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Shooting non-repeatable events: weddings, recitals, plays, performances...


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Old February 28th, 2007, 10:08 AM   #1
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Staying small or going big?

Thinking about my "Plan for the Future" as far as the wedding business goes, and it seems like I will need to soon make a decision on ‘What’ I want my business to be – a small scale “single” person operation, or take the plunge and try to become a bigger business.

Some background first: I’m a relative newcomer to the wedding videography industry, having done a good handful of weddings last year (my first year) and am currently doing this as a side business (working a “day job” that I don’t enjoy as a Software Engineer, but it pays well and has good benefits). I am a recent graduate (Fall 2005) of Emerson College (in Boston) with a Masters in Media Arts with concentrations in Video and Web Design (so I’m an educated newbie – but a newbie none the less).

I do all filming and editing myself, and use my girlfriend as my second camera operator (which she has adapted to very well) and she also does most of the artwork for the DVD case, etc (as she is a graphic designer by day). I am slowly teaching her how to edit, but the majority of the editing I do myself on nights and weekends.

My reviews from my clients thus far have been very positive, and my newest demo DVD has allowed me to book the majority of the inquiries that I receive. I am slowly but surely gaining a reputation as a good videographer, and have had clients post positive reviews about me on wedding boards and whatnot. My goal for this year was to have approximately two weddings a month from May through November (main wedding season here in New England) – and have basically accomplished that “booking” goal. I didn’t want to strain myself by getting too many bookings and not having time to edit, as I said am just doing this on the side (for now) and only have time to edit on nights and weekends.

My goal is to hopefully do video as my “main job” (and maybe teach or work in a college setting part time) and I am hoping that I can make that “Jump” in the next year or two.

Through my perusing of my competitors and the market, I am noticing that some of my competitors are rather large operations (one in particular has offices in many states – and they advertise everywhere, they though seem to have a horrible reputation on many wedding sites such as the Knot and Boston.com – but because they are so big and flood the market with advertisements – they seem to be able to survive their horrendous reputation).

Other competitors (though smaller) also offer Photography as well as Video as part of a “Package deal” or have a few videographers in their stable so that they can do multiple weddings on the weekends,

Now, I have thought of (eventually) expanding my business to include other videographers (or editors), partnering with (a) photographer(s) (One of which I work well with and has lots of experience), and possibly even hiring (and going into) DJing for weddings (I have a lot of experience in Audio Production as well, so I know what needs to go into doing something like DJing weddings). The marketing benefit to doing this would be that I would be a ‘one stop shop’ for Brides who want/need these services.

Though this ‘plan of expansion’ excites me, it also worries me, as now I just don’t have to find business for myself, but enough business to support my employees as well. In the back of my mind, it seems that “staying small” and being a one or two person operation also has its advantages as a) we don’t need to worry finding work for the other employees, b) we control our reputation and quality of work – as we do everything ourselves, and c) smaller = easier to manage.

It seems though that the trend is for the mom and pop videographers to face more competition and be forced out by bigger videography companies (kind of like what Blockbuster did to the local video stores back in the early 90s). Mainly due to the fact that the “bigger boys” can offer more/cheaper services, flood the market with advertising, and book more gigs (due to more people) than the smaller “mom and pop” operations can.

WEVA mentioned this in their latest issue of their magazine, noting that “going bigger” and outsourcing (another topic for another day) is the wave of the future, and that it will be harder and harder to compete for smaller operations.

So (now that you read my epic post) – what do you think? Do you think that the trend is that you’ll have to get bigger and expand in the next few years, or do you think that a person can make it in this business (full time) by staying small and doing everything themselves?

Obviously, I am looking for advice as a newbie who has a lot of ambition and wants to do video as a full time gig – so any comments would be appreciated!

Thanks
Ryan
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Old February 28th, 2007, 01:17 PM   #2
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Hi Ryan -
Coming from an entirely different industy (and doing video on the side/for fun because "gee, could you bring your cameras and shoot my <fill in the blank>")...

There are ALWAYS big fish and little fish in all sizes of ponds.

In other words, depending on where you live/work, you might have the "market" all to yourself, or you might be in a metro area where you have to compete with "the big boys". Either way, you should always do the best work YOU can do... and strive to get better!

I think videography (and photography) require a certain connection with the clients - some things people will shop over the internet for and never speak to a human being... I don't see something memorializing a one time event as one of those things. To do the job, you have to do quite a few things to make sure everything "falls into place effortlessly", or at least looks like it does on the "big day". It requires a very talented human being to pull off!

The bride (or whoever is footing the bill) is going to be looking for someone who inspires confidence, and that they trust to get the job done right. The "little guy" who has good people skills and runs a tight operation always has a shot at the gig, and probably can charge more for it! You can offer "little things" that the "big boys" may or may not offer, but are probably way too busy to even suggest...

That said - consider that you should network with other pros. If you're shooting the reception, you're not going to DJ, at least I hope not unless you are a multi-apendaged space alien... with AT LEAST two heads...

SO, what you'll need to do is connect with the other wedding vendors in your area and see who's up for "co-op/Joint venture" type stuff. Employees are a PITA, unless you like complying with government regulations and paperwork, or hire someone who does - creative types typically don't enjoy red tape <wink>... and will be receptive to working with other creatives (avoid the ego freaks).

Find out about the rules governing contractors/sub-contractors - assemble a stable of RELIABLE like minded people you work well with. Remember that if you set up their services, it helps them out, but if they aren't reliable, it will come back on you. Work out "referral deals" - that way you get a kickback or cut, without being the general contractor. Let them operate as independent contractors or independent businesses as needed. This saves you worrying about many things an employer has to worry about, and lets you concentrate on growing YOUR business by marketing the services you can offer as a package, and having referrals for things you don't.

Ultimately, I suspect that's what the "big boys" are actually doing - they do the marketing, sub out the gigs, the editing, the delivery, and basically most of the "labor"... They collect the "big bucks" off the top, doling out as little as the "creative" talent will accept... and do it all with subcontractors, and as few employees as possible.

They deal with the "bad rep" issues by booking LOTS of work, and if one of their subs "screws up", well, what do they care, they never had the aforementioned personal relationship with the client anyway... and they just drop the troublesome subcontractor and find another...


SO, to sum up, clients that want a PERSONAL touch and someone who they are comfortable with will find the "mom and pop" and typically pay more to get GOOD SERVICE. Sure some bottom feeders will hit you up to learn what they need to know, and then go fish for the cheapest quote... unless they are lucky, they will be back asking you to "fix" the problems they "bought" by choosing a cheap vendor.

You're not selling a commodity like a camera or a pizza - prices are pretty well set in those sorts of things. REMEMBER, you're selling a SERVICE, and like anything else people PAY for top notch service (I won't get into the widly varying expectations and pay range, but let's just think "$200+/hr. personal shopper in Beverly Hills" for a second...)

Hope that gives you some ideas - being in business for oneself offers a HUGE opportunity, and there is more than one way to succeed!

DB>)
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Old February 28th, 2007, 01:54 PM   #3
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I figured I'd add my .02...

I'm also a newbie. I've been working in pro video for 20 years and teaching production in college for 13. I've decided that I'm at the point in life where I want to fulfill my dream of working for myself and I'm going full-time with productions. . I hope/expect to continue teaching a couple of courses each semester. I am just launching my new production company and the biz plans is centered around weddings. (I've also done a lot of weddings over the years). Since I'm just getting started I don't have experince to offer, but I will tell you what I have in mind...

I have thought about where the busienss can lead in terms of growth. Even though I'm just getting started and it isn't an immediate concern, I'm looking forward to facing the growth issue when it arises.

I've considered that when I start getting a lot of gigs I'd train/hire an additional crew. I've decided I will not do that. As mentioned earlier here, it takes a special person to do weddings. The relationship is very important. While I know many talented people I would not trust anyone else to cover a wedding. Quite frankly, I don't feel anyone else can do what I do. (OK... I don't mean that literally, but I hope you get the point.). I've learned over the years that in doing weddings social skills and your personality are as important as production skills. Most of my clients end up saying that not only are they thrilled with the video, but they really enjoyed having me at their party. (I especially like it when they give negative reviews of other personalities they hired. Makes me feel like I'm doing my job:).

My plan is to start out with decent pricing ($1500 for complete package) and increase after I've built a base and reputaion. I'm already telling prospects that the same package will probably be $1950 in 2008. In the future, I'll go as high as I think is reasonable. I feel the price will end up reflecting the quality of my work and the combined VALUE (including the personalized service/relationship). I just bought some Sonys and I'm getting a Magiqcam (hopefully this week). I'm setting out to do some great stuff (much better than what I have on my site for demos now). I've only recently started seeing wedding videos as a unique artform. I'm looking forward the future. (Ask me in a year and we'll see if it's coming together as planned...ha ha).

I am happy to report that I just had my first client meeting (using the new company name) last night. I thought it went well. I left our meetng thinking that they were real nice folks and I wanted to work for them. This morning they called and said that before they even got around the corner after our meeting (in a resteraunt where I picked up the tab for appitizers:) they agreed that they wanted to hire me. I think the selling is all about being THE "right person" and your personality. They even opted for my "gold package ($2400). I'll have to produce a "love story" and get a projector (looking for opinions on projecting).

Bottom line answer to the original question is that I think it's better to do one thing and do it right. I hope that my $1500 pkg will eventually be worth $3000. I can live on that. I may be crazy, but that's my plan.


- (another) DB

Don Bazley
Producer/Owner/Director
Cascade Video
Ithaca, NY
www.cacsadevideo.com


"I'm just learning how to crawl"
- Daniel Langois


"When the going gets wierd, the wierd turn pro"
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Old February 28th, 2007, 02:00 PM   #4
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Btw

I realized I typod my web addy in the sig of theat last post. If anyone wants to offer comments on my site, please do. Always looking for input. I do have a much better demo ready that is more of a highlight reel. I'm going to put that on the site as soon as I get a chance. That's better than what I have up now but still not really close to what I now have in mind for weddings.

-Don Bazley
www.cascadevideo.com
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Old February 28th, 2007, 02:34 PM   #5
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Business Models

Hi Ryan,

Great post - you've certainly given this some thought. First off, I wouldn't be concerned with "the big guys" in the wedding business; much wedding work is based on reputation, referrals, word of mouth, etc - less than half of wedding jobs are based on advertising.

I recommend you begin looking at how other successful videographers are organized, both in your area and nationwide. Go through WEVA, check out the local PVA websites and look at the websites of the videographers - they will tout their staff if they're more than a mom and pop operation. Also listen to WedVidTalk and 4EverGroup audiocasts/podcasts to get a sense of how larger videographer businesses operate.

Assuming you're in this for the money, don't limit yourself to weddings - you're upside revenue/profitability opportunities are probably far greater on the business/corporate side. As you research our ecosystem, you'll see many others have migrated in a similar manner (lessor emphasis on weddings). With your background and talents, this should be a natural progression. As far as running a business with employees, consider your desire to migrate from the technical/artistic side to the business and management side (along with a myriad of other skill sets).

If you'd like to talk, PM me and we can chat more...

Warm Regards, Michael

BTW, your website seems to have a throughput problem - the ping times are fine (20ms) but the JPEGs take 5+ seconds to load so it's impossible to view the video clips.
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Old February 28th, 2007, 03:42 PM   #6
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I think regardless of the route you take, whether you want to get bigger or stay small, quality should be the first consideration. By building on a unique product it is much easier to get a referral base big enough to allow you to raise your price, higher more help to take on larger packages, as well as many other options. If you were to grow your business before the quality comes, I th-nk you can run into trouble with not having enough business to keep it going and also not getting the kind of reputation you might want- which is hard to change down the road.

We started small and do both photo and video. Our primary goal was to offer an artistic and unique product in both photo and video. As that started to develop, we got so many requests that we had to decide to get some help, or turn more people away. We have grown to a certain point, but we have also limited how much we want to add as a lot is lost as you add more people- such as that personal touch and the extra time you can spend with each couple.

In the end, there are many different routes that will allow for a good and enjoyable living. Some will involve much more time than others and some will also be more rewarding financially and emotionally. I would seriously think about which goals are the most important and try to find the right balance for you. As long as the quality is there (and even sometimes when it isn't unfortunately), you have your choice of which route to take. Not sure if that helps at all, but that is what I can say from our experience.

Patrick
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Old March 1st, 2007, 11:09 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ryan DesRoches View Post
.

... Do you think that the trend is that you’ll have to get bigger and expand in the next few years, or do you think that a person can make it in this business (full time) by staying small and doing everything themselves?

Obviously, I am looking for advice as a newbie who has a lot of ambition and wants to do video as a full time gig – so any comments would be appreciated!

Thanks
Ryan
Hi Ryan,

You have already received some good input. I will add this.

We started in 1996. My wife left her part time job in 99 and I left my full time job in 2000 to do video full time. In 2000 our average was only about $1500 per wedding, so we had to do more than just weddings. We did sports videos, school plays, school gradutations and a lot of photo montages. The two things we enjoyed the most were photo montages and weddings.

I should add this. We did not want to shoot a wedding every weekend. Our goal was to do 25-30 weddings a year, which meant we needed to produce a product that was worth more than the $1500 we were charging back in 2000.

We slowly and steadily raised our prices to the point that we did not have to do those non wedding events and could focus on weddings, which is what we enjoyed the most.

By 2003 our average was $3400 and we did about 30 weddings that year. While that is a significant increase, our product was significantly better.

Over that period of time we would occasionally double book. I would head up one team and my wife would head up the other team. We never did book enough double dates to really get two second shooters up to speed and really shooting top notch stuff. Remember, our goal was not to do 50+ weddings a year, but to do 25-30 weddings a year.

At this point in our lives, my wife and I prefer to work together and not double book wedding dates. On the few occasions where a client really wanted our company to produce their wedding video and we were already booked, we have brought in shooters from out of town. People who we trust to really shoot top notch stuff. Of course this was communicated to the client before booking.

For us, it's all about the quality of life. We really enjoy working together on the wedding day and we also enjoy only shooting about every other weekend. In order to do that, we had to get our price up. Our current average is about $4500.

I'm not saying our way is right for everyone. I know successful companies that do 100-250 weddings a year. It's just not for us, at least that is the way we feel now. Who knows what the future will hold.
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Old March 2nd, 2007, 02:29 AM   #8
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WEVA mentioned this in their latest issue of their magazine, noting that “going bigger” and outsourcing (another topic for another day) is the wave of the future, and that it will be harder and harder to compete for smaller operations.


For me....here in LA. California......WEVA's claim doesnt fly. Outsourcing becomes a serious "quality control" issue imo. Some other top shelp companies I know of have tried to outsource and it has almost always an issue with the quality, many complaints.

My business produces about 30 to 35 weddings per year at an average of 3,000.00 per wedding.....and I turn away about 15 to 25 "referral" inquiries who would have most definately booked me if I were available. Do the math.....I am turning away a lot of money.

Heres a word to you other wedding video producers......NETWORK with other companies whos work you respect and like.....good people, etc. I DO.....and I refer these other companies a lot when I am booked. I would rather see these clients who wanted to book me but due to a prior booking I couldnt take them on.....book with these other guys I like rather than telling them....sorry, Im booked but good luck to you. These other companies refer me often as well.....so it goes both ways. Also....I would prefer to see these brides book a company that does really nice work rather than book with some jokers who produce videos that look like crap.

In the end....I hate turning away thousands and thousands of dollars of work, BUT.....I have yet to find editors and camera operators who fit the bill of quality for my company, so I keep it boutique for now with exception of another camera op I use. Good help is very hard to find....it is.

I am not against growing bigger in the future which I know I can do if I want it bad enough, its tough enough to manage what I have as a one man show. The clients keep coming.....so its a matter of finding the right people for me.

The comment of "mom and pop" videography companies being forced out from the bigger companies is a bunch of jibber jabber.....

Any of the top quality companies I see.....which are far and few between are small operations and produce really inovative quality work......BUT many of the bigger companies that have 10 plus videographers working for them that I see.......well, the quality is usually less than stellar.
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Old March 5th, 2007, 09:20 AM   #9
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Thanks for the responces guys!

This is a topic that I think I will just have to keep analizing every year as things progress. As of right now, I am in the process of teaming with a photographer to offer a video/photo package while keeping our businesses seperate. I think I'm going to wait and see if that helps or hurts. If it's a success, I might try to get a DJ to work with us and see if we can market ourselves that way.

Thanks for all your advice guys!

Ryan
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Old March 7th, 2007, 09:43 PM   #10
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Mark,

I just had to reply and let you know after watching some clips on your website I really enjoyed your style.

Could I ask what you are using for your slo-mo?

Nice & smooth.

Thanks
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Old March 8th, 2007, 02:41 PM   #11
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Mark,

I just had to reply and let you know after watching some clips on your website I really enjoyed your style.

Could I ask what you are using for your slo-mo?

Nice & smooth.

Thanks
Hi Tim,

Thanks for your kind words. I use Edius is my NLE. Most of my slo-mo clips are at 50%.
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Old March 8th, 2007, 04:04 PM   #12
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Thanks for your reply.

I use Edius as well.

By the way, I know this is a sticky topic, but at your pricepoint, how do you handle copyrighted music?

Many brides feels that if they are paying enough money, they should get want they want.

One last thing, are your demo videos shot with 1/3" chip cameras or higher - SD or HD?

Once again, nice work.

Thanks
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Old March 8th, 2007, 08:17 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Tim Polster View Post
Thanks for your reply.

I use Edius as well.

By the way, I know this is a sticky topic, but at your pricepoint, how do you handle copyrighted music?

Many brides feels that if they are paying enough money, they should get want they want.

One last thing, are your demo videos shot with 1/3" chip cameras or higher - SD or HD?

Once again, nice work.

Thanks
Hi Tim,

Isn't Edius awesome.

Our Brides bring the music on a CD that they want us to use on their wedding video.

We use SD 1/3" chip cameras, Sony PD-170 and DSR-250. You can get a good look and a shallow DOF if you work at it.

I see you are in Arlington. Are you a member of the DFWPVA? There are some really great people in the PVA.
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Old March 8th, 2007, 09:19 PM   #14
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Edius has really sped up my video workflow.

I don't belong to the PVA, maybe I need to look into it.

Take care
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Old March 9th, 2007, 12:09 AM   #15
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"By 2003 our average was $3400 and we did about 30 weddings that year. While that is a significant increase, our product was significantly better.

Over that period of time we would occasionally double book. I would head up one team and my wife would head up the other team. We never did book enough double dates to really get two second shooters up to speed and really shooting top notch stuff. Remember, our goal was not to do 50+ weddings a year, but to do 25-30 weddings a year. "

People.. this is called "WORKING SMARTER, NOT HARDER"
And for legends like the VonLankens, the proof is in the pudding.

We're at the stage here were price reviews are being considered again.. weve already boosted prices 3 times in as many years, but weve had a hiatus as we suss out the market and our current advertising strategy.

However the market in which we advertise at this time (ie web based directories) doesnt warrant the kind of prices we are are targeting, so our marketing strategy must chance to comply with the clientelle we will be marketting to (print and tradeshow).
That and the fact that our studio is a home based studio which automatically puts us at a disadvantage in relation to this higher end clientelle's mentality. Here in AUs it makes a difference anyway..
Home based business' dont mean much and dont get teh appreciation that a "shop front" would recieve

Its also the equipment we use and the public perception of the product itself..

There are many factors to consider
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