Studio Time: Passion Play
Posted Mar 28, 2006

When asked, most people recall with enthusiasm the reason or occasion that spurred them to buy their first video camera. More often than not, the purchase preceded a joyous event—a birth, a wedding, a long-planned vacation. Laura and Chris Randall had something else in mind when they purchased theirs.
     In May 1997, the couple learned that the kidney cancer their two-and-a-half-year-old son Matthew had been battling since age one had spread to his heart. Told by doctors that Matthew's prognosis was very poor, they purchased the best video camera they could afford at the time and began recording everything he did. "If my son was going to die, I wanted to still be able to hear him laugh, see him toddle around, give his brother hugs, and say, ‘I love you, Mommy,'" Laura says of their decision. "I knew a photograph just couldn't do [those things] for me."

Over the next several months, Matthew underwent an aggressive series of high-dose chemotherapy and radiation treatments that left him weakened and gravely ill. As the Randalls faced Matthew's mortality, they met other families fighting similar fates. "One little boy, Sean Hendrickson, was almost three when we found out he was terminal," Laura continues. "He and Matthew went through daily radiation treatments together and we grew very close to him." Because Sean's family didn't own a video camera, the Randalls turned their own on Sean, preserving moments that they later used to create a memorial video for his funeral. "We had never edited video before, but we managed to pull it off when we needed to," she says.

They also filmed other cancer-stricken children who were in and out of the hospital at the time Matthew was being treated. "We knew so many kids who died, and a lot of the time, we had [captured] some of the last footage of them," she says. "A few years after Sean's death, his mom told me that she watched the video we'd made every night before she went to bed and that it was the greatest gift we could have given her, next to actually bringing Sean back. That had such a huge impact on me."

Just Cause

Gratified by the comfort their video brought Sean's mother after his death—and energized by Matthew's gradual improvement in the months that followed—the Randalls turned their attention to other efforts that would help young cancer patients and their families. They soon revived the dormant local chapter of a nonprofit organization for families who have children with cancer. They also filmed many of the activities in which the group was involved, using the footage to produce an inspirational video that played at one of its fundraising events. Besides helping the nonprofit raise more than $60,000 in a single night, the video elicited a response the Randalls hadn't anticipated. "What surprised me most was the people who came up afterwards asking us to film a wedding, a commercial, or some other project," she says. "That was the first time I realized that this very expensive hobby could become a business."

As Matthew continued to recover, Laura and Chris began thinking seriously about becoming professional videographers. In 1999, they founded Edit 1 Media as a sole proprietorship; today they are in the process of incorporating it. "Matthew, Sean, and countless other brave kids inspired this company," Laura says of the studio she and Chris operate out of their home in Tacoma, Washington. "Our experiences made us realize just how fragile life is and how important it is to document as much of it as you can."

Soon the Randalls were shooting weddings and, occasionally, corporate events. (They continue to produce videos for families wishing to memorialize loved ones as their schedules permit.) "I know the money is better in corporate video, but I have a passion for interacting with people and documenting emotional times in their lives," she explains. "Weddings are perfect for that." Laura estimates that weddings account for 80% of the more than 200 projects Edit 1 Media has completed since its inception.

Brand Matters

Having been through so much with Matthew, now a "healthy and thriving" 11-year-old, Laura says she and Chris pride themselves on capturing the "emotion and details" of the moments they shoot and market their work accordingly. "I think marketing is one of the most important aspects of this business," she says of the time-consuming task videographers often forget or neglect. "When we sat down nearly seven years ago and brainstormed business ideas, it was immediately obvious that branding and marketing would have a huge impact on our success." In no time, Adrienne Palmer, a professional graphic artist who also happens to be Laura's sister, had offered to design Edit 1 Media's logo, Web site, and print ads. Today the Randalls promote the company's name and logo as much as they can.

"I would encourage everyone in this profession, if they haven't already, to consider hiring someone who can help brand and market their businesses using a strong, consistent message," she says. "People might not recognize Chris or me, but they recognize our brand and they associate it with quality. This goes for brides as well as for other vendors."

With vendors in particular, Laura says it's important to build a recognizable name, a notable body of work, and a good reputation. Do these things and you're likely to see a lot of referrals come your way. "My goal," she says, "is to have every local wedding vendor immediately think of us when someone asks them, ‘Who is a good videographer?'"

Taking Center Stage

The Randalls also are building their profile by experimenting with new products—they're part of Adobe's Production Studio beta team—and by sharing their expertise with fellow videographers. In January, they made their national lecture circuit debut, presenting a seminar on same-day edits (SDEs) at the 4EVER Group's Video 06 convention in Orlando. (They produced their first instructional DVD, The Dissection of a Same-Day Edit, just prior to the convention.)

Those SDEs, a standard feature of two of Edit 1 Media's four wedding packages, are popular with brides, grooms, and their guests, but they're also riddled with challenges. Chief among them are time and technology constraints. Laura says she can complete an SDE in as little as 90 minutes, but she prefers to have as much time as possible. "If a wedding is local, we'll take one of our editing computers with us and edit together [the wedding highlight reel] that way. If it's an out-of-state event, we use a laptop with Adobe Premiere Pro," she explains. "I shoot the same way I would for a regular wedding video, making sure to get the key shots that often are pre-planned. I might even try to stage these shots if necessary, but that's the only time I would stage a shot.

"During the slower periods of a wedding day, either Chris or I will log in clips and start separating them out into distinct project folders," she continues. "Immediately after the ceremony, I'll scan the FireStore drive on my camera and other tapes for shots I want to include. From the moment the ceremony ends to the moment I complete the SDE can take 90 minutes to two-and-a-half hours. Once the SDE is complete, I export it to tape and Chris plays it off one of our cameras into our projector. As the reception continues, I burn copies of the same-day edit—one for the bride and groom to take on their honeymoon, one for each set of parents, one for the wedding coordinator, one for the venue manager, and possibly one for the photographer. I would like to add to our packages the option of making up to 100 copies and giving them to guests as a ‘party favor,' but we probably would have to hire someone to do that."

For now, Edit 1 Media remains primarily a two-person operation, though the Randalls do have two subcontracted shooters and an editor on retainer. "Typically, Chris is responsible for all things technical; I'm the one interacting with the clients and wedding coordinators, doing the creative shots, and editing," Laura explains.

In the foreseeable future, Laura says she and her husband will focus on improving their business sense, editing turnaround time, and customer service. "The biggest mistake we made was not hiring an accountant," she explains. "There is so much more to running a successful videography company than just making good videos, and that's something we're beginning to come to terms with."

Something all videographers need to come to terms with—and actively work to change—is the profession's reputation as "obnoxiously obtrusive," she continues. "There are lots of videographers out there, and the advent of cheaper cameras and [out-of-the-box] editing software means that there are more people calling themselves ‘videographers' when in fact they are hobbyists. The challenge for the real professional is to continue to market in that confusing atmosphere. I think the best way to do that is to continuously educate ourselves and our clients as to what we are able to do."