InFocus and Our Focus

In January we attended the InFocus conference in Charleston SC. The InFocus group was formed not too long ago with the  idea of taking wedding videography in a new, artistic direction. While I have been to a number of conferences for wedding videographers over the years, they too often were rehashes of the same old ideas. InFocus was completely different. There wasn’t a single session that I didn’t learn from. The focus was on creative wedding cinema. Just as good photographers have broken out from the old mold of the same (often cheesy) poses, wedding filmakers are moving away from “just recording the day”.

This is where we have been moving for the past few years. To me, making a plain record of weddings isn’t making use of our creativity. We are in the business of conveying emotion. Isn’t that what good fimmaking is all about? A film that is memorable is one that moves the viewer.

One thing that I noticed at InFocus was that it was a much younger crowd, and that there were a lot more women present. This is a good thing. Even though I was probably one of the older attendees, I felt invigorated by being with a group that looks forward, not back.

I came home with a lot of very good ideas. While not every couple is looking for an artistic wedding video, those who do have something truly special. Not just for them, but for anyone who sees it. It is like an email that I received a couple of yeras ago from the mother of the bride in it she said:

There’s not a person who has watched who hasn’t told me it moved them to tears. . . . The way you brought it all together is just stunning.

That is what InFocus and Our Focus is all about.

Putting the Story First

There is always a temptation to shoot for the “beauty shots”, that is to make every image gorgeous. I admit that I often spend way too much time trying to achieve the perfect look. I always remind myself however, that what our clients want most in their wedding video is the story. Having many beautiful shots without the underlying story is like an empty gift wrapped box. Pretty to look at, but nothing inside. No matter what, we always put the emphasis on the story. The story is told through the words spoken on the wedding day. These words may come from the officiant, the person delivering the toast, the bride and groom’s family, or even the couple themselves.

Every wedding is different. Sometimes there is a beautiful sermon or a moving toast. Other times the ceremony is uninspired and the toasts perfunctory. So not every event will be equal emotionally. It can be a challenge to the editor when we don’t have much to work with. There is always something though. Eye candy is pretty, but words are profound. And it the words that will be remembered. That is our goal in telling the story.

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Starting a New Season

It has been awhile since I have posted on this blog. Things have been rather slow and at this time I am only editing one wedding. That will change in the coming weeks as the wedding season starts up. What changes are we looking for this year? For one thing, digital SLRs (single lens reflex) cameras designed for photographers are becoming a must-have item for videographers. We are not trying to take business from our photographer colleagues, rather we are using the full motion video capability to produce gorgeous imagery. Since these cameras have such large sensors and since they use photo lenses, they give us a beautiful shallow focus image that rivals what you get from Hollywood. It is truly making us “filmmakers” rather than videographers.

We are planning to add at least one DLSR this year. At this time I see it more for “beauty shots” rather than as a primary camera. there are still too many limitations for us to eliminate our camcorders.

Another area of change will be to continue to emphasize the short Wedding Story video. I believe that the most important aim of our work is to capture the feeling and present it in a way that will be as powerful 20 years from now as today. Our wedding stories take time and money to produce. While we don’t do anything that is way over the top, we also don’t want to price ourselves so high that only the wealthiest couples can afford us. Our price point and product are definitely upscale, but we are not the most expensive videographers in the Philadelphia market by any means.

In our wedding stories, we will continue to use a non-linear editing style, i.e. we don’t always start at the bridal prep and end at the last dance. Telling the story does not always mean putting things in order.

The changes that we have made over the past year have been warmly received by our clients. We want our clients to be thrilled with their wedding film and that we are accomplishing.

Why wedding videographers love their work

There is one thing about wedding videography, for many of us (myself included), it is a passion, not a job. I love what I do and most of the best names in the business feel the same way. Recently I came across a blog post by Laura Moses, who along with husband Steve, run one of the top wedding videography studios in the country. This is the way that Laura sums it up:

We work with music, hearts, and dreams. We’re the keepers of the flame for future generations. After we’re gone there will be pieces of us ”little bits of our hearts ” scattered across the globe, telling stories about love.

That says it all. It isn’t just about documenting the day, it is about keeping the flame, capturing the emotion, seeing things in a way that will forever commemorate that one day. Great wedding cinema is beyond “just video”, like great movies there is an emotional connection that spans generations.

A Story of Love – by Laura Moses.

Well said Laura!

Pushing the Envelope

On Wednesday I attended the New Jersey Videographers Association’s meeting which featured two seminars, one by Patrick Moreau, Konrad Czystowski and Casey Warren of Stillmotion in Toronto (Patrick & Konrad) and MIND|Castle Studios in Seattle (Casey), and the other by Chris Jones of Mason Jar Films near Austin Texas. Both were outstanding and both gave me a lot to think about.

Chris gave an excellent seminar on the editing workflow and how to organize the edit for more efficiency. What I learned was that the way things are done now just wastes time. Modern non-linear editing software is designed with the idea that there will be a well organized shot list of scenes and takes. In the film world there is a script. In event videography there isn’t. As a result the standard editing workflow isn’t necessarily the best method for us. In addition to improving our workflow Chris also talked about focusing on the task and how we too often let distractions cut into our editing time. There were some good lessons there.

The Stillmotion/MIND|Castle presentation featured some of the most incredible wedding videography that I have ever seen. As I watched those clips I wondered how could I ever even approach that level of artistry. But that why we (as wedding videographers) were there. Even if we never get to that level, we are still raising the bar on our own work. For myself when I look at what I did last year compared to this, I see a significant change. That is because of people like Patrick, Konrad, Casey and Chris who are willing to share their expertise. Those of us who are willing to put aside what is comfortable and familiar, and are willing to push the envelope are the ones who will excel.

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What My Friends Teach Me

A couple of posts ago, I talked about the Wedding and Event Videographers Association (WEVA) Expo that I attended two weeks ago in Orlando. One of the highlights was meeting with members of the Video University forum. VU as we call it is a forum devoted to professional wedding and event videography. While I have met some of the attendees, most were people who I only knew online. It really was a pleasure to put faces to names. What is most important though is the wealth of knowledge in this group. Some of the top videographers in the world are regulars on the forum. And no one looks down on a newcomer. When I started out VU was an invaluable resource and now as an experienced professional I am still learning. As a group we are very willing to share techniques and business methods. There are few “trade secrets”. This makes us all better.

Video University is not the only online forum devoted to wedding videography. There is also WedFact, a forum that concentrates on artistic wedding filmmaking. While I spend more time on VU, I enjoy WedFact too.

Then there are the local videographer associations. Here is the Philadelphia area it is the Greater Philadelphia Videographers Association (GPVA). As a group GPVA has a lot of talent. Almost every year there are members winning national awards such a the WEVA Creative Excellence Award or being named to the EventDV 25 list of top videographers worldwide. And like VU, GPVA members share and benefit as a result.

I never want to stop learning and improving my craft. Online forums and professional videographers associations are a wonderful way to keep on top.

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Interesting insights on wedding filmmaking

In recent posts I have often referred to our style as “wedding filmmaking” rather than wedding videography. The clip below from Chicago based Zacuto Productions and featuring noted wedding filmmakers John Goolsby, Kristin * of Bliss* Video Productions, and Joe Simon of Joe Simon Productions. In this clip John, Kristin*, and Joe discuss what makes a wedding film and why it is different that wedding video.

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Beyond Wedding Video

“Beyond Wedding Video . . ” This is the new lead phrase on our home page. What do we mean by this? Wedding videography has seen enormous changes in the past decade. In the 90s most videographers did little more than record the events of the day. Sadly enough, the result was often a long boring video that was watched once or twice and then put away in a drawer. To many videographers still deliver nothing more. For couples who have seen “old school” videos, there seems little reason to spend money on something that they don’t value.

We along with other progressive studios are taking a different approach. To produce short beautifully crafted mini-movies of the wedding day. The emphasis is on feeling, emotion and beauty. It is all done in the edit. We match words and music for emotional impact. Great care is taken in the look and sound of the film. The challenge is to find and draw out the bride and groom’s story.

It wasn’t uncommon a few years ago to load wedding videos with effects. We don’t like to use any effect unless it enhances the story. So you will see almost no fancy transitions in our work, perhaps an occasional blur or cross dissolve but mostly straight cuts. I always say that if it doesn’t look good with a simple cut, then it hasn’t been edited correctly. We do use slow motion occasionally, but only a little and only if it enhances the story. Our titles are simple white on black as fancy titling is nothing more that eye candy.

Of course every client gets a “documentary style” edit of the ceremony and reception. That way there will be a complete record of the day. But the centerpiece is always the Wedding Story, because it is there that the real meaning of of the day will be preserved.

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When less is more

In the past year we have been placing a much greater emphasis on short, beautifully edited mini-movies of the wedding day (we call them “Wedding Stories”) instead of the more traditional wedding video. There are several reasons for this shift. The most important one is that we are not just in the business of documenting the event, it is our job to capture the feeling of the day. We want our wedding videos to be something that is treasured and watched for years to come.

Our Wedding Stories are typically short (from about 30 minutes down to 7 or 8). Each one is unique. The idea is to present the essence of the day in a moving and entertaining manner. We want the viewer to be drawn into the experience. Like the title of this post says, less is more. Since every client gets the complete ceremony and main reception events as extras, we are free to get to the emotional core of the day. This takes time and requires extensive editing. In addition to the edit itself, there is music selection, as well as picking out appropriate audio for voice overs. It is also very important that your Wedding Story looks and sounds special. This requires color grading and sound design.

All of this takes time which is why the Wedding Story is only available with the Plus and Ultra Package.  It is worth it though. For a more detailed explanation and sample video clips, visit our gallery page.

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Tim and Alicia

Last Saturday my stepson Tim Johnston married Alicia Pizzo at the Scotland Run Golf Club in Williamstown, NJ. This is the first time that a family member has wed since I started in the wedding videography business, and to quote my wife (and Tim’s Mom) Barbara, it was surreal. Tim and I have been at a lot of weddings together as he is my second shooter. As I was going to be part of the bridal party, I would not be able to film it. Glen Elliot and Darrell Aubert stepped in and did the videography. I did the formal photos as we didn’t hire a photographer.

Did I mention surreal? It seemed almost like a regular shoot until the ceremony. Instead of being behind the camera, I was in the front row, my 2nd shooter was the groom, and my wife was the Mother of the Groom. The ceremony was short. In fact it was the shortest that I have ever seen (Glen and Darrell thought it might be a record for them too), clocking in at 9 minutes including the processional and recessional. The whole thing was very emotional however, and I admit to tearing up a few times.

Cocktail hour and the reception followed. It was very nice to actually be a guest for once, and it was a thrill to see the couple doing their first dance as well as my wife dancing with her son.

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