Wedding Pre-Production in Ireland: It Wasn't Luck

By May 23, 2013 Storytelling 37 Comments


 
We’ve unofficially declared this week Wedding Week over here at Stillmotion HQ, to get you all geared up for your wedding shoots this summer.

What a beautiful story Jess and Brian had to tell — and we’re really happy with the way film turned out. But there is no question as to why it came out so well:

P R E – P R O D U C T I O N.

People often assume that Stillmotion’s wedding films are a result of directing, re-directing, and over-producing. People think this because our footage is so emotional, and sometimes the timing seems too good to be true.

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Really, we just do everything in our power to predict the future. We don’t ask people to redo things because we missed them or want to get a better shot. Instead, we do everything we can to make sure we won’t miss the shot, and we scout out the location ahead of time so we know the very best position to be in.

Basically, there are a few major steps we take to creating a great wedding film like Jess and Brian’s, and we want to share them with you.

Here’s the basic outline:

  • Care about the couple.
  • Follow the Four P’s of storytelling.
  • Ask questions and develop keywords.
  • Scout it out!
  • Always stay open to spontaneity.

To give you a more detailed idea of how we put these steps into action, we’ll walk you through each one using examples from our experiences shooting Jess & Brian’s wedding.

If you care about your film, care about your couple.

Every relationship is different. Every couple getting married is so different from the next one — it just doesn’t make sense to create a wedding film that is anything but a reflection of the couple’s personality.

In order to start the process of discovering each couple’s quirks and characteristics, you simply have to care. Make it your mission to find your couple’s defining characteristics — what really makes them who they?

So before you plan anything, it’s important to talk to the couple and get a feel for who they are. Over the phone, skype, or in person is always going to be best so you can hear their voices and get a better feel for how they interact.

With Jess & Brian, we originally spoke to them for about an hour and a half over the phone.

What’d we learn?

Jess & Brian are very close with their families, and they love adventure.

They wanted this to be an experience for everyone, and they wanted their wedding day to be a small part of a great adventure. Upon learning this, we knew that we’d want to be there to cover all of the family activities outside of the wedding ceremony.

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We also kept in contact with the wedding planner Jenn (Jess’ sister). We filmed Jenn’s wedding a few years earlier, and we knew that it if we weren’t focused, it woud be easy for these two films to look very similar (being that they would have the same cast).

By staying in communication with the wedding planner, we were able to stay in touch with everything that would be happening, and have access to anything that might help us plan our shoot.

Now that we had some of the basic information, it was time to think about the Four P’s of storytelling, plan our shoot, and develop our vision.

Always follow The Four P’s of Storytelling.

In order to tell a great story, you have to ask yourself: what is it that makes a great story? 

Really, the things that make a great story are relatively simple: characters, their connection to setting, what the story is about, and what the intention of your piece is. The hard part is making sure you stay true to these things, and don’t lose sight of them throughout the production process.

In other words, follow the Four P’s of storytelling.

People: Who is in the story you’re trying to tell? Who will captivate your viewers? Whom will they root for?

Place: Where does the story take place? What do your locations add to your characters or story?

Plot: What is the conflict, and what is the journey? How will we intrigue the audience through the beginning, middle, and end?

Purpose: Why are you telling this story in the first place? What’s the point? Why should people care?

For an in-depth look at the Four P’s and how we use them every time we tell a story, check out Episode 1 of “Storytelling The Stillmotion Way” — part of a series we recently created for the Vimeo Video School. This tutorial is going to tell you everything you need to know about following the Four P’s!

How the discovery process can help predict the future…

Our plan was to come to Ireland 3 days before the wedding, and spend some time at each family event to get the footage we knew we would be needing.

But there are always a million ways to do anything. For this reason, our next step was to develop some keywords based on the things we learned about the couple.

Keywords for Jess & Brian:

Fun.
They are fun and easy going, and really live life to the fullest.

Family.
Family and friends are extremely important to the two of them.

Adventure.
The adventure they would have with their family and friends was just as important to them as the wedding itself.

Sentiment.
Through getting to know them, listening to Jenn talk about them, and having a chance to read their vows before hand, we uncovered a very sentimental side of Jess and Brian that wasn’t so obvious at first.

We developed these keywords by taking ideas from our first meeting with the couple and expanding upon them in our second meeting. After we felt like we knew enough about them and their vision of the wedding, we developed the keywords to keep our goals for the shoot organized, and keep our vision in focus. For a closer look at the process of developing keywords, check out Episode 2 of “Storytelling The Stillmotion Way.”

After developing keywords, you can start connecting them to the events you know will be taking place during the wedding:
Jess_Brian_infographic

That is all well and good, but how did we know when and where the good stuff would happen?
 
Well, we asked a lot of questions.

For this shoot we found it was much easier to anticipate the emotional moments we wanted to capture by asking the family members for clues as to what would be going down over the course of their time in Ireland.

This means that whenever possible, try to get access to things like toasts and speeches that family members will be giving at the dinner table.

When we saw that Jenn would be literally asking in her toast “Why Ireland?”— we knew that it would fit perfectly in our opening sequence. The answer to that question tied into fun, family, AND adventure…3 of our 4 keywords!

jessbrian1810
 
Because we asked Jenn for a copy of her speech, we knew exactly when she was going to say what, and we could plan our approach around it. Remember that things like toasts and gifts only need to be a surprise to the bride and groom, generally the family will be happy to share things with you.

The family is also your best resource for predicting emotional reaction.

We knew that Jess & Brian were silly goofballs, but we really didn’t know how their first meeting scene would play out. Would it be an emotional tear-jerker or a light-hearted display of two giddy lovers before their big moment?

jessbrian0694
 
We asked Jenn how she thought it would go down, and she was right. She told us that Brian was an emotional guy and that he’d probably cry like a baby, and that’s exactly what he did.

We prepared ourselves to shoot an emotional scene based on our research with the family, and this made such a big difference in the smoothness of the shooting and editing process. For this reason we really can’t stress enough the importance of research and pre-production.

And don’t be scared to ask the bride and groom what they’ve got planned…

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We also got any information we could from Jess & Brian themselves. We asked them what they got each other for wedding gifts, and we got a copy of their vows. This is all really useful information when you’re trying to predict outcomes and put together scenes.

Once you get the skinny on all the wedding happenings and potential emotional breakdowns, it’s time to scout.

jessbrian0196

Scout the location… we promise you’ll find something.

Scouting is INCREDIBLY important to the outcome of your film, because you’re going to make a lot of important discoveries.

For example, when we scouted Jess & Brian’s first meeting place, we discovered that audio would be an issue at their original planned meeting spot. They had originally picked a spot next to a waterfall. It was beautiful, but we wouldn’t be able to hear any dialogue during the big moment.

We noticed a spot nearby that would be quieter and more secluded, and we thought it might make a better first meeting spot for them anyway. We suggested it as a much more private option, and they liked the idea.

It’s important to note that we didn’t suggest that the spot would be better for us, but rather for them. Obviously it would be better for our shoot to move to a quieter area, but it wasn’t something we were pressuring them to do for the sake of the film. We simply suggested a quieter, more secluded spot where they could hear each other and have more privacy, and they went for it.

The same was true for Jess & Brian’s ceremony.

You’ll notice that their ceremony was held in a white tent. They would have all this beautiful Irish countryside behind them and we wouldn’t be able to see any of it! So we suggested that they remove the back walls of the tent so people could see the landscape as they exchanged their vows.

It was better for them, and it was better for us.

We didn’t say anything about how it would make the lighting better, we didn’t mention anything about equipment or technical stuff. We simply suggested that they should expose the back of the tent to let more light in and so they’d have a beautiful backdrop to their wedding ceremony.

Scouting is the time when you’ll figure out these little things that make all the difference when you’re filming, and there won’t be any surprise crises.

That being said, you should always be ready for a surprise…

jessbrian2059

Save room for spontaneity.

Plan, prep, pre-produce, predict…but don’t forget that there are inevitably going to be some moments you weren’t prepared for.

But that is something you want to happen!

You can’t plan out every single shot or scene that will make your film come together. You can, however, leave holes in your storyboard and wait for the magic to present itself.

We knew Brian and the boys would be going fly fishing together, and we were all ready to get that footage. We also knew that we wanted a nice sequence of Jess and the girls doing something together, but we didn’t know what that would be until it happened.

We saw the girls sitting down to play Bananagrams together, and we knew that was it. We sprang into action and got the shots we needed to complete a sequence we already knew was going in the film, but up until we saw the girls break out the game pieces, we just didn’t know what exactly that sequence would be.

Let’s Review…

Ahh… so much to do before you even pick up the camera! But all of the work you’ll put into pre-production is completely worth it. Before we developed the Four P’s of storytelling and discovered the importance of keywords, we’d be kicking ourselves in post-production, making a lot of statements that either began or ended with:

“if only I’d known…”

It doesn’t have to be that way! The things we shared with you in this post are real techniques and processes we’ve developed to find the story first, before we even begin to shoot.

By knowing what your story is going to be before you begin shooting, every step of production is going to be so much smoother, and you are going to be more confident and prepared going into the project. Not to mention that you’ll stay on track, telling the story you actually intend to tell!

Having that confidence and sense of certainty is going to put you in a much better position to capture the naturally beautiful events of a wedding as they unfold, and this is going to make all the difference in the impact of your film.

*****

What pre-production strategies have made a difference in your shoots?

*****
And we promise we won’t bombard your inbox with meaningless crap!

About maggie

37 Comments

  • Brian says:

    Is that a typo on the Vimeo description?? “A highlights film we made for the wedding of Jess and Brian. This was one where our pre-production steps really paid off and made all the difference for this shit.” I’m guessing that should be ‘shoot’!

  • Alexis says:

    Perfect timing, two days before my first wedding shoot 😉
    Thanks Stillmotion fam.

  • freakin’ genius–yall always have the best advice even for us PHOTOGS and are so open and generous with sharing it. This is awesome, thank you!

  • Nick says:

    I just had to ask a gear question after seeing all those BTS photos!

    Is this one of the last projects you guys used the 1D Mark IV? Do you guys still have it in your kit at your studio?

    • Patrick says:

      Hey Nick,

      We actually used a 1DX for this one and absolutely loved how it performed with the wides and extra detail in some of the shots. Joyce shot on a MKIV for more of the medium and tight coverage.

      We still have a couple of them around here, but to honest that was a great reminder that we should probably get those sold. Want a good deal 🙂

      P.

  • Brian says:

    No problem Patrick, thought for a second it was Stillmotion’s new ‘gritty’ approach! 😉

  • Niall says:

    You really nailed this. I was glued. The use of audio was terrific and you really made the place look stunning! Been waiting for this ever since i seen your Facebook post. The first thing i was wondering was ” would it be an Irish couple?”
    I’m a shooter from Ireland and find some things really frustrating over here when shooting weddings. Irish couples never write their own vows and never do a first meet. I really love when watching some of the films from Canada and the Us for those reasons and the way it builds the story, emotion and gives great dialogue to work, that’s always original to that couple.
    We always have speeches but its not very often that the bride ever speaks. Would you have any advice to shooters in Ireland and the UK that get a bit frustrated by this?

    Thanks a Mill

    • Patrick says:

      The wedding industry is often driven by trends – not only in the photo and cinema markets, but also on the bride and groom sides. Many people plan their wedding based on what their friends and family did, and what they know. As people start to try new things, it often starts to spread more locally at first and then, slowly, more globally. You can see the times when textures were on so many photos, or when Trash the Dress shoots were huge, as well as trends of first meetings, presents, or written vows.

      The key for us is to always look at what feels right and true for that couple. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that we’ve met more than one couple who was looking at doing a ‘first meeting’ simply because they thought you were supposed to do that these days. While these moments can provide great dramatic tension and an emotional crescendo, we need to be careful to make sure it actually fits the story (surprise right 🙂 So we’ve often tried to remove pressure from couples to write vows, gets presents, or see each other before the ceremony unless that is what’s in their hearts.

      The converse is true as well – if you have a couple for whom you feel one of those elements is a natural fit, share that with them openly and honestly, explain why, and share some examples with them. If it is the right fit, the right couple will love that you’ve helped make their wedding a deeper and more meaningful experience. Just don’t be surprised if other couples start adopting it afterwards, and all of a sudden your problem isn’t that nobody is doing these things you are looking for, but that everybody is.

      P.

  • Nick says:

    What other KEYWORDS have you linked to the vows in the past? “Sentiment” is all I could think of when it comes to vows.

    • Patrick says:

      Asa and Coralie would be ‘metaphor’, or more directly ‘tomato’
      We’ve had other couples where humor, food, history would also be applicable, to name a few

      P.

  • LaVoy says:

    I know I get with the couple before hand and ask a lot of question and going to the rehearsal. Thanks so much for giving us this insight to help us grow as story tellers

  • Nick says:

    When you guys are doing dual-coverage like we see in the pic above of Pat and Joyce filming Brian opening his gift, how do you decide on the camera movement?

    For instance I notice that both Pat and Joyce in the pic were concentrating on his hands. So who knows when to pan up to capture Brian’s facial reaction…etc.?

    • Typically we have one person shooting action and the other shooting reaction. When someone is opening a gift we capture the action of the hangs opening the gift, then when they see it and react we shoot the reaction.

      When there are 2 filmers we just watch each other from time to time and see whos shooting what. We dont cut so if we both move and dont have a shot we can at least roll the audio and put in pick up shots or other cut away over the movement.

    • Patrick says:

      We have a couple different strategies depending on what we are shooting and who is shooting together. The overriding key is that we are always present – always aware of the other shooter, their focal length, and where they are directing their shot.

      Strategy 1 – Creative + Coverage: In this example one shooter is focused on getting the narrative, the meat of the story, while the second shooter should feel completely free to cover it in an unconventional way. The only rule – don’t ruin the coverage. In the shot here, we have Brian opening a present and the narrative is therefore both in his hands (what the presents are) as well as if Brian says anything, or his reaction (what they mean). So if i was on coverage i would basically be in a spot where i could smoothly move from face to hands smoothly without needing a cut and park there for the whole present opening and feel confident that i have enough variety to cut the sequence, but more importantly, all the story we need. We use this strategy when the key action is of high story relevance ie. we know these presents are meaningful to the broader story and they will matter to Brian.

      Strategy 2 – This + That: In this method, there is often less story relevance to the key action OR so much happening that we are better served to divide and conquer. Here we have each team member look at a specific part of the action and focus our energy there. For one present opening Ray and I were shooting, and there was a group of 4 bridesmaids very vocal and emotional in the room. Ray focused purely on the bridesmaids – them together, singles, their reactions, and over the shoulder shots. At the same time, i was covering the bride, her reaction, and the present.

      There are a couple ideas for you 🙂

      P.

  • orobosa says:

    was Jenn mic’d for her speech or was the sound captured by the rode video mic?

    • Patrick says:

      Come on sir, you know the answer to that 🙂

      Jen was mic’d, we also had a rode on camera, and we had a feed from the board being recorded

      P.

  • Jacob Cichy says:

    Another super shoot. Beautiful in the Stillmotion tradition. I have two questions. First, when you refer to the first meeting, is that actually the place they first met each other, and regarding the four P’s I’m wondering where the conflict was.

  • Aji says:

    One of our biggest problems during weddings is the constant sound of the photographer’s shutter bursting through the entire moment. I know in this wedding you also had the Stillmotion photo team shooting with you, but no single shutter was heard.

    How?

    • katie says:

      I’m wondering the same thing. Stillmotion has written about working with still photogs. With today’s DSLR technology, at least one option is to ask them to turn their cameras to a “silent shutter” setting. (You’d think they would anyways during a ceremony…)

  • What songs are played at such weddings? Only traditional ones or some other as well?

  • Nick says:

    During Jenn’s speech, what light did you guys use? Looks like a 1×1 Litepanel 1000 LED Flood?

    • Patrick says:

      If you happen to have our KNOW Field guide we have a lighting plot in there and show the exact lights we use.

      If you don’t have that, I will say that we used mostly all LED lights to work off batteries. That would be the 1×1 panels and blenders.

      P.

  • Yes Patrick, I want a good deal on a Mark IV!!!! My 5D2’s are great but I’d love to have a Mark IV (or two) 🙂

  • Brian says:

    This is a question I have asked in the past that I think someone hinted on in another post. I understand the concept of story and I really enjoy looking at interesting ways to tell the individual wedding stories, but my number 1 problem is how to deal with the photographers. I REALLY need help and suggestions in this area. I get along GREAT with them, never had a single issue, but I have the most difficult time trying to work around their flashes and trying to get their shot while me and my 2nd shooter are trying to cover the moment. Especially at the first look. Do you guys require a Stillmotion photo team for the weddings? If not how do you get the photographers to be less intrusive? My understanding is that you cover the entire beginning to end of the first look, so when/how do the photographers get their shots? How do you talk to them about their flashes going off every 2 seconds. I think this would make an EXCELLENT blog post 🙂

    • Patrick says:

      Have you considered working with photographers who don’t use flashes?

      Or, a better question, trying to find out which photographers don’t use flashes and then linking that to what brides like about them, so you can appeal to the same sensibilities?

      Our ‘first looks’ often have natural light and whether we or somebody else shoots the wedding, flash is rarely involved. Either we are super lucky, or much more likely, there is something in common about the types of couples we and the photographers are attracting.

      If that doesn’t help, i’de try creating conditions where flashes aren’t needed (ie lighting or better locations), and having these conversations with photographers before the wedding day where you can express what you need, but also why it matters to you and their story

      P.

  • Denis says:

    Awesome piece of work. Hope you enjoyed Ireland and the Temple Bar 🙂

  • Darin says:

    You guys have been so influential in your work and your ability to teach in a way that doesn’t spawn copy cats, but rather challenges people to reach new potentials and try something different. It has pushed me to predict more and to always be thinking of what could be coming next.

  • Will says:

    We’ve been following your blog and work for years and they have a great deal of influence on our work as well as our company culture.

    Just a quick question about whether you have any suggestions on when the bride and groom have music playing from iPod sound docks in the mornings, while it creates a relaxed atmosphere for the bridal party, it really does a disservice for the sound in the edits. Is it as simple as letting them know during the consultation? I’m finding it very awkward requesting them to turn off the music every time.

    Thanks, Will

    • Patrick says:

      Hey Will – that certainly is a problem. We try and let couples know ahead of time why sound matters to their story in a fun way, and that at times we will turn the music down – but only when needed, and only for as long as needed. We then do it in a smart way related to big events – presents, surprises, the dress – and leave it on for the rest.

      We often enlist the help of a bridesmaid to help turning the music down. Then it’s coming from the inside and if something comes up quickly, we have somebody to help while we focus on coverage.

      Hope that helps

      P.

  • Renato says:

    Hello,
    My name is Renato’m from Brazil and always accompany the blog for you. I’m starting to work with weddings now. My equipment is still little:
    CANON 5D MARK II CANON 60D and two
    Lens: 50mm 1.8 / 135mm 1.4 / 24-105 mm
    I still have doubts placements in church and which use these lenses at the entrance of the bride at the time of the vote ….
    Can you help me? And what lenses do you suggest for me to knife one next purchase?
    thank you
    Renato Herdy

  • Tulio says:

    Great work guys, and this post casts some more lights on the entire process. I´m left wondering, though: with how much time in advance did you start talking with the couple? Do you have any idea on how many hours you spent in pre for this one?

    Thanks for sharing, it´s very inspiring as usual.

  • Joshua Fair says:

    Hey P,

    did you have to get any visas to shoot the wedding there? i’m going to ireland next fall and was wondering if i’d need anything for that.

    thanks!

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