed to record all the action. Mike explains, "At a normal wedding, you'd be tying up a second videographer" just to keep tabs on both newlyweds, because, during the reception, for example, "the groom's in this room, the bride's in that room, and they won't be together for an hour." Not so with LDS couples, Mike says, who are "much more excited and passionate about the marriage. They're not living together, they are not having an intimate relationship, and it translates into a newness and loveliness and passion that just bubbles over," he says. As a result, they "walk around through the reception greeting together, holding hands."
It goes without saying that each extra wedding Mike does in a day presents another opportunity to market his business. "With the second wedding, I can do another video history, another love story, and another same-day edit big-screen showing," Mike says. But coupled with the massive guest list typical of LDS weddings, the results can be exponential. "You have a lot of people coming. For my wedding we mailed out nearly a thousand invitations. The average is probably around 500." This goes back to the value Latter-day Saints place on relationships. They are very social and have "large wards, or local congregations. Sometimes you move from ward to ward; when you have an important thing like a wedding, you invite people from your previous congregation," he says.
So in many respects Mike recommends the LDS market as a lucrative one for videographers. But for those thinking about getting their feet wet in the LDS market, Mike cautions that as with any religion, videographers must familiarize themselves with proper etiquette or face losing a sale. "Call it the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," Mike says, "not Mormon. You can be perfect at everything else you do, and because you offend someone, you can blow it."
Once hard-pressed to find a bride to invest in video, Mike's number-one headache these days is finding and maintaining affordable health insurance for his six full-time and two "dang-near full-time" employees. Sadly, he has lost some veteran, quality employees because he simply can't compete with larger companies that offer more attractive health-care packages.
Still, he has faith in the future. "I'd like to grow. I'd like to add more employees, to get into the twenties. I'd like to take up more space in the building. And I'd like to be doing 250 weddings, and to get more brides to do more products," he says, referring to his lineup of 40 offerings.
He'd like the industry to grow as well, and to "get weddings to be more valued. We're definitely underpaid compared to other wedding vendors, but we're also undervalued," Mike says. "I believe all my people are worth more than I'm able to pay them, including me."
This will change, he believes, only when skilled videographers start valuing themselves for their expertise, and not their equipment, and convey that message to brides who value most their wedding day.