Those of us who do weddings are often said to be at the bottom of the "video food chain." There may be several reasons for this.
- Wedding videographers generally are paid less per hour than corporate and broadcast producers.
- Wedding videographers often use "consumer" gear or much less expensive equipment than what you find in the corporate or broadcast video worlds.
- Many wedding videographers operate only part-time.
- There are a lot of wedding videographers out there with less experience and skill than their corporate counterparts.
Whatever the reason(s), we're often seen as the bottom feeders of video by our corporate and broadcast colleagues, by our clients, and even by ourselves. Many of us aspire to "move up" to the commercial video world. I think that this mindset greatly undervalues both what we do and the product we create. Consider the following:
- There are no retakes in wedding video. The videographer must get the shot right the first time.
- There's no script. In corporate video, the story comes first, then the images that tell it. In a wedding video, the images come first, and the videographer must find the story in them.
- The wedding videographer has few or no crewmates to fall back on. She must not only be an expert shooter, but also act as her own audio engineer, grip, gaffer, and editor.
- Wedding videographers have to shoot real people, and make them look good. They don't deal with trained actors and actresses who know their lines and marks.
- Wedding video is done mostly with available lighting or at most a single, low-wattage light. There's no trained lighting director to create flattering illumination.
- There's limited time for setup and teardown, and the videographer can't dictate the day's schedule or call a "time out" to resolve technical problems.
- The wedding videographer usually is also the business manager, responsible for marketing, sales pitches, client relations, trade show attendance, Web site development and maintenance, and bookkeeping.
Because of all these difficulties, the stress of a wedding shoot is enormous. I've heard seasoned broadcast professionals coming off their first wedding exclaim, "Wow! I don't know how you guys do this week after week!"
But this isn't just a rant complaining about all our difficulties and whining for a raise. I think that our end product has tremendous value to our clients, even though they might not all be aware of it beforehand. I don't know how many times I've heard customers (my own and my colleagues') say:
- "My grandma was too old and feeble to attend my wedding. Your video gave her a chance to be there with us."
- "My father passed away about a month after our wedding. The video you made is one of the best memories I have of him."
- "I told my daughter that when she has a fight with her husband, they should sit down and watch their wedding video. That'll put their disagreement in perspective real fast."
- "We got married far away from home. The video let all our family and friends share our special day."
- "I wish I had a video of my parents' wedding day, or my grandparents'. Video conveys so much more of a feeling of reality than pictures."
- "I love my pictures, but I really love my video. I hadn't realized how much of the day I had missed—it all went by in a blur."
- "Our best man normally says about five words a week. His toast was completely out of character—and deeply moving."
When you think about it, a wedding video is a documentary every bit as much as something on the History Channel—and one that's even more important to the people involved. Every once in a while, this point gets driven home to me. Take the case of my colleague, Howard Neill. Howard is a frequent poster to the Video University wedding forum. He and his wife, Sam, are a wedding video team based in South Africa. A few months ago, they got an unusual job. A young lady, Chantal, was engaged to be married to a young man, Andrew. The unusual part was that Chantal had terminal cancer. The doctors gave her a couple of months at best.
It was a race against time. Could Chantal have her dream—a real wedding, in a church, with all the trimmings? Or would her time be cut short? It was a very close race, but in the end, Chantal's dream did come true. Every wedding service provider donated their services to make it happen, and on July 9, Chantal and Andrew said their vows together at the altar. She died less than two days later.
Chantal and Andrew's story has every bit as much courage, love, and pathos as anything you will find on network television, and it was all real life, not something made up to sell beer or hair spray. Who documented this moving and inspirational story? Not a corporate video producer. Not a Hollywood mogul. It was captured by "lowly" wedding videographers. Bottom feeders? I think not.