Strollin' down the Boulevard
Capturing and editing the most precious and sacred moments in a person's life will—more often than not—look, sound, and memorialize the event better if left in the hands of a professional. No matter how powerful the technology, the end result invariably relies on the skill of the camera operator and editor; amateurs beget amateurish videos, while professionals produce professional projects.
Weddings, in particular, have incorporated this truism for years by hiring photographers to shoot, develop, and arrange photos. With the advent of handheld video cameras and VHS tapes (and more recently the digital revolution), a specialty niche has blossomed for people wanting to capture their special days on video through the hiring of a videographer.
One such studio is Boulevard Video Productions, an Encino, California-based production company that specializes in weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, and anniversaries. David Robin, founder and head videographer, has worked over the past 20 years to perfect his craft while helping raise the level of professional event videography as a whole, winning 16 Creative Excellence awards from the Wedding and Event Videographers Association (WEVA) and teaching seminars across the country at the behest and expense of that organization.
The First Step
"I'm from London originally," says Robin. "I came over when I was 20 in 1980 and went into retail selling the first generation of cameras and decks to the wedding industry." Three or four years later, a client of his asked him to shoot his wedding. That's when Robin says he realized, "Wow! I can do this for a living." He spent the next couple of years managing another videography company before setting off to cofound what was then called Shoreline Productions.
"Initially, I had a partner; we each invested about ten thousand dollars," Robin says. "He didn't work out, and I had to buy him out." Following the ex-partner out the door was the company's original moniker. Another California company had the same name and filed a "million dollar" cease-and-desist lawsuit. Robin seized upon a colleague's suggestion to rename the company in relation to its location on Ventura Boulevard. The name stuck, and Boulevard Video was born.
No Respect, I Tell Ya
When Robin first got into videography, he and his videotaping compatriots were "despised by photographers," Robin recalls. "We were never fed; it was always the photographer and the band feasting. We were the lowest end of the totem pole." He attributes this to two things: nobody considered videography to be on the same artistic level as photography, and the cameras that they used required obtrusive, unruly lighting setups.
The latter of these issues has been resolved in recent years as digital video cameras have improved videographers' ability to use natural light. "Everything's shot digitally, using a Sony DSR-300, full-size DVCAM. I'm also using a new Panasonic 24p camera, the 100A," says Robin. "We no longer have to bring in 1,001 lights." Then there's the relative ease of an all-digital production as it moves into the post-production phase. "Everything is Mac-based. I've been a Mac fan since before the SE days," says Robin. Boulevard makes use of two editing stations, a Media 100 and a G4 loaded with Final Cut Pro 4.
Once the editing is completed, Robin says, "we only output to DVD, making them from a DVCAM master. We are getting an overwhelming demand for DVDs." Currently, Boulevard outsources its DVD authoring unless the client doesn't want chapters. If that's the case, Boulevard does its own burning on a standalone Panasonic unit. They hope to enter the world of in-house DVD authoring in the near future, he says. "We need to figure out a solution to this," Robin continues, "but we come from more of a creative point of view than the technical or business end."
Loving the Concept
While Boulevard Video records anniversaries and, in the last two years, has produced a few corporate training and advertising videos, its bread-and-butter business comes from weddings and bar mitzvahs. And in an effort to broaden the horizons of event videography, Robin has worked to perfect two special video productions specifically for these two markets.
For weddings, Robin has stolen a page from The Learning Channel's A Wedding Story television playbook in the form of Love Stories. Interviewing the groom and the bride separately, he "combines photos and video to recreate the story of how they met," which makes for great wedding reception entertainment.
Another specialty is Concept Videos. Quickly gaining in popularity, with orders tripling in the last couple years, concept videos take boys and girls approaching their bar or bat mitzvahs and place them in a 10-minute video with a theme of their choosing, typically inspired by a favorite TV show or movie. The videos are shown during the festivities surrounding the ceremony and range from five to ten thousand dollars.
"I just did one based on E! True Hollywood Story," says Robin. "Young Chelsea wanted to be an actress. So we showed the trials and tribulations of her road to fame." To make these productions as true to their broadcast counterparts as possible, Boulevard Video employs a full-time digital artist, proficient in Adobe After Effects and 3ds max, who "was working for Disney and has done some major motion picture work," says Robin.
Concept videos fit in perfectly with Robin's efforts to improve his craft. "I get all of my inspiration from movies and television commercials," he explains, "but never other people's videography. While there has been a huge increase in the number of small houses across the country, the videography market hasn't reached the level of photography. There will still be a slew of pretty bad wedding videos."
Elevating the Field
Raising the artistic bar and public standing of videographers has been a longstanding goal of Robin's. To that end, in 1989 he started the American Videographers Association (AVA). Contrary to its name, the organization was meant to "form an elitist group of the top guys in the L.A. area," says Robin. Then WEVA came along with its national scope and credibility, transforming the AVA into a local group for videographers of all skill levels.
Robin himself has been a frequent guest speaker, lecturer, and teacher for WEVA. "They fly me all around the country to give workshops and seminars," says Robin. "Through the workshops, I'm trying to pass on what I've learned. I get a great return on teaching." And he can't say enough about WEVA's contributions to the field: "They've really helped to raise the level of creativity and credibility of studios nationwide."
Videographers across the country submit hundreds of entries to WEVA's Creative Excellence awards every year. "There are very few good ones," says Robin, "but the good ones are very good." The hope is that through organizations like WEVA, which attracts between three and four thousand people to its convention in Las Vegas every year and boasts over eight thousand members, the videography market can continue to mature and gain the respect it deserves, as an art form that rivals photography.
But videography isn't the only video production field that interests Robin; he's currently wrapping up his first documentary. Over the last two years, Robin traveled the world interviewing progressive rock musicians old and new. "The recording industry completely ignores the genre," says Robin. "Since you can't play 20-minute songs on the radio, these bands are marketing themselves via the Internet and music festivals." The day after conducting the interview for this article, Robin flew down to Mexico for just such a festival. He credits videography with paying the bills, allowing him to explore and finance his outside interests, like this documentary.
"We are one of the most expensive studios for what we do in LA, but our clients are willing to pay a little more because our stuff looks original and because we're very low key," says Robin. Prices range from $2,000 to $10,000, with the average bar mitzvah starting at about $4,000 and the average wedding starting at around $3,000. These prices don't include some of the available add-ins, like a Love Story. But people will pay for the best, and while Robin's 16 Creative Excellence awards are no longer a record (he was recently bested by a friend from San Diego), there's no arguing that his experience and expertise make him, and Boulevard Video, one of the best bets around for professionally capturing a date, a place, and an event to be enjoyed for generations to come.