Strictly Business: It's Not About the Technology
Posted Jun 5, 2009

Remember when remote trucks were the size of school buses? Or when tape decks were bigger than two good-sized men standing next to one another? Many of us old-timers got excellent workouts just carrying around the equipment we needed to do our jobs.

In those days, technicians set the standards. From typesetting to keylining to preparing printing plates, from editing to sound mixing, it was all a bunch of technicians-some artistic, some just plain engineers-handling specialized tasks that, together, created our productions.

And what we put together was magic-beautifully designed and printed materials, stills, moving images, and audio tracks, or a blissful combination of more than one. The magic of technology-expensive, complete with pretty steep learning curves-was ours, and our clients depended upon us to make things happen for them.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, things changed. With the advent of the Apple computer as a cheap typeset-it-and-prep-it-yourself-for-printing machine, along with 1/2-inch and 3/4-inch video cameras and recorders, the curtain got pulled away, and we stood there, wondering what had happened.

As the technology improved and advanced, it no longer required as many "specialists" per creative commodity. The equipment got less expensive and lighter. Our muscles and our crews shrank in size. Our billable hours were at risk of diminishing as well. Clients were now seeing work performed at less than our usual artistic standards that took far less time and money to create, and they were calling it "good enough."

Of course, we still had the technology, the know-how, and the money to put a video together. We could afford the pro cameras, the Pinnacles, the Avids, and the hard drives to make it more affordable for someone to hire us than to do it themselves. But once again, "the people" got tired of letting us have all the fun. Today, the power to create magic is in the hands of everyone. For better or worse, that includes your prospects. Throw in a tough economy wherein people decide to limit discretionary purchases and the wedding and event videographers among us can be excused for feeling a bit morose these days.

But this is the start of the busy season here-weddings, graduations, family reunions-all the events people want to store and revisit. How do you convince them to let you do the work? What magic do you possess that will make your prospects look to you to preserve their memories?

It's still the story-not the technology-that resonates with clients. For instance, you can offer back stories: how the bride and groom met and fell in love. And you can help people get their stories in front of more people than ever with a timely release on DVD and online as well, at video aggregator sites such as YouTube or Vimeo, social networking sites such as Facebook, and on your own blog--or theirs! You can also help your clients by offering live webcasting, ensuring that even family and friends who live far away can be a part of the celebration.

I can't imagine a bride and groom who would want their wedding video to be a hodge-podge of random shots with nonbalanced light, poor sound quality, and haphazard edits. When prospective clients come to you, it's your chance to listen to their stories and then show them how you would deliver those messages to their audiences. I know how much you enjoy the magic of video; this is not the time to reveal any of the secrets. Your prospects don't care how you create the illusion--they just want to be awed.

The same applies to event and corporate video clients. You can't give them what you want. It has to be what they want. And if you listen carefully when they talk about the message they want to convey, you'll have a much better chance of showing them the best way to get that message across. It doesn't matter what bells and whistles you want to use; if the message gets lost in the technology, you will not have done your job. And you won't get the chance to do it again.

Noted corporate filmmaker, author, and all-around cool guy Thomas Clifford uses what he calls his "Secret Sauce" in every program he produces:

  1. Tell the most compelling story possible.
  2. Let "real people" tell "real stories."
  3. Find out what emotions to ignite. Where are the conflicts in the story? What struggles are occurring? What are the "turning points"?
  4. What is at stake? Why make a film? Why does it matter? Who cares about the film? Is the world a better place because of your video?
  5. Think audio: Tell the story with audio; the video is the frosting.


Don't get me wrong; I love dabbling in new technology. I'm all for anything I can find that will make communicating easier, better, more efficient, and more egalitarian. I strongly encourage all of you to learn as much about new technology as you can handle and then to use what you learn. But technology is only a tool, like a typewriter (remember those?) to a writer or paintbrushes to an artist.

Remember that as videographers, you're able to visualize a story from its beginning to its end, capture that story, and deliver it in a moving picture. That's the magic that sets you apart from the technology you use.

Steve Yankee (syankee at opinmarketing.com) has more than 35 years of video production and marketing experience and is the founder of The Video Business Advisor in East Lansing, Mich.