The power of video: J. Dolan Barry

Local videographer helps organizations deliver their message
By  Pamela  H.  Sacks


J. Dolan Barry is an award-winner in a white-hot business.

Barry, who lives in Shrewsbury, is a professional video producer whose clients include corporations and health, social service and educational institutions. He started his own company, Barry Video Productions, in 1993, after years of producing and doing camera and audio work for network and local television news.

Recently, Barry, 51, was working on one video showcasing Lesley University’s national graduate program and another on the New England School of Criminal Justice. He made three videos for an event at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. And he has told the stories of the AIDS Action Committee, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, St. John’s High School and the American Heart Association, to name a few.

“What the video does is present the emotional argument,” said Barry, who is called Jay. “A video edited and fine-tuned becomes powerful.”

In the last 10 years, video has become the tool for any organization that needs to maintain a public profile.

“A private school recently came to me and said, `Every school has a video. We don’t. We look like poor relations,’” Barry said.

Dick Kennedy, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, said more and more businesses and nonprofit organizations are using videos as marketing tools. Advances in technology have made it possible to create an effective, affordable video.

“A video can be used as a promotional piece for a long time,” Kennedy said. “They tend to have a lot of shelf life.”

Barry produces two videos a year for free for philanthropic organizations with modest budgets. The Greater Worcester Habitat for Humanity is among the lucky recipients. “It shows the backgrounds of the kids and the moms and brings it all vividly to the forefront,” Habitat Executive Director Doug Havens said of Barry’s seven-minute video for his organization. Each frame of the video is worth a thousand words in portraying the Habitat’s mission, Havens said.

The digital age and the growth of the Internet have made video an integral part of life. Everyone, it seems, has a video camera. Many cameras and cell phones have video components, and people have gotten used to telling and watching stories on screen 24/7. The free video-sharing Web site YouTube became so popular that two months ago Google bought it for $1.65 billion.

YouTube videos are mainly uploaded home movies. In contrast, the work of Barry and other professionals is the product of story line and script development. Barry shoots on state-of-the-art broadcast equipment. In the field, he works with a crew for three or four days at a stretch. The editing process is often excruciatingly slow. “It can take all day to get one minute of video,” Barry said.

A 10-minute Barry video costs $15,000 to $25,000. As professional videos go, that is a mid-range price. Some Boston video production companies charge $30,000 to $75,000 for an ultra-slick presentation.

Barry, a warm and gracious bear of a man, started his career in Worcester, where he grew up. After graduating from St. John’s High School and Assumption College, he worked for the former Worcester AM radio station WNCR, writing news and ripping wire copy.

He liked the business, so he earned a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University. In 1979, he landed a job as an associate producer for Metromedia in Washington, D.C. Soon, he was all over Capitol Hill, having taught himself how to use a camera and discovered a talent for recognizing sound bites. He covered the war in El Salvador and often served as the pool photographer at the White House during the Reagan Administration.

“Ronald Reagan was the nicest man to everybody,” Barry recalled. “He would look at photographers and ask, `How you doing?’” Barry, who is liberal to moderate in his politics, said he found it interesting that some conservatives were amiable behind the scenes, while some liberals were not particularly pleasant.

In the late 1980s, Barry, having returned to Massachusetts, started freelancing for Boston television stations, producing features and documentaries. He told the story of three women battling breast cancer and made a video on a lesbian and a gay man who were sharing the parenting of a child they had had together. Both documentaries won awards.

There were some lean times in the first years after Barry formed his video company. By 2001, however, he had plenty of work. All of that changed after 9-11. Business dropped off and by 2003, the industry hit rock bottom. Many fellow videographers fled the field.

“I had a few projects and would freelance for CNN, ESPN and Fox News,” Barry said. “I was able to hold on through the storm.” Business quickly picked up in 2005, and the jobs have continued to flow in.

Over the last several years, more schools have offered programs in videography, as young people seek to enter the field. Success, though, can be elusive.

“People get into the business who may be technically inclined,” Barry observed. “They may make a video with all the bells and whistles, but what you want is to slow down and let the story unfold.”

Justin Yates, a junior in the Department of Film and Television at Boston University, has noted the same trend.

“The Internet and the emphasis in Hollywood are on making flashy productions,” said Yates, who lives in the New York metropolitan area. “Sometimes, the story loses importance in place of special effects.”

From time to time, Barry is asked to fix up videos that miss their mark. He does his best but declines to put his name on the finished product because it is impossible to make it what it could have been, he said.

“Less is more,” Barry advised. “Highlights strung together make it flow.”

Today, Barry spends 60 percent of his time on videos for nonprofit organizations. His clients come to him mostly through word of mouth. In the last two years, he has won national Telly awards for videos on the Kennedy School and the Greater Boston Boys and Girls Club.

“At the end of the day, I feel I’m getting paid to make a difference in someone’s life,” Barry said. “I’m lucky.”