As a trade journalist, particularly in trades where technology plays a key role, you're trained to approach trade shows with a sort of thousand-yard stare, paying more attention to what appears to be coming down the pike than what's happening now. At WEVA Expo 2009, held September 14-17 at the just-opened Hilton Orlando, there were a lot of great current trends in evidence: Foremost among them was the fusion of videography and photography incited by video-capable DSLRs such as the Canon 5D and 7D. I'd almost go so far as calling this a maturing trend now since it seems increasingly apparent that the current fusion wave is much more about converging tools and imaging principles than the same people doing two jobs simultaneously with the same camera.
The just-over-the-horizon trend that WEVA Expo 2009 brought to bear is the streaming of live events over the web and the role that videographers struggling to shake the "shoot now, edit later, deliver much later" habit can play in broadband live delivery of the events they work. You could see this trend in multiple conference events, such as Monday night's WEVA Creative Excellence Awards (CEA) presentation and the 25th-anniversary renewal of vows ceremony (more on those later), as well as Ryan Bodie's presentation on the Rick Braun jazz concert he helped stream in April. You could also sense this emerging trend as you watched the trade show floor, with the preponderance of live event streaming vendors such as WedcastingTv and PathFinder TV and a leading online video platform, Sorenson 360. In an industry where we have more promising educational event promoters than ever vying for real estate on the cutting edge, it's nice to see a stalwart such as WEVA doing its utmost to grab the zeitgeist with its own spin on where to find it.
This is not to say Expo 2009 was all about the trends around the bend. The 2009 conference program, masterminded by John Zale, was a best-ever mix of the old and the new. He combined the fine and familiar (celebrity videographer Brett Culp waxing inspiringly off the cuff about inspiration; EventDV 25 commissioner John Goolsby offering timely words of wisdom on how to fight the recession by casting a bigger marketing net; newly minted hall of famer and primetime PBS-TV producer Danny Sayson presenting his evergreen and energizing-as-ever, you'd-swear-it-was-a-Steadicam, dimestore-monopod moving-camera techniques; oldie but goodie David Robin talking concept video) with the edgy and new (Bollywood wunderkind Kevin Shahinian going tête-à-tête with Robin on concept filmmaking; Miami PD sharpshooter Ray Roman explaining how to get killer shots; StillMotion Fusionistas Konrad Czystowski and Michael Wong hashing out the 5D/7D dilemma; and CEAs breakout act Adam "88 Keys" Forgione holding forth on how to make wedding video soundtracks explode). This year's program also included the most numerous and best-attended set of Spanish-language sessions our industry has seen to date.
It also delivered highlights from beyond the comfy confines of wedding filmmaking, welcoming the likes of director of photography extraordinaire Philip Bloom (who got his first exposure in the wedding filmmaking world in April at Re:Frame and can't seem to get enough of his new fan base--for those of you tracking his movements, you can catch him again at Re:Frame San Francisco in October); "HD consultant" Dennis Lennie on the many virtues of tapeless workflow; and University of Southern California (USC) film school editing track chair Norman Hollyn on the idea behind The Lean Forward Moment, his book on editing theory, and the principles of building drama through strategic editing decisions that make all filmmaking genres very much the same.
And this is not to say WEVA Expo 2009 was all about the seminars and the trade show either; first and foremost for many, expos are networking events and chances to reconnect with colleagues and old friends, whether it's in the back lot between sessions or at the WEVA After Dark Party (a lively open bar event sponsored by Panasonic this year) or at the Greater Philadelphia Videographers Association party that racked up a healthy share of noise complaints this year. But the heart of the event was the sessions. I can only report on the ones I attended; one of the challenges of a four-track conference such as WEVA Expo is that any one attendee is only, at best, going to catch a quarter of the program. The other limitation of the smorgasbord approach is that the sessions are so short--generally restricted to an hour in length. The problem here is not so much that presenters only have time to scratch the surface; more often, they dig deep for 60 minutes and then run out of time. The other issue that cropped up were occasional A/V problems in the sessions; then there were the ominous, disembodied talking-heads and the aspect ratio issues on the projection screens at the (otherwise well-executed and fun) awards banquet.
Some of these issues can probably be ascribed to the fact that WEVA Expo was the first major event hosted in the show hotel, the 2-weeks-young Hilton Orlando, which proved--at least in every other respect--a wonderful venue. The site was a huge improvement over the various Las Vegas destinations of WEVAs past, simply for the fact that the WEVA crowd essentially took over the hotel. Rather than being lost in the crowd and absorbed into the smoky indifference of a casino, WEVA friends and colleagues seemed to be everywhere.
But let's get back to those sessions. One of my favorites was Whit Wales of Whit Wales Wedding Films in the leadoff spot on Tuesday with "Thinking Inside the Letterbox." In sharp contrast to the theme of the next seminar I'd attend (Ray Roman's "Getting Killer Shots"), Wales proclaimed, "There are no killer shots-only killer moments." (By the way, mixing mildly or often sharply contrasting views is often what makes a conference-not to mention a magazine-most compelling.) Wales's point was that it's not so much about what spiffy things we do with our cameras as the moments we're able to capture with them "in covering life stories through the authentic words and unique gestures and expressions of the central characters." Wales spoke quite a bit about interviewing (he does his interviews on the day of the rehearsal) as a means for getting to the heart of the characters in the story. Offering up his dictum "Lift and Separate," Wales said, "In the world of fusion, what sets us apart is words, so let's let them stand out. Thread a narrative so the bride and groom are essentially one voice. ... Don't use any music underneath. Let the words stand alone." And then, he did just that, playing wonderfully moving new footage of (an uncharacteristically candid) Steve and Laura Moses of Vantage Point Custom Films recounting the arc and meaning of their marriage.
Ray Roman of Ray Roman Films, another first-time WEVA speaker, probably could have brought down the house just by showing his work on the big screen, but he did much more-even though A/V issues ate his homework and he had to improvise his seminar. This former Miami Police Department detective, who will appear again soon at In[Focus] in January, made some great points about what you need to get great shots, and also what you don't need. He began by dispelling the misconception that you must have any of the latest, hottest gear-slider, 5D, Steadicam-to capture dazzling shots. What matters most are the things the gearheads tend to "skip past-lighting, composition, audio quality." Next to these essentials, "the tools are just enhancements to the basics." Roman made another great point about the importance of mastering the gear you do acquire before you take it out to shoot on a gig: "You can't practice on the wedding day."
I also managed to catch a glimpse of "WEVA's Angels" Laura Moses (fresh off her induction, along with her husband Steve, into the WEVA Hall of Fame on Monday night), Brooke Rudnick of Marc Smiler Video Artist, and Maureen Taylor of VHVIDEO.COM. The Angels' key topic was bringing a female perspective to wedding filmmaking, which remains a male-dominated business on the video side, although it is, and has always been, female-dominated on the client side. Too often, the male side of the business gravitates to the gear and the technology at the expense of the real driving forces in the events and stories that videographers capture. "We're not selling video," Moses said. "We're selling the emotion of the day." Rudnick explained, "Women see things differently from a male editor. Be the angel on your team and share their perception of the female mind."
One of the most fascinating sessions I attended was Hollyn's "The Lean Forward Moment" (also the name of his popular book). Hollyn is a USC film school associate professor and a veteran editor of such major Hollywood productions as Heathers, The Cotton Club, and Sophie's Choice. I'll admit to entering Hollyn's session with a bit of trepidation; I'm all for WEVA bringing in high-profile speakers from outside the wedding and event world to shake attendees out of their comfort zones and to widen the scope of the conversation. But too often these presenters have misfired in their attempts to connect with the WEVA audience. Not so with Hollyn, who stuck to his major themes and underscored their universality for anyone editing to support the arc of a storyline and build dramatic tension (particularly those videographers doing corporate work and commercials, he noted). "This is 16 weeks of my editing course squeezed into an hour," he quipped. "We're in the business of manipulating the audience," he said, "but in a good way." That is, the purpose of editing, he explained, is to shape a film's storyline to elicit certain audience reactions at the moments when you want them. His idea of the "lean forward moment," he said, is "the moment when you want the audience to pay a little more attention. Identify the moment when you're going to deliver the message. That's the essence of what we do. We look for the moment when we want the audience to buy into our message, then we change something in our filmmaking" to amplify it.
Another great seminar came from Long Island, N.Y.-based wedding filmmaker Adam Forgione of Pennylane Productions. Forgione struck early and often at WEVA Expo 2009 with his five CEAs on Monday night and his late-night piano serenades; he also, I'm told, set the show a bit on its ear in a Tuesday night session (that I missed) by breaking out beach balls. I caught Forgione's Thursday morning seminar, "Getting Creative With Audio." Anyone else who attended this seminar would probably agree with me that Forgione could really make an impact as a speaker in this industry if he could just manage to muster a little more enthusiasm for his subject. Kidding aside, Forgione's way of delivering his audio message was wildly over the top, right from the outset-although the points he made were uniformly sound. Forgione broke down the popular songs wedding videographers generally use into their basic structure-intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, instrumental break, etc.-and explained how to use the ebb and flow and build-up of a song to create peaks and explosions and great releases of dramatic tension, "to match the climax of the video to the climax of the song." At some point, one had to wonder if he was still just talking about moving video clips around in a timeline.
But enough from the creative side; one of the signature strengths of the WEVA Expo program over the years has been the emphasis on business and marketing strategies, even if (this year included) those strategies have been limited a bit too much to the wedding (as opposed to event) side of the aisle. And one of the cool ways in which WEVA Expo 2009 delivered on the sales and marketing promise was through the efforts of new speakers with fresh approaches and messages. One very convincing session I attended was "You Know How to Shoot a Wedding Video, Now Learn How to Sell One" presented by Matt and Melissa Davis of Life Stage Videography. It included perhaps my favorite line of any seminar I saw all week: "Learn to love the ‘No.'" Naturally, Matt and Melissa were speaking of the potentially heart-wrenching highs and lows of wedding video sales at the time. But there was a great point in there: Namely, if you do your sales job right, find out who they are and show them who you are, the "no" will result most often from a genuine mismatch (style, price, personality) that wouldn't have lent itself to a good experience anyway rather than the frustrating, "I showed them my best, and they still didn't book me." The Davises led attendees through a great list of "power questions" that will get the sales encounter started right, followed by a discussion of their own sales process and the energy they bring to it. "Match their excitement," Melissa said. "Mirror their personality. Bring it up a notch if necessary, but don't overwhelm them." Matt also addressed the age-old closing question: "Ask for the sale. They want you to ask for it-they want resolution. Be firm and confident; say, ‘Which package will work for you?' Then say you'll follow up with email and you'll call them tomorrow. And do everything you say you will."
Two other memorable sessions I caught were signature WEVA events. First was the "WEVA LIVE 25th Anniversary Live Streamed Ceremony," in which two legendary WEVA couples--Mark and Trisha Von Lanken of Von Wedding Films and Steve and Laura Moses of Vantage Point Custom Films--each married a quarter century, renewed their vows before a live seminar audience and whoever else was watching out in webcast land. Brett Culp, the celebrant from central casting, ably handled the ministerial duties. What we saw was an event that was carefully staged but very much real, at times; but what was most interesting about it to me and my thousand-yard stare was the streaming side. Technical director and switcher Ryan Bodie-who would, in his own Wednesday night seminar, discuss how he produced a live stream of a Rick Braun jazz concert in April-managed the stream to http://www.wevalive.tv/ viewers using NewTek VT, while Ray Roman and Fred Klein shot the ceremony. "If you're doing a live event on a pro level," Bodie said, "you need to give yourself time to set it up." Telling words since the WEVA LIVE stream wasn't without its technical shortcomings-particularly, an 8-second delay, audio sync and levels issues, and some jarring aspect ratio changes-but the point here, after all, was not so much to deliver the world's most perfect stream as to suggest possibilities, and that it did.
The second memorable session was the Battle of the Editors, in which David Perry of David Perry Films made stunning use of submitted footage shot outside at the Salt Lake City LDS temple wedding to fashion a seamless and moving clip that richly deserved the award. But it wasn't as easy as he made it look: "I film for certain emotional shots, shooting for the story. It was super-challenging to work with someone else's footage and try to figure out the story they were telling."
And then there were those other awards-the annual WEVA CEAs (again, streamed live from Orlando), in which wedding, event, and corporate filmmakers from all over the world had their work honored in the industry's most prestigious awards competition. Joining relative newcomers Pennylane Productions (five awards including Instant-Edit Bronze), Ray Roman Films (three CEAs including Trailer Bronze, Theatrical Production Silver, and the coveted Short Form Gold), and Lehi, Utah-based Pointe Digital (Post Ceremony Gold) were established stars Jason Magbanua Wedding Videography (five awards including Love Story Silver and Pre-Ceremony Gold), VHVIDEO.COM (five CEAs including two Golds, for Reception Coverage and Social Event Coverage), and Imacron (two Golds, Trailer and Demo). The Philippines swept the most-medals sweepstakes once again with 20. You can see the complete list of awards at www.wevaexpo.com/2009ceawinners.htm.
The real question that remains after this year's 19th annual WEVA Expo is "Where will they do the next one?" One sort of answer appeared online shortly after the event, when WEVA chairman Roy Chapman announced to his Facebook followers a "virtual expo" set for Nov. 10--a nice concept that will be interesting to see take shape. Naturally, the real buzz was about WEVA Expo 2010 and something a little more tangible. Though there seems to be an incipient "Back to Bally's" movement among the Vegas fans in the industry, here's hoping that what they've wisely moved to Orlando stays in Orlando.
To see a 3-part live video wrap-up of WEVA Expo 2009, check out The WEVA Show with Shawn Lam on EventDV-TV.
Stephen Nathans-Kelly (stephen.nathans at infotoday.com) is editor-in-chief of EventDV.