The wedding had been booked for months, but that weekend was my son's first gymnastics competition event, as well as when relatives were arriving for a visit. Also, I'd promised the client that the wedding would be done in HD. But I'd decided to postpone buying a second HDV camera until I could get performance data on the new models, so I arranged to rent a camera for this shoot. The church didn't allow a camera operator to work behind the altar rail, so I'd need the remote control system I'd bought several years ago and stowed away in the equipment closet. Unfamiliar equipment, rusty skills, and endless demands on my time and attention right up to the day of the shoot: all the ingredients for High-Stress Videographer Stew.
We arrived 90 minutes before the ceremony, but as we struggled to set up the unfamiliar remote-control rig, the minutes started slipping away. Where could we find a working power outlet? Why wouldn't the monitor give us a picture? This thing worked fine an hour ago!
Finally, I identified a connection mixup, and we were in business. Then it turned out that the groom's Marine dress uniform was too closely tailored to permit a wireless mic. So we hid the wireless unit at the altar rail instead.
Fifteen minutes to go, and the church was filling up with groomsmen and early-arriving guests. Then we couldn't find the radio intercoms. We'd have to rely on hand signals.
Next was the rented camera, up in the balcony. I'd already checked the tripod interface and the wireless mic connections, but I'd forgotten to familiarize myself with where the headphone jack was located. I found what I thought was the jack, and plugged in my headphones for an audio check. Left ear, fine . . . but what was that awful outboard-motor buzz in the right channel? Run back downstairs and check the wireless transmitter. Right frequency; try a new battery. Run upstairs. Still the buzz. No time left, got to dismount the camera, run downstairs, run across the parking lot to the church's auxiliary building and grab a couple of bridal-party shots. Then run back and up the stairs to the balcony.
My head was still buzzing with all these last-minute problems (and the bad audio in the right channel) as the bridesmaids began to walk down the aisle. I tried to take hold of myself and concentrate on shooting. Finally it was over. Wearily, I began disassembling the camera and packing up.
Then I remembered . . . this was a military wedding, and there would be an arch of swords outside the church! It was dark out, so I grabbed my on-camera light and battery belt, and made my way downstairs and outside. The Marine guard was already formed, and I just had time to point the camera, turn on the light, and shoot the bride and groom as they passed beneath the arch of drawn blades. Another near-disaster . . . and we still had to finish packing and get to the reception!
An accident on the freeway delayed our arrival at the reception. It delayed the wedding party too, but that didn't help my frayed nerves. We got to the reception and brought in the gear. I left my assistant setting up her camera and went outside to shoot the arrival of the limo. I was starting to relax when my assistant said, "I can't find the light for the second camera."
We looked through every gear bag, and it just wasn't there. Our second camera was a Sony A1U—a fine little HDV backup unit that can't shoot worth spit in dim light—which left me to get the key footage with a rented camera and no backup.
The whole thing was 11 hours of adrenalin-charged, sweat-soaked tension. Afterwards, my wife asked me if this was really what I wanted to be doing. I thought about that for several days, and decided that, no, it wasn't! But event video doesn't have to be like that, if we're careful. So here's my advice to you, to help avoid my mistakes:
- Practice with unfamiliar gear until it's second nature.
- Pay attention to interfaces when your equipment changes. Will the camera fit the tripod mount? Where are the connections, and do you have all the right cables?
- If you haven't used your equipment in a while, treat it as "new and unfamiliar gear" until you feel at home with it again. If you often go weeks or months between shoots, set aside a few hours every month to do proficiency training, using the same configurations you'll use at an actual shoot.
- Minimize the number of things you'll have to strap together, and learn how to rapidly reconfigure your outfit for different shooting situations.
- Make sure you have directions to the reception, plus phone numbers to contact if there are problems.
- Have at least one backup plan for everything that could go wrong.
- Have an equipment checklist, or a packing system that makes it obvious if something is missing.
- Budget more time than you think you'll need for preparation, packing, travel, and setting up.
By the way, that audio buzz? I had the headphones plugged into the video out jack. Who'd have thought it would take two days to find a headphone jack? In the end, the video and audio turned out fine. Lucked out again!
Doug Graham, co-columnist for The Main Event, has been producing event videos since the days of analog tape, and is a moderator of the wedding and event forums at Video University and Creative COW. He lives in northern Virginia with his wife, Judy, and a variable number of children and dogs.