If you’re a fan of VCN you’re probably a filmmaker. And if you’re a filmmaker you probably own at least one nice camera. And if you own at least one nice camera, eventually one of your friends (or relatives) will ask you to shoot their stupid wedding. Wedding shoots are long and hard and boring. But filmmakers do them because at least the pay is good. But when a friend asks you to shoot their wedding they’re obviously hoping you’ll do it for cheap. (And relatives are probably hoping you’ll just do it for free.) So it’s really a lose-lose situation for you. The shoot won’t be any fun AND you’re not going to make much money.
But sometimes ya’ gotta do what ya’ gotta do. Yes, you can turn down Cousin’s Steve’s request but his side of the family will probably resent you for years. So if you absolutely, positively HAVE TO shoot a wedding for a friend or family member this summer, these 8 tips will make the experience a little less crappy
1. Determine EXACTLY what you’re expected to do: So one day you log into facebook to find a message from a friend that says: “Hey man! As you know, I’m getting married in two weeks. I wasn’t going to hire a videographer but now I’m thinking that I should. By any chance would you be able to do it? We don’t really have much of a budget for this so we’re not looking for anything fancy; we just want a simple video.”
When your friend says he wants a “simple” video what he means is that he wants a CHEAP video. Most non-filmmakers have no idea how much time and effort will go into a project like this. So you need to tell them. Start off by asking them EXACTLY what they want. Do they just want want one-camera coverage of the ceremony? Or do they want two cameras plus coverage of the reception? And what about the cocktail hour? I mean, if you’re filming the reception it would be easy for you to get some shots of the cocktail hour too, right? And how about all the prep stuff? Doesn’t the bride want footage of her getting in her dress?
After a few messages the “simple” shoot will probably turn into a 10-hour gig. And what’s going to happen to the footage after the big day? Will you be expected to edit the video? Will they want you to make them a wedding “trailer”? And what about the DVDs? Are you supposed to author and produce those too?
2. Negotiate your fee: Once you and your friend figure out what your duties will be, your friend will sheepishly ask “so what would you charge for something like that?” Before you give him your price, give him the “market” price for a wedding video. Go to google and look up some local (or national) production companies that do weddings. Then, send your friend a link to their rates. Here’s a sample quote that I found online:
$2,295 is pretty ridiculous but that’s just how much these types of videos cost. Casually tell your friend “So this is what these packages usually cost. But obviously I could never charge you that much. How about I give you a 70% discount from the market price?”
Now you’ll discover what your friend’s actual intentions are. If you’re friend is a decent human being they’ll be thrilled to get a $2,295 video package for $700. But if their real goal was to try and get a bunch of free work from you, they’ll probably start whining about how the discounted price is still too high for them.
If that happens, here’s what you do; tell your friend that video production is your job and you can’t really do it for free. But let your friend know that you are willing to barter. You will give your friend 10 hours of labor if they repay you with 10 hours of labor. (You can even knock a few hours off as a wedding present.) For instance, maybe your friend can help you move someday. Or maybe they can cut your grass once a week for the rest of the summer. Or how about they give you 10 rides to or from the airport?
There’s pretty much zero chance that your friend will accept this offer. And if they pass, you’re off the hook. You tried to give them a $2,295 wedding video package for $0 and they rejected it. What more can you do for them?
3. Prepare in advance: I’ve shot maybe four large-scale, all-day weddings in the last 5 years. They’re actually really tough gigs because you’re basically shooting a feature-length documentary all by yourself and if you screw up one little thing, you’ll be ruining someone’s precious wedding video. You should get all your gear ready to go a week before the day of the shoot. Those 7 days will give you time to replace missing or malfunctioning items. At the very least you should have your gear all tested, packed and ready to go the night before the wedding. You’re going to have a long day; you don’t need to make it longer by waking up at 7AM to get your equipment ready.
4. Bring the right gear: A few quick notes about equipment: The groom should wear a lav mic so that you can hear the vows clearly. You’ll want to bring tripods for all your cameras but you should also have a shoulder mount for your main camera. But don’t use the shoulder mount rig for the ceremony. Put your main camera on a monopod with feet. The reception will be dark so you absolutely need an on-board camera light. Bring a million batteries and memory cards. In fact, bring all the batteries and memory cards that you have.
5. Set all of your equipment to “manual”: This is a good tip for any shoot but it’s especially important for wedding videos. Lighting conditions during a wedding can be very challenging. If your cameras are set to “auto” they will compensate by cranking up the gain. The picture on your monitor will probably look ok but when you review the footage later it might be filled with nasty-looking grain. Actually, you should check and double check all of your record settings before you even get to the location. Editing is going to be a hassle of one of your cameras is set to 60i and the other is set to 24p.
6. Bring your own comfort supplies: Don’t rely on the bride or groom to keep you comfortable and well fed. Keep some aspirin or aleve in your pocket; after 8 hours on your feet something is bound to be sore. In fact, you may want to stop at Walgreens and invest $17 in a set of super-cushiony shoe inserts.
You should also keep a cooler full of snacks and water in your car. STAY HYDRATED and EAT PROTEIN! High protein snacks like nuts, cheese and meat will make a huge difference. Some turkey and cheese wraps would be a good choice but some jerky or Slim Jims will do in a pinch.
7. Pack some long rubber bands: You’ll want to get some nice, smooth, cinematic pans of locations, outfits, rings, place settings, flowers etc. You might be a pro but you’re no robot (I assume). Even if you use a tripod your pans and tilts won’t be 100% smooth. And that’s where the rubber bands come in. When you doing a slow pan or tilt, attach the rubber band to the handle of your tripod and pull the handle using the rubber band. The band acts like a shock absorber and the movement will be incredibly smooth. Here’s a video that demonstrates the technique.
8. Try and exceed everyone’s expectations: Just because you’re doing the gig for next to nothing it doesn’t mean you can get away with doing a crap job. Wedding shoots suck but if you HAVE TO do one, try and knock it out of the fuggin’ park. Your friend’s wedding might be stupid but when it’s over he or she will still be your pal. They’ll love you forever if you do an incredible job for them. And really, can you put a price tag on love?*