Looking back over nineteen years in the business known to the world as Event Videography, it amazes me how much has changed. It's not just the technology, the clientele, client expectations, the competition, or my vantage point. More than that, it's the dynamics of the business, and the way those of us in it are perceived.
Here's a trip down memory lane….
I started videotaping weddings in 1985. I was 25 years old, and recognized that memory preservation could be a very lucrative business. I borrowed $10,000 from my parents and took in a partner who owned a JVC editing system. This system consisted of two industrial-strength VHS decks (8600s) and an editing controller. Soon after that we realized we needed a box that could do simple fades and wipes, so we purchased Vidicraft SEG. A year later we upgraded to a new Panasonic unit (MX10). With the MX10 we could freeze a frame and dissolve to the next scene. Boy, were we proud of our state-of-the-art editing bay. But even knowing what we had back in the studio, I was extremely nervous when I shot my first wedding with a two-piece set-up.
Shortly thereafter, I picked up a Panasonic S1 (one-tube saticon) camera. When the lens met a light source, you would get a hideously long light trail.
The camera connected to a VHS portable deck that I threw over my shoulder. This equipment was ridiculously heavy. On top of that I wore a cumbersome battery belt around my waist that supplied power to my on-camera light. I recall that after one particular wedding shoot, my wife had to work the stick shift for me in the car because I could not move my arm.
I also used to bring along two 600-watt lights on stands, which I would position on either side of the dance floor. The camera needed all that light, especially during receptions where the ambient light was dim. The guests, however, sure could have done without them. So many wedding videographers today promote their approach as "unobtrusive." In 1985, unobtrusive videography was inconceivable.
I think that's where the client's unfavorable perception of wedding videographers began. We clearly sat at the bottom of the barrel, always the first luxury to be cut as the bride reined in her budget. Ever since those days we, as an industry, have had to challenge and change the public's image of what we do.
If I had to characterize the stereotypical event videographer in the 1980s, he would be tux-clad, middle-aged, and overweight, with absolutely no formal education and training in video production. Obviously this is a sweeping generalization, but it was clearly our image, accurate or not, in those days. A photographer friend of mine once called and told me that he had offered a videographer referral to his client. She replied, "Why would I want a bald, fat, sweaty man in my face on my wedding day?" (When I heard that, I went on a diet…no, not really.)
What I did, though, was reinvent my approach to wedding video. Inspired by event videographers from around the world that I had met at a WEVA (Wedding & Event Videographers Association) conference, I decided to change everything—the way I shot, edited, and sold to clients, from brochures to business cards and more.
Financially, it was quite a struggle for the first few years, and my wife had to support me. Equipment was extremely expensive, the technology changed at a rapid pace, and you had to keep up if you wanted to stay competitive. But no matter how much you invested in technology, you could only charge the client what the market would bear. Unfortunately, that wasn't very much.
In 1993, I discovered S-VHS and the NewTek VideoToaster, which brought my creativity and quality up a notch. I also began to use my first three-chip camera, the Panasonic 200CLE, and an AG7400 SVHS portable deck. Though still pretty heavy, the new equipment—from format to camera to editor—enabled me to take some chances and try some new things. I made a conscious effort to shoot more creatively and market my company toward higher-end clients.
Next came the Panasonic Supercam, a one-piece S-VHS camcorder. This was a sweet piece of equipment at the time, and it enabled me to shoot with a lot more flexibility.
What was the event industry like in ‘94? I was definitely getting more respect from other vendors, and the venues actually began to feed me during the reception. Photographers were a lot less threatened by video, which made it easier to work together. We all had to wear tuxedos, which I loathed, so I dreamed of the day when the client would hire me as an artist and not confuse me with a waiter.
Thankfully, this dream has become reality. As I assembled my new digital arsenal, including Sony DSR-300 and PD-150 cameras and a Media 100 editing suite, things really began to change. Bringing on board a digital artist, proficient in Photoshop and After Effects, gave me an edge over the competition.
I began winning awards, teaching seminars all over the country, experimenting with 16mm and 8mm film and 24p. I also started marketing toward high-dollar party planners, which in turn yielded celebrity clients. I felt I had finally left my mark on the industry, and seen the event videography field achieve long-overdue respect. But that's no reason to rest on our laurels. For me—and all of us in the event video field—it is just the beginning.