The Art of the Wedding-Day Edit
Posted Mar 9, 2005

Same-day edit productions make for unexpected treats at wedding receptions and can add to your bottom line. Here, three SDE pioneers talk about how it's done.

There's a common complaint among writers, journalists especially, that once we publish something, we rarely get feedback. It's not that we're so egotistical or insecure that we need a pat on the back for every word we write (though that certainly comes into play); it's that most of the time we have no tangible proof that anyone's even read the words we worked so hard to craft into a story. Even negative feedback is feedback; at least we know someone's taken a look.

Videographers at least know that somebody's going to see the fruits of their labors, even if the client is the only sure bet. But sometimes you have to wonder if even the subjects of the video witness what you've captured. Did the bride's father see how beautifully you captured that kiss as he gave his daughter away? Does the best man know that his attempts at breakdancing during the photo shoot have been captured for posterity? Does the groom know that his fiancee's eyes welled up when he surprised her with that song during the ceremony?

You certainly hope so, and the odds are on your side. But let's face it, videographers and writers share a common bond: we create what we create because we want to share it with people and hope they get out of it at least a little of what we put into it. Nonetheless, we're rarely around to see it when they do.

Enter the same-day edit. Chances are, even if you haven't attempted one, you've been tempted by the tantalizing possibility of taking what you've shot, giving it a quick, clean edit, and displaying it to a crowd still caught up in the thrill of the moment, whether at a wedding or another event. You'll get a round of applause at the end of the night, and—more importantly—your clients will get to relive a once-in-a-lifetime moment with the very people they shared it with in the first place.

Of course, the benefits of the same-day edit go beyond the emotional. Adding the service to your repertoire is another way to set yourself apart from the crowd and—lest we wax too idealistic—bring in additional revenue and clients. It's also a good way to silence the NLE naysayers who say wedding videography was better in the pre-editing days when you popped out the tape at the end of the day and handed it over, however rough and raw the footage. With an SDE, you get the instant gratification, but with the editing touches we've come to expect—and a chance to do a more lavish edit later on.

"I've never gotten as many ‘How did you do thats?' and ‘Could I have your cards?' as when I do a same-day edit," says Dave Williams of DVideography in Philadelphia. Here's a look at the opportunities and challenges presented by the same-day edit, as well as some practical advice from experienced videographers on how to get the job done.

All in a Day's Work
Mark and Trisha Von Lanken are something like same-day edit pioneers, having offered same-day services for years as part of the packages available from their Picture This Productions studio in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The couple has even put together a training/demo DVD, Wedding Day Edits: The Ultimate WOW Factor, to promote their work and share their knowledge with others in the field [see David Chandler-Gick's coverage in "Continuing Education," January 2005 EventDV, p. 16].

Mark says there's nothing quite like the experience of showing a same-day edit at a wedding reception. "The client actually pays you to show your work to hundreds of their closest family and friends," he says. "Remember, most people didn't get to see close shots of the bride and groom as they saw each other, the emotion in their faces as they exchanged their vows, the ring slipping on the finger," he says. "People are used to seeing a photo montage or even a love story (at the reception), but a wedding-day edit—that's truly breathtaking."

Joel Peregrine of Peregrine Wedding Films in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, echoes Von Lanken's enthusiasm. "They're an amazing addition to a reception and an unexpected treat that everyone appreciates," he says. "Plus, it offers your company wide exposure to the most relevant audience imaginable."

Of course, it takes a lot of hard work to get to that payoff, beginning with even more extensive pre-planning than you might otherwise do for a more traditional wedding shoot. Williams estimates that 80% of his wedding-day edits are produced before the ceremony, and many videographers consider the WDE an extension of the love story videos that already are part-and-parcel of virtually every videographer's wedding package. Williams often shoots interviews with the bride and groom or other family members, exterior venue shots, and even "walk-in-the-park B-roll" footage ahead of time. "Then we leave space on the pre-produced timeline to drop in the dress, processional, kiss, recessional, and any same-day content that will fill in the blanks," he says.

For the Von Lankens, the pre-planning begins with the music selections. After the bride and groom have picked the music, Mark says he and Trisha visualize where in the song key shots will take place, like the bride's entrance, the vows, the kiss, and any romantic shots the couple wants in the footage. Then, they determine how much of the song will be used for establishing and prep shots, often placing titles in key places on the timeline. "It helps you when you are in the pressure of the moment," he says. "Typically, we'll have the exterior establishing shots already on the timeline and edited to the music. We've done some wedding-day edits where they flowed seamlessly into the love story, or were even in the middle of the love story."

Peregrine doesn't offer love stories, but will add a wedding-day edit to photo montages of the couple growing up and dating each other, which he of course completes before the wedding day. "It's very important to have a copy of the photo montage without the WDE ready to go should anything go wrong with the WDE process, such as computer failure or an unforeseen time crunch that makes the wedding-day edit impossible," he adds.

Packing and Planning
Indeed, since a same-day edit is as close as many videographers ever get to producing a live event, it calls for even more contingency plans than a traditional shoot. It's important to have that love story or photo montage ready to go in the worst-case scenario, but it's more important to do everything in your power to make sure you can deliver the wedding-day edit as promised. "Bring backups," Williams says, referring to each and every piece of equipment you bring on the shoot. "And then bring backups for your backups."

That might include extra staff. Both Williams and Von Lanken say they won't do a wedding-day edit without at least two, preferably three, people on site, because of the mission-critical nature of the shoot. Williams typically makes sure he has one primary camera operator, an assistant shooter, and then another person to do the editing; Von Lanken says they usually have two shooters, with a third stepping in towards the end while one of the two primary camera operators takes on the editing. "The biggest fear is that you'll miss something while you edit," Williams says.

The number of camera operators often is a function of local wedding traditions. In the Midwest, where Peregrine shoots, there is typically a two- or even three-hour break between the ceremony and the reception, and so he prefers to do it all himself, knowing that he's got that much uninterrupted time to work on the edit. (If the couple wants coverage of secondary locations other than the ceremony, he hires another camera operator, but he makes sure that person is available before even committing to a WDE in those situations.)

And if the schedule's too tight, Peregrine simply refuses even to attempt a WDE. "I don't want to affect the scheduling of events at the reception in the slightest because the program isn't ready," he says. "And I don't want to miss taping anything that is important to the couple because I'm out of the room editing."

On the other hand, Mark Von Lanken believes it's reasonable to ask for some flexibility on the part of the wedding couple if they're asking for a wedding-day edit. Usually that just means leaving the videographer some wiggle room on the time the WDE will be shown at the reception. "When you're in the middle of an edit, an extra five minutes can really make a difference," he says. "We have found that there are always things we would have done differently if we had an extra five or ten minutes, but when the editing time is up you go with what you have."

If you've got several hours between the ceremony and reception—the Von Lanken say they've done edits in as little as 90 minutes, but usually have two- to three-hours to work their magic—you might be able to go back to your studio and do the editing in those familiar surroundings. This offers the added benefit of knowing that you'll have all the tools accessible to you without worrying about forgetting a piece of equipment. For the most part, though, wedding-day edits are done onsite, usually in an extra room at the wedding venue.

And don't feel like you have to fill your WDE with actual wedding-day footage. "I've seen videographers use a lot of prep shots and only two or three scenes from the ceremony, and the audience was amazed," says Mark Von Lanken. "If you have the time and the know-how to produce a more in-depth and highly produced piece, go for it. But a few clips will have a big impact."

Tools of the Trade
When the Von Lankens did their first wedding-day edits, they took their Canopus DVRex or DVStorm tower workstation with them because they were comfortable with those tools' real-time performance and stability. After three successful projects, though, they realized that they'd soon tire of lugging the entire system with them. Now, they do their editing on a 2.8GHz dual-processor Toshiba laptop outfitted with Canopus' EDIUS, adding effects like slow motion, dissolves, and color correction in real time.

Both Williams and Peregrine edit on an Apple Powerbook with Final Cut Pro, and Williams says he relies on FCP's "fit to fill" command to create perfectly timed slow motion shots that help him "fill in the holes" while he's editing. He also brings along a Sony DSR11 DVCAM VTR, which he says cuts down his capture time significantly. The Von Lankens say they used to use a DV deck to capture, check audio levels, and master back out to tape, but wanted to streamline the equipment setup and breakdown time. Now they use a DV camera for capturing and mastering; Peregrine also uses a camera for capture, a Sony TRV-900.

The biggest timesaver, however, is a hard-disk recorder. Williams says he plans to make the switch to tapeless soon, because logging and capturing clips eats up about half of his time on a wedding-day edit. The Von Lankens use nNovia Quick Capture drives during the ceremony; in addition to speeding up the capture process, the Quick Capture uses a file system that allows for easy scene marking. Von Lanken says he makes marks when the bride walks in, when the father hands her off, at the vows, the kiss, and other crucial moments during the ceremony.

All in the Presentation
Aside from a hard-disk recorder and laptop, none of the equipment needed for a wedding-day edit is necessarily outside the range of what's already in your studio. Of course, you'll need something to playback the WDE at the reception, and that's where an additional investment comes into the picture. Unless you're going to offer WDEs only for small events, you'll need a projector and screen. Williams recommends running video from the camera through an LCD projector that outputs at least 1200 lumens, and says that rear-screen projection looks the best and is the least intrusive, but adds that most venues don't have enough room for a rear-projection setup.

All the videographers in this story prefer to partner with the reception DJ or band for the sound. You'll need to determine what the onsite sound system can handle in terms of cables and connectors; if the soundboard can take only RCA cables, you'll need to position the camera close to the board, as RCA doesn't scale well over long distances. In these situations, Von Lanken says he'll keep the camera close to the sound equipment and run a 75-foot S-video cable to the projector. If the soundboard is compatible with XLR cables, you can keep the camera close to the projector and run a long XLR cable back to the board, he says. Because Williams, Peregrine, and the Von Lankens are very much in the WDE business and frequently sell WDE packages, they have all chosen to buy the presentation equipment they use on a regular basis rather than renting or leasing it.

And remember what Williams said about backups. Bring along your own small sound system—Peregrine sets up a 15" powered speaker—in case the band or DJ can't amplify the signal. Then, sit back and listen to the audience ooh and aah as they see and hear what you've created.

The Day(s) After
Even though wedding-day edits have their greatest impact at the reception, Von Lanken says those clips have lasting value to the bride and groom. Picture This Productions puts the clips on its Web site and emails the link to the couple so they can share it with friends and family who didn't get to go to the reception. He also counts on plenty of repeat viewings from the people who were there, too. "Like any good movie, they like to watch it over and over," he says.

And though weddings are the primary target for same-day edits, Von Lanken says the service is beginning to catch on in the corporate video market as well. The Von Lankens' Wedding-Day Edits DVD features a video they shot of the 50th anniversary celebration for Fabricut, a decorative textiles distributor based in Tulsa. Interspersed among shots of the day's activities—which included both business-like training sessions and golfing and boating excursions—are short interviews with employees sharing what they feel is special about the company. the Von Lankens showed the clip at the end of the day, but it also serves as a great PR tool for Fabricut to use in the future.

More than any other service you might offer, the same-day edit gives you the chance to wow your clients and market yourself at the same time. Peregrine says he sells most of his WDE packages to people who were guests at a wedding that featured one of his productions. "It becomes an ‘I have to have it' service item," he says.

That, in turn, affects your bottom line. Williams says he charges $1,399 to add a same-day edit into his wedding packages; that includes a 1200-lumen projector, screen, and sound. If it's a bigger room and they need a brighter projector, bigger screen, or more powerful sound system, the price might go up as much as $500. Mark Von Lanken simply says that, when pricing your package, you should consider the cost of additional personnel as well as the stress of the edit itself.

 Even with the extra cost and hassle, though, Von Lanken is adamant that same-day edits are worth it. "Wedding day edits demonstrate the value of video," he says. "It gives us instant credibility with the guests as well as with other wedding vendors."

In the Spotlight
Philadelphia, PA

Peregrine Wedding Films
Whitefish Bay, WI

Picture This Productions
Tulsa, OK

Companies Mentioned
Apple Computer:
Canopus Corporation:
nNovia, Inc.:
Sony Electronics:
Toshiba America, Inc.: