20 Years in the Making

The Mission of Videomaker is to empower people to make video and to democratize and enrich television. We do this by communicating information about tools, technology and techniques in a way that inspires, encourages and equips for success.

"I felt like it was a mission I received and that I was just carrying out the orders to fulfill this destiny. It was certainly the most profound moment of my life – that this assignment was given to me and I was to complete it." — Matthew York, February 2006

20 years ago, Matt York had a vision and Videomaker was born. In 1986, the idea that anyone could make and share video with others was revolutionary. At that time only a few clunky consumer cameras were available, the editing process was cumbersome, glitchy and of extremely poor quality, and there were little training tools or manuals a budding producer could turn to for help. Matthew York, a graduate of Rutgers University in New Jersey, was a film and video student, but his vision took him along a different path into the unknown waters of publishing. Recently, we sat down with Matt to talk about how the vision began, why he created Videomaker Magazine and how Videomaker worked with and helped influence the companies that build the tools to help fulfill his mission of enriching and democratizing the video industry.

A Vision of a Better World
"After we saw the developments in consumer electronics technology, I had this vision that the world could be better and a different place. I believed that when lay-people make video, it would give people the chance to see how others lived and maybe help alleviate suffering."

Matt was frustrated by the limited resources available to the lay-person, and annoyed that video story telling was only in the hands of big studio moguls. He and his wife, Patrice, started out with an idea of selling a newsletter to budding video producers giving simple video production tips and techniques along with ways to get his or her video seen. The method of distribution and airtime was limited mostly to access TV on emerging cable systems and local Public Broadcasting stations. But while the original idea was a simple newsletter, they decided a magazine would be much better and just as easy to produce. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss.

 

"After I decided the difference between a mag and a newsletter wasn't so significant, I soon learned they were very different in financing. I never liked business before, it just didn't have a purpose [for me]. But then I had this analogy; all my life I knew plumbing existed but I took it for granted. But then when I had to move water around I thought oh, plumbing! Plumbing was great! Business was a mechanism to allow me to bring Videomaker to reality."

 

Relentless Work
With hard work, perseverance, and dedication to their mission, Matt and Patrice, along with one full-time and five part-time employees, managed to get the funding, learn the publishing business and launch their first issue in June 1986. Videomaker Magazine was born.

"I was in my late 20s and we worked hard to fulfill that vision. The first 3 to 5 years were horrendous in terms of resources and market acceptance. I learned about tenacity and about the word fortitude: showing strength in the face of opposition. I was blissfully ignorant at the time."

Profit was marginal at best, and the fate of the company was determined with every issue sent to the printer. They reminded themselves that the dream was not to make a lot of money in the publishing business, but to share their vision with as many people as they could reach. Matt wanted to teach and encourage readers to live their dreams and share their story, in the same way the privileged in Hollywood do.

"When I was in college, we were using 3/4" equipment and I found it was difficult to acquire. There was always another group of people with more influence or bigger egos that had this kind of force field around the equipment. So I found that video gear had to be liberated from being precious and controlled by only a few people."

Defining User Needs
Although Matt had some lofty dreams, the equipment offered to the consumer at that time wasn't exactly liberating. The average video camera back then ran nearly $2,000, and was large, intrusive, and shot a poor quality picture. Editing it would lessen the quality even more as users had to edit through a tape-to-tape VCR edit system, making a dub of the original tape, which obscured the image even more.

"When we started Videomaker, lots of video cameras were connected to a portable VCR. They were heavy, had short battery life, and were inconvenient. The VHS image quality was just barely acceptable to be shown on your home TV. When you tried to edit, the image would temporally lose sync at every edit point causing glitches. The quality was very substandard and while there were lots of hobbyists dreaming, no one was really making money with video in 1986 – except maybe some wedding videographers."

From the onset, Matt's quest to "enrich and democratize" has been more than a vision statement. It has been a call to evangelize the equipment needs of the average user. When only the professional cameras had manual options, Videomaker pushed for manual focus, iris, audio control and other feature options. When manufacturers implied that the users weren't savvy enough to use these features, Videomaker made a point of teaching the readers how. When the clunky VHS and Hi8 camcorders got smaller, the manufacturers had to eliminate or hide buttons or controls, and Videomaker made every effort to point out these omissions and fight for their corrections. Recently, a major manufacturer told us that it has listened to our diatribes that bottom-loading tape cameras making it inconvenient to use a tripod, and they will no longer manufacture bottom-loading camcorders.

From Publishing Paper to Producing TV

In 1992, Videomaker Magazine launched its Short Video Contest as a way of gauging the reader's skills and to give them an outlet not yet available: sharing with others in the video producing community. Those first videos weren't exactly… how shall we say… stellar. But Matt and company continued to teach solid techniques and educate readers about the proper use and selection of equipment to make their story-telling both more profound and technically sound.

An advocate for early adopters, Matt, too, embraced early technologies by launching the Videomaker Web site in 1994. And while readers welcomed this virtual presence, in 1995 Matt decided to do something few publishers had ever done; develop training seminars and take them on the road. Videomaker Expos and Conferences now teach techniques and offer readers a chance to meet face-to-face with the Videomaker editors and video equipment manufacturers. A year later, Videomaker began to offer three-day hands-on workshops at our Northern California headquarters.

At that same time, Videomaker also launched a national TV show.

"We tried several distribution methodologies for the "Videomaker TV Show," including selling the show on videotape and placing it on some very narrow niche TV networks. But I had this vision that we could deliver the TV show in a new way. We gave birth to a short-lived concept called SSV – "secretly scheduled video" where we purchased broadcast time in the middle of the night on a large network. The time, channel, and day would change every month so viewers didn't know how to watch it unless they were given scheduling details. For $10 we'd send them a post card telling them the secret schedule information. It was cost effective, and we were actually making a profit. There was a little advertising revenue, but shortly thereafter the price of infomercials went sky-high and so it didn't work anymore, but that was a fun experience."

Videomaker is now back in the business of making videos by vidcasting its new TV show, "Videomaker Presents", delivered weekly via RSS feed. (Go to www.videomaker.com to download the show.)

"I'm excited about vidcasting. Vidcasting is the delivery of full-screen, full-resolution television programming that really trickles through your computer overnight so you're not having to compete with bandwidth that you might be using at other times of the day. When we started Videomaker, sending a VHS tape through the mail cost a couple of bucks, plus the cost of the tape itself, so it was very expensive and inconvenient to distribute video back in 1986. But today, the fact that you can distribute video almost effortlessly is really really exciting to me."

Influencing the Masses
From those early days of hanging scripts on a wall to layout the magazine, to expos, to producing a weekly TV show via the latest state-of-the-art technology; Matt, Patrice and their dedicated team have influenced thousands of people along the way.

"It's really a great joy; it seems once a month we get correspondence from people who you can really tell have been deeply moved, that their lives have been altered by the encouragement and instruction they get from Videomaker. It's an honor to be an encourager and to have even the slightest influence in someone's life."

Although he started Videomaker on a shoestring with a tiny staff, one person has always been there beside Matt; encouraging him, and at times, almost breathing for him.

 

"My wife Patrice is the invisible side of Videomaker. She watches over transactions and toils over details of human resources, leases, insurance, and legal and accounting matters. Patrice is enormously important to this corporation; she has overseen nearly every major financial transaction over the last 20 years. She has been there from the beginning and she will be there to the end. There's no way I could ever have dreamed about doing this without my wife Patrice, she really is the other half of the sky."

 

What of the Future of Videomaker?
Matt has seen great changes in video production technology, and seems to have accomplished his dream of sharing his vision with video producers worldwide.

"I didn't get into this for love of paper, or love of print, but for the love of the subject matter. The world really is becoming a global village where we are one large community. These days my heart is reaching out more globally. I have this vision that the passion that this organization has to promote lay people to produce video can actually be much more meaningful to developing nations where there's a lot of basic needs for training. I'd love for our organization to train people in societies with a lack of resources where we empower them to make video about how to become a better developed nation. So, I hope to have a very meaningful role in helping improve conditions for mankind globally."

Matt York is indeed an inspiring individual, and everyone here at Videomaker is energized daily by his encouragement and vision. We asked him one final question What words would you to share with your staff, your friends and your readers of all these years, along with new readers just beginning their video making journeys?

"This past year I've grown to appreciate more what is my gift – to facilitate the making of video to lay people. As our staff now begins to make video again, it gives me great joy. I'm not behind the camera very much… I'm not at the editing system… what I bring to the table is encouragement, inspiration and motivation. Everyone has stories locked in their heads and when they put them out there it's very rewarding and it's good for the world, it's good for you. When we tell people that you should believe in yourself, that you can do this, that it is within your reach, you can master it, it really, really does make a difference."

Congratulations to Matt and Patrice on 20 years of "empowering people to make video and democratizing and enriching television" with Videomaker and York Publishing events. To hear more from Matt York about Videomaker, its beginnings and Matt's future plans, catch highlights from a recent interview in a few of our May 2006 episodes of, "Videomaker Presents."

Jennifer O'Rourke is Videomaker's Managing Editor

 

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