Studio Time: All the Right Notes
Posted May 1, 2005

The greatest thing about that first encounter with a new song is that you never know where it will take you. It might start out slowly and softly, and then pick up speed and volume, or it can come at you with an intensity that never lets up. Whether you're the musician or the listener, the result is the same: The joy is in the arrangement and the lyrics, to be sure, but it's also in what you feel as you hear the music—and in how it changes you.

Luisa Casasnovas and Jery Winters never could have foreseen the influence music would have on their lives, both personally and professionally. They met in 1983 as students of the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University, where she was studying the violin and he the saxophone. They married four years later and, building on Jery's background as an audio engineer and cameraman, began shooting the performances of their fellow musicians. They hadn't planned on what came next, though, and that's what makes their story Unforgettable.

Unforgettable, in Every Way
"We started [our videography work] in 1988, but we didn't really call ourselves ‘videographers' at the time," Luisa Winters says of the couple's early days in the business. "We wanted to offer musicians a means to record their concerts, recitals, and demos, and we wanted to do what we knew, which was classical music. But we should have known that musicians struggle to make money and that they wouldn't be able to afford our services.

"It didn't take long before we realized that we needed to do more to pay the bills," she continues, "so we started doing commercial work and industrial training videos. We rented a facility in Annapolis, Maryland, under the company name Color Vision Digital, and spent the next couple of years doing literally hundreds of commercials. Some of them actually made it to network television, but it was grueling work."

Then came the first big twist in the story of Luisa and Jery's professional collaboration: "In 1991, a friend asked us to shoot his daughter's wedding, and that's how we stumbled into wedding videography," Winters says of the favor that ultimately changed the scope of their business. "We really loved doing it, so we moved all of our equipment into the basement of our home, changed our [company] name to Unforgettable Events, and started shooting weddings full time."

Relying exclusively on word of mouth—rather than magazine and online advertising—to boost business, Unforgettable Events soon was shooting between 50 and 100 weddings annually. One year, the Winterses shot and edited 104 weddings; last year, they did 56. With success came hard choices, though. As their wedding videography business grew, Luisa and Jery realized that they "weren't properly taking care of the other parts of the business"—namely, the commercial and industrial work on which they'd built their reputations—so they scaled back their services to focus primarily on weddings. "We haven't done commercials in years, and the industrial work is [slowing] as well, which is fine with me," Winters says. "We'll still do music events occasionally because that's what we're known for, but it's not something we actually market."

Winters adds that she and Jery will shoot almost anything that "can be viewed by the masses," whether it's a wedding at the nearby Naval Academy Chapel or a special event in the Caribbean or Latin America. "We're not too picky," she says. "If the money is there and we click with the client, we'll do it." Because they often commit to simultaneous events, the pair lean heavily on a pool of local freelancers to help with shoots, but they do most of the post-production on their own. "We rely on our friends at PixelPops for some DVD cover design and graphics work," she explains, "but we do most everything else."

Opportunity Knocks
Six years ago, another twist of fate altered the Winterses' business model—and has kept Luisa in high demand ever since. "When we first started out, I was a Betacam SP editor and a lightweight 3D animator," she explains. "I used to make logos and animations for the commercial and industrial projects we were doing. And then nonlinear fell into our laps. I didn't even know what Premiere was back then, but I bought a system. It was crashing all the time, and I couldn't figure out why. I'd call the tech support folks—not the Adobe people, but the tech support people at the company I bought the system from—and they were no help whatsoever. I was ready to throw the whole thing out the window.

"Jery is a bit more levelheaded, though, and he convinced me to stick with it," she continues with a laugh. "I took it as a challenge. It took a very long time, but I eventually figured out why it wasn't working, reinstalled the software, and taught myself how to use it. Jery told everyone [we knew in the business] about what I had done. He really promoted it. Soon, I was helping other videographers who were having the exact same issues."

A few months later, Jery called WEVA International Chairman Roy Chapman and suggested he invite Luisa to teach at WEVA Expo. "Training others was never something we had considered as part of the business plan until I taught a seminar on Premiere at that conference," she explains. "It really was something I just stumbled into"—much as she and Jery had stumbled into wedding videography years earlier.

"Luckily, the Adobe Premiere program manager was at the conference and saw my presentation," she continues. "When the seminar concluded, he came up to me, gave me a hug, and said, ‘You just sold more software in one hour than I could in months. What can I do for you? Ask for anything you want.' He caught me by surprise, but I wasn't shy. I told him, ‘I want software. I want everything Adobe has for both the Mac and the PC.' And I got it!"

By early 2004, demand for Luisa's training services was so high that she and Jery decided to form Video Trainers, another home-based business through which she trains both neophyte and veteran videographers to work in Adobe Premiere ($149 for a four-hour session) and Adobe Encore DVD ($75 for a two-hour session). Jery, meanwhile, teaches basic videotaping and editing skills ($250 for a six-hour session) and shoots training DVD-ROMs (featuring Luisa) that Video Trainers then sells online for $50 to $99 a pop. (The company also sells camcorder accessories and battery belts.)

"I do about three Premiere training sessions a month, either in our home or on the road," Winters says of her busy schedule, which also recently included a nine-city "National Tour" of training workshops organized by the 4EVER Group's Tim Ryan and Steve Wernick. "In the past year, the training part of our business really has exploded," she adds. "At the suggestion of the Adobe folks, I became Adobe-certified in Premiere last year, and this year I hope to become certified in After Effects and Photoshop, too. These are all things I never would have done [without others' encouragement], but it's working out wonderfully."

What Will She Do for an Encore (DVD)?
Since partnering with WEVA six years ago, Winters has become a regular presenter at WEVA events and is a newly inducted member of the WEVA Hall of Fame. She also has been honored with WEVA's "Walter Bennett Service to Industry Award" for her many years of contributions to the profession as both a videographer and a teacher—and she continues to play the violin professionally.

When asked what comes next for her and for the two businesses she and Jery have nurtured over the years, Winters says she would like to do more of the same. "I would love to have a professorship at a college or university, but I don't think I would ever move away from videography completely," she says. "I think if I stopped editing, I'd run out of creative ideas. I have to be on the front lines, forcing myself to come up with new ways of doing things. I certainly don't want to stop shooting weddings. I love them."

As for the future of the industry they first infiltrated as musicians looking to help their fellow musicians, Winters is upbeat "I actually see the market space growing tremendously over the next ten years and becoming less of an afterthought," she says. "Brides think of photography as a ‘must have' because it has become part of the wedding tradition, but they don't yet feel that way about video. As more quality videos are produced and seen by the masses, brides will start to regard videography in the same way they regard photography, and it, too, will become part of the wedding tradition. That's something we all want."