Studio Time: Right from the Start
Posted Apr 1, 2005

A wise and somewhat jaded event videographer once said, "The best way to make a small fortune in this business is to start with a big one."

Succeeding in your first year as a wedding videographer is hard enough, let alone doing so while continuing to work at a full-time job. Tim and Stacy Lenz are doing just that. While both were working full-time in other businesses, they started Lenz Studio a little over a year ago in the Northeast Wisconsin market. Today, Tim is still working full-time as a business analyst, although Stacy, an architectural CAD drafter, has cut back to part-time since the birth of their first child in March. Despite all these other commitments, they found time to shoot 29 events in 2004, exceeding their projected goal of 24.

Their devotion to event videography—even as they struggle to do it profitably while squeezing it into their busy lives—comes from a deep love for the fine arts. Throughout their lives they have had strong creative interests, among them painting, drawing, and photography, which eventually inspired them to start their own studio.

Hiring a photographer and videographer for their own wedding sparked their interest in professional event work. At that point, Tim and Stacy had years of experience shooting and editing their own home videos but no professional training. But seeing wedding videography close up, from the other side of the camera, launched them on a new career path.

After concluding their formal business with the photog-raphy/videography outfit that shot their wedding, the Lenzes expressed an interest in working with them on a subcontractor basis. The studio took them under their wing, and Tim and Stacy soon found themselves working in the field with the understanding that, in time, they would end up going out on their own.

After a year of intensive learning, they were ready to start their own business. Their technology and business backgrounds helped speed the process; Tim has a degree in computer science while Stacy has a degree in architecture. Tim's current work as a business analyst helped them navigate the intricacies of starting a business.

To get their studio's name out to the public, they immediately started a Web site, which has since generated a great influx of new customers. They have also put their name onto a few online directories which have significantly heightened their profile as well.

In their first year, the Lenzes found the biggest challenge was to decrease turnaround times while not letting the work suffer creatively, with the eventual goal of providing same-day edits. "After the first year we took a look at our processes, both business related and video-produc-tion related, to identify ways to streamline and possibly reuse processes and procedures. While we did find ways to implement time-saving techniques in the business aspect of the studio, we realized early on that we were not going to allow our video editing to suffer by turning our work into cookie-cutter, assembly-line productions."

Of the events they shot in their first year, 17 were both video and photography shoots and 12 were solely photography. For the most part, Tim shoots the video, while Stacy assists and photographs the event. "Whether we are shooting together or not, we both come back from the wedding just high from the emotion," Tim says. "The rea-son for someone to hire a professional videographer is to ensure that the quality of the equipment, as well as the planning, production, and post-production, are all at a professional level. Another attribute of a professional is creativity. We are stressing this more and more, since there are others in our market who deliver similar services with similar equipment. We want to put our own creative stamp on our work by showing our own distinct style."

The style they achieve in their video production is a very energetic, cinemagraphic tone that also reflects the photo-journalistic style Stacy employs in her photography. "We do a lot of creative moves, a lot of roaming cameras," Tim continues. "I don't like to do static shots. I like to keep things moving. After all, it's video—it's motion pictures." Not only do they capture the events that take place, but they try to capture the little details as well. These include every-thing from the flowers that are blooming outside the church to a whisper spoken on the dance floor. "We try to really capture the emotion in an artistic, cinemagraphic way," Tim explains.

To get the look they're after, the Lenzes employ a wide range of techniques from creative camera angles and lighting to placing extra emphasis on audio, such as keeping a wireless microphone on the bride and groom to capture things many of the wedding guests might have missed. "It's great when I'm shooting a wedding and I have the wireless on the groom, and I'm listening and I can hear them when they whisper," Tim says. "Nobody else can hear that, but I am privileged enough with the equipment that I can hear the little whispers. I tell them, ‘Don't be embarrassed to say any-thing; it's not all going to make it to the video. But if you say something really sweet it will make it to the final cut.'"

Their effort to personalize the video with strong audio goes beyond what microphones capture. "I prefer that the couples supply a majority of the music," Tim continues. "This way the music has meaning and gives the video a very personal feel. It also keeps the editing process challenging." One of their most memorable weddings, the Lenzes say, was a Bengali wedding that included a wide range of authentic cultural music and allowed for some of the more artistic and challenging sequences in their career.

Other techniques include using a glidecam to get long sweeping shots, weave through the dance floor, or capture beautiful flowing shots of the groom and bride. The glide-cam also helps them grab the details, like a flower girl get-ting nervous and racing down the aisle at the last second.

They also like to include guest comments on the video, and have begun experimenting with a new twist on the guest-interview format: the wedding couple is given the option of using a camera during the reception for a short while so that they can get some personal moments with guests who the videographers (as strangers to the guests) might not have been able to draw out. This "groom/bride-cam" video gives another personal touch to the overall video. While they do like to inject fun into the videos they produce, everything comes across with a certain amount of class. The one thing they will not do is a video laden with "cheesy effects," and they tell that to their customers right away.

The Lenzes say they arrive at a wedding fully prepared with extra film, tapes, batteries, and MiniDiscs, all pre-labeled. They also prefer to attend wedding rehearsals to make sure they know where the best camera angles are and to eliminate surprises. This preparation leaves them free to improvise during the event itself, when they are always on the lookout for creative lighting, camera angles, and camera movements.

They typically shoot with two Sony VX2100 DV cameras and are planning on adding another camera as soon as possible, with the possibility of going to HD down the line. As well as adding new equipment, they are planning on hiring additional editors. "We look for people who have an interesting style and aren't afraid to spice it up a little," Tim comments. Typical price for a wedding ranges from $1,200-$2,100. Each wedding DVD-Video includes chapter stops and a full menu with a typical length around 2 hours, plus a 20-minute highlight reel.

While the Lenzes have shot mostly weddings so far, they have started to delve into other areas. Requests have come in to do photo montages set to music ranging from the celebration of a birth to the biography of a loved one. They are in the planning stages of creating a commercial for a restaurant in the Green Bay area. They also have done legal videos for personal injury cases. These involve a "day in the life"-style video that must realistically capture the life of an injured person so that it will be accepted by a judge and jury. High school students also have hired them for sports-recruitment videos, which have helped the students get accepted to their top-choice colleges.

Tim and Stacy are also founding members of NEWVA (Northeast Wisconsin Videographer Association); Tim is currently serving as vice president. While the members of NEWVA are all competitors, the Lenzes say it is a sharing of ideas and an overall passion for videography that brings them together.

For the Lenzes, that passion is the reason they've been able to establish their business so quickly and produce distinctive work. "The couples who do hire us do so because they like our creative style and energy and excitement that we try to put in each of our productions," Tim says.