When entering the ocean you can inch your way in and try to adjust slowly, but sometimes it is best to just jump in. Jeff and Andee Wright took the latter approach when they started their wedding videography business, Blue Skies Cinema, in Newport Beach, California, and it has paid off. In just five years the "cinematic approach" they have developed has brought them seven WEVA Creative Excellence Awards. Using their artistic talent and eye for photography, the couple has developed a style that has enabled them to focus on high-end clients and transform their home into a dynamic studio environment.
It helps to start with a knack for things visual. Jeff used to own a screen-printing and graphic arts studio. "We did mostly all silk screening T-shirt design," Jeff says. "I've done artistic stuff all my life."
That "artistic stuff" turned to videography when he began blue water free diving and spear fishing. He started recording the dives with a Sony TRV900 in an underwater housing and editing the video for his own personal use. Besides honing his shooting and editing, that underwater video experience has come in handy for some of the romantic Love Stories that Blue Skies features.
But the artistic background doesn't come only from Jeff. "Andee is a phenomenal photographer," Jeff says. Andee did some video work for her own pleasure, but never saw herself in the professional arena before she and Jeff began to shoot weddings. "I just really liked it and jumped into it with him. It's kind of a similar outlet to the way I set up shots with photography. It's fun to do that with video."
A Little Help from Their Friends
Jeff and Andee's artistic inclinations became a career and a business thanks to another husband-and-wife videographer team: Steve and Laura Moses of Vantage Point Productions. Vantage Point was hired to film Jeff and Andee's wedding. The Moseses provided encouragement, and when Jeff and Andee "jumped in with both feet" five years ago, they allowed them to study their style. "Steve and Laura were really instrumental in helping us get going," says Jeff. "They mentored us, and they're good friends of ours now. We drive up to WEVA Expo every year together."
The Wrights hired a couple of employees to help them shoot weddings and went to work. In the beginning they didn't plan on doing the high-end work that they are known for now. "We wanted to do good work, but not spend as much time on it," Jeff says. "That really changed once the artistic side of us took hold."
Blue Skies Cinema was being hired for more and more weddings, but Jeff found himself spending more and more time on each video. "I was spending so much time on the editing in order to have the type of finished product that we wanted." It became apparent that doing fewer weddings and charging more for each would be the only way Jeff and Andee could do the kind of high-end work that they enjoy.
Two years ago the opportunity to make that change appeared. "Both the employees had to leave at just about the same time, so it worked out perfectly. Andee and I both decided that we were going to be the ones that would be doing everything from the shooting to the editing." They would do fewer weddings but they would be able to charge much more for each video because of the cinematic approach that was quickly becoming a hallmark of their work.
Thinking While You Shoot
The cinematic approach means more production time, but the results attract a more exclusive clientele, the Wrights say. "The basic premise behind everything is telling the story of the day," says Jeff. "We do that in the most cinematic way we can through artistic shooting techniques and shot composition." The Wrights use reveals, simulated crane shots, floating camera techniques, push-ins, pull-outs, high angles, low angles, 45s, rollovers, movement with angles, blurs, rack focusing, shooting through objects, and a lot of slow motion.
Jeff says the trick is to be constantly "thinking ahead of time to the editing process." He used to use a shot list, but weddings are unpredictable, so now he and Andee just try to keep composition in mind as they shoot. (With Love Stories, by contrast, they always work from a storyboard.) That means taking an active approach to get special shots, but one that doesn't intrude on the celebration. "We try to be unobtrusive but still get involved at points when we need to."
Jeff admits that the amount of freedom they have depends on the bride and groom's wishes, but he makes the most of whatever freedom he is given. "I will move around a little and get some different shots because the more free-dom you have, the more you can tell the story. You can show the mom looking at the bride, or the flower girl's expression; get a different angle; get more artistic shots such as rack focuses, blurs, and floating camera techniques."
Jeff and Andee take advantage of the time between the ceremony and the reception too. "We'll usually tell the bride and groom, if they like certain shots they've seen in demos or a certain kind of feeling, to let the photographer know that we need ten minutes with them ourselves to get the kind of shot we need." That gives Jeff and Andee the chance to capture scenes that enhance the romantic mood of the wedding video.
Making a Movie Masterpiece
After the shooting is over, it takes editing skill to turn a wedding video into a cinematic movie. "In the editing room I really play with the lighting and contrast levels. We use a lot of slow motion. Sometimes I'll use a hair of a soft focus or a bit of a blur, and then really bump up the contrast to make it pop a little more," Jeff explains.
Sound is a key part of the cinematic effect. Jeff and Andee say they look "all over the place" for different kinds of music. "We offer clients the opportunity to pick their own music, but I would say 90% of the time we end up picking the music for them."
Jeff emphasizes the importance of both production and post in the movie-making process. "One of the main things is learning how to move with the camera and how to compose your shots, both in the shot process and in the editing process." He says some effects that can be simulated with editing tend to look better when created during the shoot. "Rack focus is very difficult to do in the editing process. Once in a while I still blur something out in the editing process, but I'd rather have done that with the camera itself." The end result of all of this work is cinematically stylish, 35 to 50-minute, short-format wedding movie, instead of a two-hour wedding video. The short-format movie is followed by a highlight reel and sometimes a Love Story.
Of course the cinematic experience wouldn't be complete without a theatrical premiere. The Wrights recently completed construction of a nine-person theater in their home studio. One of their wedding package options invites couples to have their family and friends come to the theater for the premiere of their wedding movie.
The Wrights' theater has reclining La-Z-Boy seats arranged on two tiers. There is even a concession stand in the next room, complete with a popcorn machine and a small refrigerator that they fill with "everything from Perrier to Diet Coke." The counter has a candy display built into it "just like in the theaters," and Andee says it holds lots of candy. "It's been good for our customers, but not good for our bellies," Jeff admits. "We get into that a little too often.
Doing it with Style
The Wrights have come a long way in five years. Now they are advertising nationally in Grace Ormonde Wedding Style magazine, and the upcoming wedding of a couple from Texas will be Blue Skies Cinema's first out-of-state ceremony. The couple also spoke at WEVA Expo in August. Their topic: "Cinematic Wedding Video."
The cinematic approach has been very successful for Jeff and Andee, but they don't discount other videographers' methods. "We don't think that the way that we shoot and the way that we edit and put together our products is necessarily the right way. There are lots of great companies out there that shoot in a different way, and there's a lot of different customers out there that like different things." But for the Wrights, the cinematic approach has allowed them to turn their business and their home into something unique and personal. "This is our style," says Andee, "and our customers seem to love it.