Sunnyside begins on Nov. 12, 1916, when Americans experience a bizarre mass delusion: simultaneous, coast-to-coast sightings of the cinema's first millionaire writer-director-star, Charlie Chaplin. Today, a celebrity might engineer something like this as a publicity stunt, but it would have been nearly impossible to pull off in 1916. And the book makes it clear that Chaplin had nothing to do with this daylong case of national hysteria. The following morning, Chaplin, relaxing on the roof of his L.A. bachelor pad, seems to be the only person in the country who's unaware that, 24 hours earlier, he'd been paged in more than 800 hotels, had drowned when his skiff capsized off St. George Reef on the northern California coast, and had caused a riot in Beaumont, Texas, when he failed to step out and wave from an arriving train.
It's hard to separate history from fiction in Gold's work, and there's no question that Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp was enjoying a ubiquity hitherto unimaginable for an entertainment figure at the time the book takes place. But I'm pretty sure this particular mass delusion is Gold's invention. That said, one thing that's fascinating (and believable) about the way it plays out in the book is the ways in which people try to rationalize and explain it.
Back when I was in college in Ireland, I visited a small village called Knock in County Mayo where, on an August day in 1879, over the course of several hours, several villagers and a farmer half a mile away reported that they saw the Virgin Mary with St. Joseph and John the Evangelist. The Apparition at Knock is a noteworthy event in Irish and Catholic history—it inspired a shrine and a papal visit and an airport, among other things—but being neither Irish nor Catholic, I'd never heard of Knock until my friend suggested we stop there on the way to her aunt's house in Sligo. Armed with a dangerously small knowledge of Irish history, I immediately connected the Apparition at Knock to the Land War agitation that was happening in rural Ireland at that time, which historian F.S.L. Lyons had termed "a revolution of rising expectations." It was a perfectly rational, yet entirely fatuous, association to make with an event that had nothing to with the rational, secular, political world—but, for all I know, may have been every bit as "real" as it appeared.
I was reminded of this when I read one of the interpretations of the "Chaplin-itis" delusion recounted in Sunnyside. "There is a new, immediate medium which we do not yet understand the psychology behind, the filmed photoplay," writes Professor Bamfylde Moore Carew of the American Society for Psychical Research. "But because of the current crises of the war and the fundamental mystery of America's place in it—we have put out a call to something that comforts us. We needed Charlie Chaplin ... and so he came to us. Psychologists, those alarmists, call it mass hysteria. I call it a shared dream, a fairy tale, the birth of a myth."
The "filmed photoplay" (a common term for movies in the silent film era) is old hat today, of course. But there's a new ubiquity and immediacy to its creation and distribution that's just as revolutionary as the emergent motion picture medium itself was in Chaplin's time. One of the reasons I find it so exciting to be working in the wedding and event filmmaking world these days is that it touches on so many of these dramatic changes taking place in our time. As I reflect on our latest EventDV 25 all-star team (click here to see the EventDV 25 all-star presentation on EventDV-TV), I can't help but think that we're in the midst of a sweeping, awakening change-in which personal videos are everywhere, professionally made personal videos are most emphatically films, and the filmmakers who make them know, celebrate, and learn from one another's work-in large part because it's so easy and common for them to share it. What's more, the enabling factors of this change are just as significant-and as sorely needed-now as was the mass-distributed motion picture in 1916.
We've been doing the EventDV 25 for 4 years now, and the changes in the team are emblematic of the changing times. The first two all-star teams played out pretty much as I expected: The honorees were folks who'd made their reputations presenting seminars and winning awards at international conferences. These honorees were (and are) great contributors to our industry. But they were also in some sense the products of a relatively closed loop. It wasn't until the last 2 years that the list began to be taken over by people who weren't so much known for establishing their industry cred at conferences as they were known for sharing their work and insight online. Those who remained on the list from the convention cognoscenti were, for the most part, those who had extended their influence through online media.
For the first 3 years, the awards program itself was presented at an awards banquet to 100 people. What I liked about that format was the opportunity to give honorees their awards in person and to be part of a well-managed event with a fun crowd that laughed at some of my jokes. But what I didn't realize until this year, when we moved the awards presentation to EventDV-TV and delivered the list in three segments that racked up nearly 4,000 plays in 3 days, was that the banquet-based awards presentations really weren't reaching as many people as they should have been. Much as I'd tried to use the awards presentation to convey my idea of what the EventDV 25 was about-what made the all-stars influential and what made their influence important in our industry-delivering it within the confines of an awards banquet really wasn't getting the job done.
Now that we've gone the online presentation route, the perception of the EventDV 25 should be much more in tune with the list itself, which reflects a worldwide sphere of influence that couldn't have existed in any other time. The idea of event videographers half a world apart influencing one another is almost inconceivable. In a way, it's almost crazier than Chaplin being in 1,000 places at once in 1916; after all, Chaplin's medium, however new, was based on mass consumption. Even if his presence on movie screens across the country was a concept the world was still getting used to, it certainly matched the intention of his work.
But the videography world is fundamentally different. Virtually no one in the 2008 EventDV 25 is doing work (or was elected for doing work) created for mass commercial consumption. Most honorees are producing films commissioned by two people and delivered, by contract, to a half-dozen at most. The fact that these filmmakers are influencing people who are either their competitors or their counterparts in other locales (or other continents) that they would have no particular reason even to know about is a happy sign of the times in largely unhappy times-and the fact that our EventDV 25 voters chose to recognize and salute that influence is even more encouraging. First-time honoree Matthew Ebenezer of Shadowplay Photo & Video said it best in a recent post about his own election on Chris Hurd's DVinfo.net: "I'm stoked that some random guy from a small town in regional Australia who hasn't shot many weddings (and certainly hasn't made much money from it) can make it onto such a list. How and why did this guy make the list? No idea. But I think it says a lot for the exciting future of our industry that it was even possible."
So, how does a guy "who hasn't shot that many weddings" make the list? Although the EventDV 25 has often been criticized in the past for honoring people with such unconventional resumes, to me it's actually a sign that what this magazine and these awards are trying to accomplish is working. Who, as an event filmmaker, is doing things that are inspiring others and helping to make them better? And does that necessarily correlate to how many weddings they've shot and how profitable their businesses have been? Clearly, to some voters it does, and to some it doesn't. If the list reflects those differences, that means videographers are voicing those opinions through their votes, which is exactly what I want them to do.
Two pivotal figures on this year's list have not only influenced videographers but have launched two very different spheres of influence: WEVA chairman Roy Chapman and WedFACT founder Walter S. Chelliah. One could argue that Chapman should have made this list every year. If you had to name one person as the architect of this industry, it would be Chapman. But I'm excited to be honoring him now because, lifetime achievements aside, he had such a big year in 2008: uprooting WEVA Expo from its Las Vegas comfort zone and putting on what some say was the best Expo ever in Orlando, and showing sound leadership in embracing the Web 2.0 side of things with advances in WEVA's LicenseStream initiative and his visible and accessible presence on Facebook.
Chelliah, by contrast, has created WedFACT, this industry's most mesmerizing meritocracy, a breeding ground for innovation, inspiration, and influence that has put talent in touch with talent all over the world. To say nothing of his own arresting editing style, what Chelliah has done with WedFACT has provided the most likely answer to Ebenezer's question, simply by bringing so much far-flung new talent into the mix and by reminding us of how many different ways there are to approach a wedding film when you bring the artist's eye into play. When you embrace the subjectivity of vision-which some would say is a prerequisite of making a visually distinctive film-empirical standards of professional and artistic worth go out the window, and the line between fact and apparition becomes almost meaningless.
So is this emerging emphasis on artistry and apparent planetwide sphere of influence in the event filmmaking world a shared dream? A fairy tale? The birth of a myth? A revolution of rising expectations? It's hard to say whether it's one or another or a combination of all four. But whatever it is, it sure is inspiring to watch.
Stephen Nathans-Kelly (stephen.nathans at infotoday.com) is editor-in-chief of EventDV-and programming director of EventDV-TV.