Gonzaga University Alumni Spotlight on Reid Johnson, Owner of Best Made Videos®

Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Gonzaga University broadcast student Andrew Quinn for a GUTV (Gonzaga University Television) Alumni Spotlight story.

Reid Johnson: I tell people, it's really nice to be able to see your wedding day in [inaudible 00:00:04].

Andrew Quinn: Gonzaga alum Reid Johnson took the path less traveled to find his true calling in digital storytelling.

Reid Johnson: I worked at Q for about three years. I felt like I just wasn't going to be able to use the creativity I wanted to, so my now-wife and I were out for Valentine's Day and we were at a winery. We were talking to the guy and he was talking about he has a winery and basically could work his own schedule. I thought, man, I thought that sounds really great, that he has something that he owns that he can do and believe in. 

Andrew Quinn: Even though he took the less-traveled path, he wound up discovering his niche, which was something he never saw himself doing.

Reid Johnson: Really is a lot of trial by error. I had no intention of doing wedding videos, which is ironic now, because that's probably 65, 70% of our business. We do over 60 weddings a year. A lot of the time in news, it's not always the best circumstance or maybe people aren't excited to see you or it's sad times or a crime scene, there are all these different things you see. At a wedding, everyone generally is pretty excited and everyone wants to see you. So, that was really my kind of pivoting point.

Andrew Quinn: Reid credits his time at GUTV for shaping his broadcasting talents, but he once weighed the option of leaving Gonzaga.

Reid Johnson: When I was a sophomore, I was going to transfer to Santa Clara and they have their really extensive broadcast program there. I went down and toured and was pretty set on transferring. Then, I really did think about the individualized attention that we got at Gonzaga and I decided to stay.

Andrew Quinn: Whether he is shooting a corporate promotional video or a wedding, Reid continues to utilize his creative instincts and what he learned at GUTV to continue to produce the best-made videos around.

Reid Johnson: I really do stand by the product that we do and I stand by the customer service, but also I stand by start to finish with them, whether it's the booking process, the day-of, the editing, delivery through, I pay a lot of money to back up and store their wedding videos for years and years, where I don't know if that's standard across the board, but that's something that we do to differentiate us.

Here is a full transcript of our interview:

Andrew: So first off, let’s talk about how you decided to start your company, Best Made Videos.

Reid: I graduated from Gonzaga University in 2008.  After college, I got a job in Bakersfield, California with the NBC station down there. I worked there for almost two years, and then came back to Seattle, and I worked at Northwest Cable News for about nine months, and the Executive Producer there was going to to go to Q13 to get an Executive Producer job, and she helped me get my foot in the door there. 

I started at Q13 June 2011, and I worked there for about three years and felt that I needed to find a better outlet for my creativity. I had gotten nominated for an Emmy and submitted things that way, but I felt like I just wasn't going to be able to use the creativity I wanted to, and so my now wife, at the time and I, were out for Valentine's Day, and we were at a winery and we were talking to the guy, and he was talking about how he has a winery, and basically could do, work his own schedule, and I thought, "Man, that sounds really great, that he has something that he owns that he can do and believe in," and so Valentine's Day night, then we went out to dinner and I asked my wife, "What do you think about me? You know I'm really frustrated at work and what do you think?" She said, "I think if that's what you want to do, I think that's what you should do."

My buddy that worked at Q13 at the time and I, he helped me get together an equipment list, and that was in February, and then in December I put in my notice, so it was about nine months later, and so then it's been since December of 2014 now, so three years and change.

Andrew: When you were at GUTV, did you enjoy shooting or editing more?

Reid: The hardest thing for me now is having the time to shoot everything. If I could clone myself, it would be a lot easier because you can edit a million hours a week, but you can only shoot certain times or certain days. At Gonzaga, I was really into everything. I really don't think I had any strong preference, honestly I liked it all. I really liked directing. I liked producing segments. I loved editing and being able to sit in front of a computer and make everything from scratch, and then I also like shooting because obviously you need to go out and collect the materials, but being able to go shoot and then come back and spend all night, overnight or whatever, editing something and making it your own, I thought was really cool. Probably the whole thing, but editing and seeing it all go together is probably the best.

Andrew: What was your job title when you were at Q13?

Reid: I was a news photojournalist there. We would go out and work with either reporters, or you could be roving where you would go out and cover various VO/SOTs and packages on your own, and then my whole time, almost my entire life in news, I've always worked weekends, so now doing weddings on the weekends isn't as big of a shift for me as somebody that basically I got hired in Bakersfield at my first job, and three weeks after we got hired, they laid off like a third of the staff, and so I got called in and got shifted to weekends, so that hasn't really changed for me, but yeah, news photojournalist, and we would go out, like I said, either go with reporters or we would do our own VO/SOTs and packages, and on weekends I would do a lot of NAT packages, again just trying to find some creative output, and that was some of the stuff I would nominate and submit to get nominated.

Andrew: What did you get your Emmy nomination for?

Reid: It was a collection of I think four or five different NAT packs I had done over my year, and so I took a lot of pride in it, where a lot of times, if a package gets nominated, the reporter, maybe the videographer, maybe there was an editor or a producer or a segment producer or somebody that put the things together, and I really did take pride in the fact that I had gone out and shot those things and sourced the material and come back, logged the interviews, put it together with everything and done it that way.

Andrew: What kinds of mistakes did you make early on when you started Best Made Videos?

Reid: Yeah. It really is a lot of trial by error. I find even nowadays, you see a lot of guys starting businesses and going through the same growing pains I did. I had no intention of doing wedding videos. I think everybody just thinks, "Well, I'll get a camera and maybe there will be some small businesses or some web videos," and it was funny, one of our first projects was for Seattle Magazine, and it was a ... Basically, we didn't have the experience to get paid what they would pay a normal vendor, and so they said, "Well, hey, we can give you advertising credit in exchange for a series of videos," and they had said, "Would you like to be in Seattle Bride Magazine? That's one of the ads that we could run for you."

I looked at my friend Paul that was helping me get going at the time and I said, "I don't think we're going to do that," which is ironic now because that's probably 65, 70 percent of our business. We do over 60 weddings a year throughout the year, obviously mostly in the summer, but it's a lot of trial by error. I'm trying to even think back, just some events, some Craigslist ads, anything that people needed to get started, and then the first wedding that I did was off of Craigslist. Someone had called me on a Friday and they were getting married on that Sunday and they said, "Hey, my nephew," or cousin or someone was going to do the wedding, and, "He's sick or doesn't want to do it. Can you come do it?" I said sure, and I think it was 800 bucks, and I didn't know anything about anything to do with weddings at all.

Afterward, my wife said, "What was it like?" I said, "Well, in news, a lot of the time in news, it's not always the best circumstance, or maybe people aren't excited to see you, or it's sad times or a crime scene or all these different things you see. At a wedding, everyone generally is pretty excited and everyone wants to see you," and so that was really my pivoting point, was leaving that night and knowing that everyone was really happy with what I did.

I will say the first paid gig I ever got right after I launched the business, we had a devastating mudslide up north, outside of Arlington, the Darrington area. It got national media attention. Jay Inslee flew over and everybody came out, and it was like four and a half hours from the city, and so trying to launch a business and then drive four hours away each day, it's like eight hours roundtrip and trying to cover a mudslide in the middle of nowhere was pretty difficult, and I remember I was up, barely had cell service and I got an email that there was a magician that was performing that night in Everett, and they wanted to know if I would come cover the event, and I said, "Well, sure. What do you want?" I didn't even know what to quote or what, and I said, "I'll do it for 200 bucks. 100 bucks an hour I'll go." Driving the four and a half hours back to Seattle, getting to my house, getting my equipment because obviously you can't use your news equipment, getting my equipment, and going back up to Everett, and literally getting there like 10 minutes before, filming the event, not knowing anything that was going on.

And then afterwards giving them the footage and getting that $200 cash was like a real realization where if you're working somewhere where you're getting a paycheck, you're on a salary, you get paid every two weeks or every month or however it is, and being able to go do something and get that immediate payment for it or sending the invoice and being able to do that, that was also a big moment for me where it was like, "Man, that was really cool that I can go do that, do a good job, give them the footage." They saw it. I brought my laptop so they could look at it. They're excited, and then I get to leave, that was a really cool experience.

Andrew: So what’s a normal day like for you working at Best Made Videos?

Reid: Nowadays, my wife's a teacher and I used to go and volunteer at her school a lot, and basically the busier I get, the less I'm able to go in, which to me, that's unfortunate for her, but that's a good sign and kind of showing how busy it is, because when I started, there was a lot of days where you would just wait around, or it's scary when you quit and you have this job and you quit and you think ... I think when I put in my notice, I think I had like five or six weddings on the book, for that summer, and now luckily it’s a little different and a lot busier.

A day in the life for me now, I get up early. My wife's a teacher. We get up and I usually work out because I spend a lot of the day in front of the computer, and then usually all morning I'm doing emails, a lot of emails, a lot of blogging, a lot of followups. 

I think people underestimate when they think they're going to start a business or if they're going to be anything, like if you're going to be a photographer, if you're going to be a videographer, if you're going to run a photo booth, how much of your day is not actually taking photos, shooting video, any of that sort of thing that, yeah, that's probably what I do 30% of the time, and this week, we came back, I was out of town, and then we're out of town again, this is just for fun, but this week I'm so behind and it has nothing to do with shooting video at all, or even ... There's some editing involved, but mostly it's just catching up with clients and doing followup and blogs, but we blog three or four days a week, so that's an hour or two every day. We edit. I edit anything that comes through. I do even if I hire out the videographers to shoot for me. It's a lot of time with clients, responding to clients, client followup.

If you send me a wedding inquiry, I basically followup every week until you get married or you tell me that you've found somebody or you don't want a videographer anymore, so it's all those things that I think people really underestimate about the time that goes into it.

Andrew: So how many employees do you have working for you at Best Made Videos?

Reid: Yeah. It's just me. Everybody else is just a subcontractor, which makes it a lot easier for liabilities and things like that. Everybody that works for me is either employed at least part-time or in school or in a program of some kind. I have regular guys that work for me probably 30 days a year, and then I have an assistant that works with me any time we go do a wedding. All of our wedding packages book two videographers, and then depending on the corporate client, like last week we had an event where they hired two videographers, so I hired somebody to come with me, but everybody is a subcontractor.

Everybody's just signed to subcontracts, which is also ... That's work, so if you book me for a wedding, not only do I have to sign you to a contract, create an invoice for you, but then I have to either sign my assistant or somebody else to that, so every event we do might have two, three, four contracts going out, which is all, again, stuff that people don't think about.

Andrew: Where does most of your business come from?

Reid: Yeah. It's really across the board. We do get a lot of referrals. We get a lot of referrals from fellow vendors, mostly photographers. We really pride ourselves on being easy to work with on a wedding day, but also then we get referrals from clients as well, either parents that have hired us for their kids or even people that were going to hire us and then either hired somebody else or they had a friend do it or they decided not to.

We do get a lot of referrals, but I spend a tremendous amount of time on online blogging, on SEO, on making sure that we always appear at the top of the Google searches for wedding videos and wedding videography. I have a company that I pay that does online SEO work for us every month, and then also we pay for belonging to online sites, so WeddingWire, The Knot are two of the major wedding directories. If you want to be on Yelp, it's free, but then you can pay for Yelp ads. You want to be obviously on Google, but then you can pay for Google AdWords, Facebook, Facebook ads, so it's both. It's a lot of referrals and it's a lot of money.

Andrew: Talk about some of the things you learned at Gonzaga and at GUTV that help you out today with your business.

Reid: Yeah, so I've always ... When I was at Q13 and I was driving down to cover ... There was a story. I think it was when Gregoire was still in office. This was awhile ago, and someone from Gonzaga called me, and they said, "Hey, we're doing our fundraising campaign. Do you have time to talk?" I ended up talking to her 20 minutes or whatever, driving down the road to my story.

I donated that night at the end of the conversation, but it really helped me think back about how as far as I've come then, and then even further as I've gone now, is all thanks to the education that I got at GUTV, and I really do mean that. Dan knows that when I was a sophomore, I was going to transfer to Santa Clara, and they had a really extensive broadcast program there, and I went down and toured and was pretty set on transferring, and then I really did think about the individualized attention that we got at Gonzaga, and I decided to stay.  I think that because of that I was able to walk in in my first day at a real news station, at an NBC station in Bakersfield knowing exactly what to do, more so even than people that had worked at other stations or had other jobs at other stations, and then came to Bakersfield.  As I progressed up to Northwest Cable News, and then at Q13, and then today at Best Made Videos, the things that you guys learn, like going out and doing VO/SOTs every day and going and doing that kind of stuff, people don't ... People don't get that, that other video production companies or other wedding videographers, or other photographers. 

When you’re at GUTV it’s like, ”Well, today we got to shoot tonight at five o'clock. We have our newscast and we need to go do a story about the new sidewalk that they put outside," and you have to go do that and you have to get it and you have to come back and have it done, and most of our projects are that, where it's like daily turns like a news station, or at most, it's over the course of two or three weeks, like I don't do a lot of long-term corporate projects. We do our weddings where we'll shoot them on a Saturday and I'll try to deliver them on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and then move onto the new project, but getting that hands-on skill, getting those hands-on opportunities at Gonzaga was really I do feel like set me up to be successful today in a way that not a lot of my colleagues in the industry are that same way.

Andrew: How much do you travel for work, or is most of your business local to the Pacific Northwest?

Reid: We travel and we'll go across the state. We'll go down to Oregon. Videography is tough, where not everybody has a wedding videographer, and even corporate stuff, you're probably just going to hire somebody that's local. Video is tough, where you might fly in a photographer, but if you're getting married in Hawaii, you might just hire somebody that's local. If you're getting married at a resort, you might just have somebody that the resort makes you use. 

Video is a constant hustle to book, and that's why we do multiple teams per day because the number of dates that a videographer books during the year I think compared to the number of dates that a photographer books during the year is a lot less, and so we always have to make sure that we have availability on that day, or at least the opportunity to book two as opposed to just one, because we do have to maximize the number of dates because it's not a photographer, where they'll book two years out or they'll get flown to Europe or whatever. Video, I do think it's a constant struggle right now getting that mainstream acceptance that photography doesn't have to worry about, or doesn't have as hard a time worrying about. 

Andrew: Ok, last question.  What are you goals for the future, and how are things looking right now?

Reid: Yeah. It's constant right now. It's a lot of bookings for this Summer. We're at about two-thirds booked right now, which is good. I don't know where we were last year at this point, which I should as a good business owner know, but we're at two-thirds capacity. I feel good about that. I think video ... Seattle is expanding like crazy. There's a lot of influx of new photographers, videographers, and so trying to stay ahead of that is really difficult. I attended the big, it's like a big national wedding conference in October that was really beneficial to me in terms of really exciting me. It was really beneficial for me in terms of giving me exciting new ideas to be involved in, doing a better job with client followups, doing a better job reaching out to vendors ahead of time. We do wedding anniversary, thank yous to clients every year now. We do these pre-wedding questionnaires before everybody's wedding, making sure that we're set up for their day, so constantly fine-tuning that stuff I guess is the next project, is just making sure that we give the client the best experience that they can. 

I really do stand by the product that we do, and I stand by the customer service, but also I stand by start to finish with them, whether it's the booking process, the day of, the editing, delivery through ... I pay a lot of money to back up and store their wedding videos for years and years, where I don't know if that's standard across the board, but that's something that we do to differentiate us. 

Andrew: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me about your time at Gonzaga University and now your experiences running Best Made Videos.

Reid: The pleasure was all mine, thank you very much.