The Making of an Epic Wedding Film
Posted Jan 28, 2010

Roshni & Suchet Udaipur a sufi vision of romance, love & marriage from MILI GHOSH (http://in-motionstud on Vimeo.

In 2009 our Chicago-based studio, Memories in Motion, was hired to shoot our second royal wedding at the Jag Mandir Palace in Udaipur, India (you can see our first effort, from 2008, at http://in-motionstudio.com/tara-raj). Of course we jumped at the chance to produce a wedding film in such a great location with a rich culture, well aware of the sort of undertaking that it would turn out to be. Destination weddings always present planning and logistical challenges that you don't encounter when you shoot close to home. But South Asian royal weddings require planning, preparation, and conceptualization of an entirely different order. Knowing that it was our responsibility to not only capture and document the wedding but also to give a flavor of the actual city, we had to devote extraordinary attention to details, planning, location, mood, sound, elegance, story, script, props, makeup/wardrobe, styling, direction, conceptualizing every frame, editing, and authoring. In essence, the demands of this type of production are much closer to those of a Hollywood feature film than a typical wedding video project. But the fact remains that it can be done, even by a studio that—like so many in this industry—consists essentially of two people, my husband Sid and me—even though the production crews we use often turn out to be much larger (for more details on our studio, see the September 2009 Studio Time column, "Casting Kings"). Although I suppose there are many ways to approach a wedding production of this scale, here's how we do it.

Planning Phase 
The planning phase for a grand-scale wedding production starts with making a detailed cost proposal for the client. The detailed cost proposal covers aspects of the number of hours a particular project will entail in terms of the various phases we'll discuss in this article.

For this project, Roshni Shah, the bride, contacted us in January 2009 for her October 2009 wedding. We had to anticipate a lot of the hours based on our previous experience shooting in Udaipur and for other South Asian weddings we'd shot in the U.S. We spent about 3-4 hours on the phone (spread over a couple of weeks) with Roshni, trying to understand the entire wedding itinerary and exactly what she was looking for in terms of her end product.

Once we had a good understanding of what the bride wanted, we prepared a cost proposal and worked in all the expected number of hours, labor, research, consultations, production costs, postproduction costs, and so forth. It's very important to get as much of a clear idea as possible about the shooting and requirements before writing up a cost proposal. But often for a concept/ love story shoot (which this project would include), it's hard to determine costs at such an early stage. The best way to deal with this is to make sure the client is aware of the approximate costs based on previous shoot experiences. For your first project of this magnitude, it's better to work out the actuals after finalizing a concept/script in order to better determine the amount of labor, as well as other production costs such as props, extras, location permits, extra camera support, and so on.

Mili Ghosh in Udiapur, India

Concept, Script, Labor, Preproduction
The first step in preproduction is to research and find specialized crew, as per the requirements of the client, while maintaining the approximate budget. For this Udaipur wedding, Roshni wanted a full-scale production. Her event was very intricate and included a lot of elements that had to be filmed with the proper camera supports, so a Steadicam and a jib were absolute musts. During our previous wedding shot in Udaipur, we had made contacts in New Delhi, and our production coordinator, Dilip, had arranged for the jib to be transported to Udaipur. A good-faith estimate from Dilip helped us provide the client with the cost proposal and finalize the contract agreement with all the details regarding production and postproduction costs.

If you're going to do a concept film/love story, the first step of the preproduction phase is to plan the concept shoot story with the client, finalizing a cue sheet with details of camera angle, location, prop usage, extras requirements, and the like.

Sid Ghosh shooting the concept film

To develop a story, it was first important to get to know both Roshni and her husband-to-be, Suchet Rao, so that we could brainstorm on ideas. With their busy schedules, it wasn't easy to connect by phone. But we were fortunate to be introduced to Roshni and Suchet personally at Roshni's twin sister's wedding, which we filmed in California in August. Roshni and Suchet have similar personalities: Both are reserved and a little shy; Suchet rarely speaks unless he gets to know you very well. However, when we shot the love story, Suchet still pulled off quite a few scenes with hundreds of people watching. Roshni's personality is quite simple and easy going. But she's also very stylish and sophisticated in her outlook, so it was important to incorporate that, as we had a few areas of the script focusing on cinematic-styled shots and glamour.

The story itself was left simple, but it had a lot of soul and realism—not borrowed from any films but inspired only by the couple's real personalities. Although it's often more effective to base a love story on a couple's actual story, we couldn't remain entirely faithful to it in this case: Both Roshni and Suchet are medical residents who had actually met during college in the Caribbean. But in our story, they met in Udaipur as medical assistants helping in a village, thereby establishing who they were and what they were doing in India where the wedding was taking place. As the music accompanying the film progressed, we could focus on the couple's growing relationship, which would then lead to their wedding.

Mili Ghosh making production notes

The music selection and concept went in hand in hand. We came up with a couple of scenarios based on a music track and sent it to Roshni. A track, along with a written scenario, is usually enough to visualize the story-we were fortunate to nail it with the first scenario and music selection we sent her. She loved the overall scenario, and with a few suggestions from Roshni as to what we could focus on more, we developed a proper music cue sheet with a video that allowed her to properly visualize all the details of the story. It helped that we had a client who was quite sure of what she wanted and who was specific; there wasn't room for any confusion or misunderstanding.

The next step was to determine the locations where we would film the various scenes with help from our production coordinator, Dilip, and our location manager, Anil, in Udaipur. After locations had been finalized, Dilip planned and scheduled the entire 7-day shoot. Scheduling for this type of production includes coordinating the timing of the shoot with prewedding and wedding events; coordinating meals for our crew,transportation, crew airfares, and hotel stays; plus preparing printouts of itineraries and the hours/ days of shooting.

The Memories in Motion crew in Udiapur. Mili Ghosh is front row, 3rd from left; Sid Ghosh is directly behind her, slighly to the right


One of the major hurdles we encountered was coordinating permissions for shooting with cranes and an RC helicopter camera (helicam) for aerials at the event locations, as well as for the short concept shoot. We obtained permission from local city authorities and the city collector and had our production coordinator meet them in person to obtain written permission on proper letterhead so that if we got stopped by the police, we'd have the documents we'd need to continue shooting. We had to obtain a huge liability insurance policy in order to get permission to shoot. The next step was to finalize prop planning for various scenes (we had a few scenes in a hospital in which had to make sure the room given to us had all the proper props so that it looked like a hospital), and a lightings plan for locations and events and the love story shoot.

We also did audio setup plan for the events with the A/V coordinator and confirmed available output types to make sure we had the proper connectors (as it might be tough to get connectors in India during the event). It's important to have constant email contact with the client and/or event coordinator to take care of logistical issues, to finalize shoot timing, and to tweak the schedule if necessary.

The next step was to prepare the Carnet, which is essentially a merchandise passport, for a temporary import permit to bring the necessary production equipment into India; this would help ensure that we got through customs smoothly. The Carnet is arranged through the website www. atacarnet.com. It's important to make sure that all the serial numbers for all pieces of equipment are noted correctly on the Carnet and that the Carnet is stamped at the last port of departure in the U.S. The production coordinator is given the responsibility to arrange for phones and SIM cards for the crew for communication. For all large productions, we also keep a detailed budget spreadsheet along with incidentals and actual expenses.

Expenses
For large, complex productions like this, one of the first things we do in preplanning is to estimate all the fixed costs that are associated with the project. The fixed costs for this project included the following:
• Payment of production crew (see the list in the Production Notes sidebar): Cinematographers, Steadicam operators, Jimmy Jib operators, and RC helicam operators are paid per hour. Production coordinators, line producers, location managers, and spot boys are paid a day rate on a 10-hour-day basis with overtime rates (double time).
• Jimmy Jib and Kino Flo light rental in India for the duration of the event.
• Two-week lens rentals from a rental house in the U.S. and the associated overseas insurance.
• RC helicopter rental.
• Airfare for all non-Udaipur crew members (if not covered by the client).
• Hotel accommodations in Udaipur starting 2 days before the actual production begins: Part of the crew accommodation is usually covered by the clients; they get good rates with a particular hotel where most of their guests will board. We also stay an extra day after the production just to make sure we have not missed on any "filler" and "behind the scenes" footage that we might need.
• Airport transfers for all crew members and transportation for all crew members on a daily basis: We usually hire two or three big vans to transport us to various locations.
• Meals for the entire crew on a daily cost basis: On this project, our location manager, Vishal, arranged for packet meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) on a daily basis.
• Visas/immunization costs for non-India crew.
• Props needed for various scenes: We usually need props for the bride as she's getting ready before the wedding (this helps us create a set).
• Extras as needed per the script of the short concept film we film before the wedding event.
• Communications (phones/SIM cards for each crew member).
• Arranging for the Carnet for temporary import permit of all the production equipment from the U.S. and Poland (the helicam) to India. Some heavy equipment such as the Jimmy Jib and lights are rented in India.

The variable costs are overtime hours and any miscellaneous expenses that are incurred during production or postproduction in India. We had already discussed with the bride (and this is something we do for the brides in the U.S. as well) that any cost not included in the cost proposal and contract agreement will be discussed with the bride/groom, and we will incur the cost only if the bride approves.

Production Phase
For the concept film, we shot as dictated by the script that was prepared during the preproduction phase after consultation with the bride and groom. Once the script was ready, the production manager (in this case, Dilip) made a day-to-day schedule of the various scenes to be filmed and their locations. We went through an optimization process to make sure the shooting time was maximized, and the scenes for a particular day were decided based on location, the distance between the various locations, and their availability for filming.

We ensured daily packing of gear and maintained a checklist so as not to miss out on anything for that day of the shoot. I recommend that you pack only the gear that is listed in the shoot schedule-this avoids delays and carrying extra heavy equipment.

The time of the shoot depends on when the bride and groom are available. We try to plan around the itinerary of the bride to make sure her makeup is done properly and that we're able to get a full-day shoot. We consult with the bride during the preproduction phase to make sure the timings are compatible with the bride and groom's schedule. This is more critical for the prewedding concept shoot.

Pack-up and strike depends on the bride and groom's schedule and is decided by the prewedding festivities. In Udaipur, we tried to finish as much of the concept shoot as possible before the prewedding festivities started (as those of you who have shot South Asian weddings know, they are intricate, multiday affairs). After wrapping up and getting back to the hotel, one of the crew members downloaded all the cards from our tapeless cameras into three different hard drives: the first is the master and the second and third are backups. This process can take up to an hour or so on a laptop. Each night cards were reformatted for reuse, bags were packed for next day's shoot, and everything was matched against a checklist of equipment necessary for the next day's shoot. During dinnertime, we usually sat down with all the crew members and planned the next day's shoot. A typical day shift is about 10-14 hours, including lunch/dinner/meeting breaks.

While filming the actual wedding events, we always coordinated with the wedding coordinator and the assistant coordinator to allow us enough time to transport our equipment to the location and set up. In Udaipur, the Jag Mandir Palace is in middle of the lake, and the only access is via boat. The coordinator at the HRH group helped us with exclusive access to the boats before the event started to transport equipment to the island. Typically, we allowed 3 hours to set up and test the Jimmy Jib and lighting gear. For big weddings, we typically film with two Steadicam operators to avoid stressing out a single operator. This also allows for smooth flowing shots of various parts of the events that might be going on simultaneously (very common in South Asian weddings).

Taj Lake Palace in Udiapur

The RC helicopter was used to film the prewedding procession called the baraat, in which the groom's family gathers and dances and then proceeds to the entrance of the wedding venue, where they're received by the bride's family. The high perspective of the procession-especially in Udaipur, with the palace as a backdrop-looks very cinematic and regal. We had to charter a boat to transport the RC helicam to Jag Mandir Palace Island after the baraat was over. This helped us set up the RC helicam for film aerials of the wedding ceremony.

The Helicam in flight

The Jimmy Jib was used for both the wedding and the reception to get sweep shots of the ceremony and the reception dancing and cake cutting. The specific spots for the placement of the Jimmy Jib were finalized the day before the wedding when the crew was setting up all the lighting and sound equipment. This ensured that the Jib had a good perspective (especially since the arm was 32' long) and that the operator had enough room on the backside to move the arm freely without any obstruction.

Unexpected Hurdles
Working in India, one is almost certain to run into unexpected hurdles-especially during the production phase. We encountered our fair share of unanticipated difficulties, starting with customs at Mumbai International Airport in India. They were being picky about the serial numbers on the equipment, questioning what actually constitutes a serial number. However, we were able to resolve this issue very quickly because we had a Carnet with a detailed description of each item/piece of equipment being imported and its serial number. My (Mili's) mother, Ila Kanabar, was very helpful in sorting out a lot of the customs issues that we faced while trying to clear immigration at the Mumbai International Airport.

In Udaipur, during filming of aerials of the city and the HRH property along with the Taj Lake palace, we were stopped a few times by police officials, and our filming was delayed. Producing a letter of permission and a no-objection certificate on the proper letterhead from the collector's office was not enough. It always ended up requiring a phone call to the city official's office. This delayed us a few times, and we had to make extra time for the aerials on a later day. But having the letter of permission did help us avoid any very lengthy delays.

Postproduction
The postproduction phase starts with a proper outline of the edit and the soundtracks to be used. We have some consultation with the client to make sure we are all on the same page. In the meantime, we transcode all the files from the Canon 5D and 7D Marks for editing in Final Cut Pro.

The choice of the soundtrack is critical in any South Asian wedding, as it drives the mood of the movie quite a bit. Therefore, we spend a substantial amount of time going through music that fits the location, personality of the bride/groom, and, of course, the mood of the event. On the Sangeet night, a prewedding event held jointly between the bride's and groom's side, Bollywood celebrity singer Daler Mehndi performed and rocked the party. Meeting him and filming him on stage was a great experience for us. He started the night with an ethnic song followed by a number of remixes and dance numbers. The event was laid-back with guests dancing on the stage with Mehndi and enjoying the beautiful architecture of Zenana Mahal. Having the opportunity to incorporate his film into our performance obviously gave the audio component a huge boost. But such a performance is not always available for South Asian wedding productions, and often it's exciting to work with material from outside the genre. Non-Bollywood music from pop albums and ethnic artists is always something that drives me to create something very original and befitting South Asian culture, which was, as much or perhaps even more than ever, our ambition with this project.

SIDEBAR: PRODUCTION NOTES
Sid and I and all of our out-of-town crew members came home with so many fond memories of this wedding, as the Shah and Rao families had opened up their hearts for everyone. We all miss the days we spent in Udaipur. It was hard work, and we had some sleepless nights. But what really matters to us is that the couple and their families knew how to appreciate every little thing that we did. For such clients, we never think twice about going the extra mile. The families recognized the hard work, the attention to detail, and the labor that went, at times, beyond the agreed contract. But in our line of work, if anyone claims to be passionate about what they do, they will not expect to see extra dollars for doing all the extra work that makes them happy. Understandably, if the job is something mundane, you’ll be less excited about giving the client a break. But for us, when we take on a project and really get passionate about it, we often have to go above and beyond to make it happen, and we don’t always charge the client for that. It’s our own passion for our work that leads us to do that. Our entire crew, everyone in India, the RC helicam team from Poland, and our Jib operator from California were an integral part of this project. Although everyone had their own designated jobs, the times we spent working were all as a team. A special thanks goes to our dear friend and the official photographer, Aziz Khan from Aira photography (http://airaphotography.net), along with Dwiko Arie Nugroho and Mariana Bassani, who had also been working with us as a team on our story shoots.

Here is a rundown of our entire crew and all the equipment we used on this project. I’ve presented the information here to give you an idea of exactly what is required to deliver a production of this scale:

Mili & Sid Ghosh

Mili and Sid Ghosh (milighosh at gmail.com) run Memories in Motion (www.memoinmotion.com), a Chicago-based production studio that specializes in high-end, Bollywood-style South Asian wedding films.