Sound is what separates filmmaking entirely from photography. It enlightens, providing a depth and understanding unattainable with cinematography alone. It’s what made me fall in love with the new documentary style of wedding filmmaking.
The new doc is an evolving form of filmmaking that avoids slow motion and an overbearing soundtrack in favor of an edit that’s more authentic. (For more on the new documentary see “Meet the New Doc” in EventDV’s March 2008 issue.)
Let me explain: This is not your mama’s wedding video. It’s a highly sophisticated edit that is not for the impatient editor or the singularly profit-minded. Regardless, it’s worthy of discussion because of its hallmark techniques in the realm of event filmmaking.
Sound is a vital component in creating mood. (For more about creating mood check out my September 2008 column, “Creating a Mood That Lingers.”) From the crashing of surf on a sun-baked beach to the lullaby of crickets chirping as we fade to black on a glowing ballroom in the darkened distance, sound adds a dimension that takes the audience deeper into the experience of cinema.
This is just the icing on the cake for new doc filmmakers, though. The true magic of sound—the deal-sealer that takes event filmmaking from a simple document to something with the value of diamonds—is dialogue.
Simply put, dialogue is the only way to establish and reveal the personalities of your clients. Without this window into the soul, the filmmaker is left with the shell of a lovely girl in a beautiful gown and the things on which she chose to spend her money.
This is no easy task. Since the cinematography is vital—during the bridal prep, for instance—I’m constantly moving and reframing to keep the piece visually dynamic. This invariably leads to moments when I’m not on target with a shot when a clever quip or an emotional comment is voiced. In post, to save these audio gems, I often must cover the beginning of the dialogue with another shot until I’m framed while maintaining continuity and comprehensibility and the progression of the story.
As with all art there is broad interpretation of the new doc. However, it’s primarily real-time. But the goal is not necessarily reality by any means. Today the word “reality” conjures up thoughts of shock and sensationalism. The intent of most new documentarians is to find and reveal the truth. In doing so, they succeed in providing insight into the couple’s relationship and the unique dynamics they share with those most dear to them. More importantly, they impart the essence of the couple as individuals.
This is not to say there’s no place for stylized interpretations. By finding a truth, such as a groom’s nervousness, and then amplifying that truth, you will increase the entertainment value of the film. That’s when a sequence becomes a magical, better-than-reality sojourn.
Straight cuts are generally preferred in the new doc. Regardless of the production, straight cuts are my mainstay, and I will use dissolves only for aesthetic purposes or to convey the passage of time—which isn’t often applicable in a wedding film. For example, I’ll use a pan of the dress and dissolve it slowly over a close-up of the bride so that it looks as if the silk is washing over her face. I do this because I think it creates a beautiful effect and because it provides the visual contrast that’s often necessary to keep a wedding film interesting.
Learning to use straight cuts is really simple; the hard part is breaking the habit of using dissolves! It’s often just a matter of avoiding jump cuts. Straight cuts can be smoothed out by overlapping the dialogue. Moreover, a bed of ambient sound and/or music will serve to give the illusion of a seamless narrative.
Try cutting a wedding film with no dissolves or fades until you fade to black at the end. This is something I did a couple of years ago as a challenge to myself. It helped me immensely in understanding and accomplishing the progressive momentum necessary in films. The goal is to avoid compartmentalizing a film and to keep it flowing forward at all times—even if the editor is timeshifting.
The new doc is more filmmaking than event filmmaking. By dramatically reinventing the old-school event documentary, blending it with the innovations of the great event cinematographers, and, most importantly, using the fundamental principles of filmmaking, new doc practitioners have supplied a much-needed shift in direction.
Real sound + real time = real life. It’s the new math of event filmmaking. Though not a practical means of business for all event filmmakers, the new doc holds within its confines lessons to be learned by all. It is by understanding the power of the medium of filmmaking that we become empowered as filmmakers.
Laura Moses (info at vppvideo.com) is half of Vantage Point Productions of San Dimas, Calif. She and her husband, Steve, are winners of multiple international awards and 2009 WEVA Hall of Fame inductees, and were selected to the 2006–8 EventDV 25.