It's Saturday night on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans, just beyond the confines of the city's legendary French Quarter in the less well-traveled Faubourg-Marigny district. Frenchmen Street isn't exactly a well-kept secret, but the music takes precedence there in a way it doesn't on Bourbon Street, thanks to the remarkable concentration of some of the city's best music clubs, which are practically on top of one another. Clubs like the Spotted Cat, Cafe Negril, d.b.a., Apple Barrel, and Snug Harbor crank out some of the Crescent City's hottest blues, jazz, R & B, soul, and funk, and they seem to do so for the most part without charging covers, which (along with the clubs' proximity) makes it natural to wander back and forth among the clubs, or even catch the bands from the doorways or the sidewalks outside. Best of all, on this Saturday night (and, I suspect, many others), it's not just the audience that moves fluidly among the clubs, but also one of the most electrifying musicians I've ever seen, Washboard Chaz Leary, who takes a few minutes to sit in with every act on the street--be it country blues, blues-rock, R & B, or Django Reinhart-style gypsy swing--and to elevate the band to impossible heights at every stop. I'd like to say I was hip to Washboard Chaz and his sit-in plans, but it was pure serendipity that I got to catch his act, fleeting as it was.
Granted, "electrifying washboard player" isn't a phrase you hear every day, but neither is "electrifying wedding filmmaker," although I've also seen my share of those. Truth be told, I didn't come to New Orleans just to visit Frenchmen Street--or the just-as-rollicking Midtown Rock and Bowl, for that matter--I'm also here to soak up Re:Frame 08, the first boutique wedding video seminar experience presented by a group that has consciously positioned themselves as some of the coolest cats in the wedding video industry, The Re:Frame Collective, and to see if they can deliver on the promise of a deftly branded event that sold out its fifty $1400 spots in a scant 10 days.
Re:Frame 08 is, at its heart, a single track of seminars presented by the seven videographers in the collective--Julie Hill of Elysium Productions, Don Pham of Take 1 Productions, Kristen* of Bliss Productions, Bruce Patterson of Cloud Nine Creative, Terry and Joe Taravella of Studio Vieux Carre, and Chris P. Jones of Mason Jar Films--plus two featured speakers, Jason Magbanua of Jason Magbanua Wedding Videography and Maurice O'Carroll of Velvetine Productions. Two key points of emphasis here are not just tied to the seminars but to the overall experience--the VIP treatment in the heart-of-the-Quarter-Hotel, the Royal Sonesta--and also the notion that you may have been to seminars in this industry but you haven't been to seminars like these, and you've never had this kind of access to the speakers.
Cut to Monday evening. It's the end of Day One of Re:Frame, and have they delivered? Well, the toughest part of the promise to keep is making the seminars stand out for those who attended other national/international event videography conferences like WEVA Expo and Video 06/07/08. One thing Day One had going for it was Kristen*, who had never spoken at an industry event before, and only the second stateside speaking gig by Filipino phenom Jason Magbanua, who made his debut at Video 08 in January of this year. Julie Hill and Don Pham, who presented together, in fact took on a topic similar to their Live Edit sessions at Video 07, but they immediately cranked up the audience interaction a notch with a tear-and-glue exercise in recognizing hip and not-so-hip magazine ads, tearing them out, and glue-sticking them on boards (attendees were rewarded with mimosas and bloody marys).
Then they took a page from popular video software training tools and passed out a CD of wedding footage for seminar attendees to load on their laptops and follow along with the speakers' editing decisions and applying filters and the like in their NLE of choice. The seminar was billed as an opportunity to get inside these editors' minds. Julie Hill did this by treating the audience to a generous portion of the opening sequence of Amadeus and explaining how her work is constructed in much the same way, with alternating contrasting shots and building to crescendos with the music. Both chose some problematic footage to work with (as Pham said, the problem with seminars he'd attended at conventions in the past was that, while "inspiring," he could never relate to the footage they showed--"my brides aren't that beautiful"), and Pham showed a great example of how he's used a rainy wedding day to his advantage.
It's nice to review the overall flow and content of a seminar but there are always specific things that really stick with you, if the seminar is a good one, and one of the coolest things in the Hill-Pham experience is something that took me back to Washboard Chaz on Frenchmen Street: I'd love to say I knew his sitting-in route or somehow anticipated it, but it was pure luck that I got to see what he could do with these vastly disparate types of music. But anticipating it sure would have made it a lot more likely that I'd get to see him, and Pham had this amazing moment in his segment on the rainy-day wedding when he showed the groom looking up to the sky, wondering if the rain was going to start again. "I was hoping to get that shot because I knew what it would add to the emotion of the day," Pham said, so he kept the camera on it until it happened.
Anticipating great shots was a recurring theme of Jason Magbanua's seminar, too. Magbanua always seems to have an inexhaustible supply of one-in-a-million shots in his videos that leave videographers scratching their heads and wondering how in the world he got them. "You have to anticipate the action," Magbanua said, "and move and get the shot. A wedding is a series of predictable events. There is a structure. Be at the optimal spot where the action is happening. Why do we always get the 'crying groom' shot? I know when it's going to happen, so we get in position and roll and roll."
Day One of Re:Frame wasn't just about shooting. Kristen*'s seminar, "Branding+Marketing+Packaging," proved true to its name, dissecting not just Kristen*'s own Edith Piaf couture approach to branding her wedding film business, but also the importance of running a brand-conscious business where everything you produce, from your website to your marketing collateral to your DVD menus, bespeaks the original and distinctive style and image you want to convey. For her part she got the crowd involved by inviting attendees to send her their marketing collateral before the event to get a sense of how they were doing it and how she could help them improve on it. And to be clear, this wasn't just a top-down promise; these speakers held office hours of a sort in the Re:Cap Room after the day's seminars ended to get one-on-one time with the attendees to extend this relationship a little further. (Magbanua also mentioned a few minutes into his seminar that he'd gotten the attendee list and checked out blogs and clips from everyone's sites he could find, and then proceeded to check his notes and mention those he liked best and why, with one-on-one critiques promised later.)
The focus of Kristen*'s session was how to pursue a high-end market , how to build relationships with event planners and other vendors and make those relationships work for you. And this sort of positioning isn't just about calculation, and it's certainly not just about imitating others or copying a brand when you see one you like. "I put a lot of heart and soul into my brand," she said. "It's important to put a lot of heart and soul into yours."
Speaking of heart and soul, I'm still in New Orleans and Washboard Chaz is out there somewhere, possibly tearing the roof off a club where that phrase isn't always mere metaphor--as good a reminder as any that such opportunities are not to be missed.
Click here to read about Days Two and Three.
Stephen Nathans-Kelly (stephen.nathans at infotoday.com) is editor-in-chief of EventDV.