Our Top 5 Takeaways from Vision Quest 2019


It’s hard to put into words the true essence of the experience that was Vision Quest. Right from the start, there seemed to be a collective consciousness that radiated throughout everyone present. The unspoken agreement was that we were all there with open minds, ready to help our industry thrive and grow. From our gracious hosts, Alex and Whitney Douglas of Sculpting with Time, to the incredible speaker lineup, to the diverse range of industry sponsors, to the attendees; we all agreed without speaking a word.

If the hashtag #fomoisrealyall hit you square in the gut, or if you were fortunate enough to attend and want a flashback of this special event, read on for our Top 5 Takeaways.

 Photo by the amazing  Cass O’Neil

Photo by the amazing Cass O’Neil

1. Work, brand, relationships

It was evident right away that every filmmaker in attendance had a common interest in taking their business and career to the next level. Who better to speak on the heights of success that a skilled and motivated entrepreneur can reach than the legendary Ray Roman?

If you’ve never heard Ray speak, let me tell you, it’s immediately evident he knows his stuff. Hearing him distill the entirety of his method for success into three words left no room for doubt. The three words?

  • Work.
  • Brand.
  • Relationships.

Creative entrepreneurs need to evaluate these three things when it comes to pursuing growth and higher success in their field. All three are irreplaceable components when analyzing and structuring your business.

First, your work needs to be on par with the clientele you’re seeking to attract. Is what you’re creating up to their standards? It’s one of the most difficult questions that artists can ask themselves since the quality of art is subjective. But it’s still a business, not art for art’s sake, so there needs to be interest in what you’re selling from your ideal customer.

Secondly, your brand must present and represent both the quality of work you do and the quality of work you want. We all would love to think that our work will speak for itself, but unfortunately that isn’t true. The adage of “judging a book by its cover” exists for a reason; we all draw conclusions based on first impressions. If your website, social media, business cards, or any other branding doesn’t represent the quality of work you’re creating—or the quality that you want to create—you’ll never get past that initial impression.

Lastly, you need to position your relationships to complement the type of work you want to attract. Interested in filming more outdoor weddings? Want your brides dressed in Vera Wang and Louboutin? Or do you want to film more multi-day Indian weddings? Ray’s Pro Tip: form relationships with planners and other industry vendors currently serving those specific markets.

The key is to keep tabs on all three of these metrics concurrently since they’re all interrelated. Quality relationships depend on a quality brand presentation, which depends on high quality of work, which depends on relationships. It’s an upward cycle.

 Photo by the amazing  Cass O’Neil

Photo by the amazing Cass O’Neil

2. Know Your Margins

If you’re like most filmmakers, you probably didn’t start your wedding brand with the business specifics in mind. Most of us—myself included—started our entrepreneurial journey with a passion for our craft and a dreamy delusion that the rest would fall into place. I had a hard wake-up call a few years back when I read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. If you’ve talked to me about business at any length, I’ve definitely brought it up.

The hard truth is: you must function as a business not as an artist if you want to thrive beyond the project-to-project grind. And we all know that a key component to a thriving business is profit. Enter Aaron Tharpe of 31 Films and Film Lab.

While it’s not the most fun topic to discuss, finances are an essential component to business success. The sooner filmmakers pop open the hood on their expenses and income, the sooner they can return their attention to their craft, confident that the system works. Aaron pulled the curtain back on his pricing model and laid out the factors to consider when formulating prices.

This becomes even more important once you start to incorporate a team or an office space. If you’re looking to grow your business, know your numbers and be logical with your decisions. It’s clear that Aaron’s firm grasp on what creatives may hastily label “the boring stuff” is a contributor to the long term success of both 31 Films and Film Lab.

 Photo by the amazing  Cass O’Neil

Photo by the amazing Cass O’Neil

3. The Importance of Sound Design

When you talk to anyone about what they admire in Sculpting with Time’s work, one of the first things mentioned is their sound design. As the sessions progressed, building robust and immersive sound beds became a recurring theme. Henry Martens even popped open an FCPX session and demonstrated the impact that adding even subtle sound elements has on a film. And by contrast, how empty and underwhelming it can be without them.

It’s funny that audio elements receive less attention considering that sound is 50% of the film experience. Fortunately for the Vision Quest attendees, multiple sessions covered the topic of audio from different perspectives:

  • Alex Douglas himself kicked off the conference by dissecting a portion of one of his recent films. What was incredible was how seamlessly Alex incorporated and combined the audio elements into his film. If he hadn’t called attention to the various auditory textures and sounds, they would have gone unnoticed—but not in a bad way! Editing is called “the art of being unseen” and “unheard” would be a fair addition to that definition. Alex’s layers of sound fit his imagery and pacing so well that the audience doesn’t leave their “suspension of disbelief” as they analyze and critique his work.
  • In our presentation, we covered the methods you can use to incorporate audio to keep your film feeling fresh. A popular topic was J-cuts, L-cuts, and hard cuts; and how leaning on them at key moments can sell the emotional mission of your film. We also talked about the importance of variety in your sound bed. Use all types: narrative, natural audio, sound effects, music, and most important of all…silence.
  • It was fitting that VQ called on “Austin Film Society’s resident audiophile” Kevin Chin to deliver the penultimate session. Kevin took the captive audience on a crash course through the essential audio post processing tools of Izotope RX 7. With the vast suite of audio tools available in both production and post, it’s getting more difficult to justify poor audio in a film. And with how quickly bad audio can disrupt the audience’s viewing experience, filmmakers can’t risk the success of their brands on anything less than stellar sound.
 Photo by the amazing  Cass O’Neil

Photo by the amazing Cass O’Neil

4. Mental health in a brutally taxing industry

One of the most unique and unexpected activities came on day two when Jordan Bunch (Ladybird Studios and Film Mavericks) took center stage.

Jordan guided the entire Vision Quest roster of attendees, speakers, and sponsors through a mental and emotional exercise he practices with his team. After dividing into small groups, each person got the opportunity to share their current emotional state with their peers. The listeners were to resist interjecting caring words or solutions into the monologue. The undivided attention—learning to listen—was as important to the exercise as the vulnerability of sharing.

After the first few minutes or so, the energy of the entire room shifted to a state of authentic vulnerability and acceptance. Hearing each other vocalize very real, current, and hyper-relatable highs and lows unified us in a way I’ve never before experienced. If Jordan incorporates that level of cathartic conversation amongst his team, it’s no wonder they’re so unified in their efforts toward continued success year after year.

Once the small group sessions wrapped, Jordan opened up the floor for anyone who wanted to share their thoughts on the exercise. A common theme emerged: isolation in our industry. With how emotionally, physically, and mentally draining wedding filmmaking is, it’s important to seek out and provide opportunities to connect with others who understand the struggle. Gatherings like Vision Quest fill an essential yet scarce need in our community to become just that—a community. As the workshop came to a close, I heard from many people that this unusual—but highly needed—exercise was a highlight of the overall experience.

 Photo by the amazing  Cass O’Neil

Photo by the amazing Cass O’Neil

5. Always Grow

Alex and Whitney planted the seed for this last takeaway during their introduction on day one. As Alex talked through examples of his influences from classic cinema, it became clear that he continues to think about growth and inspiration. Even with the level of prestige, accomplishment, and success that he and Whitney have achieved, they haven’t given up their focus on keeping their art fresh.

Joe Simon continued to nourish the idea of creative growth during his presentation with this powerful statement: “As you grow, what makes you happy changes.” Joe’s transition from wedding to the drastically different world of commercial filmmaking represents the epitome of creative growth and change. While not every filmmaker needs to emulate his path, it’s important that artists strive to break from the familiar and the comfortable by taking on passion projects and making time for play. Happiness and fulfillment are critical to the creative professional. Embrace and seek change to avoid mental blocks, frustration, and creative burnout.

The concept of growth blossomed on the last day of the event when Sharonne Calafiore of Fiore Films made her first live industry appearance. When it comes to established artistic street cred spanning years in the making, Fiore Films has built a reputation for crafting emotional, beautiful, and technically-amazing films. Sharonne shared introspective thoughts on how her work continues to change and grow. She spoke to how any deviation in her art has sparked critique from her filmmaking peers, but she also encouraged filmmakers not to yield to the expectations set on them – whether real or perceived.

After hearing the message of growth, change, and evolution, it’s hard not to trace it as a common thread in the speakers’ journeys through their careers. It’s equal parts encouraging and daunting to know that the hustle never stops. That once the pressure and drive to improve and transform stops, that you may be nearing the end as an artist and entrepreneur. One thing that can help that is actively participating in the community and bolstering others up when they’re feeling stuck. 2019 has been a big year for the wedding filmmaking industry when it comes to community. But with so many catchy dates to get married next year, 2020 is primed to be “The Year of the Wedding.” Let’s all agree to remember the importance of devoting time to mutual encouragement and support, even as our weekends book up and our working hours grow long.

Think ahead.

Stay realistic with your time.

And remember that a community event like Vision Quest is essential for playing the long game.

 Photo by the amazing  Cass O’Neil

Photo by the amazing Cass O’Neil