When most people think of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, they recall the film that launched Richard Dreyfuss as an often-annoying, occasionally endearing fixture of mainstream American film. But before it became Mr. Dreyfuss' opus, Duddy was Mordecai Richler's mid-century Canadian novel, and its contribution to filmmaking was more inspirational than actual. One of the funniest episodes in the book, which chronicles the early career of an endearing, annoying flim-flam man named Duddy Kravitz, occurs when Kravitz hires blacklisted filmmaker P. J. Friar to make a bar mitzvah documentary on commission. Though he doesn't know the first thing about producing documentaries, Kravitz sees a fortune to be made in cornering the event videography market in Montreal's Jewish community. Friar's first effort nearly ruins him—then almost proves him right.
Insisting on complete artistic control, Friar shoots the service and whisks away the footage to the National Film Board in Ottawa for editing. He returns some weeks later with an inscrutably impressionistic epic casting Happy Bar-Mitzvah, Bernie! as a window into the tragic history of the Jewish people and the many ancient tribal rites of manhood. Richler takes his readers through the film shot by shot, from the predictable—"4. Grandfather Cohen, wearing a prayer shawl, hands the Torah to Mr. Cohen, who passes it to his son"—to the absurd—"8. (Montage) Lightning. African tribal dance. Jungle fire. Stukas diving. A jitterbug contest speeded up. Slaughtering of a cow. Fireworks against a night sky. More African dancing. Torrents of rain. An advertisement for Maidenform bras upside down. Blood splashing against a glass. A lion roars." It's hardly standard bar mitzvah video fare, and with its exotic imagery, violence, bloodshed, and unsettling themes, the film seems, at first screening, like an unmitigated disaster. The family's reaction? "Play it again."
Of course, this is fiction, but sometimes life imitates art. A few years ago, I attended a cousin's Yemenite wedding in Nach Shonim, Israel, and I'm sure the experience would remain technicolor-vivid in my mind today even if I hadn't seen the wedding video to lock it in. But see it I did. Memorable as anything was the rabbi, with his Tevye look and Pavarotti voice, singing the entire service. Inexplicably, the videographer muted him, opting instead to overlay music for a five-minute video montage designed to encapsulate the ceremony. The song? Lou Reed's "Perfect Day," which may sound, well, perfect, if you've never actually heard it. If you have, you know it's one of the gloomiest, most maudlin songs ever written (an impression intensified by its use with the heroin overdose scene in Trainspotting). Inappropriate doesn't begin to describe it.
I could see the parents of the bride cringing through that segment of the video as we watched it in their living room, clearly disappointed that they'd paid for such a mismatch, and frustrated that it was their only document of this wondrous event. How could the videographer have botched the job so egregiously? they wondered. But I knew better. Someone not familiar with Duddy Kravitz would have assumed the videographer hadn't even listened to the song, picking it only for the title. In truth, he was simply aiming higher. This was arty contrapuntalism of the Leni Riefenstahl school; and what better opportunity for an homage to Riefenstahl and her signature work—the enormously influential Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will—than a video of an orthodox Jewish kiddushin shot on a kibbutz in Israel? Which probably qualifies it as meta-contrapuntalism; Riefenstahl (not to mention P. J. Friar) would have been proud.
Okay, maybe I'm giving the guy too much credit. Maybe he was just careless, or unskilled in the marriage of song and marriage. Perhaps successful event videography of the esoteric art-variety remains an esoteric art, but the technology side of it is more accessible than ever. Thanks to DV, DVD, and powerful entry-level NLEs, event video consumers can also become event video producers. Still, there's a wealth of professional work in this area, and a thriving market for talented and skilled event videographers with the know-how and equipment to do it well. DV is a remarkable unifying force and a miraculous format in the quality it delivers cheaply and simply, but there's much more to great camerawork than plant-the-'pod and shoot. (And most pro event work we've seen still involves neither DV nor DVD.) There's lighting, sound, storyboarding, and expert execution, which are exactly the sort of things that the most demanding video clients in the world—mothers-of-brides commissioning not only the wedding they never had, but the wedding video they never had—will finance as needed to get the job done right.
And of course there's more to succeeding in event videography than owning and knowing the tools, even if the month-to-month content of a technology-centric magazine like EMedia might suggest otherwise. Most event videos don't boast the "artistry" flaunted in a horrific hodge-podge like Happy Bar-Mitzvah, Bernie! But there's certainly an art to the business of event videography, and to constructing a viable business model, from issues of staffing to online marketing to knowing what to buy and what to rent, how to spec and price and package a job, and how to let a client know what will work without telling them what they want.
Ron Miller's "The Scope of Videography," in this issue, is a series of business profiles of commercial facilities specializing in event videography. The article represents a departure for EMedia in that it focuses almost exclusively on the business side of technology, rather than technology itself. If the tools of video production are the engine of the digital studio and the producer is its driver, then the business model is its roadmap, and that course is well worth tracking. We can all learn something from the business models of folks who are succeeding in the business—even the master meta-contrapuntalists among us.