Jan 7 2007, 03:01 AM
Very recently, I put my name in the hat, so to speak, to have a chance to bid on a video shoot and production job, working for the bicentennial committee of a nearby town.
The project was to be an historical video about the town and would be broadcast on PBS and possibly some local television stations.
This would involve interviewing some of the oldest residents of the town, who could recall things, historically, that were not contemporary knowledge, in addition to shooting footage of landmarks. A large percentage would simply be interviews and people describing the history, what their ancestors who settled the town, did, in a sort of anecdotal format.
The budget for this video was $40,000. Being as I was both camera operator, lighting technical specialist and video editor, I stood to take home a substantial portion of that budget. We only needed a friendly “people person” to conduct the interviews and perhaps a director who could choreograph the overall timing and pace of the program.
Things were looking pretty good for a while. The potential client, a woman who had formed the bicentennial commission, stated that she felt my qualifications were super-adequate for this project and was impressed with my demo reel (mostly footage of a symphony orchestra and possibly some footage from some other small projects I had worked on). For a couple of months, she said that they were in the process of putting together the funding and scheduling interviews and gaining permissions to shoot in various locations. They had secured $40,000 from a sponsoring bank and things looked very good.
Then very recently, I got my demo DVD back in the mail along with a letter, which basically stated that it was a hard choice to make, but choosing to reject a candidate (me) was what they had chosen to do, in favor of hiring a videographer from California, because their panel had liked what he had done with a video production he created on teen smoking.
Needless to say, with an increasing financial crisis on my hands, and realizing that a few tens of thousands of dollars would provide needed relief from the ‘wolves at my door’, I was rather disappointed. But I began to wonder… what if my friend were correct—what if I were just a good “technician” but not a creative individual with vision and the ability to tell emotionally-moving stories with video? Perhaps the technically wonderful rendering of the Danbury Symphony Orchestra was fine, but didn’t provide the kind of whiz-bang emotional punch that potential clients want to see before they become clients.
But this has been a “chicken or the egg” problem for nearly 20 years. Since 1987, I have been trying to get video production work. When I first started the first video business I ventured into, that year, I called up many small businesses. Twenty years later, the only video I’ve shot was a bunch of volunteer shoot events, mostly cultural dance, an international fashion show at Foxwood’s Resort and Casino, and a paid shoot of a wedding. I shot the New York International Auto Show in 2002 and thought I could make money selling the DVDs on eBay. I sold exactly two. For $1.99 each. And to get those two sales, I had to do a lot of relisting. That came at a price of about $25 in eBay listing fees over several months.
What I’d really like to do is record symphony orchestras. I serve as webmaster for one such orchestra and a couple years ago, I made an earnest attempt to interest them in doing a video shoot. They were open to the idea, seeing as their 60th anniversary was coming up the following year. But there was a union involved, and all these copyright laws and that’s where things fell apart. We might be able to shoot certain parts, but perhaps not the soloists, as they had recording contracts in other parts of the world. The orchestra would have to vote on it, and then they would want a piece of the action, etc.
I countered with “why don’t we just make a historical library video, not something for sale?” It met with opposition from everyone ranging from the stage manager to the orchestra chair.
The following year, I got the bright idea to record a large church organ, so I called up the largest cathedral in Connecticut—the one that the great Berj Zamkochian had played several times in the early 1960s. Initially, this endeavor was looking promising. The then-assistant music director they had was enthusiastic about the idea and even invited me to the cathedral where he gave me a very close and personal demonstration of the Austin organ. It was a fascinating experience for me.
Throughout the summer of that year, I was slowly trying to work out the details of some sort of recording session. What type of pieces would we include in the recital that would both compliment the instrument itself and be musically significant to record and release as a commercial CD? I spoke briefly with the music director, a rather cold-mannered gentleman from Argentina, who had spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe during his musical career. He had that cold indifference of someone from Romania or Russia.
When the assistant music director resigned, I’d lost my one ally in this deal-making process, and it seems all interest was lost in doing the recording. I still want to do this, but perhaps I will have to find another church with comparable instrument and acoustics.
I have been pursuing my dream career for decades now, but it seems that my stubborn stick-to-itiveness has only managed to run me into the poorhouse. To think, I could have been making a steady minimum-wage income at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s, instead of doggedly pursuing my goals and dreams. It irks me so that it seems that for the bulk of people, the miserable work-a-day grind, under the constant looming threat of layoffs, is the only viable option for generating income.
My wife wanted me to try SMC, an online marketing system where we’d put up a web site selling goods imported from China. But then, wouldn’t we be in competition with thousands of other people who bought into the same program? I didn’t see the point in throwing $350 at a startup with that company, and much more to get the merchant account/web site up and running and hiring a programmer to build the back end server stuff for us. After digging around Google, I found some people that were doing similar types of business, importing worthless trinkets from China and selling them online. One person said he made about $45/week in sales. No, not $4,500. Just $45. Not to mention the fact that I have no interest whatsoever in running an import sales business.
So I’m left with the riddle to solve: I love building custom sound systems, recording acoustic music performances, shooting and editing video and creating 3D models and animating them. But so do 10,000 other people fifty years younger than me and with a lot more energy and ambition. What to do? It’s tough being a dinosaur in a modern age. But increasingly, I am beginning to realize that this is exactly the way things are. By the time I learn a new skill and acquire the money to obtain the tools to do the job well, ten years have passed and the entire market for the service I am just then ready to deliver with competence—is gone. Too little, too late. Not to self: Remember to put that on my tombstone.