A Day On the Job with Joel Peregrine
Posted Nov 2, 2007

I’ve always been a big Prince fan, and one of the things that amazed and mystified me most about His Royal Badness when I first heard his music in the early ’80s was the rumor that when he recorded his albums, he played all the instruments himself. On some of those records, the rumor turned out to be true, although—thanks to the magic of overdubs—it didn’t happen quite as I pictured it. That is, Prince didn’t strap on some futuristic one-man-band apparatus that enabled him to play a full drum kit, scorching lead guitar, bubbling funky bass, and ever-present synth and keyboards simultaneously. But that’s certainly how I imagined it at the time.

Here in the wedding videography world, among the legions of mom-and-pop shops we’ve also got our share of one-man-bands, but none quite so legendary (in the how-in-the-world-does-he-pull-that-off sense) as Joel Peregrine of Milwaukee-area studio Wedding Films. Although Peregrine has never attended (let alone spoken at) a WEVA or 4EVER Group convention, he’s built a national reputation in the wedding video business through his contributions to VideoUniversity forums and his successful training DVDs, as well as the AAEV accreditation program he developed with fellow Milwaukee-area videographer Darrell Boeck several years ago.

But what has set Peregrine apart from the crowd is the one-man-band legend, reports that he routinely pulls off 5, 6, 7-camera shoots entirely unassisted, which brings to my mind visions of a tireless videographer dashing from camera to camera across a crowded church so rapidly he seems to be in 5 or more places at once—and, possibly, with Prince-like virtuosity, stopping briefly en route to toss off a few tasteful licks on the church organ. Of course, no one ever imagined Prince pulling off his all-instruments act in front of a live audience, which is exactly what Peregrine does 25 Saturdays a year, especially when there’s a wedding-day edit involved. But given that few videographers have actually ever watched Peregrine work, who really knows what’s the truth behind the myth? Naturally, I had to find out for myself.

Saturday Morning, Coming Down
My day begins with bad Mapquest directions, and swearing that if working weddings were a regular habit of mine and not the occasional (self-imposed) reporting assignment, I’d join the majority of sensible videographers I know and outfit my vehicle with a GPS. Fortunately, I’m looking for a rather noteworthy landmark, and my request for directions at a convenience store somewhere in farm country northwest of Milwaukee brings immediate recognition. And much as the teenage clerks said it would, the Holy Hill Basilica of Hubertus, Wisconsin rises high out of the wilderness like an LDS temple or eastern Connecticut’s Foxwoods casino. Its founders, a very ascetic Catholic order known as the Discalced (literally, "shoeless") Carmelites, certainly know how to make a statement.

Fortunately, my bad directions don’t make much difference because even though I arrive 15 minutes after my 11:15 call, there’s a morning mass still wrapping up in the church (they do a brisk business, even on Saturday), and the bride isn’t due until 12:30. I climb three flights of stairs from the Monastery Café and meet Peregrine just outside the church doors. I’m 12 weeks into a marathon training cycle at this point and even steep stairs like these don’t leave me winded, but as I step into Joel Peregrine’s wedding shoot routine, I get a feeling of breathlessness that will follow me the rest of the day.

We exchange a quick greeting, and Peregrine resumes preparing his gear, narrating as he goes. He shows me a new Manfrotto 560B monopod he’s just added to his kit, which is noteworthy because its fluidhead is on the bottom rather than the top, which allows it to rotate and pivot from floor level instead of just under the camera.

figure 1We head into the narthex (i.e., the church lobby) and there I see, neatly arranged, the five Sony VX2000s he’ll be shooting with today, along with three Manfrotto 3246 tripods and a Glidecam 2000 Pro. He’s equipped every device with the same tripod plate so any camera can go on any support.

Still packed in a sturdy rolling case is Peregrine’s MacBook Pro. We enter the basilica’s stunning, capacious nave and he sets up the laptop in a dark corner near the back of the church. "I’ll start capturing the pre-ceremony right here during the ceremony," Peregrine tells me. "Then we’ll have a 45-minute ride to the reception. I’ll get one or two more tapes captured in the car on the way." With five cameras shooting and all footage in contention for use in the wedding-day edit, which he says he’ll show during dessert, Peregrine will need to use all available time to capture the footage he gets.

Shortly before noon the groom arrives and tells us the bride won’t arrive until 1 p.m., even with the wedding scheduled to start at 1:30. She’ll be fully dressed when she arrives at the church. With this news we’re back in the nave, mid-way back, left side, and Peregrine mounts a camera on a tripod extended maybe 16 feet from the floor. "I’m setting up a shot I’ll use in the wedding-day edit," he says, "where I dissolve the people in [from an empty to a full church]. I’ve been doing it for 15 years and people still ask, ‘Can you do that for us?’" Peregrine explains that this wedding is unusual for him for several reasons. For one, he just met the couple last night at the rehearsal; they live in Boston, and booked him by phone after seeing his work online. And unlike most of his couples, they didn’t book bridal prep, which he finds a little disappointing. "I like to get the prep—the chatter gives you a story of the day, a sense of who they are. One advantage of having a second shooter," he concedes, "would be the pre-ceremony. I’d be able to get shots of different people at once. But I’ve always worked alone, and I can’t imagine doing things differently."

Beating the Backlog
As with many one-man-band videographers, working solo really creates issues for Peregrine on the editing end, with the mounting backlog, he explains as we await the bride’s arrival. "Where I really need help is the editing, getting through the backlog. I’ve got someone helping me with some of it, but not the creative stuff."

Peregrine says that these days he tells most brides "9–12 months" for turnaround time. "I’ve got myself hemmed into a time-intensive style that I’m trying to get out of." The solution, he believes, will come in shifting his approach for some weddings in a way that won’t affect Wedding Films’ reputation for cinematic, creative videos produced in that "time-intensive style." In 2–3 months, Peregrine says, "I’ll be launching a new documentary-style-only company." Taking this approach, he says, won’t mean "compromising quality; just a different style. There’s a market for that. Not everyone wants a romantic edit—just a clear record of the day. I enjoy what I do now," he goes on, "I like the way it looks. But the time demands are too much to do it for every wedding. When I get brides who want the documentary style, I could get in the situation where I’m referring myself."

Part of the issue, he says, is making sure all his weddings are profitable, and taking jobs that involve more in-camera edits and simpler and less demanding work in post will be more cost-effective than doing all his work in a cinematic style. "I have a pie graph I show people. ‘This slice is where you see me,’ I tell them. ‘The rest of the pie is editing and DVD authoring.’"

figure 1Pre-Processional
With no prep to shoot, Peregrine gets as many usable pre-ceremony shots as he can, grabbing shots of the groom and other guests in the balcony just outside the main church with its 40-mile view, plus Glidecam shots of the altar. At 1:00 p.m. he’s installing an iRiver on the podium for the readings and mic’ing the groom, then setting up and adjusting two altar cams, placing another VX2000 halfway back on the left side of the nave, and another in the narthex pointed down the aisle.

The bride arrives at 1:15 and Peregrine gets some quick arrival shots, including a nice shot of her walking down a dramatically lit hallway to the room where she’s supposed to make her final preparations, although at the end of the hall she finds a locked door (naturally, this shot will be used to suggest a different outcome in the wedding-day edit).

As the guests arrive, Peregrine kicks into full whirling-dervish mode, grabbing shots in front of the church and in the narthex, more crowd shots from the front of the church using the VX2000 on the pivoting Manfrotto 560B, then going handheld, switching lenses (he stows the wide-angle lens in a pouch on his belt), and capturing the women lighting the candles. At 1:35, he drops off the first tape in the Panasonic palmcorder that’s attached to the MacBook Pro, which he’ll use for capturing all his footage today. At 1:37, he’s shooting the groom rolling out a white carpet in the aisle for the bride. As he adjusts a camera just off to the side about 30 feet from the altar, elevating it to around 8–10 feet, he tells me, "That’s for the groom’s reaction when he sees the bride. I’ll start it up when the groom comes in."

figure 1Go-Time
As the processional begins at 1:42 to (what else?) Pachelbel’s "Canon in D," Peregrine tweaks the groom-reaction camera then grabs some moving shots with the Glidecam 2000 Pro from stage left, just below the altar, then positions himself squarely in front of the aisle to capture the bride’s approach. At 1:50, he rushes out to the narthex and retrieves the camera that’s been shooting on tripod there and re-positions it half-way up the right side of the nave, then makes his way back to the MacBook Pro to start capturing the now-rewound pre-ceremony tape. "I’ve got about 12 minutes of prep," he tells me. "Usually I have about 45."

Brevity is anything but the soul of a Catholic wedding ceremony, but Peregrine continues on his perpetual motion path for the next hour, switching his attention from one tripod-mounted camera to another, grabbing one monopod here or another there, going handheld to follow the bride and groom into a small confessional area during a rousing rendition of "Ave Maria," eventually setting up a tripod at full extension near the back of the nave to capture the recessional. Intermittently he dashes to the MacBook Pro to capture another tape. At 2:51, just before the recessional begins, he’s captured his second tape.

Peregrine briefly mans the tripod-mounted aisle cam during the recessional, then follows the couple out with a monopod to capture the reactions on the balcony outside as they leave the church. "Videographers always work so hard to get the recessional, they miss all the hugs and high-fives outside," he says. "I try to get out as soon as I can, because that’s what people want to see."

figure 1Break Time
One Wisconsin wedding tradition the seems to transcend religion, national origin, or other cultural extraction is the protracted intermezzo between wedding and reception, which the bridal party typically spends bar-hopping to get a head start on evening’s festivities. There’s a 45-minute drive from Holy Hill to the reception venue, Milwaukee’s elegant University Club at Veterans Park on Lake Michigan. That hardly accounts for the two-hour-plus interval that separates wedding from reception, but it gives Peregrine ample time to work on his wedding-day edit, and he’s done capturing and beginning to edit when I arrive at the University Club just before 5 p.m., after a quick stop to eat on the way.

I find Peregrine in a small function room adjacent to the main reception area, where the DJs have also set up. Two things Peregrine has already told me about this evening’s video presentation: his WDE will be preceded by a 19-minute slideshow created in PowerPoint by the maid of honor, and the audio track that will accompany his WDE is Josh Groban’s dirge-like "You Raise Me Up." The bride and groom’s choice, he assures me, not his.

Interestingly enough, I never hear one note of the song until the WDE is nearly finished. Because there’s no beat to the song, Peregrine says, he doesn’t have to worry about timing his edits to the music, choosing instead to let the video dictate its own pace. The only variables the music brings into play relate to duration. He’s done two edits of the song, and will choose one based on how long the WDE turns out. Given that he’s only got 12 minutes of prep footage in all to work with, he expects to use the shorter edit.

And at this point he’s not even working on the prep footage. "I build these from the back," Peregrine says. "That way, the prep can be any length I want it to be. All the real-world stuff I need to include—I can’t control that—but the prep can be anything."

Peregrine says he did his first WDE in June 1999. (Incidentally, "Wedding-Day Edit" is is his preferred term for these productions—"I own WeddingDayEdit.com," he tells me. "I sold SameDayEdit.com to Dave Williams.") Taking advantage of the long post-ceremony interval on that 1999 shoot, he says, "I edited it at home on my G3. Shot one camera, added the vows, added the audio."

In this instance, he says, "Because of the song they chose, I didn’t promise the vows"—always an attention-grabber with WDEs—"but there’s one 30–40 second segment where I can put it if I have time."

Peregrine says roughly half his brides take the WDE option (which starts at $3,595). For the rest, because his turnaround time is typically 9–12 months for the final production, "I do a next-day highlights on Sunday so they have something. Then I leave a one-third balance payable on delivery of the final edit."

For his WDE brides, Peregrine says, "Just so they won’t leave and say, ‘I got nothing,’ I always give them something right away. I burn the WDE and photo montage, rings, and vows on DVD, and send them home with that."

In contrast to the perpetual-motion show he put on at the wedding, Peregrine is the picture of calm as he produces the WDE. Working by feel, with little visible structure to his work, Peregrine actually makes this high-pressure edit look pretty easy. After breaking to grab a few shots of the reception venue (detail shots of the chandelier and the cake, for instance), at 6:25 he’s back at the MacBook Pro and tells me he’s "almost ready to render." The most important step that remains is white balancing the interior shots used in the WDE. "Instead of taking time before the ceremony to manually white balance," he says, "I put all the cameras on the tungsten setting. With the color-correction filter in Final Cut Pro, I simply take the eye dropper and click it on what ‘should be’ white, and it adjusts the white balance accordingly. This filter is then copied and pasted to all camera angles from the ceremony. This way, all I have to do is color-correct one indoor clip for it to be applied to all the indoor shots in the WDE."

At 6:30 the maid of honor brings us word: "Five minutes to the Grand March." And with that Peregrine’s back to shooting—two cameras this time.

At 7:13, he’s putting the finishing touches on the WDE. Sizing up the relative dearth of pre-ceremony footage (and no prep) he has, he says, "I’m going to try something I’ve never tried before—not show the bride until the processional. Kind of a surprise—‘Here she is!’" Then the maid of honor returns: "You’re on after the cake-cutting. In 10 minutes. You ready?" This means 20 minutes earlier than anticipated, and no time for soundcheck. Only time enough to plug into the RCA jacks on the DJs’ sound system, write to tape, and play. As Peregrine rolls the tape, I hustle back into the reception room and position myself on the far wall opposite the projection screen, sitting on a windowsill between two tables. The questions from the gallery start during the slideshow—"Did you do this?" "No," I whisper, pointing to the maid of honor, who’s a few feet to my right, "It was Aruna."

Some 19 minutes later, when the WDE kicks in, the questions stop, replaced by the occasional ooh and ahh. Peregrine’s gorgeous moving-camera work and dramatic splashes of light and color command the room. Afterwards, I’m flame to the moths once again—I’m surrounded by guests, while only the bride and groom seem to find their way to Peregrine. "That’s the most beautiful wedding video I’ve ever seen," says one guest. "Do you have a business card?" "Did you do that?" one incredulous guest asks.

"No," I reply, pointing to Peregrine. "He did."

"But you’re his assistant, right?"

"No. He works alone."

To see the wedding-day edit described in this article, click here.

Stephen Nathans-Kelly is editor-in-chief of EventDV.