Can filming weddings make me a better videographer?

Can filming weddings make me a better videographer?" Ben Bruton Cox

I get asked this question a lot. When done correctly, filming weddings can be hugely rewarding. And not just in a financial sense, but also in term of professional recognition, creative freedom and being able to travelling the world. Also, because of the steady and predictable financial element, you can gain a great deal of freedom in all parts of your life.

So what is it about weddings that can make you a better filmmaker?
In such a high-pressure environments, you will quickly get to learn your camera inside-out, plus all its pros and cons; the same goes for your audio equipment and all your other pieces of equipment. In addition, if you think about the structure of a wedding and what your end-deliverables are, there are many things that you as a videographer need to be able to do in order to create a wonderful viewing experience for your client.

Within this one day's worth of filming you will be asked to create:

  1. A cinematic Trailer (under 5 minutes)
  2. A feature presentation (up to 30 minutes)
  3. A multi camera conference (the speeches)
  4. A live formal event (the ceremony)

As such, if you think about wedding videography in these terms, it will not only push you as a videographer like no other form of videography, but because you will be stretched, you will become a better videographer for it.

But I've heard that wedding video is the nail in the coffin of creativity?
No, this is hugely inaccurate. The idea of a ‘wedding video’ is cliche and naff. People who use the words ‘wedding video’ expect to see an old boy rocking a huge camera over their shoulder with a tungsten light on the front, delivering a very functional video without a hint of creativity. The people who think this or quote the “coffin of creativity” are potentially of an age where they are blinded by change or maybe if it comes from someone within the video industry it might mean that they are simply not able physically or mentally to do a decent job in this high pressure environment. I have to say that snobbery comes into this as well.

The whole “wedding video” industry has and is still changing massively. “Wedding Filmmakers/Cinematographers” like the ones on our Wedding Cinematics course in March, make beautifully stylised films that tell a story and engage the viewer/client fully. They do this by being thorough in their approach, while all the time being discrete, observant and sympathetic to the environment they are in and the client they serve. Because of their approach and attitude they are able to make gorgeous pieces of storytelling that are a world away from ‘Uncle Bob with a huge camera’.

Why is wedding video such a challenge to get right?
So, first if we look into the multi-camera sequences that you will need to capture on the day - the ceremony and speeches. You will be required to use multiple cameras, sync them all up in terms of the white balance, profiles, frame rates, timecode (if needed) etc on site. Then you will need to make sure that all audio sources are synced up and positioned correctly too. You will have to do this at least twice in a single days worth of shooting. This is probably the most uncreative part of the wedding itself. However this is the bit that gives me sleepless nights.

Why the sleepless nights?
Many reasons. Filming a ceremony with up to three cameras and three to four audio sources means that there can be multiple device failures. Now, although this does not happen often, there is always the potential for this to occur and the more equipment you have, the more there is to go wrong. Also, a ceremony can last anywhere between 20 minutes and 60 minutes. This is a huge difference in timescales, but you have to make sure that all batteries are fully charged and you have enough capacity on the systems you're using (audio and video) in order to make sure that everything is captured at a very high quality.

Meanwhile, interference from guests and others can lead a camera or microphone to not record. For instance, if you are using a lapel microphone to record in the room, the vicar, best man, father of the bride or a reader may accidentally turn off or adjust the levels of the recording, just by knocking something around in their pockets; this is all something they can do without the microphone unit (recorder) being ‘locked’ and of course there is always a high chance that the subject may even accidentally pull out the microphone from the recorder. All of these things can and will happen.

Speeches are the biggest variable on the wedding day. They can lost almost any amount of time. I have had all three speeches (father of the bride, groom and best man) last 4 1/2 minutes in total. While I remember another time where I have had all three speeches last 1 hour and 45 minutes (this was where the groom decided to have 20 best man, and they all wanted to say something). In essence, the speeches and ceremonies are the two areas of the wedding day that the couple are paying you to capture; everything else is the cherry on top. I don't know of any other video category that has this amount of challenge to it, and I have been worked in most other categories of video production.

This all sounds quite un-fun, so, when can I be creative?
For me a wedding gives you so many options to be creative. From the beautiful venue that you're filming, to the wonderful people you encounter, there's always a way to make something look beautiful. So let's talk get into the nitty-gritty of this side of things.

If the ceremony last for 30 minutes and the speeches last for another 30 minutes (on average), that means you have one hour's worth of footage. More than likely, you have been employed to film this wedding from bridal preparations through to the end of the first dance. Which could be about 8 to 12 hours of filming on site. So you have the potential to get 11 hours worth of creative footage in a day. The only aspect of video where this level of opportunity is even comparable, is in narrative or documentary work. But even then, especially in narrative, it will be very storyboard heavy.

But there are other aspects of the wedding that you need to capture, right?
True, yes, and you need to make sure that you capture things like the first dance, the cutting of the cake, bridal preparations etc but, even so, if you think about the time you have at your disposal, as a creative person you should be in your absolute element of creativity.

So what aspects do you find the most creative on the wedding day?
Everyone has their own favourites times of the wedding day. Richard Shelton loves the bridal preparation and he feels he is at his most creative during this time. For me, it is after the ceremony and before the wedding breakfast. This tends to be when the photographer takes a couple and does a few portrait photos with the couple. Now, I am very adamant in my documentary style of wedding video. I do not set any shots up. At all. The reason I do this is because I have been inspired by the film director Ridley Scott (director, amongst other things, of Blade Runner and Gladiator). He always wants to make the shots and his films look as beautiful as they can be. But there is a caveat to this: he only wants them to be as beautiful as they are natural. Why does he do this? Because he does not want to make the viewer go out of his film and say 'oh that was a beautiful shot'. He wants you to be fully immersed in the story of what he's saying. And as a wedding filmmaker I firmly believe this is fundamentally the best method of capturing any wedding.

But I've seen wedding videos where things have obviously been staged?
I'm sure you have and the shots will no doubt look amazing. But you have to ask yourself who is this filmmaker doing that shot for? Because I know when the couple views that shot/sequence back, the couple's reaction will be "oh yeah that was when the videographer told us to…", and you've lost them from the emotional impact of your film. So, I feel the filmmaker has been selfish, as they have wanted to make a new clip for their latest show reel. Now, I understand that having an amazing show reel is very very important, but as a creative individual you could have up to 11 hours at a venue with people and decoration to get creative shots. Quite frankly, if you cannot get decent footage with this amount of time you shouldn't be filmmaker, let alone a wedding filmmaker.

As a creative person, you have everything at your disposal to be a success within any type of video industry. You have an amazing camera (multiple if you are lucky), amazing audio equipment (maybe multiple sources), maybe even lighting at your disposal. And if you think about it, if we did media courses at school, wasn't this all we had? And didn't we feel the most creative we have ever felt?

But I’ve heard that filming weddings is too hard work for the money?
Yes, it is hard, hard work. But it's also a wonderful challenge! You only ever get one shot at it (pun intended) and you need to get the best results you can. But lets' look at the compensation for this. Say you are just starting out filming weddings and you are charging £1,500 for each wedding, you could easily do 40 weddings in one year. That is £60,000 that you will earn in a year. Do you earn that at a 9-5? If you do, that's great, but I guarantee you will love life more. You will be self employed and have the week free to edit and do what you need to do in your life. Can you do that in a 9-5? For me, as I do both wedding and corporate, I once filmed 47 weddings in a year and did 25 corporate gigs in the same year. Now, this was the toughest year in my life. The reason i did this was because my new wife and I wanted to get on the property ladder and we had two cars to change as we wanted to start a family. I earned a six-figure income that year and achieved all of the goals I mentioned. My prices are significantly more expensive for weddings and corporate now, but because of the hard work and time i dedicated throughout the years, the enquiries still come in almost every day.

So how do you go about getting recognition for your work in the industry?
If you are decent and approachable, your amazing talents will be recognised. Speak to Ben Walton (recently sold footage to Google), Jeff Wood (Sony ambassador), Ray McShane (The Wedding Industry Award Winner 2016), Rupert Ward-Lewis (award winning videographer who now directs corporate Adverts around the world) and Richard Shelton (a Multiple Award Winning wedding videographer), they all started in weddings and they are all recognised both in and outside the industry,

Above all always remember, ‘if you can nail a wedding, you can nail anything’ - no matter what anyone says.