“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.” – John Ruskin
Whenever I hear of a filmmaker or wedding videographer documenting a wedding or special event alone, I scratch my head. Maybe I am worse at my job than most, but I can’t fathom being responsible for all the big, tiny, and fleeting moments that happen thousands of times at a wedding…by myself. Weddings are filled with “one-chance” events. Miss the first kiss and you are screwed. What if you miss the mother of the bride’s tearful reaction to the vows while you are busy filming the vows themselves? Won’t be the end of the world, but WHAT A GIFT to have that moment to give to the family! People’s memories are worth so much more than the effort I think some of us in the industry are giving. I’ve got a long way to go as a filmmaker, and I am a constant student, but I can share my testimony to how a business can grow exponentially when you become a “team” of filmmakers on a family’s wedding day, instead of trying to save money or resources by shooting solo. Some studios out there do have at least 2 videographers attend weddings. Sadly, the other end of the spectrum includes getting the right moments, but being obtrusive and in the way of the family (and the photographers!) in the process.
I’d like to share some practical ways we’ve improved our service to families at Life Stage Films by becoming better team players, and coordinating with near precision on a wedding day.
1. Have a Purpose
It’s debatable whether every wedding is the same or not. Sure, there are templates and workflows to every wedding that are similar every weekend. You KNOW there will be vows read and a first dance. But not every wedding is the same! As common sense as that statement is, when two filmmakers go into a wedding day without having a purpose, it’s a recipe for disaster. That disaster being a mundane, cliche wedding “video.” You shoot enough weddings, and then you begin to take them for granted. Being a wedding filmmaker means having a purpose. Walk into future wedding days with a fresh set of eyes. Have you gotten to know the couple? What are they like? Why were they attracted to your work and what are they hoping to get out of watching their wedding DVD? Having a purpose not only means knowing who the family is and what their style is, but also means NOT simply pointing and shooting. Train yourself to shoot things differently and from different perspectives. Chat together, as a team, about new things you’ll try at the wedding. Collaboration with creativity is addicting! If you are a team of filmmakers arriving at a wedding day with a sense of purpose, you’ll be able to divide the workload and peel back new layers of moments that normal videographers simply can’t get.
2. Having an IN DEPTH Questionnaire.
It’s a hard to have a purpose without having a questionnaire. I assume most photographers and filmmakers present clients with a questionnaire before the wedding, for them to fill out contact info, venue addresses, timeline, etc. But having a detailed questionnaire with questions that make the couple think, not only serves as a better game plan for you as a filmmaker, but also a roadmap to being an effective team of filmmakers on a wedding day.
Here are a few questions we have on our questionnaire that help us dive into a wedding day, and be better prepared to serve and work together.
- What moments are you most excited about on your wedding day?
- Any unique details or small touches of your personality you want documented that we may miss if we don’t know?
- Any family politics we should be aware of or careful around?
- Is your first dance choreographed?
- Are you reading or reciting your own vows? If so, what are they?
3. Having Set Roles
Armed with a detailed questionnaire in hand – and a clear purpose – it’s always a good idea to go into any wedding with SPECIFIC roles for each filmmaker. At Life Stage Films, we have a main filmmaker (DP), and a second shooter. The main filmmaker’s job is to “direct” and call the shots. This person is also responsible for creative camera techniques such as using a dolly, glidecam/steadicam and a jib if applicable. But we are only as good as our second shooter. The second shooter’s job is getting technical details taken care of, like audio and microphones secured, and setting up lighting if necessary. On our team, we know that the main shooter stays with the couple during the photo shoot while it’s the second shooter’s responsibility to go to cocktail hour and get shots of guests, decor and details. This not only allows us to be less obtrusive with multiple people shooting the same thing, but also helps us edit, so we don’t come back with tons of redundant footage. Team work is working together, even when apart. With every major event, the second shooter knows what to capture, what lenses and focal length to use so their shot will be different than the main filmmaker’s shot. We don’t want to come back from a ceremony with two angles recording at the same focal range.
4. Body Language
So, during a live event, especially something as sacred as weddings, how do we communicate what we are each doing so that we not only avoid ruining each other’s (and the photographer’s!) shot, but produce a flawless live cut of the event? Body language! Better than any two-way radio and cool headset. Having gestures with hands and of course having eye contact before you move or change angles is crucial to staying out of each other’s way. The most effective thing we do to communicate, however, is where we put our hands when we aren’t filming. Most filmmakers have a habit of keeping their hand on the lens to have easy access to zoom and focus rings. That’s great if you are shooting by yourself! But as a team, when we see the other person’s hands by their side, we know it’s “safe” to change positions, move, stop recording, etc. Having our hands by our side means “I’ve got a solid shot, and I am not moving it anytime soon.” It has worked WONDERS in making sure we can piece together two or three angles of a wedding film without 2 crucial cameras moving and jerking around at the same time. No one wants to see those amateur mistakes on their final wedding film!
5. Record a “Recap” of the Day
Lastly, to bring an editor into the filmmaking experience (even if YOU are the one editing the film), we record a “recap” of the evening on one of our audio recorders. Having a “journal” or diary for a wedding helps when you edit your film later. On the recording, we say the following:
- How many CF cards we used
- How many audio sources we had
- How the day felt, so the editor can know the style of the the film
- First and last events filmed
- Any mistakes made
- What we liked most about the wedding
The result of these easy techniques have not only resulted in better films and more memories documented for families, but also better working relationships with other wedding pros in the area, and in turn more money in the bank to grow our business. There’s no “I” in team! (ok, that was corny).
About the Author
Matt Davis has been described as the “Head Coach of Wedding Videography,” and was named one of the “Top 25″ event filmmakers in the world by “EventDV Magazine.”
He provides one-on-one business coaching as well as group coaching webinars. A featured speaker at video associations around the country, as well as Australia’s premier video conference in 2011 and IN[FOCUS] 2010, 2011, 2012, Matt is also an evangelist and consultant for ShootQ, offering his workflows and systems on the “marketplace.” He is based in Wilmington, N.C with his wife Melissa, and two little girls Penelope and Adeline.