Filmmaking Track Stars: Tips From the Industry Savants of WPPI

by Lindsay Comstock

February 24, 2014

In response to the visual storytellers who are now incorporating video into their businesses, WPPI 2014 includes a filmmaking seminar track. Eight industry savants will teach classes on filmmaking fundamentals, designed for novice to pro-shooters: from audio technique to conceptualizing a shoot to ideas for standing out in this niche industry. Here, we share this stellar group’s tips for getting a foothold in the craft, as well as information on their not-to-be-missed presentations.

Adam Forgione
Owner of wedding film studio Pennylane Productions, Adam Forgione was voted “one of the top event filmmakers in the world” by EventDV Magazine multiple years and is the recipient of more than 30 state and international filmmaking awards. In 2011, Canon hired him to direct a promotional film for CES in Las Vegas featuring DSLRs in weddings. He has spoken at numerous CES and NAB shows for Canon USA; WEVA (Wedding & Event Videographers Association), Masters In Motion and InFocus events; and his Pennylane Workshops tours.


© Adam Forgione

What are your tips for those trying to grow their filmmaking business or incorporate video into their repertoire?
You need patience. You may have to do the first few [films] very cheaply (or sometimes free), but you need to look at this as an investment. Once you create something for your portfolio to show, start building with fair prices because you need to prove yourself even though you may feel you’re better than average. Once you see the demand, you can start to adjust your prices. Don’t be surprised if this takes years at minimum. Learn the fundamentals: framing, focus, exposure, stabilization, length of shots, understanding of sequences and understanding of storytelling.

What is one thing you’ve learned over the years in the filmmaking business that has stuck with you?
Consistency will always keep you successful. Ray Kroc used this concept to create the biggest burger franchise in the world, McDonald’s.


© Adam Forgione

Course: “Mastering Audio for Wedding Films,” Tuesday, March 4, 8:30 a.m.-10:00 a.m. 
Overview: All aspects of capturing audio are covered in this class, including ceremony, reception, preps, EQ, compression, field recorders, mics and more.

David Robin
David Robin, who founded the American Videographers Association in 1989, educates and trains filmmakers and videographers all over the United States. Robin started Boulevard Video Productions in 1986 and David Robin Films in 2007, and has won 32 Creative Excellence awards from WEVA, including the Bob LeBar Vision Award and the Distinguished Service Award. In 2001 he was inducted into The WEVA Hall Of Fame. EventDV Magazine named Robin as one of the top 25 most influential and talented event filmmakers in the country for five consecutive years (2005-2009). 

A wedding day music video parody Robin created (“Dirty Bit”) went viral, and was featured on the Today Show. Entertainment Tonight proclaimed his wedding film of producer David Foster and model/interior designer Yolanda Hadid as “the new Gold Standard.” Recently, Robin has expanded into corporate video production, and just won a 2013 Telly Award for the promotional film “WPPI 2013: Change Your Life.”


© David Robin

What are your tips for those trying to grow their filmmaking business?
The way to grow your video business is to have all your ducks in a row: Quality work, excellent service, sexy branding and most importantly building the right relationships with vendors that reflect your quality and/or the quality you aspire to. No easy path, just hard work, experience and diligence. For photographers wanting to incorporate video—don’t try to do it all yourself. Find a qualified filmmaker to link up with. It’s a huge amount of work and requires a lot of skills.

What is one thing you’ve learned in the filmmaking business that has stuck with you?
Never sit back and rest on your laurels or accomplishments. You constantly have to push forward and work to improve your skills as an artist and business owner.


© David Robin

Course: “How to Stand Out in the Crowd,” Tuesday, March 4, 4:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Overview: This class teaches how to distinguish oneself in such a competitive industry, through marketing technique, innovative thinking and creative approaches to filmmaking.

Ray Roman
Ray Roman, who specializes in high-profile weddings and special events, counts among his wedding clients Facebook founding president Sean Parker, NBA All-Stars Chris Bosh and RIP Hamilton, and NFL All-Pros Brian Dawkins, Devin Hester and Chris Hope. Roman’s work has been featured on Oprah, Good Morning America, ABC News 20/20, FOX Sports and the NFL Network. 

He began filming weddings in 2006 and quickly emerged as a highly regarded cinematographer. He has spoken at every major wedding videography conference around the world since 2009 and when he’s not sharing knowledge at a conference or seminar, he’s hosting his own private ‘hands-on’ workshops in various cities. Roman is passionate about his craft and believes in the “fundamentals first” approach. His goal is to not just help cinematographers take their work to the next level, but to also share tried and proven strategies that will help attendees make more money.


© Ray Roman

What are your tips for those trying to grow their filmmaking business or incorporate video into their repertoire?
Have a plan to grow your business. Figure out who you are and what you want to be known for producing.

What is one thing you’ve learned over the years in this industry that has stuck with you?
Learning the fundamentals is critical. Mastering the fundamentals is the key to setting yourself apart from the competition.


© Ray Roman

Course: “Wedding Cinema Crash Course,” Monday, March 3, 8:30 a.m.-10:00 a.m.
Overview: This class aims to teach all of the basic fundamentals of wedding videography, from prepping the bride and groom to lighting and audio technique.

Sarah Pendergraft
Sarah Pendergraft says she fell into wedding filmmaking after meeting her husband Rick while working in local TV news—she was a reporter and he a sportscaster. “When planning our wedding, like many, we assumed wedding videos are all boring and crazy cheesy, but two co-workers of mine convinced us to hire a colleague who shot weddings on the side,” Pendergraft explains. “After seeing our highlight, I turned to Rick and said, ‘We could do this, and we would LOVE doing this.’ A few months later, we shot our first wedding.” The pair launched PenWeddings in 2009, and since then have received awards for sound design, demo production, love story and bridal artistry.


© Sarah Pendergraft

What’s your advice for those trying to grow their filmmaking business?
Stay true to your own personal style. Don’t try to be a hipster if that’s not genuinely who you are. If you want to build your business on intimate events, don’t strive to work “platinum weddings” just because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do. Craft your work based on what speaks to you, and you will likely attract clients with similar personalities, and your business will be better because of it. Don’t take on more than you can handle. As our business has grown, I’ve really had to learn how to say no to projects or events that we technically were “available” for, but we knew it would mean stretching ourselves too thin. It’s very hard in the moment, but looking back, I don’t regret any of those decisions...and I do regret some times that I said yes and shouldn’t have.

What is one thing you’ve learned over the years that has stuck with you?
There is no “one right way” to make a wedding film. Early on, I thought all wedding videos were supposed to look a certain way and utilize certain specific techniques. When I got involved in online event videography forums my eyes were opened to the fact that there are many different styles of wedding videos out there and you don’t have to do things one way and one way only. That’s when our business really started to take off.


© Sarah Pendergraft

Course: “More Than Moving Pictures,” Wednesday, March 5, 3:00 p.m.-4:30 p.m.
Overview: This class is dedicated to “ear candy”—mastering audio for film.

Kevin Shahinian
Kevin Shahinian is an award-winning filmmaker, graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts and founder of Pacific Pictures, a boutique film production company based in Los Angeles that produces live event, corporate and original concept films for clients around the world. His groundbreaking work has been featured in print by EventDV, HD Video Pro, Videography and American Photo magazines among others, and has led to corporate partnerships with companies like Canon, Adobe, Zacuto, Kessler and Cinevate. Shahinian was featured on Zacuto’s “Filmfellas” original web series and has been voted one of EventDV’s “Top 25” most influential event filmmakers in the world numerous times. He has been a featured speaker at educational events around the country and continues to attract international attention for his work.


© Kevin Shahinian

What are your tips for those trying to incorporate video into their repertoire?
Start by keeping it simple. Before anything else, work to understand the language of film and use that understanding to master the building blocks of cinematic storytelling—the basic filmmaking conventions that have stood the test of time. Watch your favorite movies with the sound turned off and experiment with storyboards to develop an eye for shot composition, “mise-en-scene” (visual themes) and sequencing. Once you’ve firmly grasped these essentials, slowly add progressive layers as you craft your own films; experiment with more complex shot compositions, lighting setups, camera movements and sound design, to understand how each layer works to convey information and add deeper meaning to your stories.

What’s one thing you’ve learned in the filmmaking business that has stuck with you?
The surest way to separate yourself from your competition and build a powerful, long-lasting niche is to honor every opportunity you’re given to share your point of view as an artist. Find inspiration from within by channeling your expertise, life experience and aesthetic sensibilities to establish a voice and develop a signature filmmaking style.


© Kevin Shahinian

Course: “Concept Filmmaking,” Monday, March 3, 4:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Overview: This class is designed to give students inspiration and exploration into the genre of conceptual wedding day storytelling.

Joseph Switzer
Switzerfilm started with a $150 wedding video on a VHS tape and in just a few years transformed itself into a Wedding Photo + Video dream team that works with the wedding divisions of Martha Stewart and Disney. The Switzer team made the transition from just video and later added photography. They believe the wedding world of photo + video is still in the first inning and anyone participating in this business can take part in this phenomenal growth story. Most of the company’s films are edited and presented the very same day the wedding took place. Everyone on the Switzer team has the desire and passion to show customers something they’ve never seen before.


© Joseph Switzer

What are your tips for those who want to grow their filmmaking business?
Just go out and do it. Taking action with that first step is the hardest. Start by making videos of things you are passionate about. Offer both photo and cinema and produce “Same Day Edits.” This will give you immediate explosive revenue growth.

What is one thing you’ve learned over the years in the filmmaking business that has stuck with you?
Relationships trump everything.


© Joseph Switzer

Course: “WPPI Filmmaking,” Sunday, March 2, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Overview: Students of this class will be part of the crew who writes, shoots and edits the official WPPI 2014 film.

Course: “The Same Day Edit,” Tuesday, March 4, 6:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
Overview: Students will film, edit and present a video from a live wedding.

Jose Ortiz
Jose Ortiz is an international wedding filmmaker who tells the stories of real people using his unique style. For the past six years, Ortiz has contributed to the wedding cinema industry endeavoring to raise the standards for wedding videography. He is a winner of international video awards and is currently traveling the world filming weddings and educating other wedding filmmakers. Ortiz is full of passion for what he does and he likes to transmit his passion and knowledge to others in the field.


Courtesy of Jose Ortiz Films

What are your tips for those trying to grow their filmmaking business or incorporate video into their repertoire?
Make your clients equally important, giving them full attention (even to those who you think wouldn’t even book you). Never underestimate any project you work on; small jobs could end up with big opportunities.

What is one thing you’ve learned over the years in the filmmaking business that has stuck with you?
Nothing has been written in stone in this industry, so each of us is responsible to always be looking for the next “new idea” to keep feeding our passion for what we love to do.


Courtesy of Jose Ortiz Films

Course: “New Alternatives to Wedding Filmmaking,” Thursday, March 6, 9:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.
Overview: This platform class introduces alternatives to traditional wedding filmmaking, covering tricks for managing workflow and solving unexpected problems during a wedding day shoot.

Dave Williams
Dave Williams’ love for filmmaking began with a Super8 camera as a teen in the 1970s, advancing to the role of “family documentarian” when video cameras became available in the early 1980s. Through his various careers—computer programmer, paintball field owner, copier salesman and pharmaceutical salesman—Williams often incorporated video storytelling. His first professional wedding job was in 2001 when a pharmaceutical colleague asked him to shoot her wedding for $800. He spent the next two weeks and $7,500 getting everything he needed to shoot that first wedding. He was hooked. Thirteen years later, with the help of his wife and business partner, Sheryl, CinemaCake Filmmakers now employs over a dozen creative people and turns out wedding films, Bar and Bat Mitzvah films, as well as commercial and corporate films. 

Williams has trained hundreds of filmmakers, covering topics including: Steadicam and Glidecam techniques, sales and marketing to the wedding industry and managing multiple teams. CinemaCake’s awards include the WEVA Hall of Fame, the Bob LeBar Vision Award, Three EventDV Magazine Top 25 Awards and several GPVA Film Festival and Creative Excellence Awards. Williams’ greatest impact to the industry has been through three unique editing contests that have helped many filmmakers gain employment with CinemaCake and start their own companies.


© Dave Williams

What are your tips for those trying to grow their filmmaking business?
Communicate with your clients: Answer the phone after the first ring and answer emails within 24 hours; tell them if you are going to miss a deadline before they have to ask you why it’s late.

What is one thing you’ve learned over the years in the filmmaking business?
Above all, take care of your clients with great customer service. Do that and your clients will come back, they’ll tell others about their experience and they will become your best sales tool.


© Dave Williams

Course: “Filmmaker’s Finishing School,” Wednesday, March 5, 8:30 a.m.-10:00 a.m.
Overview: This class covers the tenants of taking your filmmaking business to the next level: Professionalism, building client relationships and becoming a leader in your market.

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