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.
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.
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:
They are fun and easy going, and really live life to the fullest.
Family and friends are extremely important to the two of them.
The adventure they would have with their family and friends was just as important to them as the wedding itself.
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:
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!
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?
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…
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.
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…
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.
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!