For Walter Chelliah, it has always been about music, with a little luck mixed in. His experience in making music videos for Alberta, Canada-area independent bands created the background necessary to get his first job shooting wedding videos. After a year of working for that first company, luck led Chelliah to cross paths with David Bonner. Chelliah gives Bonner the credit for inspiring him to create the style of wedding videos for which he has become known.
"David showed me some crazy, amazing stuff that he would get people to do at weddings," he says. "Before I had met Dave, the company I was working for had me follow a shot list and just do cookie cutter-type weddings where there wasn't a lot of room for being creative and doing your own thing. He opened my eyes to what is possible with wedding videos and made me think of wedding videography in a new light."
In 2004, after a year at the first company and after a disagreement with his first employer about his newly adopted editing style, Chelliah left and went to work for Bonner's DMB Productions. At the beginning he was hired just to edit videos for Bonner, but later moved on to shooting and editing his own videos. In early 2006, after Bonner decided to move away from wed-ding video, Chelliah broke away and started his own company, DeFiNiTiVe ProjX.
All About the Music
In a relatively short time since entering the wedding videography world in 2003, Chelliah has created a unique and recognizable style that combines music and motion imagery. His name has become increasingly associated with edgy, rapid-fire, MTV-style editing. That signature style won Chelliah three major awards in 2005: two Diamond 4EVER Group Artistic Achievement Awards for Wedding Pre- and Post-Ceremony Production, and a Bronze WEVA Creative Excellence Award in the Wedding Post-Ceremony category.
When he first started shooting and editing weddings, Chelliah says, "My music video skills are what got me hired, so I decided that maybe some of the things I used to do with my music videos could be worked into wedding videography. It started simply with flipping a switch on the camera I was using at the time, a Canon GL1, and shooting progressive instead of interlaced."
However distinct or well-established his style, Chelliah doesn't shoot or edit every wedding the same. His clients' expectations always play an important role in the work he does. Chelliah describes the important steps in the process of developing the final product—and figuring out how it will take shape—by starting with the first meeting with the couple and noticing how they respond to differ¬ent samples of his work. "You have to pay attention to what they react to, what they don't react to, what they like, what they don't like, what they notice, and what they don't notice. Basically, you just have to use their reactions as a guide for what you can push and how far you can take it."
Chelliah shies away from planning out the wedding day and depends on luck and the emotions of the day to determine where the shots take him. He uses the environment to influence the directing he does throughout the shoot, which is a move away from a traditionally passive process of just following the couple and shooting the entire scene as it unfolds. Chelliah shoots each wedding by himself, using a single camera for every part of the day except the ceremony, where he uses a two-camera setup. He typically uses either a Sony VX2000 or a Panasonic DVX100A cam-era, and sometimes works with the Glidecam 4000, depending on the location of the shoot and how much time he has for each shoot. "Using the Glidecam is a great way to get a lot of usable footage fast," he says. "Also, there are only so many different shots you can get with the Glidecam, so after awhile your footage becomes monotonous. I like to switch it up and try out new techniques with or without the Glidecam."
The time Chelliah spends on editing a project depends on how well the video fits the music; the more intricate the song, the longer the edit takes. He uses Adobe Premiere 6.5, Adobe After Effects 6.5, and Adobe Photoshop 7.0 for editing, effects, and graphics. Chelliah's final edited product includes two music videos—one based on the bride's preparation and the other on the groom's—plus a more traditional-style wed-ding video of the ceremony and reception.
The most important factor in determining the final product is the music selection for the bride and groom's music video. Chelliah begins by asking the couple to pick music that they like and has meaning to their relationship. He then takes these choices and either picks from them or redirects the couple to songs that he feels will make the best video. Chelliah makes the ultimate decision based on what he wants. "Making the music work is key, because it's the song that dictates how the edit should flow. For me, editing this way is entirely dependent on the music. What techniques I should try, what effect I should use where, what filters I pick, all starts and stops with the music. Everything is dictated by the music."
Chelliah attributes his success to luck and being in the right place at the right time. He says that his style has won him awards and recognition in the industry because it is different from what everyone else is doing. "There is definitely some sort of rut with most wedding videos in that they all look the same," he says. "Most of them uphold that slow cinematic style. You hear the same music or song over and over again, which creates the same video over and over again. I guess people just want to see something new and different, and that is what I try to do."
If you had asked Chelliah two years ago where he would be now, he would have never told you that he would be where he is today—an award-winning videographer and owner of a wedding video company. He says he's been fortunate to build a reputation in the industry by doing things his own way. "I prefer my own style, and I don't really try and mimic anyone," he says. "I make myself happy first and then the clients, which is the reverse of what most people do, because I believe that the reason that they hire me is for my judgment and talent to give them a product that we will both like. So far it has been a one hundred-percent approval rating."
The challenging thing about challenging your clients to think about their wedding video in unexpected ways is making it play in your market. Many videographers consider their markets too conservative to accommodate experimentation. Chelliah describes his own market, the Canadian province of Alberta and the city of Edmonton in particular, as "the Texas of Canada" because of its preponderance of cowboys and thriving oil economy.
All of which doesn't necessarily make it sound like a breeding ground for innovative videography (though Texas, USA, certainly has been), but Chelliah sees that as an advantage—a new frontier, even. "The market here is largely untapped and has been for awhile. There are a lot of outdated preconceptions of videography held by both future brides and even other vendors. There aren't many higher-end wedding videographers in this province at all, although there sure are quite a few high-end photographers here. Video is definitely lagging behind in terms of acceptance and value, and the money is definitely out there for the taking. I'm finding that educating brides and other vendors on the possibilities of video—and how far it's come—is where I need to focus my attention. I recently started my own blog for that specific purpose," says Chelliah.
Defining the Future
As of right now, Chelliah's DeFiNiTiVe ProjX is focused solely on wedding videos, though Chelliah has not ruled out the expansion of his business to other areas of videography. "There are so many options with video; you never know where it will take you or where you'll end up," he says. "I can see myself moving to other areas like commercials and music videos and short films."
Chelliah is excited about the future, partly because he is doing something that he finds fulfilling, but also because he is involved in a growing industry. When asked about the future of videography, he answers, "Who knows, but with more talent coming into the field and bringing new styles with them, it will definitely be changing."