The bride and groom and their respective families want something that will make ‘The American President’ look like a low budget, made-for-television low-grade movie with no production values. This has been shown by actual test. Some simple rules.
1. Do not under any circumstances offer to make a video of anyone’s wedding, no matter how near and dear.
2. When it is suggested, always try to get someone else to do it. Anyone. As long as it is not you.
3. Offer to help pay for a professional. That spreads the blame and is known as a CYA ploy. Then you can say the professional will take care of the major work and you will merely add touches of cinema verite.
4. Claim that you are sick or that the camcorder is not working or your eyes are being operated on.
5. If all else fails read, and possibly download for reference, the longish screed on the subject. It runs to 2,500 words. All written from bitter experience. My apologies for the length.
Spread the blame . . .
If you are asked to make a video of a wedding make sure that the photographs â€” the still pictures â€” are being taken by a professional. If you possibly can get the families to hire a professional video team. They will still not be satisfied, I promise you, but this will be the professional’s fault, not yours.
If you have to make a video contribution you will produce a touch of cinema-verite which will be a lighthearted look at the proceedings but will not, most definitely not, be the official recording. Then no one can point the finger of blame.
Life being what it is, the families will probably not agree and you will be lumbered.
If you cannot get out of this in any way this is what you must do: get it across to the bride and groom and, most important, their parents, that although you will do your level best there is no guarantee that they will get anything. Or that anything you will provide will be much better than an out-of-focus, badly lit, happy home movie.
The problem is that the bride and groom and their respective parents go into marriage full of optimism and great expectations. They expect everything to be perfect. If your video is not, at the very least, as good as the coverage of a royal wedding, there will be bitter tears and recriminations. You will never be forgiven.
Trust me on this. When weddings come in through the door, logic goes out of the window.
How to do it . . .
Making a video of a wedding needs not only your highest skills as a video maker but also a large measure of tact, diplomacy, organizing skills and physical fortitude.
It is almost impossible to cover a wedding single handed. You need two camera operators working to a well-thought-out plan. They must work in tandem, be unobtrusive and yet not miss any of the important shots. Indeed, I feel happier with three cameras working and mobile phone connections and even then I am not a contented lad until I have delivered the finished product.
The technical difficulties are enormous.
Start with lighting. It plainly is not acceptable for you to walk backwards down the aisle with a blazing sun gun mounted on your camera, only stopping when you walk backwards into the priest. Yes, religion is about forgiveness, but this is going too far.
Instead, you have to work with the available light and look for subtle ways to enhance it without interfering with the ceremony.
What has to be remembered at all times is that the wedding is not being staged for the sake of the video. The video is there to carefully and unobtrusively record the great event.
Recce the site
The first step in shooting a wedding is to do a recce at the place the ceremony will take place and where the reception will be held. Then write a careful shooting script with timings. Without it you are lost. A simple checklist is given later.
Check the time, date and place of both the wedding and the reception. You will need to check them three times before the actual event because it is all too horridly easy to get them wrong.
The logistics are as complex as D-day.
Suppose that the ceremony is to be at 12 noon and that the bride lives within 20 minutes or so of the church. (I use church as a generic term here. Marriages these days take place is some quite funny places. Not all of mine have been in churches. In fact, now I come to think of it, none of them.)
You need to be at the church at least 45 minutes before the ceremony so that you can catch Auntie Doris and Cousin Rachel and the rest of the tribe arriving. It is imperative that you get 10 seconds or so of footage of all the wedding guests. Hell hath no fury like Auntie Doris if she is left out of a video.
At the same time you have to cover the preparations at the bride’s house, which means that, operating single handed, you can shoot there only until 11 o’clock at the latest. This is where multiple cameras and camera operators come into their own.
Dealing with the panic
Your offsider can be at the house catching the last minute panic â€” there is always a last minute panic â€” and the bride being escorted by her proud dad into the wedding chariot. You, ready at the church, will be on hand to pick up the action when they arrive. You will have been warned by mobile phone. Only use it in vibrate mode. If it rings during the service you are effectively a dead person.
But who is covering the groom waiting nervously in the church with the best man, both of them looking like death warmed up after a brutal stag night?
While it would be good to get some coverage you have to make sure that you do it well before the bridal car is due to arrive. You can miss out on the groom â€” he is not an important player in these proceedings â€” but you must cover the bride arriving at the church or you are history.
Which is why you absolutely and imperatively must have a shooting script so that you can work out who should be where and when. If you try to do it all yourself you will be like a one-armed paper-hanger. I know that professionals do it without a script but they have done it a lot before.
I admire but do not envy them.
Some of the shots will need to be handheld, and I strongly advocate some sort of support â€” a chest or shoulder pod â€” to help you keep the camera steady.
Shoot as many cutaways as you can and try to get as many guests in close-up as possible.
Faces, recognizable faces, on the screen will make up for any other deficiencies. Keep your shots shortish and tight, which will make editing much easier. Aim to end up with a mass of connected short â€” no more than 20 second â€” shots rather than one continuous roll.
On being hated
You will find the professional stills photographer hates you. It is not that you will get in the way â€” although that is always possible. It is simply that the photographer makes his living at this lark and you are but a well-meaning amateur. There is also a firm belief among professional wedding photographers that videos cut back the number of prints ordered. There may be something in this.
You may find it difficult to believe, but some stills photographers ban camcorders from being used to record wedding groups on the basis that they set up the groups and, as a result, these set-ups are copyright. Before the bride and groom decide on a stills photographer it is vitally important that they sort out the stills photographer/video maker relationship, or there will be a nasty scene in the church grounds.
Whatever is arranged still work on the sound basis that the stills photographer hates you and will give you no co-operation. You will have to shoot around this. Making the stills photographer in action the focus of part of your video works well. You will probably find that using a tripod and longish focal lengths will help to keep out of the way.
This difficult relationship with the professional stills photographer is all important as a pro knows where to be and when as to the manner born. After your 500th wedding you will have these skills, too. I would not wish that on my worst enemy.
There is a plus side to this: if you lurk near but not in the way of the stills photographer you will undoubtedly get all of the action, no risk.
The first shot at the home will be the bride on her own in the full glory of her wedding dress. This is often taken in the garden against a backdrop of flowers and greenery. Try not to interfere; hang back a bit. Using the reach of the telescopic lens you can start shooting using the standard formula of long shot, medium shot and close-up to show the bride being photographed in the garden, the glory of her wedding dress and the smile on her face.
Follow the same routine with the bridesmaids and the mother of the bride. Shoot from outside the stills photographer’s range. Never shout orders to countermand those of the photographer for you will be risking severe bodily damage. Keep following the great tradition of long shot, medium shot and close-up. Keep the shots tight at 12 seconds or so per scene. Film lots of cutaways to be used in editing.
Filming the ceremony in the church
During the ceremony position the video camera, if you can, so that you are at the side of the altar (a generic term in the sense it is used here) and can get some view of the faces of the couple as the ceremony progresses. Priests (ministers, celebrants, what have you) have this funny idea that their churches are places of worship and not video studios. Check with them what is allowed and what is not.
If possible a second camcorder recording faces in the congregation â€” yet again in the standard format of long shot, medium shot and close up â€” will make editing the final tape much easier.
Down the aisle
It is crucial that you cover the walk of the newly married couple down the aisle while the organist hammers out the Wedding March. You must also cover the first moments on the church step where the happy couple cuddle and canoodle in contemplation of the weeks ahead.
With two of you filming this is not a great bother. With just one it requires some pretty nifty footwork, especially as the stills photographer will be charging around and, quite rightly, demanding preference and right of way.
At the reception you will find the proceedings much more relaxed as the demon grog takes its effect. You can shoot it normally without any extra lighting. Two camcorder operators working the room can get some amazing candids. When the speeches start one of you can cover the action while the other works on audience reaction.
If possible have a tape recorder running fairly steadily throughout the ceremony and at the reception. This will give you back-up sound, which you will be grateful for at the final editing stage.
It is vital, once again, that you get shots of all the principal players including Auntie Doris in her good frock and Cousin Rachel, who is getting a bit red in the face with her third glass of bubbly.
When they see it on video they will squeal and scream and protest. But they will love every minute of it.
You will probably need to mic the top table to record the speeches. Do it beforehand and tape the wire down with gaffer tape.
Either the bride will want all of the speeches in their full and interminable length or she will want a proper video. In the last case you can concentrate on a few sentences from each speaker and a lot of close-ups of listeners’ reactions.
Again following the stills photographer you will cover the cake cutting ceremony.
All that is left for you to do then is to film the happy couple leaving for an unknown destination and married bliss. It is not traditional for you to be asked to cover the first night of the honeymoon although the way things are going nothing would surprise me.
Your final task is to edit this lot together. If you have kept to the rule of short takes â€” nothing over 20 seconds except for the group shot which is listed below in the checklist â€” with lots of cutaways and a logical flow from long shot to medium shot to close-up this should not be too difficult. Adding wedding-type music to the audio is a doddle. Just make sure that Auntie Doris appears a fair number of times. Her wrath if she is left on the cutting room floor is frightening to behold.
If you have not been able to talk your way out of doing the damn video at all, the following shot checklist will help keep you out of trouble.
At the home of the bride: Bride (long shot, medium shot, close-up).
Bride and bridesmaids. Bride and her mother. Bride and father. Bride with both parents. Bride with siblings. Bride with pets. Family group.
Bride in the final stages of dressing. (This last is a tricky one but may be requested.)
Bride leaving for church: Coming out of the house. Last minute fluster. Final shot of rear of car as it turns corner or disappears into distance.
At the church: Shots of church. Shots of guests arriving. Keep these to 5 or 6 seconds a time.
Bridegroom and best man arriving. If possible a shot of them waiting in the church.
Bridesmaids getting out of car and fluttering around. Bride and father getting out of car. Bride and father walking towards church. Priest waiting on church steps.
If the bride is going to be late, which is traditional, do a series of cutaways to the face of the church clock if it has one. Otherwise do the cut-away to a series of different watch faces showing the time progressing.
The ceremony: Interior of church. Bride and father walking down aisle.
Bride and groom at altar.
Close-ups of congregation singing â€” always good for light comic relief.
Wedding ceremony: Giving of rings with, if you can, a tight close-up of the hands. Signing the register. Walking down the aisle.
Outside the church: Bride and groom full length having obligatory cuddle. Long shot, medium shot, close-up. Bridal group with bridesmaids and best man added. Same again plus parents. Keep to the rhythm of long shot, medium shot, close-up and even ultra close-up.
Now the whole family gathers and you need, desperately, a long shot that includes them all and will run for 30 seconds. This is the one time you let the camera run because everyone will want to play at ‘Ooh look, there’s Uncle Stan next to, would you believe it, Auntie Doris.’
Bride and groom walking towards car. Confetti being thrown. Getting in car and driving off.
At the reception: Shots of family welcoming guests. Bride and groom mixing with guests. Lots of close-ups of guests’ faces. Speeches with audience reaction. Cutting the cake with an ultra-close-up of two hands on the knife. Toasts with audience reaction. Bride and groom dancing. Guests dancing. Couple leaving and waving goodbye.
After that little lot all you need is music, editing and a nice silver plastic case for the video with ‘Our Wedding’ embossed in tasteful purple.