In 2006 I attended my first videography event in Chicago, hosted by the Illinois Videographers Association (IVA), and I was fortunate enough to hear Mark and Trisha Von Lanken and Hal Slifer. That event not only changed a great deal about my business, it also caused me to completely rethink my attitude toward educational opportunities. When I heard last year’s IVA Midwest Expo featured a list of speakers that included StillMotion’s Patrick Moreau and Pacific Pictures’ Kevin Shahinian, I knew I had to be there. I paid the fees to get my wife and me into the event and eagerly awaited the big day. Then there was this little incident the day before the show where I was careless and landed in the emergency room with a missing fingertip. When the IVA announced the speaker lineup for Midwest Expo 2010 and I saw that Matt Davis, Ray Roman, Adam Forgione, and Keith Anderson were headlining, I knew this was an event I had to attend. In the week leading up to it, I was extra careful to avoid any mishap that could possibly sideline me for this one.
The speaker I wanted to hear was Matt Davis of North Carolina’s Life Stage Films, whose much-discussed presentation I’d missed at WEVA Expo last year. Matt was scheduled to lead off the event at 8:30 a.m., and the trek from Stoughton, Wis., to the Midwest Expo venue in Countryside, Ill., was hardly the easy drive through the countryside that you might imagine. Fortunately for us, Matt had barely gotten underway with his presentation when we arrived.
Matt gave us all kinds of tips on engaging prospective customers when they call for information. He stressed multiple times how we need to stop talking and get our clients talking because it will help get them caught up in the emotion of dreaming about their day. Of course, the customer on the other end of the phone is probably trying not to talk to make us do most of the talking because they’re the ones doing the comparison shopping. It’s a funny predicament if you think about it.
Matt described his company’s psychological system for sales over the phone and gave us all kinds of ideas to get our customers talking about their wedding: little things like asking about their wedding details, locations, number of attendees, etc. He tries to get them to imagine how grand their day will be and then try to picture it without a video. Matt stressed that asking all these questions gives you credibility because it shows that you care about doing your best with their memories. Matt’s company has a complete sales tree that each person uses when answering inquiries. It tells them how to respond based on the customer’s answers and responses. There was one particular part of his company’s sales strategy that struck me as interesting yet unusual: At multiple key moments in the phone conversation, Matt or a member of his team will actually give the customer chances to back out of hiring the company. It’s Matt’s way of getting the customer to believe in his company. It’s interesting how he can seal the deal by giving them a chance to back out and hire someone else.
Next up was Adam Forgione from Pennylane Productions of New York. He flat-out rocked the house. Our industry has a few people out there who are such experts at a given portion of the process that they are treasures for us all. Adam is one of those people. Adam started his presentation with a 5–7-minute video introducing himself. I knew he was good with audio, but I was unaware of the amazing audio projects he’s done (you may have seen them on TV or in concerts). His expertise in audio is second to none. He opened my eyes with his techniques for audio compressors and equalizers; even how to take a DJ feed with no ambient audio and make it sound like a live ambient recording mix.
For less technical attendees, it may have been a little more difficult to grasp some of the techniques Adam discussed. But if you’re an editor—even if you don’t consider audio one of your strong points—you have to grasp some of these things and learn them. He made some of those basic things we should know understandable. He delved a little into how music timing is important by showing a nonmusician how a typical song is broken down into pieces and how to fit your edit to those pieces.
Adam showed that editing to music is more than just dropping clips on a timeline and putting a music bed underneath. His presentation walked attendees through finding highpoints in the music to put your money shots on and how to fill in the holes. Being a musician myself, it all made sense to me. But for those who aren’t musicians, I’m sure Adam provided valuable insight into using music to make your clips pop.
Later in the evening, Adam came back for the last session and walked us through one of his 20-minute wedding films. We basically got to hear him think out loud regarding his thought processes for building the film: why elements fit where they did and how they built the story. For each section of the film, he would stop and walk us through the process of how each section was thought out. By the time he was done, you had a nice grasp on how to build a shortform edit if you had never done one.
Next up was Keith Anderson from Wedding Day Cinema in Chicago. He started by stressing how important it is to create a good demo. He then proceeded to deconstruct his demo, explaining how some shots were achieved and why certain things were important in the process of creating a demo. Keith’s presentation was titles, From Start-Up to Six Figures. He explained how to make that jump by describing how he’s built a multifaceted business. He mentioned that the demo was a key part of the wedding side of his company. His main company, All Occasions Video, handles the corporate stuff and basic wedding packages, while Wedding Day Cinema creates the high-end wedding films. He stressed something I have recently learned: Don’t be afraid of corporate America. Corporate work helps you diversify your work so you don’t depend completely on weddings.
One thing he did stress a few times was this: Regardless of whether the work you’re doing is wedding, corporate, or otherwise, give people what they’re willing to pay for. If they don’t pay for it, don’t do it. Establish your price and believe in that price.
The highlight of Keith’s presentation was a little video he created without the customer’s knowledge. Keith and his wife recently added a new section onto their house just for the business so they can have a nice place to meet customers. He set up two cameras, both out in the open, and turned them on record to capture the meeting with the customer. The customer could see the cameras but had no idea they were on. We got to witness a live consultation. The customer was exuberant—the perfect person for this little scenario. But what if she had been a reluctant bride or simply price shopping? It was a great opportunity for all in attendance to see how to pull off a customer meeting and seal the deal the right way. By the time she left his office, there was a $6,000 deal in place for her wedding film. I hoped Keith would do a “happy dance” after she left because he got the contract. Instead, he just came up to the camera and said, “Well, that certainly went well.”
Next up was Ray Roman of Miami’s Ray Roman Films. What can I say about Ray? If you read my A Day on the Job With Ray Roman Films article, you will know I am a big fan of Ray, his work, and the simplicity he uses to achieve amazing results. Ray’s presentation was The Art of Short Form Weddings, but his presentation was more about explaining why short-form weddings are great products and describing some of the techniques he uses to shoot them. He didn’t delve too much into the thought process of the edit, but that was no problem because Adam had covered that in depth.
Ray gave us lots of fun responses for customers mentioning the price of his films and the finished lengths of them. His films are typically 20–25 minutes. When a customer asks Ray why she is getting only a 20-minute film of a wedding that’s considerably longer, Ray has a great response: Hollywood producers shoot a film for an entire year to give you 90- minute film; “I get only 1 day and deliver 20 minutes.” Then they get it, he says. For those who doubt that a short-form can feel complete, Ray showed us a short clip that included two toasts, bride preps, groom preps, guests arriving, and the bride and groom’s first sight of each other. It was all over in 2.5 minutes, but you felt like you were there. It’s the art of storytelling, and Ray has mastered it as well as anybody.
When you hang out with Ray for any amount of time or even listen to him in a seminar, you quickly learn he has some answers to questions posed by customers that only Ray could pull off. You’ll laugh at the truthfulness of his answers, and you’ll wish you could say them to some of your own clients. Somehow, he pulls it off and educates the customer at the same time.
Ray stressed again in his presentation the importance of basic skills and techniques. Without good framing and exposures, nothing will look good. When you watch his work, you see great techniques, but they’re predominantly basic techniques we should all have mastered as professionals. He just weaves them into a story that is pretty amazing. Ray stressed in his presentation the importance of filming lots of great B-roll and capturing lots of great moments so you can pick and choose the best moments of the day to build a story. Don’t just put a shot in because you have to fill a hole in the soundtrack, he said. Either get more shots that work or shorten the soundtrack.
Ray mentioned that when an edit is complete, there will be lots of great scenes that never make the video because they didn’t contribute to the story. Those shots may end up in a bonus footage reel, but if they don’t further the story, don’t use them. Ray is always a treat to hear speak, so if you ever have the opportunity to learn from him, make sure to take advantage of it.
In between the presentations, we had a few hours to explore a small trade show from some of the expo sponsors. For a small event like this, the trade show was pretty nice. Canon was there showing off its DSLRs and the XF300 and XF305, the new prosumer cameras that will be rolled out soon. Roy Chapman from WEVA was even in town promoting WEVA’s 20th Anniversary Expo this year as well as the new and affordable errors and omissions insurance WEVA members have access to. It was fun checking a few things out at the trade show and doing some networking with other videographers at the same time.
At the end of the night, we departed for the drive back to Wisconsin. Our heads were about to explode with all the new information, and our intern was pumped for her first shoot with us the following Saturday. Her only regret was that we couldn’t get out and shoot it the very next day.
Philip Hinkle (philip at frogmanproductions.com) runs Madison, Wis.-area video production company Frogman Productions. A 2008 EventDV 25 honoree, he won a 2008 WEVA CEA Gold in the Social Event category and a 2006 4EVER Group AAA Diamond. He was a 2009 WEVA CEA judge and a featured speaker at WEVA Expo 2009. He is co-founder and vice-president of the Wisconsin Digital Media Group.