The Untouchables: IVA Brings World-Class Filmmakers to Chicago for Midwest Expo 2009
Back in May 2005 when EventDV was still in launch mode, I attended a WEVA Town Meeting in Chicago. It was a cool event for me because it gave me my first opportunity to talk with Brett Culp and Monica Arellano Crafts of Creative Video Productions (now Brett Culp Films), Lance Gray of PixelPops Design, and local hero Kris Malandruccolo of Elegant Videos by Kris, who had just become the first wedding videographer interviewed in U.S. News & World Report.
Times have changed a great deal for event videographers and cinematographers in the last four years, and, truth be told, the times they were a-changing then: WEVA was in the process of phasing out the Town Meeting model in favor of other ways of connecting with members between Expos, and that 2005 event turned out to be the last Town Meeting held in Chicago.
Undaunted, the Illinois Videographers Association (IVA) started its own annual event, IVA Midwest Expo, in 2007, and if the 2009 installment is any indication, it's been a rousing success. Held May 20 at the William Tell Holiday Inn in Countryside, Ill., the one-day conference program not only delivered a strong mix of nationally recognized local talent (Furlavision's Chris Chibucos, Keith Kelly of Innovative Communications, and Steve Zagata of Video Active Productions), but also two presenters from one of the hottest studios on the planet, Patrick Moreau and Michael Y. Wong of StillMotion. But perhaps the real "find" of the show was Kevin Shahinian of Pacific Pictures, who set the wedding concept film on its ear with his late-2008 Bollywood short, Tum Hi Ho, and was making (to my knowledge) his debut as a presenter in our industry.
Concept Love Story master and EventDV 25 honoree Chris Chibucos kicked off the day with a presentation called "HD in the Real World" that did a great job of breaking down and demystifying HD production for the 70+ attendees, touching on format differences, shooting tips, applying filters such as Sapphire GenArts and Boris's skin softening filters effectively in post, and concluding with Blu-ray authoring and delivery. Chibucos also showed a number of arresting HD clips that underscored why his company has been so successful, and has transitioned so smoothly into the HD era.
StillMotion followed with "The Art of Wedding Cinema," with Shahinian chiming in with color commentary. The two-part presentation (two 90-minute sessions with lunch in between) focused on several of StillMotion's recurring themes, including storytelling, customizing every production to the bride and groom and your understanding of who they are, and approaching events as a cinematographer making a film rather than simply a videographer there to record what happens. While discussing the advantages of using different lenses to get the types of shots you want and to convey the story you want to tell, one of the most interesting points they made in the presentation concerned mastering the equipment you have before going out and buying more expensive gear. "When you know how to use your shutter speeds and focal lengths to tell a story," Moreau said, "you don't need the best toys." Shahinian added, "The story will dictate the equipment you need."
While discussing the advantages of shooting with 35mm adapters and cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II that enhance a shooter's ability to control depth of field, Moreau encouraged attendees not to do snazzy DoF tricks simply because they look cool. "What does shallow depth of field add?" he asked. "Why do we use it? Are we trying to highlight the subject or hide what's behind them so we can rack-focus to it to tell a story or preserve mystery?" Emphasizing the shooter's need to know the "motivation" behind each shot, Wong said, "We isolate the attention of the viewer to heighten the emotional impact. It mimics the way the human mind works," he explained, seeing and focusing selectively, and hiding what will be revealed later.
Expanding on the notion of motivated shots in the afternoon session, Moreau said, "A lot of us fall into a trap where we use black and white, slo-mo, fisheyes, etc., in ways that aren't motivated." Cautioning in particular against the overuse of slo-mo, Moreau explained, "I've only got 4 minutes to convince you to hire me when you see clips on my website. I don't want to show you the same thing for too long."
After a word from the event's sponsors (Canon, Grass Valley, Panasonic, and a handful of others), the program rolled on with "Booking Your Top Package Every Time," an insightful sales seminar from the IVA's own Keith Kelly of Innovative Communications. "Since I started my current method of selling back in 2000," Kelly said, "I've booked around 80% of the couples who've walked in the door, and all but one couple have picked my best package."
Kelly touched on a number of elements in his sales setup and approach, with tips on the sales environment. One interesting tip concerned the Superman memorabilia collection that Kelly keeps on proud display in his home studio, which clients see immediately when they come in. "Superman has nothing to do with weddings, per se," he explained, "but it does show a sense of nostalgia, creativity, and uniqueness-all of which help to paint a unique portrait of myself and of Innovative Communications. It's also something that many clients go ‘wow' over, and it makes them forget for a bit that a salesman is going to try to talk them into spending several thousand dollars."
Kelly also encouraged attendees to get prospects into the studio for a demo to move beyond the impersonality of choosing a videographer based on what prospects see online--and the difficulty of booking high-end packages based on that sort of comparison-shopping. "Unless the bride and groom are very strongly recommended by a close friend, a relative, or a bridal consultant, the first thing they'll do after checking your site is to go web surfing and compare packages. If they find samples that look comparable, and the prices are lower, you'll probably lose the customer ... I think we all know that our work is not generic, and that there are as many different ways to produce wedding videos as there are stars in the sky. Yet the web reduces most work to the lowest common denominator. "
Kelly also walked attendees through right and wrong strategies for the initial sales calls, and brought up a "bridal couple"--ably portrayed by Barb and Scott Scheman (IVA Treasurer and VP, respectively)--to demonstrate his in-studio sales process. Key to it all, he said, is to "get them talking": "Shut up and listen and let them tell you how to sell them."
Kelly concluded with a few words on defining packages, asking for the sale, and the "soft close": "My key objectives are to make them feel good about possibly choosing me, and also to leave them with a tear in their eye ... If you do it right ... they will book you, and they will book your top package."
Next up (after dinner) was L.A.-based Kevin Shahinian of Tum Hi Ho and Production Diary: Tum Hi Ho fame, introduced by IVA president Keith Anderson as "wedding video's most eligible bachelor." Shahinian described an approach to wedding filmmaking that would probably have been unthinkable to most people in this industry a half-decade ago. His primary topic was how to produce and sell the sort of concept films on which he's built his reputation. While acknowledging that his studio didn't make money off of Tum Hi Ho, it's enabled him to sell the several high-end projects he's booked since then. To book these sorts of projects, he said, "You cannot think of your market as the 20 miles around your house ... Market in L.A. Poach my clients ... Start thinking globally and you'll run out of excuses." He also explained that selling the first concept film won't be a case of the bride and groom coming to you and asking for it; "It will be a conversion."
Other key talking points in his seminar included the advantages of writing a shooting script in "screenplay format" in order to know how long your film will be and how to budget it; scouting locations for sight and sound; and tips on writing for non-actors and directing them. This last topic was perhaps the most valuable part of Shahinian's talk, since the performances he draws out of his actors is one area in which his work has clearly set a new standard for our industry.
Closing out the night was the IVA's own Steve Zagata of Video Active Productions, speaking on the different mindset an event videographer needs to adopt when switching into corporate work (or combining the two). My ride to Madison departed after Shahinian's seminar, so Reel Deal columnist and IVA president emeritus Kris Malandruccolo reported on the key points of Zagata's talk: "Steve likes corporate work because he gets the weekends off. He said it is really hard to do both corporate and weddings because then you are working all the time! He said you need a different mindset when migrating over to corporate. You need to learn how to juggle, be a politician, organizer, planner, and a leader, not a follower. You also get more creative freedom, more repeat business, better networking, and more money."
Stephen Nathans-Kelly (stephen.nathans at infotoday.com) is editor-in-chief of EventDV and program director EventDV-TV.