Boutique businesspeople depend on keeping up with the latest technology. They seek out the tools to deliver more than their clients expect and, thus, build and maintain their market niche. The age of cell phones creates a revolution and, in the process, probably saves a lot of lives. While events in Egypt and the Middle East must play out over time, it's easy to see how the old adage, "The pen is mightier than the sword," has been updated forever. Cell phone images and video that fly 'round the world are now worth many times more than a thousand words.
Qualified artisans are going to be called upon to provide both still and video work, because fusion equipment has changed public perception and buying habits. In general, wedding and event industry providers have traditionally been slower to change, as are all vendors in this arena. But I'll admit total surprise at a recent party planners awards presentation where not one single winning event was served by fusion imagers. What are they thinking? Without fusion capability, your potential client pool is shrinking and will continue to shrink over the next few years. No market analyst I've interviewed says otherwise.
Rank newcomers to the industry and longtime pros who have worked cross-platform in film, digital, video, and postproduction are the two groups that have all the advantages today as well as positioning for tomorrow. When you start out your career with fusion, you find switching media quite natural. If you passed through film to digital and perhaps used a wet darkroom as well as Photoshop, you learned flexibility that makes you infinitely more likely to pick up a Canon 5D Mark II and get beautiful stills and video the first time out. Longtime experience, namely knowing manual settings, white balance, metering and exposure, lighting, and so forth, will continue to make any camera fit seamlessly into your creativity like an extension of hand and eye. Curt Pair of Picture This Productions of Phoenix (not to be confused with Picture This Productions of Tulsa, Okla., now known as Von Wedding Films) says it best:
So many people get a DSLR and think they can produce great work right away. While in this economy, auto-driven casual output may be "good enough," typically results fall far short of expectations. I've heard many users say they shouldn't have to do all the work just to use their cameras. Actually, there is more to learn than ever before: learning and practicing your craft. To be a commercial success, you must be well-versed in the equipment you use. Take the time, like we have, and the energy and effort, to master your gear. Know what features and accessories to use in a given situation to make your projects stand out. Some clients come demanding 5D Mark II capture, partly because they think it will be more economical and partly because they've heard it's the only way to get shallow depth of field. Using the 5D Mark II within its own limitations can indeed be cheaper for the client, but accessories to satisfy specific needs can push the price right back up. No need to repeat the difficulties with focus, controllable bokeh, audio, stability, timecode, and so forth. Once you add the accessories to combat these concerns, you have as heavy and expensive a rig as a more appropriate video kit. You no longer have an inconspicuous small camera setup. Fixed-camera-position beauty shots by 5D Mark II evangelists might just as well be still lifes. Unfortunately for those clients and videographers not educated in technical fine points, these productions can be terrifically misleading as to what they can expect or achieve from their own job with this equipment.
Pair's experience, as well as our own, is that the attempt to use the 5D Mark II and other hybrids outside our limitations is usually self-defeating. It ends up taking not only more money but much more time to set up and shoot. Just because you can doesn't mean it's the right choice. In this way, the hype just doesn't hold up.
My much-published iconic image of WEVA instructor Adam Mancini visually demonstrating how technique and equipment come together to tell a story
But wait! You know very well you couldn't get me to give up my 5D Mark II. We've been joined at the hip since the first day I touched it. Just because I don't subscribe to the direction of the beauty-shot evangelist approach, I do state my objective to make every effort to use this equipment within its abilities and strengths and, further, to choose all types of different gear that best fits the job at hand.
Pair agrees with me that "the toughest part of fusion to date seems to be educating clients in the face of marketplace misinformation, and when few companies or individuals have realistic budgets to allocate to productions, you have to get creative to convert buyers to the format of your choice, not theirs." You must suss out the purpose of the commission before choosing the equipment and style combination that will produce the best results. Then you have to convince the clients that your way will not only wow them with impact, but it will also be the most economical.
A great example is our current commission for a half-hour film introducing finalists for the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts 2011 awards. We won the job by showing our portfolio on an iPad, by demonstrating comparatively the clarity of HD capture over SD, and by showing how graphics unrelated to subject matter don't increase meaning. Our bid was more favorable as well. The whole process surprised us in two ways: first, that the directors of this agency, which is closely allied to state funding for arts organizations, really didn't know much about HD, still-image animation, or unique styling for PR video; second, the production house previously hired for some reason did not steer this trend-setting agency toward the best use of its dollars to get the most contemporary looks. Old-tech equipment was used, and many "kitchen sink" graphics and devices were thrown in that did nothing but cloud the story. They weren't willing to over deliver. We can't wait to see what we can do to over deliver, particularly for the arts community. Happily, other state agencies and NGOs are beginning to know who we are and what we do.
Video journalism is not dead! It's just that few professionals know their equipment so well that they can grab the perfect storyteller shot. F11 and be there!
Here's the distilled recipe for solid fusion proficiency: Without totally exploding your equipment budget, choose gear to match the job in efficiency, quality, and cost.
Don't try to grab jobs when you're underequipped to meet expectations; a low bid is long forgotten if your production doesn't measure up. Be willing to update and add to your equipment and software pool and your skills in all phases of production. Sound is the one thing that will easily make or break you. Remember the recent fad for music video-style weddings with only a pirated pop song track and no live voice? These videos have left clients deeply disappointed, especially after a few years passed. You need live sound, wild sound, voiceover, music, and silence, and you'll have to buy the right mics for each application. Cheap elevator music is as bad as illegally scraping copyrighted songs. Buy from a reputable source such as Triple Scoop. Did I mention we had to refuse to finish a job where the client demanded we use tracks by Aretha Franklin, Philip Glass, and others without paying royalties? It's not radical to eliminate music entirely where background sound would dilute spoken message or distract from mood or dramatic action sequences.
Before production starts, consider a fusion combination of stills, video, artwork, voiceover, animation, graphics, music, historic content, and any other thing you can think of. However, the techniques and capture equipment available do not rule your artistic choices. The story does. Why story? Because it's the basic element of human existence, so ingrained that it's part of our biology. Going out to shoot without pinning down the story makes for lots of disjointed stop-and-start assets, but no cogent content. It's like driving at night and trying to see beyond the headlights-or without headlights at all. Sometimes you're faced with the story changing in midstream, when new elements are revealed. This is true even of weddings where you think the story is a given. We see lots of bridal video that is all about visuals and nothing whatever about story. The real event videographer/filmmaker knows that each romance will have a different flavor and emphasis. Ask any bride if she wants a cookie-cutter wedding, and she'll indignantly demand to appear unique.
How to make a story sing: The first image (starting from left) is standard, acceptable, takes advantage of place, with correct equipment and technique, but it has no heartbeat. Made a few moments later, the second image has action, emotion, and story. The third image uses contemporary postproduction enhancements to up the impact and style.
This is when the real method and subsequent commercial value of fusion becomes clear. It's not just a job, but a responsibility. Fusion means selecting, indeed limiting, the elements of a production to only those pertinent and appropriate to capturing and telling just that one story. Every element you choose must be the only one for its place and must function fully and seamlessly in every sense. "Just adequate" is not an option. Let's all develop a Zen of fusion, using no more and no less than the story demands.
Sara Frances (studio at photomirage.com) and husband/partner Karl Arndtcollaborate in their own unique brand of Fusion as "Foto-Griots" whose work has evolved past photojournalism into what they call "Storytelling from the Heart.