Continuing Education: Mark and Trisha Von Lanken's Real Weddings, Vol. 1
A few months ago, during the EventDV 25 voting, there was a thread on Chris Hurd's DVinfo.net forum in which Milwaukee-area wedding videographer Joel Peregrine, an EventDV 25 honoree himself, said that the real measure of your worth as a wedding videographer isn't how much you impress or influence your peers in the business but how well you meet the expectations of your brides.
What Joel wrote (and the above is my paraphrase of what he wrote, not his actual post) makes a great deal of sense; it's great when you can wow the critics and move your clients at the same time. But the smart businessperson will always choose the latter if it has to be one or the other.
There's a great moment in Mark and Trisha Von Lanken's new training video, Real Weddings, Volume 1, that perfectly captures this point. Real Weddings is exactly what it sounds like: an hour-plus DVD that encompasses all the content the Von Lankens deliver to a bride and groom. (See the 2 Real Weddings clips above for a sample of the content and commentary on the DVD.)
But this is no vanity-driven, "pay $125 for the privilege of admiring my work" boondoggle; sure, you can just sit back with the original audio and marvel at the Von Lankens' technique. But what makes this DVD valuable is the two commentary tracks--one for shooting, one for editing--that run through the entire disc, breaking down virtually everything they do.
What makes it "real" is that the work you see is lovely, but not all of it is precisely what the Von Lankens would have created if they'd had their eye on awards, rather than including what was most important to the bride and groom. About halfway through the reception, an odd thing happens: By prior arrangement, the groom, a singer and songwriter, steps to the microphone with a guitar to perform a 30-minute concert of his own songs (all written for the bride and for this event) for all the reception guests.
As Trisha says in her commentary (the Editing track), "We cut out some of the dead space between songs and maybe if he rambled just a little bit"-bringing the concert portion of the DVD down to about 22 minutes. "Now, this type of segment is definitely not going to win us an award, because the average person or videographer is going to find this pretty dull and boring. But to the couple ... they had told us in advance that they were going to do this concert at the reception, and how important it was to them to capture it on tape and to preserve it for their future. So to them, it was very important."
With that out of the way, Trisha goes on to describe exactly how she edited it-adding cutaways to key people and pictures of the bride and groom to vary the shots, show reactions, and make the condensing more seamless. She also describes how they combined the audio feeds from the microphone in front of the speaker on the bandstand with the mic on the wide-shot camera to give it both clarity and a sense of the room noise and the audience reaction.
The Shooting Commentary track starts right from the beginning of the DVD, with Mark talking about how, when he arrives at a church (or other venue), he sizes it up, looking for creative beauty shots and the like. He goes immediately into how they shoot the prep and then Trisha chimes in with how they frame shots of the bride and how they combine shots to cover the processional in the highlight.
Mark goes on next, talking about how he anticipates and captures emotional shots, as the video moves from a nice wide-shot reveal to a shot of a tear going down the bride's face. The tag-team narration works beautifully, not only providing some variety in the presentation but really giving a sense of how the Von Lankens work as a team to cover an event with a cinematic perspective and an eye to how they'll edit it for the highlights.
Throughout the DVD you get lots of the Von Lankens' trademark moving shots, reveals, and the like, with engaging and informative commentary accompanying each shot, talking not just about technique but lighting and exposure issues and the lenses they use as well.
As always, the Von Lankens do a wonderful job of breaking things down and making these techniques seem accessible to any shooter (regardless of his or her experience level) who might purchase the DVD. (Trisha even explains how to work the DVD remote to get the audio commentaries to play, and during the editing commentary, after she explains how she approached a particular edit, she even instructs viewers to push the "Next" button and move on to the next segment.)
But the instruction never comes across as simplistic or condescending, and it's always interesting and enlightening to hear Mark and Trisha break down their shots and their edits.
"One thing that we always tell our workshop attendees is that if you're not shooting in manual settings all the time," Trisha says, "we're not recommending that you just ditch your auto settings and go totally manual all at one time. It's something that you gradually work yourself into over time. Do it as a gradual process."
If the actual concert segment is something that might drag a little for someone who's not intimately involved with this event, one of the most compelling bits in the highlight comes in the preceremony when Mark captures the groom, guitar in hand, fine-tuning one of his songs and rewriting part of it in a notebook. Mark begins by bringing the camera smoothly into the room to give a sense of place, then shows the scene in black and white, and comments, "I got various angles of his hands and the guitar as he's writing the song. As he's writing words, even with the close shot, I'm not trying to see the words he's writing; I'm just trying to tell the story."
If there's a shortcoming to this DVD, it's inherent to the source material: Although this is beautiful work and something any client should be thrilled with, for a DVD that is, in many respects, about framing shots that will tell the story of the day, it may disappoint some videographers that it's all shot in 4:3.
Given that Blu-ray delivery still remains a relative rarity in most markets, seeing how a "Real Wedding" final product looks in HD isn't necessarily a big deal at this point. And, of course, there's much more to how Von Wedding Films tells a story than the shape of the frame in which their images appear.
But watching how the Von Lankens capture an event in 16:9 and hearing in detail how they frame the shots, it would be a great thing for other videographers to see. Now that they've moved so enthusiastically into AVCCAM country with the Panasonic HMC150 (see Mark's landmark HMC150 review in the March issue, pp. 14-20), I'm sure the 16:9 Real Weddings can't be far behind.
Stephen Nathans-Kelly (stephen.nathans at infotoday.com) is editor-in-chief of EventDV.