Turning eighteen is a rite of passage in most societies, marking the passing to adulthood and the granting of both privileges and responsibilities. For Roy Chapman’s WEVA Expo, who celebrated 18 years as the industry’s largest and longest-running convention and trade show, 2008 marks the return to Orlando. After spending most of its teen years in the Nation’s most over-the-top city, Las Vegas, WEVA moved Expo to a more mature location.
As a five-time attendee I had fun in Vegas but found the gambling, shows, showgirls, and resort hotels somewhat distracting from the task at hand—to network and learn from the industry’s brightest. Now with talk of the U.S. economy revolving around sub-prime mortgage problems, record crude oil prices, and hints of a recession, I was interested to see what message Chapman and his lineup of speakers would give, and they didn’t disappoint, with many of the speakers sharing valuable business strategy insight, interspersed with the usual breathtaking video.
Expo opened with the annual awards gala that featured the WEVA special awards presentation and the highly contested Creative Excellence Awards. This year’s special awards recipients included Brett Culp of The CVP Experience, who took home a much-deserved Walter Bennett Service to Industry award; 25-year industry veteran Vance Hohenthaner of VHVIDEO.COM, who received the Bob LeBar Vision Award; Brooke Rudnick of Marc Smiler Video Artist, who received the WEVA Ambassador Award (renamed in honor of late WEVA DIVA Pam Andelora); and John Rose of John Rose Videography, who won WEVA’s Community Service award. Also noteworthy among those videographers who earned WEVA’s MPV certification was Lana Perhacs of Mystic Image Video, who became the first female MPV recipient when she completed the program in February. This year’s lone Hall of Fame inductee was 2006 EventDV 25 honoree and concept love story king Chris Chibucos of FurlaVision Productions.
The storyline of the CEAs has always revolved around the big winners and in recent years, the video world has taken notice of the international talent being honored with awards. This year the Philippines were the most talked about group with Jason Magbanua emerging as the big (but certainly not the only) winner with Golds in the Pre-Ceremony, Ceremony, Reception, and Instant-Edit categories. Meanwhile, fellow Filipino videography outfit MG Video Editing contributed three CEAs to the country’s dozen. New York-based DMS Video Productions led U.S. studios with 3 CEAs, while StillMotion won half of Canada’s 6. Mexico added a pair of wins, and 4 nations in all had winners while a fifth, Australia, was represented by Track Visual taking home one of the 10 finalist awards. Noticeably absent amongst the winners was powerhouse VHVIDEO.COM, whose David Hohenthaner served as one of the 4 judges who reviewed the approximately 1,000 entries. You can see the complete list of 2008 CEA winners here.
The new venue brought a few noticeable changes to the production of the gala. I’ve always felt that in an effort to showcase potential markets, the video feed of the onstage activities should be provided by cameras that are commonly used by Expo’s attendees. I was pleased to see that the on-site cameras were Canon XH A1s, although the operators struggled with the stage lighting, which was noticeable in a room full of video professionals. Besides an overexposed video feed, the evening moved along efficiently, an improvement on previous marathon-session award galas. The lineup of speakers was a very balanced one featuring most of the current big names and award winners, supplemented by several first-time speakers, and rounded-off by a few industry veterans returning to speak at Expo for the first time in a few years.
The most heavily promoted seminar was "The Three Daves," a panel discussion with Dave Williams (DVideography), David Hohenthaner (VHVIDEO.COM), and David Robin (david robin|films), whose movie-style promotion poster borrowed heavily from the mid-’80s John Landis comedy The Three Amigos. The trio discussed their respective styles, challenges, marketing alliances, markets, and the blurring of the line between photo and video. Hohenthaner shared that his challenge in the wedding market is that "we get older but the brides are just as young, so you have to pay attention to their styles." He also said that to combat declining referrals from photographers, his company has started offering photography services of its own both with digital SLRs and HDV video stills. With 5 business partners, VHVIDEO.COM has had to be aggressive in its marketing and is growing its corporate business and overall branding through a unique partnership with a radio station that exchanges services for advertising. Williams admitted his wedding business is down but the industrial and corporate markets are making up the difference, while Robin said he is having a record-breaking 2008 on the wedding side but is exploring different markets, including Bar Mitzvahs and concept videos. He attributes his increase in wedding video business to wedding planners who visit his blog.
Art Polin (21st Century Productions) and Art Kade (Art of Multimedia) showed that maybe there is something in a name, as these two industry veterans demonstrated why they are successful in their respective geographic and business markets. Polin had a very business-centric presentation in which he reminded his attendees that they are running a business and that their prices need to reflect their hourly rate and not an arbitrary figure, even if they are in the wedding market. His sales system revolves around getting his prospects to visit his studio so he can educate and motivate them by showing them work that is at different price levels and lets his clients sell themselves into larger packages then they originally planned. He feels that interviews make the difference between a $1,500 and a $5,000 wedding video package and is a believer in diversifying his markets—his video biographies are his single largest source of income.
On the other hand, Art Kade is the artist and wife and business partner Beata is the business mind in the couple’s Australian production company. Beata has grown their business around the philosophy that you have to "find your niche and diversify by offering more services around your niche." Her vertical integration approach has led her to bring outsourced experts into the business when needed, ensuring that each expert has complimentary skills and values. Their talk continued with discussions on brand which they defined as what your clients and alliances judge you by.
Jenny Lehman (Jenny Lehman Film & Video) offered some very timely advice to her attendees who were eager to hit the trade show floor and reminded them to think "business first and foremost" when making equipment purchasing decisions. When purchasing new equipment Jenny ensures the new purchase will make her money, make her job easier, and is required for her to keep pace. These items make her "must have" list and anything that doesn’t is relegated to her "wish list" that she only allows herself to purchase an item off of when she has her must have’s. She closed with tales of gaffer tape saving the day and her opinion that audio is often a videographer’s weakest area.
Don and Miriam Moran of Omaha Wedding Video summed up their business model and philosophy with "weddings pay the creativity of the soul and the rest pays the bills." Their seminar outlined how they keep busy with lucrative and repeat event video work that happens every day of the week in markets as varied as marching band competitions to show choir and winter guard to dance recitals. Their strategy and positions advice for any video business owner is that you should either occupy the high price or low cost markets but to "stay away" from the middle market, where the majority of businesses operate. The Morans’ strategy aligned with Robert Gordman’s discussion on brands and position, who encouraged attendees to build their business around something they do better than anyone else, to identify their "must have customer," and to pick one position across all their markets.
Did any of Disney’s magic rub off onto Expo? Silver CEA winners in the Love Story category Keith and Jennifer Anderson explained that the magic behind better money is no hocus pocus but stems from a balanced approach they call WAND, an acronym that stands for Work, Advertising, Networking, and Diversity. In order to operate simultaneously in multiple markets, the Andersons have 2 business names, Wedding Day Cinema for the wedding market and All Occasions Video for the event and corporate business. They singled-out dance recitals as a market that delivers a great source of income every year and in the wedding market they use their love stories to separate themselves from the competition.
On the trade show floor, newcomers Triple Scoop Music were busy with attendees at their listening booth while ImageSpan ran nonstop seminars for WEVA members on how to activate their free account and to make money licensing their videos online. From an event video perspective, I was particularly interested in Chicago Digital Post’s DVD-R copy protection system, which is one step ahead of the DVD ripping software that I am most familiar with. The big four camera companies were all in attendance, showcasing the latest HDV models and driving sales to the retail vendors whose show specials tempted attendees to purchase items from Lehman’s "must-have" and "wish lists."
When the convention came to a close I took one last dip in the Marriott’s lazy river pool, reflecting on what would be my lasting impression of Expo 2008. Beyond all the learning that occurred at the seminars, and the deals I got at the trade show, I left with the feeling that there was something special about this particular Expo. That special something was the feeling that Chapman, his staff, and his speakers were all more human, more approachable, more real than ever before. From honest admissions from speakers that they have felt the effects of the economy but are finding ways to still grow their businesses to Chapman not only creating a profile on Facebook but embracing this pop culture trend to connect with WEVA’s members, I will remember 2008 for the year the video industry became more global but at the same time, more connected.
Shawn Lam (video at shawnlam.ca) runs Shawn Lam Video, a Vancouver video production studio. He specializes in stage event and corporate video production and has presented seminars at WEVA Expo 2005-7 and the 4EVER Group’s Video 07. He won an a Silver Creative Excellence Award in Theatrical Production at WEVA Expo 2008 and an Emerald Artistic Achievement Award in Stage Production at Video 08.