When the time comes to put his legacy in order, Lee Bakogiannakis wants to be remembered for his contributions to the Greek wedding video industry. But for now he’ll settle for being known as the guy who "made Bon Jovi cool again." Or as the videographer who makes family portraits and other inanimate objects in his wedding videos speak. Or for the "almost gothic" quality he brings to them through his manipulation of color.
The VJ Years
Like fellow WedFACT member Kristen* of Bliss*, Bakogiannakis says that music (house music, not ’80s hair metal) is part of what got him into videography. A former VJ in Athens’ top two dance clubs (+Soda and Umatic), Bakogiannakis now has his own studio, 2dg, that he runs out of his hometown of Thessaloniki, ensconced on a gulf of the Aegean Sea in northern Greece.
The experimentation that has defined his work started one day in 2000 when a friend called him to ask if he could find a digital camera and come help him shoot DJ Carl Cox, who was spinning at a big party at a club. He borrowed someone’s Hi8 handycam, showed up, and thus began his career "making all the crazy videos they show on the big screens" in the clubs, he says.
Bakogiannakis and his friend went into business together providing the equipment and the footage played each night in the clubs. They made promo videos for the night’s sponsors and videos to advertise upcoming club events, and they mixed those with basically whatever they wanted. "I had complete creative freedom," he says. "One night I took a DVD from my dad’s collection, a virtual aquarium with lots of colorful fishes. I played around a bit with the software I used back then [MAGIX Video Deluxe], and when I projected the clip, almost everyone just took a seat and was glued to the screen for quite some time," he recalls. "I felt a bit proud that night." Assuming he wasn’t Greek because he kept a low profile at the clubs, "people were coming up to me and speaking English, saying, ‘I really like your work, man.’ "
For 3 years he lost money as a VJ. He finally quit after bristling with club owners, but he says he can’t put a price on what he learned. "I learned a lot about videos. I had the freedom to experiment, and I got to meet lots of people, some of whom I still work with on projects." From time to time he returns to the clubs to shoot DJs like LTJ Bukem, who just recently posted a 2-year-old video by Bakogiannakis on YouTube.
From Freelance to 2DG
In 2003, Bakogiannakis returned to Thessaloniki to try to carve out a living as a freelance wedding videographer. He invested in a Sony DSR DP-150 and a powerful PC, "and then I thought, ‘Okay, and now what do I do with them?’ I had no idea what I was getting myself into," he says. As a freshman freelancer, he never believed that his work would later be described by top videographers as "fresh" and "modern." Back then the only thing fresh he was making was his morning demitasse espressos, as he was stuck with grunt work, converting VHS tapes to DVDs for other studios. In the time he spent working for others, he saw that the industry was a stranger to experimentation and comprised "guys shooting and editing in the exact same way for the last five years."
Partly as a result, he discovered that for too many Greek couples hiring wedding videographers, "It’s all about quantity, not quality," a fact all too familiar to those in the American videography scene as well. Out of the approximately 10 crews "worth your time," he says, "there are at least five or six that can shoot or deliver a good product. But nothing amazing."
He has kinder words to describe the work of Greek wedding photographers, and he credits some of the country’s top wedding photographers for getting 2dg off the ground. In the beginning, he says, "I partnered with two of the best Greek photographers. I had seasons in which I was flying from one place to another like crazy. A wedding in Florina on Friday, a wedding in Santorini on Saturday, and then a wedding in Chalkidiki on Sunday."
For that first couple of years, Bakogiannakis shot an ambitious 60 to 70 weddings, which was "impossible to handle." He nearly halved that number this year and plans to do even fewer in 2009. "Next year I’m going for less but with higher rates and, of course, services."
A Day on the Job With 2dg
A typical shooting day for Bakogiannakis starts when he and his crew of three go to the bride or groom’s house 3 hours before the ceremony. He says, "We like to take our time, make our usual shots like the wedding dress, shoes, and pictures—the little important things."
Bakogiannakis says it’s his favorite part of the day. "I prefer it because everyone is natural." Flower girls chuck things at one another and loved ones break down in raucous laughter. "They don’t even notice that I’m there, and many things happen around me for me to shoot."
His approach to shooting is empathetic. "One of my basic rules when shooting is to try to think of what the viewer would like to see." Whether a family portrait, a cigarette, or sunglasses, "I look for objects that can help viewers better understand the people they are watching."
Stephen Nathans-Kelly wrote about Bakogiannakis’ ability to capture details and bring them to life in his July Nonlinear Editor column, Object Lessons. "In these 2dg videos, there’s no question the objects speak," he wrote, referring to Bakogiannakis’ powerful use of inanimate objects as motifs, objects that defy the very definition of "inanimate."
Bakogiannakis and crew race to the church 30 minutes before the ceremony starts to set up lights and get in all the necessary B-roll shots, such as the church, the decorations, and the anticipating groom. A typical Greek ceremony lasts about 40 minutes and involves some unique traditions.
"We have the writing of all the nonmarried friends of the bride on her shoe, lots of singing, the father of the bride putting money in her shoe, the breaking of a plate when they leave their parents’ house for the last time. In some places they give honey to the couple, served with nuts," he says. "I shot a wedding last weekend at beautiful Chania in Crete Island. That day was full of traditions, most of which I hadn’t seen before. Sometimes they take their guns out and start shooting at the sky, and I don’t mean blanks! It’s just been a Crete tradition for many, many years, which the government still can’t stop."
Ceremonies, though, are his least favorite part of the day to shoot because of their limitations. He’s able to go as close as 10cm (about 4") from the couple, but he says that it’s too tough to concentrate on his shooting because he’s so focused and busy avoiding the photographers.
Shooting close up "at first was interesting, but now it’s starting to be a problem." Now he tries to shoot from a distance, but he says, "You can see the problem there."
The 1-hour photo shoot takes place next, if it didn’t take place before the ceremony. "Most of the time I enjoy shooting it, but my style is based on natural things that happen during the day," he says. "It’s very difficult to find these moments" while the couple poses for the photographer. Bakogiannakis says he prefers capturing receptions to photo shoots—"especially after the guests get drunk!"
A Market is Born
Hiring a baptismal photographer or videographer is traditional in Greece. "Greeks like to show off a lot, especially when you have 200 people coming to a baptism," he says. "It’s nearly impossible to go to a baptism here and not see at least one photographer."
More than 90% of Bakogiannakis’ little subjects are the children of his former wedding clients. I think there’s a trust issue involved," he says. "They really like what I do so they hire me again for their baby’s baptism."
Greek Orthodox baptisms are quite serious, particularly during the indoctrination, in which the priest cleans the devil from the soul of the baby. Most of them are sad, he says, "like the one I shot where the father saw his daughter for the first time. The parents had split right after she was born and that day was the first time that he saw her, and I managed to get that shot. I got a closeup of his eyes while a tear was falling."
The final product is a 40-minute (or less) highlight video filled with emotion. "When the priest announces the name of the child, I manage to get the reaction of the grandma or grandpa that the name came from, which is a custom here."
Playing With Color and Song
Those who’ve seen Bakogiannakis’ work know that watching a 2dg whose colors he hasn’t enhanced in post is like biting into a gyro without tzatziki. Color filtering plays a strong role in his videos simply because "I think it makes them look better," he says. "I have a lot of photographer friends and watch a lot of tweaked images online. I try to incorporate any Photoshop tricks I learn into Premiere Pro."
Referring to a clip on WedFACT.tv titled "Antonis & Anna, The Ceremony," Nathans-Kelly wrote in his July editorial, "I don’t think I’ve ever seen colors enhanced quite like his."
As if to ask, "What? This old clip?" Bakogiannakis says, "That clip is a combination of Magic Bullet filters and some Premiere natives used with a Photoshop technique—two video layers. One on top of the other. Filter the above layer, play a bit with the opacity, and you’re done." Returning to his musical influences, Bakogiannakis says, "For me, color-filtering a clip comes from the feeling I get listening to the song I use."
"Music plays a big role in my videos," he adds, but he’s still searching for the right formula. "I haven’t found the right recipe yet for choosing the right song. Most of the time I make a playlist of some tunes I think will be great for the clips and then the couple chooses what they like," he says.
Bakogiannakis creates the playlist from music played during the couple’s wedding day—from the bride’s ringtone or a song that the radio was playing when the bride was getting ready to the entrance song or the first dance.
While Bakogiannakis typically eschews Greek music in his work, he says that last year he tried out a Greek pop track in a preceremony video. "I started hearing that song on the CD player when I was at her house, and all of her friends were singing along. Later, during the photo shoot, the same track played from the car radio at top volume. And at the party I heard it again," so he decided to give it a try. You can see the clip here.
Other times the couple will provide him with a tracklist of three to four songs, but he says, "If I feel that the tracks aren’t good, I’ll try to use something more appropriate, but from the same artist."
One couple, Thanos and Efi, opted to have their photo shoot 2 days before the ceremony. The location was a marina in the littoral suburb of Kalamaria, and the shoot started 20 minutes before sundown. The couple chose "Livin’ on a Prayer" to accompany the video of the photo shoot. "Because I’m always open to new ideas, I decided to go for it and see what I could do," says Bakogiannakis. The result is a video that is pristine-looking and sexy, the groom’s alabaster tux, an ethereal, pale yellow sky, and arena rock bombast all combine in one magic moment that "made Bon Jovi cool again," according to WedFACT founder and multiaward-winning videographer Walter Chelliah. [EventDV does not endorse the use of copyright-protected music in event video. But we will continue to discuss its use as a common industry practice, where relevant, until the associated intellectual property issues are resolved. —Ed.]
Doing daring things like that is what helps a videographer evolve, Bakogiannakis believes. Videographers "should never stop trying new things. As my friend Jason Magbanua wrote on my blog the other day, ‘If you really like what you do, the rest will come.’ "
His message to new videographers is to be aware that entering this business, developing your skills, and finding your own style at first can be difficult, "but after shooting a few weddings, I found that there is no limit to what you can do."
The Hellenic sky’s the limit for Bakogiannakis, who credits his North American and Filipino counterparts for influencing and inspiring his work. "Everything I know I’ve learned by myself and from watching, talking to, and sharing with the guys at WedFACT. Meeting the WedFACT crew has inspired me in more ways than I can say. I love watching others’ work, not because I want to steal their style, but because they can help you evolve and give you new ideas. I can’t remember how many times I’ve watched videos by Jason Magbanua, StillMotion, or Elysium Productions and then worked on my own videos using ideas that I got from watching their videos."
Working at least once with all of the WedFACT crew is one of Bakogiannakis’ major goals for the future. A somewhat more pragmatic goal is "to convince Greek couples that a wedding video is more important than the hairdresser or the stylist." Bakogiannakis wants to see Greek wedding videographers paid what they’re worth. "I know for a fact that I’ve changed a lot of things in Greek wedding videography," he says happily, "but I think this goal will take a while."
Elizabeth Avery Welsh Merfeld (www.lizwelsh.com) is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis.