Officially a parody video for the Black Eyed Peas' song "The Time (Dirty Bit)," Robin's film was shot at the beachfront wedding of Emre and Joya, two southern Californian network TV professionals who handle website and social media operations for NBC.com. Like the dozens of other Wedding Day Music Videos (WDMVs) produced since The Graham Fenton Experience unveiled its first at WEVA Expo 2001, Robin's "The Time (Dirty Bit)" was shot entirely during the course of the wedding day, enlisting the bride and groom, the wedding party, and other guests as lip-syncers and actors. Given that a wedding day is already busy enough for everyone involved—vendors most of all—these types of productions can prove stressful to say the least.
So why did he do it? Robin is entirely candid about that fact that he's had the notion of producing a viral video in the back of his mind for years now, and although he's had pieces online that have approached the 100,000-play threshold (a Miley Cyrus parody shot last year), after a quarter-century in the business, he's never become the overnight sensation that a viral YouTube video can make you. But in spite of the challenges that he knew producing a wedding-day music video would entail, Robin felt that this was the right concept and the right couple to make this one worth doing. "I had the couple in my office and they were pretty cool and hip and they wanted to do something different, but they weren't sure what," he recalls. "They're pretty contemporary and hip to all the contemporary pop culture. They wanted to do something a little different. And if you were actually to look at the actual wedding day itself, it was quite unusual and different from the norm."
As they discussed the different possibilities, Robin found that the couple was particularly enamored with U.K.-based Lockdown Projects' WDMV of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now," which topped 150,000 views in 2009 and spawned a series of YouTube parodies of its own. Then it came down to choosing a song. The first criteria was to choose something contemporary-already a departure from most previous WDMVs-and also one that was fun, high-energy, easy to lip-sync to, and likely to "stand the test of time." The Black Eyed Peas song fit all their criteria. "Once we focused on the music video idea," Robin says, "what was going through my mind was, ‘I don't want to do this. They never go well. They can't act; they can't lip-sync. It's going to be cheesy.' I was dreading that. My goal was to make it as un-cheesy as possible, which was hard. Any time you're directing amateur talent, you just have to hope for the best."
Robin says he's encountered this problem numerous times in producing his signature concept films. "I've done plenty of concept videos where, on paper, they look wonderful. The script is fantastic. But then after the bar mitzvah kid or the bride and groom have delivered their lines," the limitations of the cast become cringe-inducingly clear, and a 4-hour shooting window proves a poor substitute for years of acting school.
Robin says producing the video was even more "hair-raising" than creating his signature concept films, which at least allow for multiple takes. With "The Time (Dirty Bit)," he says, "We got virtually everything done in one take. There were a couple of things where we had time for two takes. It was our goal not to disturb the wedding-day activities and actually let them have a proper wedding day. Believe it or not, we maybe changed the entire wedding-day timeline by an hour doing this video."
Advance planning played a key role, as did the creativity and flexibility of the event planner, the groundwork laid by the bride and groom, and the patience and compliance of the guests on the wedding day. "It was very tight, and we were working with a very good event planner who kept it rolling for us. We had the storyboards, we knew what we wanted to do, and we had a very small window in which to do it. We had a couple of production meetings in advance, and the planner said, ‘OK, we can give you 15 minutes here; we can give you 15 minutes there. You can do this, you can do that.' And then we storyboarded it out according to the timeline."
The bride and groom also did their part to guarantee the willing participation of their guests. They emailed everyone who planned to attend and let them know there would be a music video shot at the wedding and that they might be called on to participate; they also sent them a link to the song. "The rest of it was up to me to pull together on the wedding day," Robin says.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, as you might guess, it wasn't; it turned out to be the most stressful day Robin says he's had in 25 years in the business. Even though Robin and his crew had meticulously planned and storyboarded each shot—including mapping specific shots to specific portions of the song and including a few (but not too many) moments that would relate to elements of the Black Eyed Peas' original video (such as Fergie/the bride singing through an iPad)—"Nothing went according to plan. At some point it became guerilla tactics where we had a shopping list of shots that we needed to do and we literally had to grab people away and say, ‘Listen, we've got to do this, and we've got to do it now.' Whether it was during the cocktail hour or during the course of the evening, we pulled people aside," and, using a "big boombox," directed them lip-syncing along to particular parts of the song.
"Don't forget," he continues, "we were actually shooting a wedding at the same time. We had two crews. There was one crew dedicated to shooting the wedding for a regular wedding film. And then there was the music video crew. We had two men dedicated to shooting the wedding. And, of course, we could pull some of their footage if we needed it after the fact." For the WDMV crew, Robin recalls, there were three crew members: David, 5D shooter and director; a Steadicam shooter; and a boom operator.
The boom shot they'd planned out was the most difficult shot in the video, and it had to be accomplished in the tightest time frame of the day-the 15 minutes in which they had to capture not only the boom shot of all the guests singing the chorus and looking up at the camera on the boom but also of the bride and groom repeating the recessional while lip-syncing to the song (after doing it "straight" the first time). After the "real" recessional, Robin says he simply grabbed the mic, asked for the guests' attention, and started directing. "I had rehearsed with the boom guy about 10 minutes before the ceremony," he says. "I told him, ‘This is the shot I want, coming down real low, coming up real high, this really fantastic shot.' And, of course, he didn't get it. We had all kinds of wind problems because it was right by the beach, overlooking the ocean, and the wind blew the camera, and we had two takes, and both takes were pretty awful."
But even if the wind wasn't cooperative, at least the guests were: "Everyone was really cool. They were a cool crowd. They were all on board."
After shooting the wedding in late March, Robin was determined to turn around the music video quickly, and he says he had the video "99% done" while the couple was still on their honeymoon. The next step was getting it seen. "All we had really wanted to do initially was to get it featured on one of the wedding blogs. Junebug Weddings was the first one to say, ‘We want an exclusive on this,' and they did a blog on the entire wedding, using my video and stills from the photographer."
As for anything beyond that, Robin figured it was a crapshoot. "People could either laugh at it and say, ‘It's the cheesiest thing I've ever seen,' or everything could just align, which it did, and it could take off." The first breakthrough came on the website of the U.K.'s most widely read newspaper, The Daily Mail, and then The Huffington Post picked it up from there. "After Huffington Post got it, then that was it." Half a million hits in 3 days followed. "And then all the morning shows started to call. It was really funny. I came into the office, and Good Morning America had left a message, and the CBS morning show had left a message, and the Today show, and I thought, ‘This is ridiculous.'"
Robin says it will most likely be the bride and groom making these TV appearances and sharing their perspective on the experience; "If I'm on camera," Robin quips, "that's a miracle." But Robin says he's confident that this couple will make it clear that the wedding video seen 'round the world was shot by a professional wedding filmmaking crew, which, as mentioned earlier, is a departure from most wedding video clips that have gone viral at this level to date.
One issue with the video being so widely seen, of course, is the issue of music copyright that always looms over the wedding filmmaking industry, but which rarely seems terribly pressing because most wedding films fly well under the radar. Robin says he's not concerned music clearance will pose a problem with the major TV networks picking up the story-their legal departments will address it prior to the segments being aired. And if they don't clear the music, they'll simply run whatever portion of the video they show without audio. What's more, he says, the Black Eyed Peas record for a company that's under the Universal umbrella, which makes it unlikely that they would send a cease-and-desist regarding this particular couple. And then there's the social media context: "Parody videos have been fair game on YouTube for years. If you do a parody video, there's really no issue with copyright."
Robin sees good and bad coming out of this for him, but he sees mostly-overwhelmingly-good. Though he says he would rather build his legacy on the work he's done that aspires to "high art," he's not surprised that a piece this commercial has been the one to top the charts. "I don't really want to be known as the wedding filmmaker who does all these day-of music videos. I've got precious little hair left, and a few more of them and I'll be completely bald. What I would love to see out of this," he says, "is for a much wider audience to see that there's good wedding video out there. That's what's really important. I've got a feeling that the couple will do very well by us and that this will be a very powerful piece for us as an industry."
Stephen Nathans-Kelly (stephen.nathans at infotoday.com) is editor-in-chief of EventDV.