Love at First Sight
Long before Ryan picked up a video camera, he spent a lot of time behind a still camera. "Throughout high school I was a photographer. I even went to college for photography," he says, "but when I graduated college and tried to figure out what to do with my photography career, I found that selling cameras was more profitable than using them. I left photography as a hobby except for the camera sales." Then, in 1986, Ryan was in the midst of planning his first wedding when he was introduced to the idea of event videography. "I hadn't really even thought about video—I didn't even know that it existed—but when I finally selected a photographer and he suggested video, I got instantly excited," he says.
What really hooked him was watching the videographer work, and seeing that his job didn't involve the drudgery Ryan had experienced as a photographer. "He didn't have to organize family portraits," he recalls, "and all those hideous things that I hated about photographing weddings." His enthusiasm for videography drove him to open his own studio as soon as he could. "Not even three months later, I had gone to the bank, secured a loan, and bought my equipment," he says. "I started Treasured Memories Video in 1987."
He says he came up with the name by using a popular brand name as a jumping off point. "Back in 1986, one of the most popular things were these Precious Moments figures. My future ex-wife enjoyed those, and my mother thought that it was very relevant," he says. "So, sitting down at the kitchen table with my mother and a thesaurus, we literally went through every possible alternative to ‘Precious Moments.' When we laid out ‘Treasured Memories' I just thought that this is what it should be."
In his first two years in the industry, Ryan became very involved with the Long Island Videographers' Association, eventually becoming its president. Ryan's experience in retail sales led him into the position of general manager at Armatos Pro Video, a videography equipment retailer. "I pitched to the owner that I could run this better for him, and in 1990 I started working for Armatos," he says. "Part of my job was to make sure that they're known across the country to videographers. My name became known because I was there."
Ryan's visibility in the industry continued to grow through his involvement with WEVA and the 4EVER Group. [See "4EVER Group Fires Up Videographer Education Program, Awards" (http://www.eventdv.net/Articles/ReadArticle.aspx?ArticleID=9417) for a quick chronicle of Ryan's ascent through the association ranks and his many contributions to the industry as a conference and seminar planner].
Despite his current reputation for high-end, artistic work, Ryan says his early years in the business did not stand out based on the quality of work. "I was admittedly pretty much like every other videographer in 1987," he says. "No matter what I did I just wasn't clever enough to do anything different. Then, in 1990, an interesting thing happened that set my business in a different direction."
That year, Ryan held a family viewing of some old 16mm footage that his grandfather had saved. "I found that my parents' wedding party was in there. My mother's bridal shower was in there," he says. The clips continued on, progressing through time. "I saw my christening and my first birthday. The family was watching in absolute amazement and joy."
That viewing occurred on a Sunday. The following Wednesday, Ryan's mother passed away unexpectedly. "Shortly thereafter, I came to the realization that that film that the we so enjoyed only four days earlier was exactly what I do for a living," says Ryan. "I create these heirlooms that will someday become so appreciated that you can't attach a price to them." This revelation caused Ryan to reassess what the service he was providing as an event videographer. "Videographers don't even realize what they're doing for a living. No one's thinking about this heirloom that we're creating for the family," he says. "[The video] is something that becomes more and more valuable as time goes on. What we're really selling is the future.
"At that time, this was an epiphany," he continues, "but all it did was change the way I sold wedding video. I don't think that I had the wherewithal to change my productions at that time." Over the years, though, Ryan pushed himself to test his creative limits, becoming increasingly meticulous with his editing in an effort to reach this heirloom ideal. "At some point along the way, I stopped editing my work and gave it to a professional editor," he says. "In some ways, it is a great thing because it frees up your time, but it also created a problem because the editors I found didn't necessarily share my level of enthusiasm or standards. They're more worried about how they can get this out the door quickly. It took a number of years before I found an editor who shared my vision and enthusiasm."
He did finally find the perfect editing partner in Dave Steward, who—while an independent contractor—is Treasured Memories' exclusive editor. After Steward equaled and exceeded Ryan's expectations on his first assignments, he says, "I sat down and had a heart-to-heart with him. I told him that we could build a strong, long-term relationship," Ryan continues. "That was another changing point because now I could count on the editing."
This boost in confidence resulted in Treasured Memories' changing its quality-control mindset and doubling its fees. "If you want the good shooters, you've got to pay them. If you want this great editor, you've got to pay him," he says. "If you want a less expensive video, there's less expensive video everywhere; there are many in my neighborhood who will charge half as much as I do, but it's less than half the quality. I made the decision that I wanted to do high-end, artistic videos"--and charge what they're worth.
The final epiphany that Ryan experienced in his work happened a bit later, when he figured out that he couldn't sell video to every couple that approached him to do their wedding. "That was another big moment when I realized that I wasn't going to be the videographer for every single couple. I kept thinking that I should be," he says. Around this time, Ryan also came to accept the fact that "you're not going to turn a $2,000 bride into a $5,000 bride," he says. "You can't be the videographer for every bride, so pick the brides that you want to go for, recognize that there's a difference between them, and then deliver what they want."
Treasured Memories in 2005
Today, Treasured Memories Video employs a small group of people. "I produce the videos, and I make all of the sales and marketing decisions," says Ryan. "My wife does all of the administration, all of the followup calls with the brides and crew, and all the paperwork and scheduling." Ryan and his wife, LeeAnn are the only full-time employees of Treasured Memories. "We have three shooters, all of whom are freelance. They're the only three guys that we use, so when they get a call from Treasured Memories, they know exactly what's entailed and what we're looking for," says Ryan. Editor Dave Steward rounds out Ryan's regulars.
Treasured Memories' wedding packages start at $1,899, although Ryan says he rarely sells a job that cheap and more often works on projects that range from $3-4,000. "I say we start at $1,899, but we never sell it. It's just a marketing technique," he says. He believes many videographers are afraid of using this hook to lure customers in as they're afraid of underselling themselves, but Ryan sees this as a bit of a misnomer. "The only reason a bride who calls asks how much videos are is because it's the only single thing that every videographer has that's the same. So they always ask the same questions because they don't know what specific questions to ask," he says. Once potential clients make it in the door for a viewing of Ryan's past work, "they want what they saw. Of course, that's going to be $3-4,000," he says.
"I've got a whole strange philosophy on selling wedding videos. I believe that when it comes to a sales pitch, it's not like selling a car or another concrete product. The most important thing that you're selling is trust. A wedding's the most important day of your clients' lives. They have to trust you to be able to capture it, record it, and preserve their memories," he says. "For the bulk of the time that they sit down with me, I'm building rapport, asking questions. The more they get to talk about themselves and the more comfortable they become with me, the more they trust me. By the time I'm ready to show them video, I've already built a bond with these people. Then when I'm showing my video, all I'm doing is confirming their feelings about me and my ability to get the job done."