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My Wedding Film Philosophy

President Obama doing his best wedding filmmaker impression.

I didn’t always dream of becoming a wedding filmmaker.

In fact, I had a pretty bad assumption of wedding videos earlier in my life. They were cheesy, corny, shaky, boring… and no one will watch it in full except the bride and maybe the groom – and twice at best in their lifetime. Basically, pointless and an overpriced commodity. And because of the accessibility of such powerful filming tools as DSLR cameras, it seems like any teenager with a semi-rich parent can start a wedding video business – although they often go with wedding photography, as it is assumed to be much easier than video (true professionals will beg to differ, and I too am not endorsing this idea). This accessibility led to many unqualified wedding videographers making it into the market who produce poor quality wedding videos that further this bad stereotype I’ve had about wedding videos for most of my life.
But when I fell utterly in love with genuine, quality wedding films through Orange Wedding Films and the world of wedding filmmakers I discovered from there, I soon decided to build myself as a wedding filmmaker and to do so by quietly absorbing all the information I could get from the gurus and experts in the field. From it all, I developed a sort of personal philosophy of how to enter into the wedding film business, and I plan to share with you a glimpse of this philosophy…

    1. First and foremost, it is vital to note that wedding filmmaking is a genre in filmmaking unique to any other style. A TV/broadcast camera operator or a Hollywood cinematographer wouldn’t necessarily be a talented wedding filmmaker – in fact, chances are they’d squirm at the very idea of Same-Day Edits in the kind of environment and time-restrictions wedding filmmakers are expected to work under. Where a Hollywood production would have many individuals specializing in audio, cinematography, editing, etc. (do you remember the last time you watched a movie and sat through the credits? Yeah…), wedding filmmakers are often all of these a once. Shooting a wedding, I could easily find myself monitoring audio while pulling focus on a camera, and a few hours later editing the same footage and audio I was capturing earlier. Wedding filmmakers need to become a sort of jack-of-all-trades of video production, which is probably why the best of wedding filmmakers such as stillmotion often find themselves finding corporate works as well!
    2. Find the story, capture it, and share it. Sounds simple, but even professionals admit to finding and sticking to the set of shots that sell wedding films without having to tell a real story. But one thing I noticed personally is that the popular “set of shots” will always change, but a real story is timeless. A couple years back, wedding videos were expected to have glowy images and the oh-so-dreadful slo-motion shots. These are now perceived as dull, boring, and outdated. However, I am sure the day will come when the glidecam shot and the slider shot will be dull, boring, and outdated, and a whole new “set of shots” will be the trend and your glidecam and slider will become obsolete. BUT give me a wedding video from the 90’s that captures a genuine and compelling narrative, and I will watch it from beginning to end. And since the product would be expected to be viewed by the couple for years to come, isn’t “timeless” a characteristic you should be striving for in your wedding film? Twenty years later, they won’t care how “cool” their wedding film looks like, but they will care when they can relive that day through their wedding film. Tell the story – it’s timeless.
    3. The couple always comes first. After all, it is their day. This is not some sort of sucking-up byproduct of the recession or anything – because despite many pessimist comments, the market is always strong enough for those with the right skill set. Rather, reminding oneself that the couple comes first would prevent the wedding filmmaker to fall into a sort of creative ignorance. Of course, oftentimes couples have no idea what they want in their wedding films (and sometimes have quite unrealistic expectations), I get it. But if this were a Hollywood production, you’d be the director and the couple both the actors and the producers. In a Hollywood production, a director could not make a successful film without at leastmaking an effort to communicate with the actors/producers. Likewise, it is not then the role of the wedding filmmaker to make whatever he/she desires, but it is his/her role to educate the couple and to collaborate in the creative process. Clients will notice it and appreciate it when you’re careful not to tread on their wedding day. This also goes into making sure your rig isn’t overpowering, as a large rig could take the focus away from the couple on their own wedding day. Because of this, I feel, leaving the smallest footprint possible on a client’s wedding is crucial.

      If this is what you plan on bringing to to a wedding, you should consider a different profession...
      If this is what you plan on bringing to a wedding….umm, yeeah. (Rodriguez’s DSLR rig, d2visions.com)

    4. This connects with #3: Always be humble and strict on yourself. Compare your work to the best examples you can find and make sure you measure up. If you don’t, seriously look into how to improve. Stay up-to-date in the latest equipment and technology, and objectively assess its potential necessity. Solicit feedback from your clients – and take suggestions and complaints seriously! Besides, regardless of how fancy your pamphlets or websites are, or how many followers you have on Twitter, the best promotional tool you have is the standard of your work. If you make good wedding films, people will seek you out.

 

So how do you enter into the Wedding Film Business?

 

– James

Beginnings of a New Website!

Hello, World!
I just started my own website, http://www.jamesleefilms.com.

When introducing myself through the website (and when approached by clients), I say: “my name is James Lee, and I’m a wedding filmmaker.” Why not ‘videographer,’ you ask? I like to distinguish myself from the old-fashion point-and-shoot-and-smack-it-together style wedding ‘videos’; instead I try and focus on telling a story, by crafting a carefully edited 25-40 minute cinematic wedding film that captures the emotions of the day.

Specifically, my style as a storyteller is to employ more of an “emotional truth” approach than literal truth.

A literally true documentary of a wedding day is essentially recording the day as it happens. The sights and sounds, the music, the full 30 to 40 minute ceremony, all of it shot and edited to pretty much re-cap the day. I think this is what many people who don’t get wedding videos think all they are. For many people, including me, this is boring.

An emotionally true wedding film is one that has the power to evoke the same feelings and emotions people had that day, regardless of who is watching. I would have clients watch clips of wedding films from total strangers and being crying, laughing, etc. The emotion of the day was conveyed in such a way that most people watching would be moved.

Below is a sample of a wedding film highlights I shot and edited for Wonton Creations last June:

Do you know the couple, Sophia and Ben, personally? Did you feel, at least temporarily, the emotions of the day that Sophia, Ben, and the people who participated in the wedding may have felt? If so, our job was completed. Of course, I’m not saying this is perfect. Conveying emotional truth “truthfully” is a challenge I face every wedding. What drives me then, is that I have found personally, that telling emotionally true stories are more exciting and fulfilling for me as a filmmaker.

Each wedding is a story begging to be told. And wedding films are the opportunity to relive that story forever.

– James

How important is it to be provided with all the RAW footage with my wedding video?

How important is it to be provided with all the RAW footage with my wedding video?
This is an important question that brides face when trying to choose someone for wedding videography. There are some wedding videographers that will provide all your RAW, unedited footage to you on the DVD, while many others would not.

There are two main schools of thought on whether you should be given unedited footage or not. They stem mainly from the wedding videographer themself, and the style that they like to film.

A wedding videographer filming ‘documentary’ style may provide you with all their unedited footage. Their style of filming is based on filming everything from Point A in time to the end, Point B. They may not do much editing for your video and instead choose to provide you with the many hours of footage as their final product.

The videographer who films cinematic style wedding films (‘wedding cinematography’) may choose not to give you the unedited RAW footage. They opt to take a creative, story-telling approach when filming your wedding day. The main goal is to produce a fully-edited, short film that will show off your wedding day to the viewer and evoke powerful emotions such as joy and happiness. Much like a Hollywood producer filming a drama movie, in wedding cinematography there are certain details throughout the day that are captured onto film to help tell your story and to build up the ‘plot’.

Wedding Cinematography
In cinematic wedding videography, the little moments are thoughtfully filmed with an intent to be edited at certain points in your wedding video to tell the story to the viewer. These moments may include scenes such as all the workers diligently setting up your reception hall, or a close up scene of the groom nervously tapping his feet while he awaits his bride, or your mother taking a second to adjust your veil before you walk the aisle.

Without any editing, these scenes, which could be up to over 10 hours of ‘unedited’ footage, would just appear to be an assortment of random events that carry very little meaning. If you were to see the unedited footage without seeing the final, edited wedding video, you may even be disappointed and think you wasted your money on a wedding videographer that spent so much time on seemingly unimportant footage!

But the beauty truly lies after the editing process, when the collection of the scenes are interwoven with each other to become your final wedding video. The wedding cinematographer often will spend up to 40 hours carefully choosing the scenes and fitting them, like pieces of a puzzle, into your wedding video.   In the end, the assortment of footage becomes connected to tell a beautiful story — one that you would watch not just once, but over and over — much like your favorite movie.

‘Actual’ vs ‘Perceived’ Value
There are a few questions you should ask yourself when you are trying to pick out wedding videography and if you really need the RAW, unedited footage. They pertain mostly to ‘actual’ and ‘perceived’ value and which is more important to you.

If you favor the ‘documentary’ style of wedding videography, and absolutely need 10 hours of continuous, unedited video of your wedding day, then you should ask for the RAW footage so you can maximize the ‘perceived’ value of your investment — the perception here that the value is getting the most number of bottom-line  hours of footage you end up with.

If the thought of sitting through and watching 10 hours of your wedding video, more than just on one occasion, makes you cringe, then you may not need the RAW footage and opt to hire a wedding cinematographer.  This is where you would favor the ‘actual” value. You’ll end up with less hours of wedding video footage but the final wedding video, whether 5 minutes, or 25 minutes long, of edited footage may show off your wedding day in a much more polished, creative, emotion-provoking, and beautiful way than the 10 hours of unedited footage.

———

Food for thought: After the wedding is done, who does the footage belong to? The cinematographer, who owns the camera, card, equipment; operates it to capture the footage; and edits to complete a final creative piece? Or the client, who pays for it? (Is the client paying for ownership of the footage, or just the service the wedding videographer provides?)



James Lee

Nostalgia Strikes

Someone asked me recently who my inspirations were. In fact, whenever people who wedding film fanatics like myself (as in are addicted to wedding films on Vimeo) see my work, I get asked if I got that idea from this wedding filmmaker, or that filmmaker, etc. etc.

The truth is, wedding cinematography with the use of DSLRs is pretty old news. Ever since Vincent Laforet got his hands on the 5D Mark II in 2008 and showed the world what kind of beast Canon had just created, independent filmmakers jumped on the bandwagon, and wedding filmmakers were a part of this transition.

With the growing popularity of the Canon DSLRs, although completely poor and unable to afford any of the cameras or gears, I began to learn about DSLRs, see videos produced using them, and watch tutorials and rig setup videos. I soaked in as much as humanly possible without actually handling a DSLR camera. At the time my sole interest was in narrative short film (which I still very much enjoy), and didn’t know of professionally-made wedding films. The first wedding film that I saw was inadvertently through a rig setup video done by JJ Kim of Orange Wedding Films:


(Nostalgia strikes…)
I was studying his comparison of the 7D and T2i, and through surfing his vimeo page, for the first time in my life I was introduced to the world of wedding films. It was love at first sight. It was not too long after this that I got hired by Wonton Creations, LLC as a cinematographer/primary editor for wedding films. I used a DSLR for the first time through this company, and honed my skills exponentially, perhaps because the hunger to do so was so great. I never forgot JJ’s wedding films, and after I went through all of his films public on vimeo several times over, I began to search for more. This is how I found Michael Y. Wong, David Robin, and Konrad of Freshsox; I began to follow In[FOCUS] and discovered Jet Kaiser Films, Matt Davis of Life Stage Films, Joe Simon, Lord Calomay, and so on so forth…

Perhaps one of the first wedding filmmakers to use solely Canon DSLRs, and one of my greatest inspirations, is none other than Stillmotion. At the time, Stillmotion had been using 35mm Brevis Adapters to produce the cinematic look; the DSLR replaced that easily with its low light performance and greater dynamic range. I began this nostalgia trip because recently Stillmotion posted a video on vimeo on wedding steadicam operation, and after watching it suddenly remembered the long, long ago moment when it all started…

To all of you wannabe-wedding-filmmakers, this is word of advice from someone still young in the industry. Never stop learning. Don’t ever settle for “good enough.” Always look at someone better than you and challenge yourself to reach his/her level.

– James

A Letter On My Doorstep

This letter has been passed around among our industry peers this week and I thought I’d like to share it with our blog followers. Although it speaks of photography, I believe the principle can be applied to filmworks as well. The original article can be found here on the Fototails Photography’s blog,  www.fototails.com.
——————————–
A letter on my door step. portraits are more than paper.
There will be no portrait photos in this post. This letter wasn’t mailed – it was at my doorstep when I got home a couple months ago. I read it, I cried, and read it again – probably a hundred times by now. It wasn’t easy to read – and honestly, as much as it validates what I do for a living – I wasn’t sure I was going to share it either – Until today, when a past client said that my print prices were too expensive. If you choose to read through the letter, you will know why I’ve finally chosen to share it.

July 2nd, 2011

Jeanine –
Today I am writing for a couple of reasons. I have some quiet time at the moment and need to get a couple of things off my mind. I will leave this for my husband to deliver to you when he is ready.
You photographed my wedding, you photographed my first pregnancy and my first baby. I contacted you awhile back to photograph my 2nd child and family. After getting prices and realizing I would want all of the pictures as we love your work – I decided against spending $500+ – which is what I normally spend for portraits and prints with you.. Please know it is not because I don’t value your amazing eye, or how much we love the experience.
That week that I decided to NOT do a session with you, this is how I spent some money.
On Sunday I called and cancelled our session. Monday I went out and got my hair cut ($39+tip), and colored ($65), Thursday I had my nails done ($24), my family went out to dinner at a somewhat expensive restaurant for no particular reason costing us $79 + tip. This was just 4 days since canceling our session, already totaling over $200 for un necessary things. My nails only lasted about 2 weeks, my hair is gone, and seven weeks passed when I got the phone call from our doctor. It was not something I expected and the cancer has spread very quickly. I will be leaving my husband, my 6 year old girl and my now 2 year old – not by choice. It is very hard for me to talk about it which is why I need to write you.
I watch your Facebook page and your posts about the value of a photo and if I could give back all of those things that I purchased this few weeks after I cancelled my session with you, knowing what I know now, and have that session, well… I would do it in a heartbeat.
Now my time is done and there are no more chances for me. The next time someone cancels a session – my wish is that you forward this letter to them. Time is fragile, it is gone before you know you had it. If you charged $200 for one print it wouldn’t be enough for what it is actually worth. I cringe to think that my priorities were a manicure over a memory to pass onto my babies and husband.
My love and thanks for what you have given us from past photos. I am so sorry that I did not see it as more than paper until now.

Karen L.

Shooting Our “Save The Date” Video

Jennifer and Jihoon received their wedding photos the other day, and it seems they were very happy with the results. Another congratulations to them! If you haven’t seen the wedding photos yet, you can click here.

Last week, my fiance Julie and I shot our “save the date” video with the help of my friend since high school, Youmin Woo! We were on a tight schedule so all the shooting had to be done within a 4 hour window. The concept behind the video is very simple and the final product planned at under 1 minute; still, we were barely able to fit in the shooting in just under 4 hours. Two cameras were used on set, one Canon 7D and one Canon T2i, although the T2i served more as a prop than for its video function. Youmin brought all the glass used for the shoot as well, which consisted of the Canon 24-70mm f2.8L (for some action shots), the Canon 16-35mm f2.8L (for establishing shots and as a prop), and the Canon 50mm f1.4 (most prominently used). The video is currently in post production, but I thought I’d share with you all some of the production stills while I finish cutting up the video:










Big shout out again to my good friend Youmin Woo for shooting our video for us! She’s a graphic designer currently finishing her studies at the School of Visual Arts. Please check our her other awesome work at her webpage at designtowoo.com!

10.25.11 Jennifer & Jihoon’s Wedding – Adorama Rentals and Lightroom

My fiance’s colleague at Teachers College and dear friend Jennifer Lee got married to her boyfriend of two years 2 Tuesdays ago on October 25th in Manhattan. The wedding was done in court with very few close friends, and I had the honor of taking photos for their wedding and reception. Big shout out to Scott Tsai (who will also be the photographer to our wedding) for lending me some of his equipment! I also tried out for the first time Adorama Rentals to get my hands on a monopod. Now, I had my eyes on Adorama for quite a while, but three reasons have kept me away:

1) Adorama keeps a deposit for the full price of the equipment rented on your credit card,
2) Although pick ups have a daily option, if you want the equipment shipped there is a minimum rental of one week, and
3) there are no insurance options, meaning if anything were to break, you’re screwed.

In the past working for Wonton Creations, Adorama Rentals came up as an option when BorrowLenses start getting too expensive (on paper, Adorama is much cheaper), and I even considered driving into the city to pick it up, but the other two reasons kept us from choosing Adorama Rentals and we ended up sticking to BorrowLenses, which does not require a full price deposit, can be shipped for a three-day option, and have insurance options, even though the final rental price is more expensive. Now for this wedding:

1) I was only getting a monopod so the replacement deposit was under $300,
2) The wedding was in the city, so I could pick up and drop it off myself, and
3) because of #1, insurance wasn’t a big worry.

Other than the fact that the store is located in downtown NYC so getting there is a bit hectic, the renting process was very easy. The equipment itself had a lot of ugly marks of use, but other than that, its functionality was excellent for $13.Overall, I did have a decent experience with Adorama Rentals, but because of the chaos of traveling in Manhattan, I doubt I’ll be taking on weddings in NYC anytime soon, which also means I personally won’t be using Adorama Rentals anytime soon either. If the three reasons above don’t bother you, Adorama Rentals is worth a try.

Scott always told me to shoot in RAW than in JPEG, and being an amateur in photography I didn’t understand why. So for this wedding, I decided to go for it anyways. Afterwards, I downloaded the 30-day trial version to Lightroom 3.5 to try and use it for the first time, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised at how powerful Lightroom was and how versatile CR2 (RAW) files were. I’ll include a few samples for your viewing pleasure:

Congratulations again, Jennifer and Jihoon! 🙂 

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