Every year or so I stop in a Borders or a Barnes & Noble and pick up a Paper Blanks notebook with a nice, fake leather binding with a mildly decorative design. Whenever I head out to an event filmmaking conference, I grab one of these notebooks on the way out the door, open to the first unused page, and start taking copious notes on the seminars I attend. It gets to be a bit haphazard after a while, and inevitably my seminar notes end up side by side with bits of short stories or book reviews, and the odd shopping list or marathon training schedule. But if one could somehow consolidate all the segments with the seminar notes, together they would form a pretty fair appraisal of recent event filmmaking history—or at least a working document of the peer education that's guided and inspired the business maturation and explosion of artistry that have transformed our industry over the last few years.
As you might expect, it's crowded in there, and more than a little disorganized, but I'm happy to report that the ongoing thread of landmark event filmmaking presentation notes stepped to the fore again last week as I scribbled furiously to document the 10 seminars that made the inaugural In[Focus] 2010 as inspiring, engaging, and focused an educational event as our industry has seen.
One of the key themes of Day Three's Ray Roman seminar ("Opening the Book of Ray") was command presence—that is, having the assertiveness and forthright demeanor to take charge at events when it's time to get the shots you need. But before we get too deeply into the overarching themes of the seminars and the command presence of the speakers—because if there was one thing that defined the educators at this event, it was that they were very much there, all bringing their A-games and very committed to engaging with and educating the attendees beyond the confines of their allotted speaking time—In[Focus] 2010 was also an event marked by the absence of one of its guiding forces, co-founder Julian St Pierre, who passed away in early November 2009. Julian is someone I've already said quite a bit about in these pages and at the same time someone I can't say enough about, in terms of his contributions to this industry as an educator and visionary, and for the "pay it forward" ethic he personified. The phrase-turner in me wants to say that the In[Focus] event felt Julian's absence and presence in equal measure, but of course nothing as complex as grief and loss is really that simple. Julian's vision for In[Focus] wasn't confined to a single event—the last few conversations we had were almost entirely about his long-range thinking and beyond-2010 plans—but I do think he would have been proud to see so much of his work rewarded and his In[Focus] concept brought to life this time around. And he surely would have enjoyed what the New Orleans Saints were doing in the NFC title game as I was writing this up Sunday night.
With roughly 110 attendees gathered for this 3-day (plus pre-conference seminars), single-track event, In[Focus]'s 13 presenters all spoke to a full house, which had the added effect of giving all of the event's attendees the same seminars to reflect on and kibbitz about between sessions. Ron Dawson kicked off the event with his ever-evolving treatise on self-reinvention; if it's any indication of how fast Ron is moving, we're only six months past the publication of ReFocus, his book that's largely focused on on 21st-century marketing strategies for growing an event video business, and Ron is already starting to chip away at his public image as a social media evangelist and return to his roots as a filmmaker.
Documentary storyteller extraordinaire Bill Gaff followed in his industry-speaking debut, giving attendees their first glimpse behind the curtain of his interviewing and story-crafting techniques for establishing richly drawn characters in his wedding films. Those who have followed Gaff's work over the years know that he's recently made significant strides in upgrading the visual side of things (especially since he bought that 5D); Gaff, nonetheless, insisted that those elements are secondary: "Real story always trumps visual quality."
Next up was David Perry, an acknowledged master of branding specificity—all he had to do was ask the audience what he was known best for, and the Utah-based filmmaker quickly had his answer: The Temple; i.e., shooting LDS weddings with emphasis on the meaning of the Temple in that tradition. Although a relative newcomer to the speaking circuit himself, Perry went to great lengths to promote and celebrate the contributions of other rising stars, featuring segments from the likes of Sharrone Caliafiore and Antonio Domingo solicited and prepared specifically for use in his presentation. Ever one for the memorable soundbites, Perry offered up one of the week's most thought-provoking—"What do you contribute to the world?"—and followed it up with the most perceptively articulated arguments for eschewing the copycat approach I've heard to date: "Be careful when you're copying other filmmakers because the connection you could make with your clients [through work that reflects your own perspective and style] could be lost."
Closing out Day One were two legends and another up-and-comer: industry icons Steve and Laura Moses and rising spoofmaster Loyd Calomay. The Moseses expounded on a variety of themes both new and familiar with the tightest timing this crack comedy team has ever brought to the stage; alongside discussion of purposeful use of depth of field and the importance of assessing your shots based not only on artistic merit but how flattering they are to your brides, they also addressed a room that reflected an industry that still has too many men in it with some key advice on perspective: "Your target market is women. Men are the head, women are the neck, and the neck controls the head."
In a week full of highlights, Loyd Calomay's "It's All in the Presentation" seminar on concept films and SDEs (i.e., the various types of films presented at weddings) may have taken the top prize for me. Loyd spoke about the spectacle and excitement of a film delivered at a wedding as something akin to the cinematic movie experience-a moment shared with hundreds of others that can't be replicated at home, no matter how big or bold your TV. In a time when online forums, webinars, and web-based conference simulations such as WEVA's virtual-groundbreaking iVideo Online Expo (coming February 17), are availing videographers of many of the sort of educational opportunities that used to be the exclusive province of conferences, workshops, and conventions (at a dramatically reduced cost), Loyd's discussion of the cinematic and SDE experiences is an apt analogy for the "be here now" power of the in-person gathering that no online substitute will ever fully replicate.
The other great thing about Loyd Calomay's approach that always comes through in his work and was abundantly apparent in his seminar is that it's not just talent, creativity, or shooting chops that make him such a great spoofmaster. It's actually a lot simpler than that: Loyd loves movies. And TV shows, and pretty much anything that he spoofs. And he loves them enough to watch them repeatedly, and suss out the less obvious elements that are equally ripe for spoofing, but make for subtler parody. Of course he's not afraid to throw a little lowbrow humor into his films, either, but that's only the more obvious half of the fun.
Tuesday at In[Focus] was megasession day, with the morning devoted to the mom and pop of modern wedding filmmaking, Mark and Trisha Von Lanken, and the afternoon handed over to StillMotion's Patrick Moreau and Konrad Czystowski. 3- and 4-hour sessions were hardly a stretch for these outfits, who routinely present multi-day workshop extravaganzas at their own studio. It's almost impossible to summarize everything that got packed into the day; while the Von Lankens' seminar addressed a whole range of topics under the umbrella theme of keeping your business, your work, and your life "In Focus and In Balance," StillMotion homed in on the theory and practice of Same-Day Edits. What's remarkable about these presenters is not just how much of their knowledge they're willing to hand over (and how neither seminar ever seemed like a teaser or come-on for their workshops), but that in spite of the seemingly unattainable quality of their work, they make it seem remarkably accessible. The Von Lankens in particular, in explaining their "Von Real" ethic—that is, we (the Von Lankens) are not stars, we're real, we're you—genuinely make their accomplishments seem within reach of just about anyone who attends their seminars.
After the Von Lankens slowed things down and broke their topics down into easily digestible chunks, watching StillMotion progress through the magic and minutia of their same-day edit approach and workflow was downright exhausting, and a clear indication that part of what makes this team so successful—the vision and their uncompromising commitment to it—is how unbelievably hard they work on the wedding day.
Wednesday brought another full day of poised and passionate speakers. First was Joe Simon's guide to marketing, booking, and doing Destination Weddings in an economy in which many markets can't sustain a high-end filmmaker's pricing. Industry alpha-dog Ray Roman followed with a look inside "the Book of Ray," which was either incredibly inspiring if you wanted to see how to do the sort of eye-catching, dynamic work that Ray does by adhering to the simple, practiced fundamentals of rock-solid shooting, or disappointing if you wanted to preserve the mystery of his mad-skills camerawork. Ray also had one of my favorite lines of the entire week: Faced with brides who say "It's just not in my budget," he advised attendees to reply, "You just didn't budget enough for a good video. You budgeted for a bad one."
Next up was emerging wedding video business coach Matt Davis, who sketched out his stance with a bold but basic definition of a well-constructed business: "A commercially profitable enterprise that works without you." Whereas his WEVA presentation a few months earlier had focused specifically on the sales process, in Austin Davis turned his attention to business development and management, addressing such issues as "ways to master money" and "ways to master time." On the money front, he advised attendees to "know the numbers, and crunch everything," and go into every shooting knowing "at what point in the day your expenses have been paid, and what you need to know to get past break even."
Event organizer Chris P. Jones (who served all week as a fine MC alongside fellow Team In[Focus] members Don Pham and Terry and Joe Taravella) rounded out the day and the event with his evolving "Get In[Tense]" seminar, delineating radical workflow reform intended to wipe out backlogs, increase editing efficiency, and give back chunks of life that have been lost unnecessarily to work. "How do you want to live your life?" Jones asked. "What do you want to do in your life? Is your business carrying you toward that point or away from it?" Jones concluded his seminar by proceeding through the workflow, in the Final Cut timeline, in detail.
What felt most summational and forward-looking about Jones's turn behind the podium was the set of announcements that preceded his seminar, outlining In[Focus]'s plans for the future, and its initiatives for continuing to implement its educational concepts and strategy outside the confines of its annual national/international event. At the heart of the plan is the new website, www.infocusvideoevent.net, a membership-based site offering a range of benefits and premium content, beginning with a number of the seminars from In[Focus] 2010. The purpose of the site, Jones said, "is to reinforce what was learned by attendees, but also designed for those who live overseas or who couldn't afford IN[FOCUS] 2010 or had a scheduling conflict with coming to IN[FOCUS] 2010. It also allows the studio employees who couldn't make it to benefit from the training." Here are the key vital stats of the site as Jones explained it:
• featuring more than seven hours of presentations by Ray Roman, Ron Dawson, Joe Simon, Loyd Calomay, Bill Gaff, David Perry, and Matt Davis, along with Jones's two-hour, studio-recorded training on developing a backlog-killing workflow
• open to In[Focus] attendees exclusively until February 8, at which time others can access the videos for $250 for a one-year membership. After March 1, the price will go up to $350.
• memberships will last thru March 15, 2011, or be one year in length, whichever is greater.
• $25 of every membership fee collected will go toward Haiti relief through December 31, 2010
• 5 free memberships will be given away for those that sign up by February 8th.
• other perks, including more exclusive content, to be added throughout 2010
• members will get "dibs" on registering for IN[FOCUS] 2011
• Chris Jones "killer workflow" will also be sold separately for the pre-order price of $97 from February 8-February 28, before going up to $150 beginning March 1.
All in all, this sounds like the next best thing to being there. But as anyone who's attended In[Focus] or any other major industry educational event knows, there's really no substitute, is there?