Saturday, March 07, 2009

A Wedding Video Production Primer

Information abounds on a myriad of ways to approach wedding video production. Forum advice ranges from the simple, basic one-camera, or two-camera one operator single-person business, to two or more cameras and operators, to full production crews with multiple cameras, operators, audio technicians and helpers.

There are plenty of resources and opinions also, that offer advice on the camera model, style, format, lens, standard or high definition...
...everything from lights, mics and audio levels, to tripods, tape and batteries. Marketing, production, editing and delivery notions are all over the board, all of them appropriate, none of them the end-all answer.

This bounty of information is all well and good, and will either help you make GREAT decisions regarding the above, or muddle your mind so much you want to throw your hands up in frustration and go back to your day job.

Keeping in mind that there are a hundred ways to make a good, no GREAT decision, the following is what I recently shared with an individual who asked:
“I'd like to know how to set up for a wedding shoot. Single camera? Multiple? Where do I set up for either? What about lighting? Angles? Sound? Where, and whom, to mic. What about shooting an indoor, night ceremony?

“What about pricing? Obviously prices can range from nothing to whatever. If a bride plans a wedding for 150 guests, and you charge them $1,500, what would that include?”

For someone who might not be familiar with weddings, or wedding video production and editing, this information could be helpful. It is not by any means all inclusive, nor the definitive article, but should generally set the uninformed and/or inexperienced on the right path.

A Wedding Video Production Primer
You can certainly go wedding (and event) video production using one camera, but it can be a bit more of a challenge to do so. The use of a second camera, or more, and additional operator(s) offers many options for more angles or points of view (POV).

Many of us in the field prefer to shoot with two cameras, using the second unit as a CYA unit as well. Personally, I prefer two cameras AND two operators. One operator predominately uses a sturdy tripod and works from the back, to the side of the main aisle, or in the balcony, even a side balcony if one exists.

It is possible to set this camera, frame it, and lock it down (where the term “Lock Down Larry” comes in), while the camera/operator does her/his thing, run and gun, off shoulder and/or using a monopod or other stabilizer or brace system. I prefer not. And especially suggest not going this route until you have a few weddings under your belt.

I rove with the second camera, or run-and-gun, using a unique and sturdy monopod system. I also usually monitor wireless audio coming into my unit. Sometimes not. I am nearly always somewhere up front, to the groom's side, to capture tight, get intimate shots of the bride during the vows and whathaveyou.

I often utilize a third camera for another unique perspective (I presently work in standard definition using two Canon XL1 and one Canon GL2 cameras). I sometimes place it against one of the front row pews on the floor set wide to get a unique angle on the processional including the bride’s entry. I have used it on a stand for a unique overhead shot, and even set it in the back area at an angle to the official, bride and groom to pick up a wide shot. I have used it for an exclusive close-up shot (CU) of the mothers lighting candles at the unity table, and the bride and groom lighting the unity candle.

NOTE: A matching set of cameras makes it a bit easier to get some degree of color balance. But even with matching camera models or brands that is not always the case. You will often have to manually white balance each unit, or even do some additional color correction in post. It is amazing how similar the image looks when screening from one camera. But when switching back and forth between cameras and shots, even a minor shift in color or brightness and lighting, becomes very evident.

We use natural available light in 99 percent of the venues we have worked, or even candlelight. I will normally use on-camera lighting 10-watt to 50-watt during under-lighted receptions.

In only one church in my career have I deemed it absolutely necessary to use auxiliary lighting for the ceremony. That church is almost totally dark, the only daytime light entering (barely) from one stained-glass window to the front of the church and high, nearly to the ceiling.

Even with 1,800 watts of lighting from stand units in the balcony the ability of the cameras we use was sorely tested. This venue is an old mission and pretty much everything at the altar is covered with gold, highly reflective, but not very illuminating. Those instances are pretty rare actually, and even candlelight can give a nice, warm hue to the ceremony if you manually white balance according to the light the candles throw off.

I have also used 10-watt auxiliary lights strategically placed to throw some illumination onto the vows area, suspended in the gazebo or arch, or where ever available. If it is going to interfere in any way with the visuals I will avoid doing so, same with mics or auxiliary audio recording units.

There will be some lights, or candles for evening services, and that should be sufficient for most of today's venues, and many of the current available standard definition cameras. Figure out the ways you can adjust your cameras to compensate for more, or less, illumination and various light temperatures and sources, then be ready to adjust on the fly when you need to.

I use NRG varilights that I can dial down as needed without making a LOT of difference in color temperature. I use 50-watt lamps with screens over the fronts to keep from blasting guests with blinding white light. Even so, there will be some reaction, but I've not run into any of our clients who have complained excessively about the "bothersome" lights.

Some video producers shy away from using lights at all, but my personal opinion is that “video IS light, light IS video.” I personally do not like the coloration or the darkness of shooting natural when the DJ invariably shuts down the lighting to show off the color bar, strobes or whatever other light show is brought in.

Mic the groom, wireless or hardwired, and the bride whenever possible. One or the other is going to whisper if you don't and you will NEVER know which one forgets to project. I use a wireless system, with white cable and head for the bride (I have even temporarily coated a black mic system with liquid paper - sure, it rubs off some during the event, but mostly stays white, and rubbing it off is easy when I am ready to clean it up and use it black again in another situation).

I shoot live audio to all cameras as well, except for the one receiving whatever wireless source I utilize. I have four Zoom H2 digital recorders which I place at the podium, on mic stands or where ever they are needed to pick up soloists, readers, roving ministers, dual speaker podiums, and sometimes even directed toward the "sweet spot" if any of the house sound system. Due to many bad luck experiences resulting in damage to my cameras or mic circuitry, I will never again trust anything from house sound or auxiliary boards. EVER!

I use lots of 2- to 3-hour bricks, having gotten away from battery belts (too heavy after awhile) even though most belts actually last pretty much for the six or more hours, give or take, of most wedding events - ceremony and reception.

We rarely stay for the "party" dancing, shooting the main dances, and two or maybe three of the first party dances, then we get the heck out of dodge, unless there’s late traditional events that have been arranged for coverage.

Most receptions feature the intro, then toasts, sometimes first dance and subsequent father/daughter, mother/son and bridal party dances happen immediately after the introductions. Or the first dance will fall between introduction and toasts. Always check with the attending activities coordinator or DJ or band emcee, for the general plan.

Cake cutting, bouquet and garter will often occur after dinner and prior to the party dancing. If not, you're going to be stuck for a long night. Try to find out as much about the event plans as you can from the bride, her mother and the coordinator or activities person. Believe me, you will be glad you have some kind of handle on it, even if it all changes somewhat.

The market seems to want a "meat and potatoes" production with good-to-great audio video quality. And a minimum of special effects or creative elements, for a production of anywhere from 40-minutes to one and one-half hours in length. Actually, less is more, if you do a GREAT job of shooting, getting good color, quality audio visuals, and editing it all together. Botches in angle, focus, sound, etc. can create some serious editing/production headaches, but usually, if you work with two cameras there’s not much you cannot overcome in post.

With that in mind, event (wedding) coverage that provides basically a documentary/journalistic style approach, (getting what happens the way it happens without creative enhancement - maybe SOME slow motion, or a fancy cuts-to-the-beat dance sequence) should be valued at $1,200 to $2,000, depending on your experience, abilities, equipment used and assistance needed.

My package starts at $1,500 for basic, and goes up to $5K. We also offer a $1k service that is primarily a highlights production with live audio for the vows and rings, everything else edited montage style and featuring the high points of the event. Plus they get totally RAW DVDs of the footage shot - no kisses, no promises. Opinions and theories on provision of RAW footage vary widely, some professing professional outrage at even considering the concept. Whatever.

Many in this profession keep their prices and overhead low, offering a single-camera, single operator service, and they are quite successful at it. Their editing time is shorter, and I have seen production by them that stands up to any quality standard.

These people are often highly skilled shooters and editors, making as much, sometimes more, often less per package than my two-and-two prices. I do not begrudge them that.

The following forum groups are excellent resources for people considering a move into wedding and event video production, either as a part-time income-booster, hobby or full-time professional business: Videomaker, Wedding Video Professionals, WEVA, DV Professionals and Video University. There are more, but these would be a good start.

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