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November 29, 2011

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EventDV: The Long Goodbye

EventDV: The Long Goodbye

PSA produced by Whit Wales, Wales Films

When I was a kid way back in the '70s, my dad took me to a lot of movies I didn't understand, ranging from all-time classics like Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and It Happened One Night to a slew of first- and second-run indie films, including a few I've discussed in this column such as The Return of the Secaucus Seven and The Grey Fox. To me there's something a bit magical about watching a movie you don't understand, simply because of the way you experience it, soaking up the feel of the movie more than the story or its intricacies.

Even though it happens less often now, I still like watching movies where the meaning or even aspects of the characters or storylines tend to wash over me. In visual terms, it's a bit like losing yourself in the bokeh, which can be as much a part of a well-composed shot as what's in focus; it's a different but still fulfilling way to experience a film. It's a visceral approach to watching movies that's served me well in recent years as a constant consumer of short wedding films, absorbing the emotional impact of the films before I make any attempt to break them down.

Although I try to steer clear of anything controversial or disturbing, I watch quite a few films with my own 8-year-old son that probably go over his head. But the big difference from my own childhood film-going experience is that he and I aren't sitting in a dark theater where the projector rolls continuously and talking is frowned upon. We watch these films at home, where we can always pause the DVR or DVD when he has a question. So it might take us 3 hours or more to get through a movie such as The Sting, which I adored as a kid without even a hope of unraveling all the twists in the plot. Though I imagine that he too is content to let a lot of things slip by him (many of his questions don't come up until the second or third time we watch a movie), he probably ends up understanding the movies quite a bit more than I did.

By far, the movie my son and I have watched together the most times is Breaking Away, Peter Yates' classic 1979 film about blue-collar 18-year-olds in Bloomington, Ind., clashing with wealthy college students and ultimately settling their differences in Indiana University's storied bicycle race, the Little 500.

I'm not sure what drew my son to it first, besides the fact that it stars a bunch of funny teenagers (and that he quickly reached the point where he could recite most of it). I love it most for the indelible serenade scene, of course, and for the brilliant dialogue, which won an Oscar for screenwriter Steve Tesich. He based the story on his own experience at Indiana University (IU), both as a student from a much poorer background than most of his classmates and as a member of a four-man bicycle team that won the Little 500 almost entirely on the strength of one rider, just as the "cutter" (short for "stonecutter," which means "townie") team attempts to do in Breaking Away.

Breaking Away

I didn't know any of that when I watched Breaking Away as a kid, nor did I really understand much of the movie. I remember asking my dad, about 90 minutes in, what the movie was about, and him whispering back, "A bicycle team," which was a short enough answer to keep us from getting shushed, but not long enough to tell me anything meaningful about the film.

My own son has asked me dozens of questions about Breaking Away, up to and including the meaning of the title. I've told him it has several meanings. One is the exhilarating feeling of breaking away from the pack by speeding ahead in a bike race. But the one that has more to do with the rest of the movie is the struggle to break away from your old life, or more specifically, to break away from your young life and move on to new adventures, to new places, and to the new person you'll become as a grown-up. Dave Stoller, the main character, spends the entire movie attempting to break away from his past and the place he came from and to forge a new identity; first as a meek Midwestern 18-year-old who reinvents himself almost overnight as an Italian cycling phenom and later as a cutter who breaks ranks with his buddies and goes to college.

The movie is also about breaking away from other people's assumptions about you and carving out your own identity, or better yet, owning the identity you have and taking pride in it. There's an unforgettable moment in the movie when Dave's father (veteran TV and film actor Paul Dooley, in the role he was born to play) takes him for an evening stroll around the IU campus. "I cut the stone for this building," he says. "I was one fine stonecutter. Mike's dad, and Moocher's, Cyril's, all of us ... I loved it. I was young, and slim, and strong. I was damned proud of my work. And the buildings went up. When they were finished the damnedest thing happened. It was like the buildings was too good for us. Nobody told us that. It just felt uncomfortable. Even now, I'd like to be able to stroll through the campus, and look at the limestone. I just feel out of place."

When we published the first issue of EventDV in January 2005, with its "Reel 'Em In" cover, we became the first independent trade magazine to focus on an industry of video producers who are both cutters and shooters, and one that suffered from major public-perception and self-esteem issues—two problems that were virtually inseparable.

January 2005 EventDV

Not a whole lot of wedding videographers were literally cutting their films at weddings back then (SDEs wouldn't come into vogue for a couple years). But in many ways, videographers were the "cutters" of the wedding vendor world, not to mention the larger world of video producers and filmmakers.

The perception of wedding videographers as unwelcome outsiders seemed to dog us everywhere we went, whether it was being the last, cheapest, and most expendable line item in a bride's budget; relegation to second-class status at weddings when it came to jockeying for position with photographers; being stereotyped as fat, old, sweaty guys in tuxes (as David Robin lamented in his first EventDV column); and fighting gear manufacturers' perception that we used cheap, consumer production equipment and gimmicky, cheesy editing tools.

Wedding videographers had been fighting these perceptions for years before I came on the scene, and they had managed to advance their cause quite a bit by early 2005, thanks in large part to WEVA's efforts to upgrade both our public image and our self-image, to cultivate the notion of wedding and event video as an industry, and to lobby manufacturers for better and more suitable production tools. Forums such as VideoUniversity.com were starting to have a big impact too, both in encouraging videographers to form connections with one another and giving them a chance to talk shop, help each other out, and strategize on how to advance the industry without having to rely on once-a-year events to facilitate that type of interaction.

But we still had a long way to go to break with our past, in terms of the work videographers were doing, the way they were approaching it, and the way it was perceived--which is not to say that everyone was doing work that dragged down the industry's image; far from it. But there were enough videographers in virtually every part of the country who were selling cut-rate wedding videos that they dominated the landscape, leaving little opportunity for the more creative, talented, and professional producers among us to define our image for the world at large.

Significantly, that long-ago January 2005 cover story on demo reels was all about assembling your best clips on DVD and mailing them to prospects (or, at best, supplying them to planners or handing them out at bridal shows). Marketing yourself and showing off your work via the immediacy and universal accessibility of the internet was still a few years away for most videographers; even if you had a website with video on it, not a lot of brides were likely to find it there, and the notion of a bride spending her lunch hour at work surfing from site to site, checking out the finest clips from a dozen or more event filmmakers was little more than a lovely pipe dream.

Seven years later, we haven't eliminated all the problems we faced in early 2005, but we've come a long way. We call ourselves "filmmakers" instead of "videographers," and we back up the claim with the fantastic event films posted from all over the world on the web every day. And better yet, these films are getting seen. I love hearing stories about brides who book their wedding filmmaker first after falling in love with the work they see online; it seems like I hear these stories all the time now. The week I sat down to write this column an event filmmaker told me that he was about to head off to Europe to film a destination wedding for a bride who had actually changed her wedding date to make sure the wedding took place on a weekend when he'd be available to shoot it. And while this rock-star nirvana isn't a destination that every event filmmaker has reached (among other things, this dreadful economy has seen to that), more and more of us are getting there. And increasingly, it's this sort of respect and acclaim that are beginning to define us, which is perhaps our biggest break with the past to date.

When was the turning point? The arrival of Canon's 5D Mark II in late 2008 was obviously a watershed moment in the transition from videographer to filmmaker, not just in terms of the gorgeous, shot-driven films it enabled us to create but also in the way clients and other event pros would regard us and how we'd see ourselves in the years to come. The birth of Re:Frame was another sort of symbolic signpost of changes ahead, as was our first film school superstar Kevin Shahinian's appearance on the cover of EventDV in January 2009, crouching in a field with a movie slate.

EventDV January 2009 Kevin Shahinian

All of these moments signified an industry moving in new directions, in large measure because its new generation of talent was coming from different places. I distinctly recall a morning at the last 4EVER Group conference, when I went for a run with Whit Wales of Wales Films. He posed two rather disarming questions: When was I going to move on from EventDV, and what was I going to do next? That night I was set to present a radically transformed EventDV 25 list filled with new blood mostly drawn from the WedFACT ranks. Whit hadn't seen that list, but I had, and it was hard not to see event filmmaking's future in that new crop of all-stars.

A few months earlier I'd felt restless and stagnated in the world I was connected to through EventDV, so Whit's question was certainly a reasonable one. But when I thought about that new EventDV 25 list and what it foretold, I couldn't help but recall a line from Bob Dylan's "Mississippi":

Things should start to get interesting right about now.

I believe we've seen another example of our industry's remarkable evolution in this issue's cover story on promo films, which serve much the same purpose as the demo reels we highlighted in our first issue, but with a strikingly different approach: Rather than showcasing an event filmmaker's work, these films showcase the filmmakers themselves. If anyone was doing this 7 years ago, I must have missed it; if there's one thing we can point to as an example of how far we've come in this time, it's the simple notion that we, ourselves, and our company's signature vibe are our own best sales tool. When did we become so cool?

December 2011 EventDV

These two covers make nice bookends, no doubt, but there was never really one single moment when event filmmaking arrived. It's been a journey, one that remains unfinished today in spite of how far we've come in our industry's short and complex history. It's a journey that started before EventDV jumped on board in January 2005, and it's one that will continue after EventDV ceases publication following this issue.

I'd love to say that we're closing up shop because event filmmaking has reached the mountaintop and no longer needs EventDV to guide the way, but that would be both immodest and inaccurate. I hope this magazine has contributed something significant to the growth and elevation of this industry, but lots of individuals and organizations share the credit for that. It would be inaccurate to suggest that we're going away because the story we were telling is told. Like so many other print magazines these days, we're folding for financial reasons. There's no sense in denying that. As the editor and not the publisher, this was neither my decision nor my preference. But it's a conclusion I respect and accept.

There's a moment in that wonderful scene in Breaking Away when Dave Stoller and his father are strolling through the IU campus in which Dave tells his dad that he doesn't care what the college kids think of him and his friends: "To hell with them. I'm proud of being a cutter." His former-stonecutter father replies, "You're not a cutter. I'm a cutter."

There was a time when I tended to dissemble a bit when people outside the industry asked me what my magazine was about and who its readers were, if only because of the skeptical-to-pitying looks I got when I told them I edited a magazine for wedding videographers. But I made the decision long ago to identify this magazine as such and to identify with the readers who have identified with EventDV.

And though I've never shot a wedding video and probably never will, I'm proud of being an event filmmaker in the same way Dave Stoller was proud of being a cutter. I'm proud to have devoted the best 7 years of my working life to this magazine and to the event filmmakers it has served.

At this moment of breaking away and letting go, I want to say it's been a privilege to work with many sharp and insightful in-house editors, three amazing designers, and all the terrific writers whose work has graced these pages for the last 7 years. I thank you all for your contributions to the magazine and to my understanding of this ever-changing industry. It's been wonderful getting to know so many great people and talented and dedicated filmmakers at the WEVA, 4EVER Group, Re:Frame, and IN[FOCUS] events I've attended over the last several years. I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. I look forward to keeping in touch with you on Facebook and following your future triumphs from afar, and to any and all chances we may have to see each other or work together in the future.

As Bob Dylan sang in "Mississippi":

My heart is not weary, it's light and it's free
I've got nothing but affection for all those who've sailed with me.

Stephen Nathans-Kelly (stephen.nathans at infotoday.com) was editor-in-chief of EventDV.

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