Local Heroes
Posted Sep 1, 2005

With each passing year, more and more videographers discover the ways in which joining an existing organization or establishing one of their own can help to further both their personal interests as well as those of the industry. Evidence of this can be found in the growth of the local association directory in Wedding and Event Videography magazine since its founding in 1996. "Back then there were around 20 groups, and now there are over 50," says Roy Chapman, longtime chairman and founder of the Wedding and Event Videographers Association International (WEVA).

Despite this growing interest in local associations, most average only 20 to 40 members per meeting even though they cover geographical regions that contain ten times that number of working professionals. There are two excuses most often used by videographers who choose not to join: concern about sharing knowledge and advice with competitors and the belief held by some long-time videographers that they have nothing left to learn. But neither justification holds up under close scrutiny.

Local associations are a unique and vitally important facet of the event videography industry. In this article, you'll hear the opinions of half a dozen local association presidents as well as the founders of WEVA and the 4EVER Group about how local associations encourage the growth of the event videography industry and how getting involved can benefit you.

Surveying the Landscape
While WEVA is an international association of videographers, it exerts no control over and has no financial ties with local associations. All local associations are independent entities," says Chapman. "WEVA's rationalization that local associations work best when they figure things out for themselves has worked very well. We don't attempt to force any local association to follow any specific path or structure or organization."

Part of the rationale is that there are natural differences in videography practices in different regions; the same thing that gives a local association its unique character makes it impractical for WEVA or any other national organization to impose a dynamic on it. "What is working in Connecticut, for example, may not be applicable to what is happening in Las Vegas," says Chapman. "The unique ability of local associations is that they can address problems that are specifically local."

Some associations' memberships number as few as a half dozen, while others—like the Greater Philadelphia Videographer's Association (GPVA)—boast ranks of more than 100 videographers. Smaller groups often meet in libraries or other freely available public buildings; larger organizations tend to graduate into better-equipped commercial spaces like hotel conference rooms. Most have annual membership dues; some don't charge anything at all. Local associations differ even in the types of videographers they'll accept as members: some require that the applicant be a working professional with a business license, and others open their arms to hobbyists as well. "Every association is drastically different," says Tim Ryan, cofounder of the 4EVER Group. "There's a very big variety."

WEVA chose not to position itself as the central hub of a network of homogenous local associations, but it does support them, primarily through its Local Association Presidents Council, which has an Eastern and a Western region meeting during the year and a "global session" at WEVA Expo. "The WEVA Local Association Presidents Council gives local leaders a vital forum for the discussion of key industry issues at the highest level," says Chapman. It's also an opportunity for WEVA to explore how it can function most effectively as an international organization. "This Council acts as WEVA's advisory panel," says Chapman.

"With the WEVA Local Association Presidents Council, our voices are numerous and reflect the experiences of their memberships." Anywhere from 30 to 50 local associations are represented at a typical national meeting. WEVA also offers advice and a free Local Association Development Kit to card-carrying WEVA members who want to found a new local association. (For those interested in learning more about starting up a local association, see the sidebar entitled "So You Want to Start a Local Videographers Association?")

The 4EVER Group's Tim Ryan applauds these Presidents Council meetings as a great way for presidents to meet face to face, and his organization is working to further the bond between disparate local associations. "I think that local association presidents need to network among themselves on a regular basis," he says. To help facilitate this communication, the 4EVER Group has developed an association leader newsletter. This monthly email publication reports on the concepts that associations are presenting to their members so that other associations may learn what their contemporaries are covering in their meetings.

Ryan reports on the newsletter's first issue: "The first major question we asked association leaders to answer was ‘How is your association formatted? Are you a non-profit or a corporation? How did you legally organize your group? How did you get your bank account opened? How do you handle taxes?' Several associations have offered answers for how they accomplished these tasks." The 4EVER Group also lists a directory of local associations on its Web site.

Additionally, the 4EVER Group has a long-term project underway that's designed to help increase local associations' awareness of each other's work. "We're creating a library of award-winning videos from each association's local competitions," says Ryan. "Any association that deposits a winning video can then withdraw videos from this library and show videos from another association at their meeting. What it's doing is opening up content, giving them more videos to see." He says some submissions in MiniDV format have already started coming in. "We are hoping for MiniDV, but DVD is fine as well. We are encouraging associations to watermark the videos with their association's and/or the producer's logo if they choose."

Misperceptions and Misconceptions
Without a national organization that has direct control over local chapters, the success of local associations depends largely on the strength and dedication of their leaders. "The success is very dependent on their leadership," says the 4EVER Group's Ryan. "I've watched successful associations fall apart when there's a leadership change."

This tendency may partially result from new leaders' underestimating the amount of work involved in running an association and getting in over their heads. "A lot of people don't understand how much local association leaders do and how much time they put into these [associations] to make them successful," says WEVA's Chapman, adding that not all local associations that got off the ground have stayed around.

But much of this turnover, as well as local associations' suppressed attendance levels, arguably, stems from the perceptual recalcitrance of videographers who choose not to join their local association.

An attitude persists among some videographers that there's no benefit in trying to learn from other members of their local association. "We do lose members who tend to think they know it all. I hear that from a lot of other associations," says Ryan of his local association, the Long Island Videographers Association (LIVA). "They think, ‘I know more than these people. They don't offer me anything.' I don't really understand this attitude; there's always something that you're going to learn at every single meeting."

Roy Chapman goes a step further in debunking this belief. "When videography is really moving into a new era, who can claim to have extensive knowledge about new technologies like high-definition video?"

An even more prevalent misconception about local associations stems from an aversion by some to being asked to share trade secrets with people who are essentially competitors. "I've never had an issue with sharing or showing my work, but many videographers just don't feel that way," explains Ryan, who runs the "Brown-bag Video" program at LIVA, where videographers anonymously submit video samples for screening and critique. "They become very protective of everything they do. Association leaders will call those people the leeches. They always come to take rather than give."

This attitude can be partially attributed to some videographers' concept of competition. "I don't think that other videographers are my competition, because there are enough brides out there and they'll hire who they connect with," says Kris Malandruccolo, president of the Illinois Videographers Association (IVA). "Event videography is a relationship-based business, so if the bride doesn't connect with you, she's not going to hire you."

Plus, videographers need to remember that they're all offering unique packages of services. "One of the things I've found is that every editor has a little bit different style at a different price point and not every bride is going to appreciate what you do," says Edd Smith, president of the Professional Event Videographers Northwest (PEVAN), which is based in Seattle, Washington. "There is competition just because we're all in the same field, but if you let that be the driving force then it makes it really tough to share openly at a meeting what you're doing and how you're doing it."

What videographers need to do is tear down these walls, and the best way to do that is to immerse themselves in a local association and experience the sense of community that exists within. "When people come for the first time and they're asked to bring videos in, they are reluctant," says Marleen Cafarelli, president of the Professional Videographers Association of Connecticut (PVACT). "After they come a few times, they begin to realize that most everyone does share their knowledge. And if everybody's sharing, sooner or later there aren't any secrets."

It's All About The Networking
Local associations offer an incredible array of opportunities and benefits. "The greatest benefit is simply putting a group of videographers in the same place at the same time and allowing them to network," says Ryan. This networking helps to build friendships among members, enabling a vibrant support structure on which videographers can lean. "The most useful aspect is that videographers become a resource to each other, providing capabilities that individually don't exist," says Richard DePaso, president of the Las Vegas Videographers Association (LVVA).

IVA president Kris Malandruccolo illustrates how this can help. "Videographers in the IVA, if they need a second camera, they can call [a fellow member] and know it's a reliable person because they know them personally," she says. "Or if you're interested in buying a camera or some other piece of equipment, chances are that someone in the IVA is already using it and you can ask their opinion."

The Jacksonville Videographers Association (JVA) is working to make this final example an integral part of their organization during the revamping of their Web site. "One of the things we're going to be doing is listing along with all the members' names what each person uses for software and hardware," says JVA president Merrill Moore. "This way if I'm using FCP, I can go to the Web site, check the list, see who else is using FCP, and then get on the phone, call them, and ask a question."

Having a local network of trusted colleagues also helps by giving videographers the ability to be able to refer clients they can't serve to other videographers. "If you get a call and can't handle it and don't know somebody to refer them to, that customer goes off into NeverNeverLand and is never heard from again," says LVVA's DePaso. "By referring friends and associates, that customer's going to come back."

The Benefits of Bringing Folks Together
The benefits of meeting regularly with a group of professionals in the same industry extends even further. "Once you start to congregate as videographers," says Ryan, "people who want to sell to you will get interested." Jacksonville's Moore has taken full advantage of this reality, enabling the JVA to give away thousands and thousands of dollars worth of merchandise through raffle drawings at their meetings. "At our first meeting we gave away a $1,700 Avid software solution," says Moore. "I've always been good at raising prizes and money for different things. Most people start off by thinking that they could never get this or that. I learned many years ago that the primary success factor in doing so is to ask."

Gathering en masse also gives videographers the opportunity to purchase technology like cameras in quantity at a discount. A group of PEVAN members did just that recently, bulk-buying a lot of Sony DSR-PD150s, according to Edd Smith. But even more significantly, videographers are able to join together through local associations in purchasing advertising.

Some associations simply facilitate this collaborative advertising, while others include it as a part of their annual dues. For all the associations, the ultimate goal is to become a brand name that brides recognize and seek out when trying to find a videographer for their event. Of course, for this ultimate goal to be reached, brides first have to be convinced that they need a videographer in the first place. "Part of our duty is to educate brides as to why they'd want to hire a professional to shoot their event rather than a friend or family member," says PVN's Smith.

To that end, the JVA has put together a four-color, trifold brochure "that explains why the bride doesn't dare not have wedding video," says Moore. "We have an agreement with the three primary people that are involved with bridal shows in this area. They've agreed to put this brochure into every bride's packet. We're also putting this in all sorts of vendor locations." Moore was able to get this brochure put together and printed without dipping into membership dues. "Whoever wanted to have their name/Web site/phone number listed on the back of this brochure had to pay a fee," he explains. "The collective fee not only paid for the 7,500 brochures, but it's also going to pay for some classy Lucite holders, which will also have the JVA logo, that will go in vendor locations."

By combining their efforts, JVA videographers are able to mount an extensive and coordinated advertising campaign that would have been prohibitively expensive and time-consuming if any single videographer had tried to do it on his or her own, but the JVA's marketing efforts don't end there. "Our first step was to create this brochure. The second step was to come out with a bride's interactive CD," says Moore. This rich media marketing tool will contain the first-place videos from each of the categories of JVA's first video contest. "It's being worked on gratis by several JVA members, but we're also selling ad space to vendors outside the videography space, including cake-makers, DJs, officiants, and limo companies," says Moore. "In doing that we'll pay for the cost of duplicating the CDs."

Sharing and Awarding Video
Watching members' videos is an integral part of the local association experience, whether it be during monthly critiques or semiannual contests. "Local associations give you a forum to show your work and see how it's being accepted by other professionals in your field," says Edd Smith. Viewing videos with the videographer who shot it right there in the room, as is the case with most local association screenings, presents a fantastic educational opportunity. "In this day and age there are so many different types of NLE equipment and cameras," says Smith. "When you see something that jumps off the screen, you want to know how they did it."

Many local associations also host panels in which outside perspectives are brought in to comment on videos. "We have one where brides and grooms are invited to be on a judges panel," says PVACT's Marleen Cafarelli. "It's been very interesting to see the differences in how they vote. Videographers tend to vote more often for things that are very high tech. Brides vote more for the emotional content of a video." (Some associations also have had success in constructing panels of photographers and other wedding professionals to discuss the relationship between their respective professions and that of event videography.)

Education Station
Considering the exponential rate of technological evolution as well as the growing expectation among consumers that all video should have that Hollywood sheen, videographers must do everything they can to educate themselves continuously. By joining a local association, "you have more control over the education that you want on a regular basis," says Ryan.

"I think our educational programs are a major reason why we draw people," says Bruce Garner, president of the GPVA. "We open it up to our membership to make suggestions about what issues they want to see addressed. We send out a survey every year to learn more about our members. We'll then build our programming around that." Subsequently, local associations' educational content covers the entire gamut, from business and marketing tips to product demonstrations to how-to workshops on specific software and hardware.

During Tim Ryan's time as president of LIVA, he came to realize just how beneficial it can be to seek out comments from association members. "The thing we found is that videographers don't want to only hear people talk; they want to see how it's done," he says. To fulfill the educational needs of their members, LIVA found a new way to present topics on how to shoot a wedding. "We did a mock wedding ceremony. We set up our room similar to the way a church would be set up and hooked up the presenter's camera to a projector. Then, step by step, he'd show us how he'd physically get from point A to B," Ryan explains. "What seemed like a silly idea at first was one of the most successful. Nobody in that room felt that they didn't understand what the presenter was talking about."

Part of the challenge faced by local associations is balancing the needs of the entire spectrum of videographers. In an attempt to do this, DePaso has taken a two-pronged approach to programming for the LVVA. "We try to have a ‘candy' segment and a tutorial segment to each meeting," he explains. For the "candy" segment, DePaso might bring in a Steadicam operator with his $150,000 rig. For the tutorial, a presenter could cover a topic like developing a business video. "What we've come to realize is that a lot of people like the candy, and a lot of people like the learning," he explains. "The more professional people like the candy, while the newer people tend to find the tutorials most helpful."

To facilitate this education, "we try to meet in places that will provide useful information and a potential resource to the members," says DePaso. "We've had meetings in a theater where they perform plays. We've had meetings on sound stages as well as in the studios of various members." As a result, LVVA's educational programming tends to be an outgrowth of where they're meeting each month.

A Very Social Group
Local associations afford videographers the opportunity to commune with a decidedly social group of people. "A lot of our members do things together socially. We're friends, basically," says PVACT's Cafarelli. "We have a very active group that goes bicycling and boating together. In December, we throw a well-attended Christmas party."

Some larger associations have transformed parties into major events. LIVA has a summertime picnic, while GPVA goes upscale. "Once a year we have the GPVA Film Festival," says GPVA's Garner. "It's a black tie, red carpet event with hot, butlered hors d'oeuvres and a DJ with a full lighting system. We specifically make a big deal out of it." The GPVA also throws a cabana party on the Monday of WEVA Expo every year for its members, which is included in their annual membership dues.

Additionally, Garner believes that local associations have been integral in erasing the social stigma surrounding event videography's sweatpants-wearing past. "We're constantly promoting professionalism, in the way you dress and the way you relate to clients," says Garner. "[Local associations] have raised the bar in the industry so that you wouldn't recognize videography from 20 to 25 years ago. That's probably the way we've affected the industry the most, by dispelling the sweaty Uncle Charlie image."

Outside of the fun and professional growth that all associations offer, many have chosen to share their talents with those unable to afford the average videographer's price tag. "Every year through our membership we've been able to give back to the community by offering our services to organizations like a Ronald McDonald house, the local school, and the Starlight Group," says PVN's Smith. "We try to provide services to these organizations in order to help them with whatever it is they need to do. The important thing is, even though it would be nice to get the recognition, you've got to balance it to make sure you're doing it for the right reason."

So You Want to Start a Local Videographers Association?
Videographers interested in starting a local association should first contact both WEVA and the 4EVER Group about their intentions. While neither group gives financial assistance, each organization offers free advice from long-time leaders in the event videography community.

To help kick-start the process, WEVA has developed a Guide to Local Association Development. "If you want to start a local association and you are a WEVA member, you can take advantage of the local association development information," says Roy Chapman. "The kit has been compiled and developed by the President's Council. With it, you get all the input that's been going into it for over ten years." The kit includes a range of sample documents, including membership applications, administrative documents, and more. "This is the best representative documentation that can help you in your quest to start a local association," says Chapman.

During his time working with WEVA, the 4EVER Group's Tim Ryan contributed significantly to the Guide to Local Association Development. "I wrote down a step-by-step list of what you need to do to start a local association," he says. "The first thing I suggested was to call another videographer in your area, any videographer, just to see if they're interested in having a local association started. When you get that first yes, you have that person call someone else. Just get that little bit of interest from a few people."

Step two, he says, is choosing a date and a venue, and getting the word out. "Go through the phone book and local bridal magazines, and find all the videographers within some distance from your area," Ryan continues. "You don't even need an agenda, just say you're going to meet. That will start the buzz. At that meeting, make sure you pick the next time that you'll meet. Then you have to start developing different content, picking speakers, presentations, and topics to discuss. Anything that will attract a videographer to the meeting will get the ball rolling and continue to snowball."

Merrill Moore, president of the year-old JVA, recommends taking advantage of WEVA's Town Meetings to help start an association off right. "I think the best way to do it is to attend a Town Meeting and have it announced right there that you are forming an organization," says Moore. "You'll probably have people, like I did, coming out of the woodwork right then and there." Moore also suggests asking WEVA to email every videographer in your zip code as a great way to get local attention.

Of course, the best way to get attention and add legitimacy these days is to have a Web site. Any local association interested in starting a new Web site or revamping an existing one should get in touch with Wes Moore, former owner of Moore Digital and current owner of Moorecast.com. "Moorecast.com is a place where anybody that does any sort of editing can build and maintain sites online," says Moore. "What I've done as a marketing technique is to give every association a premium-level $500-a-year product that'll renew forever. All I ask in return is that their membership knows that we provided their Web site." More than a dozen local associations have taken Moore up on his offer. "It's taken less than a year to get to 15," he says. "My goal at the end of this year is to get to 25." Moore's offer includes a limited amount of free streaming hosting.

Local associations can also receive free streaming video services from HomeMovie.com. "We've offered every local videographers association a free StreamingDVD gallery for its members," says Lars Krumme, CTO of HomeMovie.com. To learn more about HomeMovie.com's involvement with the event videography industry, check out www.eventdv.net/Articles/ReadArticle.aspx?ArticleID=9587 .

In the Spotlight

The 4EVER Group www.4evergroup.org
Greater Philadelphia Videographer's Association (GPVA) www.gpva.com
HomeMovie.com www.homemovie.com
Illinois Videographers Association (IVA) www.ivavideo.com
Jacksonville Videographers Association (JVA) www.jaxvideoassn.org
Las Vegas Videographers Association (LVVA) www.lvva.com
Long Island Videographers Association (LIVA) www.liva.org
Moorecast.com www.moorecast.com
Professional Event Videographers Northwest (PEVAN) www.pevanpro.com
Professional Videographers Association of Connecticut (PVACT) www.provideo.org
Wedding and Event Videographers Association International (WEVA) www.weva.com