In August 1984, my father came home from a research trip to Tunica County, Mississippi with a magical slice of vinyl titled Robert Johnson: King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol. 2. I'd never heard music so strange, haunted, and portentous, and I devoured it—every chord and every word, right down to the liner notes on the outer sleeve.
One interesting part of those notes was a tale of Johnson's encounter with a group of Mexican musicians in the San Antonio studio where he'd been brought to record. Johnson's producer asked the young blues guitarist to play for them. He reluctantly agreed, saying he would play only if he could do so with his back turned. Painfully shy, the sleeve notes explained, Johnson was terrified of performing and couldn't bring himself to face any audience.
Great story, I thought, but something about it rang false. It's not as if record producers were signing every sharecropper at the Yazoo city relief office; how could Johnson have made it that far if he'd never performed? In 1990, when Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings came out in a deluxe CD box set, reissue producer Steve LaVere set the record straight: Johnson had indeed refused to face the other musicians, but not because he was shy—he simply didn't want anyone to observe his fingering and copy his style.
That the blues could be an every-man-for-himself business should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the music, whose recurring theme is facing your demons alone. Only a scant few performers got the chance to record their songs and sidestep the debt slavery that awaited most black men who grew up when and where Johnson did. Who could blame him for jealously guarding the chance he had?
Thankfully, modern-day videography isn't like that. For most videographers, the worst alternative to uniting your vocation and avocation in gainful self-employment is merely working 9-to-5 in an office somewhere. Though there are certainly forces beyond your control that may determine whether you succeed or fail, you don't have to spend your life waiting for videography to choose you, and give you your shot. More likely, the choice to pursue it or not is yours.
With that choice comes a responsibility: to contribute to the welcoming environment that makes the field attractive to others with similar ambitions. This business abounds with venues for sharing knowledge, and they all thrive on an equal measure of give and take.
I saw a great example of this in mid-February when Kris Malandruccolo invited me to attend the monthly meeting of the Illinois Videography Association (IVA). Kris had put out a call for video clips to be shown at the event, so I knew I'd see a sampling of the cream of Chicagoland event video. Beyond that I had no idea I'd be in for more than three-and-a-half hours of networking, revealing Q&A on specific aspects of the video shown (I learned about how certain green-screen and strobe effects were achieved in some remarkable sequences, for example), and a great breakout-group period where we divided into smaller groups to discuss a variety of topics Kris suggested. Topics included editing tools of choice, pricing wedding packages, and various aspects of client relations.
As a journalist, I ended up asking many of the specific questions that got the discussion rolling, but boy, did it roll. I was amazed at the forthrightness of my group members in discussing—with their ostensible competitors—what works and doesn't work for them. We talked about pricing specifics (two of the four revealed exactly what they charge), as well as pricing by the hour vs. pricing by type of coverage. As for how long you keep shooting at a reception, one of my group members remarked, "I'm going to stay until I have the shots I need; it's not like I have another job to go to." Another countered, "But if you don't have it by midnight, you're not gonna get it."
There are many local associations across the country that offer the sort of fruitful interchange that characterizes IVA; check out Geoff Daily's article on local associations in this issue for a look at what they have to offer and how you can get involved (pp. 46-51). And it doesn't end there. National organizations like WEVA and the 4EVER Group offer invaluable education and training opportunities—true to form, of course, with videographers teaching videographers the tricks of the trade.
But there's only so much they can do. For immediate educational exchanges, videographers can take advantage of online communities like videouniversity.com, fastforwardclub.com, and creativecow.net, which have remarkably active forums devoted to specific types of videography, as well as popular tools. And then there's EventDV, which is largely the product of the best videographers in the business sharing their secrets on a monthly basis.
We all play an important role here—and they are all complementary roles, I'd like to think. There's no cloistered professoriate of ivory-tower videography instructors; those who teach it are those who do it, and the best way to become better videographers is to use these forums to share what we know and learn from each other. As Bruce Springsteen—whom poet Amiri Baraka has called a modern blues shouter—often proclaims amid the surprising intimacy of his arena shows, "Nobody wins unless everybody wins."