Breaking the Mold: The Timeshift Wedding Video Goes Mainstream
Posted Sep 26, 2006

Back in the twentieth century, videographers largely produced linear videos, telling the story of an event in a straight line from the beginning, through the middle, to the end. Despite the widespread use of nonlinear editing tools by century's end, that approach still made sense, given the prevalent belief that an event videographer's role was that of passive documentarian rather than active auteur striving to create movie magic. But this paradigm is shifting, thanks to the ever-increasing nimbleness of desktop video editing as well as the creative drive and collaborative spirit of the event videography community. Today, one of the hottest trends in event video production is a shift of another sort: timeshift video.

So What is Timeshift Video?
The term "timeshift video" was coined by David Robin, owner of Encino, California-based Boulevard Video Productions, during a WEVA Expo session he led in 2001. Rather than being something new, Robin's concept was appropriated from event videography's esteemed grandfather. "As film enthusiasts, we developed it taking cues from movies like Pulp Fiction and Memento," says Robin. "They don't actually follow a straightforward chronological timeline. That sparked the thought, ‘Hey, why not bring that to the wedding genre?' So the ‘timeshift' ended up being short scenes juxtaposed against each other."

Chris Watson, owner of Ft. Worth, Texas-based Watson Videography, was first introduced to the possibilities of timeshift event video by Robin's presentation. He has since integrated elements of it into his own productions and is now a vocal proponent of the technique. "The way I see timeshifting is as a storytelling tool, as a way to add context or give the scene a deeper meaning than it normally would have," says Watson. "A wedding video doesn't just have to be a linear recounting of the events, but it can be linear as far as the emotional path the bride and groom take. It can follow an emotional thread while still telling a coherent story."

"Timeshifting is a holistic approach to storytelling from the viewpoint of emotions, characterized by comprehending singular events as intimately connected with each other," says Loi Banh, owner of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Bluecore Media.

Instilling his productions with the essence of the emotions experienced during an event has always been Banh's goal, leading him to consider the structure of an event in a way that goes beyond mere hourly progression. "All these emotional fragments that happen during an event, while they may not appear to be connected during the linear progression of the day, are remembered in groups I call ‘emotional clusters,'" says Banh. "Our brains are wired in such a way that we remember emotions much more strongly than particular details.

"When a bride recalls a joyful emotion, for instance, her mind races to find all the memories attached to that emotion, and what she recalls is not always presented in linear time," Banh continues. "She may suddenly remember her new husband sweeping her up on the dance floor and in an instant see herself in front of the mirror smiling as the stylist coifs her hair. These memories flash through her mind in seemingly random order, but to her it makes sense and there is no confusion. Why? Because her emotions are her anchors. In timeshift video, emotions are the anchor."

For Randy Stubbs, owner of San Diego, California-based Silver Star Enterprises, the impulse for messing with time sequencing grew out of what he finds to be the most important aspect of an event to capture. "I look at it as more than a wedding or a mitzvah; it's also a family reunion. It's about relationships, not just between the couple but the siblings and the parents to the couple, them to their friends," says Stubbs. "Trying to capture that aspect of it naturally lends itself to not going chronologically, because the relationship aspects of the event are kind of timeless. They happened before that day and will hopefully continue after that day."

How Timeshifting Went Prime-Time
When Tim Ryan of Treasured Memories Video in Massapequa, New York saw Robin's timeshift presentation, he found the concept fascinating but wasn't turned on by the extreme nature of how Robin rearranged the timeline. It wasn't until he spoke with another major influence in the world of event videography that he felt the urge to timeshift. "Randy Stubbs explained something to me that he didn't call timeshifting; he called it ‘vertical editing,'" says Ryan, who also is director of education for the 4EVER Group. "That intrigued me. In fact, I found it very artistic, very innovative. It really was more enjoyable to watch, because it had so many things going on from so many different points."

"Instead of editing horizontally, where you get more information over a long time, you stack things on top of each other so you get more information in a shorter time, and it makes it more interesting to watch," says Stubbs. "By editing vertically and shifting time a little, you can get more information and more emotion out of what happened," says Stubbs.

What happened after Ryan and his longtime editor Dave Steward started adopting the timeshift concept—filtered through Stubbs's "vertical approach"—underscores the power of local videographers associations. Both Ryan and Steward are active members in the Long Island Videographers Association (LIVA). In the Ceremony category of the 2005 LIVA video awards competition, Ryan and Steward entered a video that had been timeshifted. The video won first place, and a month later Ryan had to give a presentation about it in which he explained the concept of the timeshift.

"This year, the Ceremony category comes around and there's ten entries, as opposed to five the year before, of which half of them are at least attempting timeshifting," says Ryan. "I found that absolutely fascinating, how a concept that somebody implements somewhere gets attempted by somebody else, then gets seen in public, and then more people find out about it. The idea trickled all the way over to LIVA where all these ceremonies are now being timeshifted."

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff
There are many degrees to which video can be timeshifted, from a totally rearranged nonlinear storyline—as was the case with the demo Robin showed at WEVA—to more limited applications where the overall chronology stays relatively true to the day's events but timeshifted elements are introduced to highlight particular moments, emotions, or relationships.

Wherever on the spectrum a videographer's taste may lie, there's a common thread that binds all successful timeshifting together. "The primary characteristic of a good timeshift video is its ability to tell a story without the technique encumbering the narrative flow," says Banh. "By that I mean editing scenes in a deliberate and conscious manner in regard to the nonlinear flow of the wedding day, without it becoming a mishmash."

"Timeshifting is nonlinear, but it's not random. You still have to organize your story in such a way that it makes sense to the viewer," says Watson. "It's very easy to mess up a timeshift, because what you're doing is breaking all the storytelling rules by telling things out of order."

To ensure a coherent narrative arc in a timeshift video, the timeshifted elements or scenes must link together in a way that makes sense and that works within the emotional framework of the larger story. "The biggest mistake you can make is not having the best links between shots," says Stubbs. "For example, say you show the establishing shots of the ceremony followed by the bride walking into the room. Then all of a sudden you show the best man's toast and there's no sense of how you got there."

Despite the timeshift concept having its roots in the world of film, the intent of an event video is quite different, and the use of timeshifting should reflect that. "A wedding or an event isn't a movie that you're trying to figure out," says Ryan. "The audience shouldn't have to struggle to follow what's going on. It should be clear."

Part of the key to a successful timeshift is properly massaging your viewers' expectations at the beginning of a timeshifted video. "If you established early that you're going to be bouncing all over the place, the viewer will accept it, but if all of a sudden it comes out of nowhere, it'll be too shocking," says Stubbs.

The ironic thing is that perhaps the truest sign of a successful timeshift video is when its viewers don't even register that anything's been timeshifted. "When timeshifting works, it's fairly transparent to the viewer," says Banh. "It's very similar to audio in that good audio is transparent while bad audio, like confusing timeshifting, sticks out like a sore thumb." (For a few examples of effective timeshifting, see sidebar, "The Best of Times.")

Sidebar: The Best of Times
For many wedding videographers who have considered timeshifting but haven't yet taken the plunge, two main factors have contributed to their hesitation. First is their fear that they can't pull it off. But the more prevalent concern is that their audience won't go for it—that the approach is too radical, and their clients are too conservative. And that's certainly a key consideration; after all, we edit for our clients, not ourselves.
     But it's worth noting that it's not just artsy experimentation that makes the timeshift worthwhile. When applied effectively, the timeshift can help wedding video do all the things wedding video is supposed to do, but do them much better. The warm reception many videographers have enjoyed, and the heightened emotional impact they've been able to convey with their forays into timeshifting, may serve to convince the fence-sitters that it's worth a shot, regardless of their market. Here are a few examples of effective implementations of the timeshift:
     "The first time I attempted timeshifting with a wedding video was born from the desire to include the dad's tender speech to his daughter as the emotional container that carried the weight of what he said over to the scene of him walking his daughter down the aisle," says Loi Banh. "I felt doing this added an immeasurable feeling of tenderness to the video. If I had not included it, the father's speech at the end of the video would have carried less emotional resonance."
     "At a wedding I shot recently, I caught the mother of the bride putting a little lace napkin-looking thing on the bottom of the bouquet, so I asked her about it," says Randy Stubbs. "Turns out when the bride was born, at the hospital they gave the mom this little bonnet for the baby's head. It had a little saying on it like, ‘This is keeping your head warm for a couple of months, but hopefully one day you'll be able to have this at your wedding day.' When the mom was reading this to me she got really emotional. To me it isn't enough just having her read this on camera. So what I did was have a shot of the bride as an infant with this thing on her head, a shot of the mom putting it on the bouquet, then a shot of the bride coming down the aisle, all with the mom's voice reading the saying in the background."
     "One form of timeshifting I like to do is this. I do not have the bridal party come in at the beginning of the ceremony, just the bride and groom," says Dave Steward. "Then at the end of the video, after the final dance sequence, I put together a mini recap, and I'll do it really funky. I'll put in a few recap scenes, then at the right musical crescendo, I'll put in picture-in-picture with the bridal party walking down the aisle along with titles that have their names, kind of like credits."

Welcoming the Challenges of Production
Although timeshifted video draws its inspiration from Memento and other nonlinear Hollywood films, there are many key points of divergence, and therein lie some of the major challenges of timeshifting wedding and event video. "Movies can manipulate the story and change the script because they come up with the concept," says Dave Steward, owner of West Islip, New York-based Flashback Video Productions, and exclusive editor for Tim Ryan's Treasured Memories. "As event videographers, we really can't do that, so we've got to use what we have." And a videographer has only what he or she shot during an event.

In order to realize the flowing, seamless timeshift ideal, editors must have the necessary footage to work with. "The biggest obstacle to successful timeshifting is insufficient coverage of people, places, and things that are relevant from the standpoint of what is important to the bride and groom and their families," says Banh.

"This can be solved by getting tons of footage of grandmas and grandpas, kids playing around, close friends, etc., and stuff you normally may not think twice about capturing," Banh continues. "Capture everything and vary shots between wide, medium, and closeup as much as possible. [Having] a lot of coverage is really important, so if you shoot with one camera, you need to move around a lot."

Capturing sufficient video is only half the battle when it comes to having the necessary ammunition to craft a cohesive timeshift video, since audio elements often serve as the best connective tissue to use when timeshifting scenes together. "Voiceovers are very important in the timeshift. You can take them from toasts, the ceremony, or when someone talks on camera. Those are nice little soundbites that you can use," says Banh. "It seems like such a waste in a traditional video to have all the speeches bunched together near the end." Other available audio elements include musical performances, crowd responses, and even the ambient sounds of an event's locations.

"If you can get a separate interview with the bride and groom, you can do even more effective timeshifting," says Steward. "Narration adds a very film-like quality to the video because people just aren't used to seeing daddy dancing with the bride and then hearing him speak."

Diving into timeshifting shouldn't require a complete overhaul of one's shooting style, but it's worth keeping in mind the moments that you've captured while shooting the rest of the event, because it will help you to harvest footage that will be useful when you sit down to edit. "I'll always have a shotgun microphone on the camera in the pre-ceremony," says Stubbs. "When someone gives a soundbite I think I'll want to use, I'll put it in the back of my brain, so I can make sure to get a shot that will relate later." So when the bridesmaids talk about how the bride is always the life of the party, he can cut to the clip of her at her most energetic moment.

Of course, where the impact of timeshift on production is felt most is in editing rather than shooting. Splicing and dicing your timeline demands a different approach to your NLE. "For me, the hardest part of timeshifting is staring blankly at an empty Final Cut Pro sequence timeline. Like trying to push a rested boulder down a hill, getting started can be the hardest part," says Banh. "There are an infinite number of ways you can introduce your subjects. Choosing the one you think is best becomes a matter of faith. But once you have an inkling of where to start, the edit itself progresses rather quickly."

The editing decisions made while timeshifting have no set guidelines or boundaries, but they are limited by whatever footage is already in the can. "In general, there's no formula for editing a timeshift. It just depends on what happened, and what shots I got," says Stubbs.

Deciding on the best configuration and flow of audio and video clips isn't something that can be taught in textbooks. "It's kind of a gut thing. There's times when you just know, when you're looking through the wedding and you're thinking, ‘These two moments, if I combine them, they'll really work well together,'" says Watson. "It's one of those instincts you develop over time to where you can see the same sort of subtext in two different scenes and know they'll match well together." To facilitate organized awareness of the video content, Watson goes through his footage, sets broad in and out points for each section, and then puts everything into separate folders.

"Usually what we'll do is edit it in a linear fashion first and have it on the timeline, then at that point when it's sitting in front of us we can determine what scenes work well together and can be cut out," says Robin. "We try to create a certain skeleton, but it's all experimentation. It comes down to how I'm feeling that particular day, the clients, and the general excitement level of the event."

Whatever the approach, reviewing all available video thoroughly is a definite enabler of success. "Because the editing is nonlinear, it helps to be very well acquainted with the wedding footage, so you're able to instantly recall certain scenes, shots, or words that you can use to enhance the edit," says Banh.

Without doubt, though, editing a timeshift demands more time and effort than a linear video, just as most any technique that ups the production ante does. "It definitely takes a lot longer to edit a really highly produced 40 minutes than it takes to edit a more traditional two hours," says Stubbs.

(For a discussion of working to ensure the extra hours spent editing a timeshift are well compensated, see sidebar, "Getting Your Money's Worth.")

Getting Your Money's Worth
Because editing a timeshift video inevitably takes more time than producing a purely linear production, it behooves any videographers interested in adopting the technique to consider how they can ensure that they're paid for these additional hours.
     For David Robin, that means offering the timeshift as a value-added service on top of his regular packages. In this way, he's able to draw a direct line between hours spent working and the revenue coming in.
     For many other videographers, though, timeshifting isn't a separate product but rather a regular element of their standard productions. "I tried selling it at a premium and decided to just raise my prices and incorporate that style into my productions instead," says Chris Watson. "I don't want to sell one editing style versus another. I want to have that latitude where if I see some possibilities in the video that they may not have paid for, I can change gears."
     "I don't sell timeshift as an add-on. When you book my Mini-Movie Edit, it's based on certain principles that include the timeshift," says Dave Steward. To generate the revenue necessary to offset the increase in editing time, "I just slowly raised my prices," says Steward.
     Unfortunately, pursuing the timeshift, like any new product or style, won't pay immediate financial dividends. "You can't all of a sudden—without having a sample—say, ‘Try this, it'll knock your socks off, but it'll cost $2,000 more,'" says Randy Stubbs. "You've got to kind of give it away for a couple to get the sample to show clients the recognizable difference between the old and the new."
     "For the first couple of weddings, I didn't charge a lot, but afterwards, when you can show the clients and they can appreciate the timeshifted style, you can charge what you're comfortable with," says Loi Banh. "And I think if videographers embrace this style, they'll have to charge a lot more than what they're currently charging with a traditionally edited video."
     "If you're going to attempt timeshifting, or anything radically new or different, you're going to have to invest a lot of time to create it the first time," says Tim Ryan. "In the short run, there's no chance of experimenting and making a significant profit, although I think you can earn your money in the long run. Also, I do think we all have to be willing to invest in our creativity."
     Timeshifting videographers can take steps towards building demand for timeshifted videos through educating their customers, as well as those professionals in the position to recommend your services to new clients. "It's an ongoing educational process, especially with wedding coordinators and party planners," says David Robin. "You really want to try and educate both, the party planners in particular, because the clients put a lot of trust into their event planners. If you can get them excited with certain new concepts, they're going to pass that on to their clients, and that's going to bring you more work."

Pleasing Your Client
Any videographer interested in delving into the timeshift must stay aware of who the customers are for this form and what expectations they have about how the final video will look. "You have to feel the client out. Basically, I say a timeshift is for the client who's a little bit more adventurous," says Robin. As his clients hail primarily from the L.A. and Hollywood area, Robin has no difficulty finding customers who are looking for something different.

"You definitely want to match whatever you're doing to what your client is all about," says Stubbs. "I have them fill out a form that covers the parameters of what they like, so I'm editing for them and not myself." Whenever changes are introduced to a product, customers must be kept in the loop so that their expectations can be managed.

"I think some clients are still in the traditional video mindset where you start in the bridal prep and move on through to the reception. That's what they're expecting," says Banh. "When you're starting out with timeshifting, you need to explain to your clients that you're trying something different."

And by educating both clients and potential customers on the latest innovations in event video production, you can find opportunities to generate more revenue while also increasing awareness about the possibilities of event video today. "The general public has no idea what videos have evolved into," says Stubbs. "It's our job to educate them and at least show them something that they could possibly get." In general, timeshifted video has been embraced with open arms by customers.

"With every client I've done a timeshift for, it's been incredibly successful. I've never had a client complain or want it reedited. Not one negative reaction to it at all," says Robin. "Customers just love it, and I've got plenty of letters to prove that. These people are just blown away by the product."

Some clients may be hesitant about their videos having timeshifted elements, though, since moving stuff around inevitably means that some scenes will be cut down. To combat this hesitation, Robin makes sure to stress the underlying principle of timeshifted and short-form editing. "I usually educate my clients to the point where we say, ‘We're not going to cut anything out of the wedding, all we're going to do is cut down.' If your first dance is going to go on for four to five minutes, we're going to take the best 30 seconds, because that's all you really need to see. Once you convince clients of that, they don't worry. The only tricky part usually is the toasts," says Robin. To avoid clients becoming perturbed when something is cut down shorter than they'd like, Robin includes with his timeshift videos a full-length, lightly polished but largely unedited linear version of the day's events alongside the rearranged timeshift.

The thing to keep in mind is that you as the videographer are responsible for making the editing decisions and practicing your craft. "The idea when you're selling this concept is that you're in total control," says Steward. "I think we give customers too much freedom to tell us what to do sometimes."

For many videographers, though, timeshift video isn't a product that they sell on its merits, but rather a tool that they use as a part of their larger editing arsenal. "As far as timeshift, I don't even talk about it. The customers don't notice it because it's intertwined in a way that modifies the action that's going on," says Stubbs. "Hopefully they don't comment on it because it's done seamlessly enough that it doesn't shock them."

Be Creative, Be Different
While the ultimate goal of any timeshift is to create a better product for your client, there are other reasons for bringing it into your productions. "The timeshifting approach definitely inspires me. When I started doing timeshifting on a more ambitious level, it really recharged my batteries as to the possibilities of wedding video," says Watson. "It no longer has to start with the preceremony, and it opens up all new avenues for creativity."

In the bigger picture of event video, timeshift represents an opportunity for videographers to break outside of the box and, in doing so, help to raise up the profile of the entire industry. "I still don't think we get the respect that we deserve," says Steward. "So we have to demand respect. That is why we can't just sit there and do the same cookie-cutter stuff."

"What do we do to get respect in this industry? How can we improve the reputation that pervades our profession? It's all about change," says Robin. Yet at the same time, videographers migrating towards the timeshift must assess whether they're really doing the editing for themselves or their client.

"Where I think we tend to fail is that we try to impress ourselves more than we are trying to impress our clients," says Ryan. "We do things in our videos that sometimes don't tell the story better." It's a constant balancing act of pushing yourself to the limit creatively while still keeping in mind how a client will perceive the finished product. During these early days of timeshifting's mainstream adoption, timeshift proponents will simply have to keep pushing forward in their efforts to create the model for successful timeshift videos.

"Unfortunately, I'm never satisfied with my world. I have not created a timeshift where I can honestly say, ‘This is it,'" says Robin. "I'm still not happy with the final product. It's still a work in progress, but I find it a lot more interesting to do than putting together a typical wedding movie that you can see anywhere."

When taking the first steps into timeshifting, it's important to remember that you likely won't sit down and produce a terrific timeshifted video the first time out, especially if you're attempting a complete rearrangement of the timeline. Thus, it's worth starting small in order to get your feet wet, lest you risk catastrophe. "That's one of the pitfalls of starting out with the timeshift. If you don't have a firm understanding of why you'd want to do timeshifting, you can potentially wreck the video and make it really confusing," says Banh. "Once you do become comfortable timeshifting, though, just go for it. Sometimes you'll make mistakes, but that's just part of learning and creative exploration."