Admit it. Deep down inside you wish you could be the next Spielberg, Coppola, or Altman. You dream of walking on set, framing the scene with your hands, bossing people around, and directing your cinematic opus. Well, if you work hard, that dream just may come true. Then you can look back at this part of your life and reminisce about the good old days of wedding and event videography. (Don't laugh! Bryan Singer, acclaimed director of The Usual Suspects, the first two X-Men movies, and Superman Returns, was once a wedding videographer.) But I'm here to tell you that while you wait for Hollywood to come calling, you can start living your dream now.
For the past few months, we've been looking at the development and process of concept video production in the wedding and event video business. In April, we explored the origins of great ideas. In June, we looked at the pre-production process of script writing and shot preparation. In this month's What a Concept, we address the three Cs of production: Crew, Cast, and Control. This is where the magic begins.
Our studio's concept videos are short "films," not unlike the kind produced in film school. We have a full crew that includes above-the-line talent (e.g., director, writer, and actors) and below-the-line staff (e.g., production assistant, boom operators, craft services). A key to your success will be this assembled crew. You need a team of dedicated people willing to help bring your vision to reality. You may be thinking, "Where am I supposed to find a crew?" It's easier than you might think. Our crews are typically comprised of paid professionals and friends of the client (or in the case of corporate videos, employees). You can find paid professionals through your PVA or local film school.
The key paid roles you want to fill are director of photography (DP), audio recorder/mixer for dialogue and on-set audio capture, and, of course, the director (most likely you). Technically, you could have one person in all three roles, but ideally, you want an experienced individual to fill each one. Other roles on the set that can be either filled by professionals or handled by the client include boom operator, production assistants (a.k.a. "gophers"), and craft services (the cook or caterer). I find that these are all the roles I'll need to fill to have a successful shoot.
Part of what you're selling is the experience of making a real movie: the lights, the camera, the action. Most people are fascinated with the movie industry and all the behind-the-scenes happenings. So you need to really "ham it up" for the sake of your clients. It may sound silly, but trust me, it works. On the set of Bridal Boot Camp we started the day off with a script reading, and the laughs just kept going from there. Sure, the script was funny, but we also created an overall fun environment. Additionally, the clients and their friends loved learning about what goes into making a movie. It gave them a whole new appreciation, not only for the movies and TV programs they watch, but also for the work that we do as professional videographers.
In addition to your crew, there's the cast. For wedding and event videography, this will be your clients, their friends, and their family members. For corporate concept-video production, it may include professional actors as well as employees. I've gained an increased level of appreciation for professional actors since dealing with amateurs. Things like "hitting your mark" and memorizing lines become huge issues when dealing with an untrained cast. So be prepared and be patient.
Don't be afraid to give direction. If you don't get the performance you want, be more specific. Act it out yourself if you have to. As the director, it's your job to make sure the vision comes to life. In Bridal Boot Camp, I used the script reading to coach the cast on timing and consistency in delivery. Since we only had one day to shoot, we rehearsed each shot once or twice before shooting each scene. However, don't yell or throw a tantrum if the scene doesn't work out. Make sure they have fun, and remember that even if you don't get the perfect take, at least you'll have great bloopers. Concept videos represent one of the few times when an event videographer can get multiple takes. And video is cheap; don't be afraid to use it up.
This brings us to our third C: Control. In addition to controlling the number of takes, you also have control over lighting and sound. Use it to your advantage. Your ability to command higher fees will rest on the quality of the product you deliver, which is in turn affected by your control over these key elements.
First, be aware of audio issues. Is there traffic or airplane noise? Is there a refrigerator or other loud appliance? Are people talking in the background? One mistake I made on the set of Bridal Boot Camp was during the first dance scene. I had the actors dance to music played on a boombox. They ended up delivering their lines over that music, which conflicted with the soundtrack I added in post. Little details make a big difference.
Another control issue is lighting. Be aware of the set's lighting environment and make appropriate plans. A dramatically lit set can significantly increase your movie's production value. If you can hire an experienced DP, do it. I wish I had one for Boot Camp. I can fill the role of DP, but I'm no Janusz Kaminski.
If you've never had any formal filmmaking training, I encourage enrolling in a junior college class. Besides getting an inexpensive education, you just may find some talented artists to join your crew.