Playback Performance – Craig Caruso

Video Production is becoming a crowded field these days. Computer editing software and cheap tech are making HD video possible for really anyone with a little time on their hands. It doesn’t necessarily mean a quality product but it does mean that there is a proliferation of YouTube one hit wonders who are looking for the next viral sensation or “wedding videographer’s” who just might cause you to regret that cost cutting decision when it is too late to change. Enter Playback Performance. Now disclaimer here, I am a little biased. Craig Caruso, the owner/videographer extraordinaire is my brother-in-law and did my wedding video. But he is also one of the most humble, genuine guys I know, has a fantastic eye for unique angles, and has exquisite taste in music. So you are bound to get a good soundtrack. And most of all (professionally at least), he is a storyteller at heart. His aim (which he achieves) is not just to document the story, but to tell the story, to capture the emotion of the moment and put it on-screen for you to remember. So without further ado, I give you Craig Caruso of http://www.playbackperformance.com .

Tell me about what you do? The way I describe it on my website is special event video production. It didn’t start that way but lately there are so many different kinds of projects that I have done that to try to encapsulate it, a narrow description isn’t enough…Some corporate stuff but mostly personal interest or personal commemorative moments.

Do you consider yourself an artist? This is one of the tougher questions. Some days I do, some days I feel like I am being creative in the way I am looking at things or the way it is coming out on the screen. More often than not, I feel like I look at what else is out there relative to what I am trying to do visually and feel like I am so far from being what I consider an instinctive artist. It is good for me too, because I look at other people’s stuff to get inspired. I think all artists do that at some level, whether they recognize it or not, expounding on something someone else has done. I think we are all thieves a little bit, in a healthy way, not in a burglary way. I feel like I do a lot of trial and error in video making. I have some visions for how something is going to go and I put it in and see if it conjures an emotion and honors that moment, then I know it right away and if it doesn’t I have to try something else.

Isn’t that what all artists do? Yea probably but I watch people draw or paint and feel like it just flows [for them]. They aren’t trying something and erasing it. Maybe in their mind they are but all their expressions have a flair to it and I don’t think I do that. If you took my raw attempts at art, they would just look really bad until I worked with it. I am a perfectionist which is why I can get there, I have a lot of patience with that stuff.

So how do you make a “normal”, more information, video artistic? Like how to do you take a wedding video and make it more than capturing what happened? When you look back at your wedding, there is so much that had meaning for you. When you think of the wedding, you almost never simply try to remember what happened. You try to remember how you felt, what made it so meaningful.

So how do you capture that? There is so much internal, whats going on in your heart, whats going on in your makeup. So that’s where I wouldn’t try to just capture everything and represent it to you. I would consider that an offense. If I just had a tripod with rolling footage and wide-angle, just trying to record everything I could, it would be so disappointing because it does nothing to help you remember that moment. I think as someone who has been asked to film and represent a moment, it is my duty to try to figure out what does this mean to the person who wants to relive it. I mean, a wedding day, it doesn’t get much more meaningful. So there better be an element of art to give you a chance to get that back. You don’t want to just remember it, you want to relive it. That’s what makes it fun too, there’s  a challenge there, but it also pushes the limits of my own makeup, to think “How can I get that right?” Because you can screw that up bad. Choose a song that makes someone think “That does not make me think of my moment.” Somewhere in there, there is a line that you can cross that completely belies what you are trying to capture. Whether a song feels tired or used. For someone like you, that is important, to have the right soundtrack.

Talk a little bit about the challenges of being a small business owner? I think we have talked about it in way. Laboring over stuff to get things to look right is time-consuming, so if I am not careful, I can be product minded and not business minded. I can try to get my product out there at whatever cost, so I have spent days, weeks, trying to get something right and I can’t put that into my price. I can’t charge for that time, people would never pay. But I love athletic events, I love high school sports and I will probably always have a diet of those in my production list.

What differentiates you from the average joker with an iPhone that considers themselves to be a videographer? What I want to say, which is stupid… is nothing. There are so many people out there that is how they discover their talents. If someone is out there with an iPhone, they may in fact be really talented, more talented than I will ever be, but they have no refined it, they aren’t focusing on it, it isn’t their profession. They may not have the lighting, the angles. It’s the little stuff that they might not have down yet. Being able to forecast those little thing that make videos really good may not be there. But in terms of having an eye for how to shoot something, that might already be there.

Do you see yourself as more of a storyteller than an artist? I  think that is what an artists does, to figure out how does this becomes a story again. It already is a story but how do I retell it through this medium, whether writing or video or visually telling it in such a way that brings back the emotion of that story.

Tell me about one of your works that you are most proud of (aside from my wedding video, of course)? Depends on when you ask me. I just did a project I really enjoyed this summer because of the people in it. They were telling a story that needed to be told and I had the privilege of filming and telling the story. It was a couple that escaped the perils of war-torn Hungary in WWII and then lived through the Hungarian Revolution and escaped. They were very eloquent, very thorough, they did it together and filled in the gaps. Their relationship came out, the way they told it, I did very little but I was honored to be a part of it. I was proud because if we hadn’t done that, it would have been hard for them to share that historically. They have a personal perspective on what happened in WWII and you are not going to get that 10 years from now. Having that attachment to history was really cool, and I loved the couple and the chance to get to meet them.

Give me another example. When I get to look in the window of someone’s relationship with people, the whole coach-student-player relationship is really compelling. It sticks with so many people for so long. My friends talk about their coach and what an impact on people’s life that has. Not just sport. A lot of my projects are like that. To be on the sidelines and try to capture that relationship, to get a moment. It isn’t just about the great catch, the great hit, it is about the elements of the game that the kids will truly remember, the relationship with each other and with the coaching staff, that’s the stuff that sticks. It’s tough to capture but I try to.

If you could do a film/video with no time constraints, no cost constraints, what would you do? I would do a title sequence for a TV show. I think I watched too much TV when I was younger so a good title sequence totally resonates with me, and when I see it now, like when I see the Million Dollar Man sequence, I get so pumped up for like 10 seconds. The show was alright but the title sequence…

They become iconic, like the Friends title sequence… Doing that well, it has such an impact, I think that is why it has staying power. I imagine a good title sequence, figuring out how to present the essence of something… If you can do that, capture the essence of a show, or someones life, or an event in a 30 second montage, then you get it. If you can do something that concisely and that effectively, that is the heart of video production and editing.

What does the future look like for Playback Performance? The future is bleak, I am selling the business. (pause). Sorry, trying to be dramatic. The question about the challenges of being a small business owner, it is just challenging to figure out how to make those good decisions. It was a lot easier when I was single. I could work on something forever and not worry about the payment, it didn’t bother me, I wasn’t supporting a family. I was working enough for two jobs so by sheer volume I was generating decent income. But now I can’t work on something forever, I have to make sure I make good decisions for my family, be a little selfish with my job decisions. Not just make good decisions for my business but for everyone in my life. That reality is real. Doing a steady diet of high school sports isn’t realistic, but that doesn’t mean I am going to quit doing stuff I like to do, I just need to be more selective. I need to expand my wedding productions, not just have seasonal school video. I need to continue to diversify my portfolio of jobs and I need help too… to add videographers and editors under the Playback Performance umbrella.

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