From Videographer to Entertainer: The Art, Business, and Technology of Presenting Video at Live Events
Once again you're sitting in front of your editing system waiting for the phone to ring. Bridal couples are kicking you and your price list around as you start to wonder how you can increase your bottom line with less money in the bank than last year. You're in the video production doldrums and you need a quick fix to the current state of this depressing wedding marketplace.
Allow me, on this summer day, to challenge you to make more money starting with the next client who comes into your studio. Along with this challenge, let me share with you the secrets of a few videographers who know how to market themselves-and upsell their clients-successfully.
Before this starts to sounds like an infomercial on late-night television, let's look at your business from an Old School perspective and a New School perspective.
The Old School perspective is that we are videographers who get hired to produce a wedding, a bar mitzvah, or some other social event. We show up and videotape the event. After the last dance, we head back to our editing caves and spend the week editing in isolation. Then, we head out the following week to do the same thing over again.
In the Old School world, everyone but you, the videographer, is acknowledged at the wedding. People are wowed by the florist. The guests love dancing to the band. The caterer gets raves about the food, and
the limo driver looks cool driving his shiny new car. No one ever tells you that you looked very professional when you were shooting the father-daughter dance.
In the New School perspective, you're not a videographer. You are a Video Entertainer! You entertain the guests at the wedding by showing a video that amazes the audience. It may be a photo montage, a love story, a concept video, or a same-day edit (SDE). Once the video is shown, guests will come up to you and tell you how they had never seen anything like that before, and they would like your business card because they want you to produce something to show at their next event.
"I absolutely adore hearing the cheers and applause my videos generate-especially my concept videos," says Bonnie Durkin, president of D-Vision Video of Succasunna, N.J. "Since we often edit in the solitude of our studios, we never get to fully appreciate the reactions our videos produce. The appreciation for my work is spontaneous and immediate. It fills me with deep satisfaction to have been able to elicit such a response from an audience of hundreds of people, many of whom will become future clients."
When was the last time a wedding guest came up to you and told you he or she loved your work? If you only shoot the event, you will most likely never hear those words. It is time for you to be acknowledged and loved for your talented work by showing your work in front of hundreds of guests at your next event.
Out of Omaha
Miriam and Don Moran are video entertainers who are loved for their work. They run a successful video production company called Omaha Wedding Video. They specialize in creating concept videos that are shown at events, and they love the feedback they get from their outstanding productions.
"There is such satisfaction in showing a video at an event," says Miriam. "Watching several hundred people enjoy it, hearing the applause, seeing tears and hearing laughter is a level of feedback we rarely get any other way."
Miriam and Don have been in the event business for 20 years and they got into the wedding marketplace 7 years ago. "Bookings are definitely down this year," says Don, "but we are seeing more bookings closer to the date of the wedding, and I think that's because people have seen our concept videos recently at one of our events."
"We offer video productions that no one else in our market offers," says Miriam. "Our highly edited, cinematic style is very uncommon is our area. Most videographers in our area are more journalistic or documentary in their style. Very few videographers offer Same-Day Edits. With Love Stories and Photo Montages, we really try to take it to the next level. We are also one of the few companies nationally that regularly do Graham Fenton-style wedding-day music videos. That style alone brings us 30% -50% of our new business."
Don and Miriam charge about $500 for their Love Story, Photo Montage, or Same-Day Edit. "We package the three together for $1,000," explains Don. "Keep in mind, we are in Omaha, Neb., and that's what our market will bear on top of our $3,000 base fee for the wedding." (See the video clip above for a look inside the Morans' production process for the videos they present at wedding receptions.)
The Morans are amazing their wedding clients by creatively producing videos to show at the weddings. "Last summer," says Miriam, "we produced a Same-Day Edit production in a town in central Nebraska that has a population of 312. At the wedding there were close to 370 guests, and we gave everyone a DVD of our finished product. No one had ever seen anything like this, and we not only entertained our guests but we picked up a handful of wedding jobs because of our production."
Omaha Wedding Video shoots with Sony EX1s and edits its SDEs on-site with Final Cut Pro. The Morans specialize in giving the wedding guests a DVD of what they show by bringing their Disc Makers 10-tower duplicators to make DVD copies.
"The business of showing videos at events is two sided," says Miriam. "First, we are making money by producing these popular segments, and then this becomes our free advertising that we show in front of several hundred guests that may need our services in the future."
Don and Miriam are proud of their work. Don says, "We feel that we are providing a service by creating a treasured family heirloom. We are historians, creating memories and allowing those memories to be shared. While our impact may not be widespread, we feel our impact is strong on our small community."
Once you decide to stop being a videographer and become a Video Entertainer, you will start to enjoy having your work shown in front of hundreds of guests at a function. Ten years ago it was a novelty to have a video shown at an event. Today, there is an expectation that a concept video may be shown at many weddings and bar mitzvahs.
A typical guest comes to the wedding, sits through the ceremony, enjoys the cocktail hour, and enjoys the bridal couple's first dance. By the time dinner is served, the guests will delight in seeing a special concept video produced by you.
When you set up your screen and show your video, you are entertaining the guests who now are getting a new experience.
The Reel Moments Model
Eric S. Model of New York City-area studio Reel Moments Video tells us that he gives the bride and groom a very special experience. "They can relive their day while their day is still happening," says Eric. "When I am showing my same-day edit-which we call a Theatrical Wrapup-and the bridal couple and guests in the room are crying, then I know I've done my job correctly."
Eric charges $1,500 for his SDE of the wedding with 50 photographs and AV support for an 8' x 5' screen. A bridal couple can upgrade to plasmas for another $1,000. Model edits with an EDIUS system. For someone who wants to get into SDEs, Eric advises, "Don't be afraid. Do what you're capable of doing and then expand upon it. If you are not tech-savvy, then outsource what you can't do. Doing our Theatrical Wrapups makes us money, promotes our business, and makes me extremely proud of my work."
Audio-visual support is an important part of presenting your videos effectively at a live event. Most videographers use their own equipment whenever possible so that they are in control of any technical issues that may come up. Don't depend on the DJ or hotel to show your product. Other caveats apply as well. "Don't rely on DVDs to show your presentations," says Maury Gomberg of Video Services Un-Limited of Northridge, Calif. "They can burp or freeze and that is embarrassing in the middle of an event."
"I started producing weddings on black and white film 36 years ago, and now we are totally into HD," says Gomberg. "The first presentations I showed at weddings were created on
a Video Toaster, and my first video projector was a Sharp with 175 lumens that cost me $8,000."
Gomberg currently shows his concept videos on a Panasonic HD projector with an Anchor portable sound system. For SDEs he uses a Sony VAIO laptop with Adobe CS3. "We bring backup equipment for every job, just in case," says Gomberg.
"My market is down considerably from where I was 6 months ago," Gomberg adds. The type of concept videos his company has generally produced "has become more of a luxury for people," he says, "so we started to create a mini-concept production that is more affordable for my clients. I love this business," he continues. "I have made a career from it and put two kids through college while enjoying every day of my job. Today, I gladly help my customers out when they need it, because after 36 years in business, it's not about the money anymore but the pleasure I get when they say ‘Maury, I love the video!' For me that's my applause."
Adapt and Survive
It's interesting how the advance of technology has made it possible for consumers to produce fabulous photo montages on their own computers. Increasingly, this means they no longer need
the videographer to produce a photo montage for them, when only straightforward, 2D pans and zooms are involved.
In the '90s, my company produced a 100-picture montage with simple effects edited to music for $295. This type of production was well beyond the scope of my clients and other vendors. Fast-forward to today, and the photo montage industry is substantially changed. Consumers, DJs, and party planners can produce their own montages to show at an event. We as video entertainers need to upgrade our product to
something that the average person cannot produce.
Showing videos at events is a great way to boost your sales. Photographers do it, so why shouldn't we? We are the video professionals, and we can do it more creatively and professionally than anyone else. We owe it to our customers to give them a better-quality production that they will always enjoy and not have to be embarrassed about.
Bonnie Durkin specializes in producing creative montages and concept videos for bar and bat mitzvahs in her New Jersey marketplace. "Most of my clients hire us to not only videotape their parties," says Durkin, "but also to produce and show a concept video. These are scripted and acted [out] by the family and friends of the bar and bat mitzvah child. They often reflect the theme of the party. Usually they are meant to be quite humorous, poking fun at the family in a good-natured way."
"My concept videos," says Durkin, "range in price from $2,500 to $8,000. The price is dependent upon how many days of shooting it will take and how complex the writing of the script and the editing will be. I typically charge $450-$600 for the AV support of projector, sound system, and screen.
"Business is very good for us," she adds, "because we specialize in showing and producing creative concept videos, yet I am concerned about the next year's season. The economy is having a devastating effect on our area. Most of my clients tend to be high-end, and many of them worked for financial institutions in New York City. The percentage of this class of people who are currently unemployed is staggeringly high. My phone traffic has slowed, and when I do get calls they want a bargain. I do mostly bar/bat mitzvahs that are booked 1 and 2 years in advance," she explains. Not having many gigs on the books for the next 2 years is unsettling for Durkin. "This year is looking good, yet the following season I can't predict, and that makes me anxious."
Still, concept videos shown at events remain her company's saving grace. "Even though the economy is hurting, I don't have to spend a lot of money marketing my company," she explains. "The most important marketing device I have is showing my concept videos at my events. The guests see the video and decide they want something just like it for their upcoming event. My No. 1 form of advertising is word of mouth, and this certainly helps when they get to see the quality of my work at an event."
How to Become a Video Entertainer
Bonnie Durkin, Eric S. Model, Don and Miriam Moran, and Maury Gomberg are all looking at the current downturn in our wedding and event business as an opportunity to create something different from what the average videographer offers. They are video entertainers who showcase their work in front of hundreds of potential clients every week.
Are you ready to become a video entertainer and add value to your bottom-line profits? Here's a simple three-step plan to help you get started.
- Step 1. Produce a basic photo montage and bring it to your next wedding to show in front of the wedding party. Hire an A/V company to bring in equipment to show your production. Bring a few business cards.
- Step 2. For the next wedding, have the bridal couple introduce the chapters to be edited into the photo and video montage. A few weeks before the wedding, film the couple talking about their childhood and about how they met, how they got engaged, and what they expect in their future. Rent out your own AV equipment and hire someone to set it up for you. Bring a lot more business cards.
- Step 3. Once you're feeling more comfortable with your video montages and interviews, add a same-day element to your productions. Hire an editor with a laptop to edit your same-day footage to be shown with the bridal interviews and a photo montage.
Bring another person to give out hundreds of your business cards, which everyone will want. Start slowly by outsourcing your AV support and contracting out your same-day editing. Eventually, once you find your confidence and stride, buy your own AV equipment and hire your own staff to work with you in producing your same-day creations and concept videos.
In this economic downturn, the video business world is being closed in on by the DJ company that bundles videotaping services, the fusion photographer who's starting to dabble in video, and other wedding specialty businesses that have added video production to their services.
Clients are now shopping around and looking for value. If all you offer is your videography services, you do not have much of a bargaining position. There are many good videographers, like you, in the marketplace; most of them are competing on price rather than distinctive services. The fact that most brides comparison-shop on the web only makes price-based shopping more likely, so it's more important than ever for you to offer distinctive services that will make you stand out.
If you can market yourself as a video company that will shoot the event, create a concept video, and also supply AV support and even a DVD for each guest, then you will have a video product that sets you apart from your competition, whether you're in California, the New York area, or Omaha.
All of these added elements that culminate in presenting a video at the event add value to the investment that a family will make in your company to entertain its family and guests. The profit you'll make by creating videos to show at events will be good, and it will go well beyond what you make on the booking itself. Having your name appear on the screen, in front of hundreds of guests, is a great marketing tool, and it's one that will yield dividends in the future clients you will book as a result.
Yet the best part of producing and showing your work on the screen is when someone comes up to you after the applause quiets down and says that you touched them emotionally with your work and thanks you for doing a great job. It's in that moment that you will have joined the ranks of video entertainers. Welcome to your new profession!
Hal Slifer (hal at halslifervideo.com) is a video historian and entertainer who has produced thousands of family histories for clients throughout New England for more than 25 years. An EventDV 25 honoree and WEVA Hall of Fame inductee, Slifer produces the monthly series 3 Questions for EventDV-TV.