Without Limits: Question Assumptions
Posted Jun 1, 2005

Our industry tends to breed "experts." There is no question that experience is a wonderful thing and that it can help you through a lot of tight spots. But sometimes our expertise can get in the way of creativity. We begin to dwell too much on previous victories and concepts that have always worked, forgetting that the world is constantly changing around us. The techniques and technology that were effective even four years ago are already out-of-date.

Sometimes our knowledge keeps us from innovation. When I first started videotaping weddings (and that's basically all I was doing . . . it certainly wasn't a "production"), I assumed that all the dance footage from the reception had to match with the exact ambient music that was recorded at the time. And because I never was willing to challenge this assumption, I hadn't tried it until my friend Art Polin suggested it.

"People never really dance to the music anyway," he said. "Just put a montage of fast dancing shots on top of any fast dancing song, and you probably won't be able to notice the difference." He was right. I tried out his idea, and my dance footage gained new energy and production value. It looked like I had recorded a single song from the reception with ten cameras, when in reality I had simply taken the best shots from the evening and inserted them all on top of one song.

Why hadn't I figured this out before? I was unwilling to question notions that I assumed were true.

I think most of us are caught in that same trap. Our brains find solutions that work, and we stop looking for alternatives that might work better. Rather than being innovative, we rely on what has worked in the past. And the more expertise you feel like you have, the more likely you are to trust your past experiences rather than search out new answers. These new answers, however, are often essential to the continued success of your business and often contain solutions that are more effective than the tried-and-true methods. It is important that we re-train our brains to keep looking, even when we think we have found an answer.

An assumption is an idea that you take for granted or accept without proof. Our lives are full of assumptions. For example, you assume that when you press the "record" button and timecode is rolling, that your camera is recording clean images and sound. But you don't have to talk with too many videographers to hear stories about cameras that seemed to be rolling but actually were recording distorted images and audio. Most event videographers who have had that experience have made it a policy to record all important events with two or more cameras, just in case.

The fact is, some of our assumptions are not as reliable or absolute as we think. And sometimes our confidence in our production or business skills makes us a little cocky. We stop considering new ideas or questioning the way we have "always done it." Sometimes the result of an ill-considered assumption can be disastrous. That's why it's essential to keep an open mind and learn to question your assumptions.

But before you can question your assumptions, you must first identify what they are. And this is usually harder than you think. It's hard to remember that your perspectives and opinions are not necessarily true, no matter how undeniable they may seem to you. The first step in the innovative process is to dig out these assumptions with some leading questions, such as the following:

• What shots could I never leave out of my videos?

• What is the most important shot of the day?

• What is my job as the wedding videographer?

• What is the purpose of wedding video?

• What bothers me about other videographers' work?

• What do I believe cannot be done, should not be done, and never will be done successfully in a wedding video?

• Whose work do I admire, and why?

• Which of my skills need improvement?

• How do my answers to these questions differ from another videographer's answers?

I recommend that you pull out a sheet of paper and answer these questions right now, because your answers will unearth your basic assumptions about wedding video production. These assumptions aren't right or wrong—there is no single correct answer in our business. And I am not suggesting that you toss out all of your previous assumptions. But most video producers have never asked themselves these questions. How can you stretch your creative limits if you don't even know what they are?

The process of understanding your own beliefs, philosophies, and current limitations is key to expanding your creative horizons. Once you have identified the mental box you work from, you can exercise your mind to expand its limitations. And in the process you will most likely find that your current production approach isn't really "you" anyway—it's simply what you thought you were supposed to do. Many of our assumptions are formed by the opinions of other video producers or by ignorant and difficult clients. By thinking without limitations, you are free to find your own voice as a storyteller, opening the door for more exciting and probably more lucrative projects.