The “Ken Burns Effect”—the panning and zooming of still images for dramatic impact—has become almost a cliché in the world of event video and photo montage. But the work of Ken Burns himself never fails to inspire. I recently watched Burns’s 1998 documentary on American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who died in 1959 shortly before the completion of his most famous design, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
Naturally, there’s a lot of “Ken Burns Effect” on display in this DVD along with generous helpings of the documentarian’s trademark intercutting between various interviewees commenting on aspects of Wright’s life, work, and legacy. But there’s also wonderful Steadicam work done inside Wright’s signature structures. These well-paced shots illustrate not just the structural detail but also the unity of Wright’s work, which usually extended to the use and organization of the space he created: the furniture, the place settings, and often (in the case of his domestic designs) to its inhabitants’ clothes.
Today, we look back at the highlights of Wright’s career—Unity Temple (1904), Imperial Hotel (1923), Fallingwater (1939), Johnson Wax Headquarters (1944), Price Tower (1956), The Guggenheim (1959)—and marvel at the variety and artistry of his creations. But such a survey does little to explain the peculiar arc of his career, which started promisingly in his 30s and peaked in his 70s and 80s, but was moribund for decades in between due to widely publicized personal scandals that sullied his professional reputation. Wright’s creativity and drive never flagged during that period; he just couldn’t get work.
As architectural critic Paul Goldberger explains in Burns’ documentary, this problem points to the fundamental difference between architecture and, say, painting or music. When Beethoven felt a symphony coming on, he simply went to the piano and composed it. Wright, by contrast, couldn’t move on any idea without a commission. However much personal inspiration or vision may have infused his work, all of Wright’s creations were commissioned. Even a design as inspired as Fallingwater wasn’t simply something he dreamed up: no job, no masterpiece. This makes it all the more impressive to me that Wright created what he did. Everything he designed was done within the parameters of the commission itself.
The same mindset that makes a commissioned architect an artist—approaching the job as an opportunity to explore ideas and realize a vision—also makes an event videographer a filmmaker. Precious few of us can be Frank Lloyd Wright—most of us can’t even be Jeff Wright—but we can still try to create something original and substantial in a contract job. In recent months we’ve highlighted event filmmakers such as Loyd Calomay and (in this month’s cover story) Kevin Shahinian who are using wedding bookings as launchpads for new films. It’s exciting to see wedding producers such as Ryan Bodie—whom we profiled in May 2008—moonlighting as indie filmmakers, but it speaks even more to the potential to create something lasting and significant in the wedding video world to see what wedding filmmakers can accomplish within the context of their commissioned work.
It’s worth noting that Shahinian, Calomay, and longtime concept filmmakers such as David Robin ply their trade in Southern California, where there’s money to support these projects. Elsewhere, the creativity is there, but the cash often isn’t. The view that concept video offers wedding filmmakers great opportunities to expand their horizons and lose their shirts is often right on the money.
That said, you don’t have to make Hollywood (or Bollywood)-style wedding movies to be a wedding filmmaker and to do something original and worthy. When Frank Lloyd Wright first made his name designing family homes in the “Prairie” style in turn-of-the-century Oak Park, Ill., he reportedly bragged that his designs could make or break a marriage. I’ve never heard of a wedding videographer aspiring to break a marriage, but Wright's notion of creating something that speaks to certain values and aspirations of family life is at the heart of what many practitioners bring to this field.
In the Oak Park days, Wright was designing houses for rich folks; in later years, he developed the Usonian design, in which he attempted to bring the same familial ambitions to $5,000 homes. These weren’t elaborate designs, but they weren’t double-wides either.
The Usonian approach is analogous to the budget videographer who brings style, craftsmanship, and a sound business model to the low-end market. One videographer who’s living and breathing the no-nonsense approach—and mincing no words as he makes his case for it—is Rusty Bryce of Houston. I checked out Bryce’s work recently, and the cinematography is terrific. There’s nothing cut-rate about it; it’s just a streamlined approach that makes the video affordable to the bride and economical and quick-turn for the videographer.
Budget videographers get a bad name for offering too much or delivering too little; it’s inspiring to see high-quality work delivered in this manner while keeping the price right. I just wish I had friends getting married in Houston with $999 in the kitty; given some of the choice words he’s had for EventDV over the years, I’m sure Bryce would be thrilled to make or break their marriage.
Stephen Nathans-Kelly (stephen.nathans at infotoday.com) is editor-in-chief of EventDV.