Recently my friend told me he was considering getting married himself, and I asked him if he was planning on having a videographer at the wedding. He's likely to get married in the Greater Boston area, and I know a bunch of seasoned pros in the NPVA who would do a dynamite job. I even told him about the glories of same-day edits. After my photo montage knocked 'em dead at his sister's wedding, I figured it would be an easy sell. But the idea was anathema with him, and however strongly I argued the point, he wouldn't budge. I even tried Robert Allen's classic line: "I've got your grandparents' wedding photo album in one hand, and your grandparents' wedding video in the other. Which one do you want to see?" Without a moment's hesitation, he replied, "No contest. The photo album."
In the end, he actually gave me a decent explanation, a conclusion that his sister had reached when she was planning her wedding (a fairly lavish affair). "The nice thing about a photo album," she said, "is that it only captures you at your best. Smiling, posed, radiant, happy. That's how you want to remember the day. A video shows too much. That time when you looked down, looked worried, had to fix your makeup, coughed, tripped, were eating, or didn't realize you were on camera, and for whatever reason didn't look your best. I don't want to see all that."
I don't know how much my friend's sister knows about video editing. However, though my friend has never edited video himself, he knows well enough that there's a process involved—at least well enough to recognize it when it's done poorly. He's one of those guys who ruins movies with car chases by pointing out the tire tracks in the road before the cars even get there, evidence of repeated takes without adequate clean-up in between.
Of course, that's a conditioned response, the kind of thing we all turn on and off when we want to. And how many people really understand the art of judicious editing and the crafting of a document that captures the feel of an event without reproducing every second of it (or even most of it)? It's seamless if done well, and most people prefer not to notice. And of course you're happier if the audience isn't thinking about what's been done behind the scenes as they watch your work; you hope it's more absorbing than that.
Just like most of the other guests at his sister's wedding, my friend was initially deceived that he was watching actual motion video when they showed my montage because it had 2D motion, even though he knew perfectly well I hadn't worked from any video sources. Hal Slifer makes a great point along these lines in this month's Making History, about a 70th birthday party where he showed the photo montage and, due to equipment malfunction, he ended up showing a color production in black and white. While he worried he was going to have to refund the client's money and see his reputation suffer, the audience believed everything was OK and as it should be because they wanted to believe it. Miscue, malfunction, or magic—whatever caused that video to appear as it did, he gave the audience what they wanted, and they didn't question it for a second.
Canada's greatest twentieth-century novelist, Robertson Davies, wove the intricate tapestry of his Deptford Trilogy around notions of the presence and influence of myths, legends, and magic in everyday life. In the third installment, World of Wonders, retired illusionist extraordinaire Magnus Eisengrim describes a time early in his career when he made ends meet by performing magic shows for children in the toy sections of department stores. "Children are a miserable audience for magic," he says. "Everybody thinks they are fond of marvels, but they are generally literal-minded little toughs who want to know how everything is done; they have not yet attained to the sophistication that takes pleasure in being deceived."
At their best, wedding clients and same-day edit audiences are more pleasantly suggestible. They're not hiring you to duplicate what they experienced at the wedding; their experiences are incomplete in all the wrong ways, whereas what you create is incomplete in all the right ways—a serviceable illusion if there ever was one.
But the intent of that illusion couldn't be any more different from that of a certified illusionist or one-time circus magician like Davies' Eisengrim. Whatever deft sleight-of-hand or technical mastery—on-site and in post—elevates a wedding or event video above a warts-and-all record of the day's event, misdirection isn't its purpose. Elsewhere in World of Wonders, Eisengrim reflects, "It is never easy to find people who can be trusted with fine old pieces, because it calls for a kind of sympathy that isn't directly hitched to mechanical knowledge." In the context of the book, he was referring to the signature gifts of those qualified to repair exquisitely intricate antique clocks. But if you'd told me he was talking about the ability of someone like Hal Slifer to bring down the house with a full-color montage of old photos reduced to black and white by a bad S-Video cable—with no one the wiser, or in the least disappointed—I wouldn't doubt it for a minute.