The video begins with a well-dressed man driving up to Crystal Plaza in Livingston. He dangles his car keys in a vain search for a valet. Inside, there’s nobody at the coat-check window. He sits at a table in the empty banquet hall, tucks a napkin into his collar, and wonders aloud, “Where is everybody?”
The man is Jewish Family Services of Central New Jersey’s executive director, Tom Beck. Elie Gabor of Elie Creative in Fair Lawn is behind the camera.
Mr. Gabor’s opening sequence sets an engaging tone for a half-hour virtual fundraising dinner that included a cooking demo by the Crystal Plaza chef using ingredients typically available in the JFS-CNJ food pantry.
“It highlighted our agency’s core services visually and dramatically in a very short production that maintained people’s interest and put it all together in a coherent and organized manner,” Mr. Beck said.
As the covid pandemic rages on, local videography professionals are busy innovating logistics and content for schools, shuls, and organizations, hoping to forge and maintain connections with supporters and members.
You could call it the age of “covideo” graduations, dinners, open houses, and more.
“Video during covid is a necessity,” Amir Goldstein of Creative Image Productions in West Orange said. “If you’re doing everything virtually, then all you have is video. But you can’t make a virtual event the same as a live event. The virtual experience needs to be more engaging since you’re missing the social aspect.”
For Mr. Goldstein, this means making more and shorter videos for each event. For instance, instead of a 15-minute production about all the dinner honorees, there may be three-minute videos on each, interspersed with additional content to keep viewers’ interest.
After all, a virtual audience isn’t captive. If the presentation is boring, they can leave and no one will notice.
“The videos we’re making now have a very different look than usual,” Leo Skier said. Ms. Skier, who grew up in Elizabeth and now heads Skylight Post Production in Fair Lawn, where she lives, often works with Jewish schools and nonprofits locally and even in Israel.
“For years now, everyone has had an internet presence with a little video content,” she said. “With covid, everyone has a need to see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices. Video became really important for that.
“The organizations I work with realize how important and complicated video is, and there’s been a lot of activity in terms of how we create videos now. We still have a desire to make something with high production quality but it’s different than how we would make video in any other year.
“A lot of clients are trying to do it themselves instead of bringing in a professional, and that changes the material I am working with as a video editor. One of my clients recorded Zoom interviews and sent them to me and I created a video out of that.”
Maccabeats, the popular a cappella group, hired Ms. Skier and Manhattan-based Daled Studios’ David Khabinsky to create its annual Chanukah video. Pandemic protocols prohibited the group from singing together, so they were filmed on a green screen, one by one, in Mr. Gabor’s garage studio next to his house.
“The studio was the first thing I did when covid hit, because there weren’t indoor filming spaces in which people would feel safe,” Mr. Gabor said.
He transformed his garage, which is accessible directly from the street, into a covid-compliant studio with its own ventilation system and a virtual monitor enabling clients to watch the shoot from home. Mr. Gabor can keep a safe distance from each interviewee, given the 20-foot length of the garage. He wears an N95 mask and gloves, offers hand sanitizer and wipes, and disinfects all surfaces after each use.
A graduate of Yavneh Academy, the Frisch School, and Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of Arts, Mr. Gabor works with local clients including Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, and JFS-CNJ, as well as schools and organizations in New York.
In addition to livestreaming services for virtual dinners and graduations, he acquired 360-degree virtual reality equipment that allows high schools to offer a lifelike “open house” tour on demand.
“In many ways that accomplishes the same goals that a regular open house accomplishes,” he said. “Every organization has to think what each event is supposed to accomplish and is there a better way to adapt that to a virtual world.”
The shift from in-person filming to virtual filming during the pandemic was hard at first, said Uri Westrich, who grew up in Teaneck, and is the founder and head of Manhattan-based Drive-In Productions. “The quality is obviously much worse when you are recording an interview over Zoom,” he continued. “But in-person filming is slowly coming back, and it’s also been a good challenge to figure out ways to be creative and interesting with virtual recordings.”
In June, Mr. Westrich edited a collaborative performance of the song “Lean on Me” by students from eight area schools: Solomon Schechter of Bergen County, Yavneh Academy, and Yeshivat Noam, all from New Jersey, and the Heschel School, Ramaz, SAR High School, Yeshivah of Flatbush, and Westchester Day School from New York state.
“Building off of that, I’ve done a number of virtual music videos with Heschel,” Ms. Westrich said. He worked with his former Moriah classmate Adena Korn, who heads the Heschel School’s music department.
“Over the last few months I’ve also produced the virtual open house for Bruriah High School, a virtual gala for Aish NY, and a number of projects for Yeshiva University and the Jewish Home Family’s assisted living facility,” Mr. Westrich said. And he taught a virtual filmmaking seminar for SAR High School with participation from other schools.
“Covid has put a lot of things in perspective,” he added. “It has presented many unique challenges and I’ve been grateful to be able to help solve some of those challenges together with my clients. For a lot of my nonprofit clients, videos have become the primary way for them to support their operations and let people know about all the vital work they are doing. It is fulfilling to be able to work with people who are helping our community through this very difficult time.”
Mr. Goldstein echoed that sentiment. “It’s brought me to thinking of what I do not as just a business but as helping people at a very difficult time,” he said.
He has worked with local clients including Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, Sharsheret, and Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck; Moriah in Englewood; and the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest.
“There’s always a silver lining, and in this case the silver lining is that you can now reach so many more people than at live events,” Mr. Goldstein said.
Shmuel Hoffman of Hoffman Productions in Philadelphia has worked with New York and New Jersey schools. including Ma’ayanot in Teaneck and SAR and Yeshiva Ohavei Torah in Riverdale, over the last few months.
“Working during the pandemic — sometimes without even being able to go in to film — has forced us to come up with creative solutions, like filming via Zoom and integrating a virtual tour into our open-house film for Ma’ayanot,” Mr. Hoffman said. “Even with clients we’ve served for years, we have been able to come up with new concepts that put them in a new, fresh light.”
Mr. Beck from JFS-CNJ noted that video will continue playing a more important role even after covid.
“An agency like ours, that is so multipurpose, finds it challenging to help people understand all we do,” he said. “Video helps us meet that challenge. After they watch our gala dinner video, people go, ‘Wow, I had no idea your agency does so much.’
“Having the ability to convey this visually is an absolute necessity.”