Few studios in our industry have risen faster or higher than Ray Roman Films. With that kind of success comes responsibility, and while Ray is the first to acknowledge that, as much as he enjoys his work and as dedicated as he is to his art, his own business is “all about the Benjamins.” But his leadership in this industry is focused on helping other filmmakers become the best they can be at their craft. In addition to speaking at national events such as WEVA and IN[FOCUS], Ray has initiated a series of 3-day workshops designed to provide intensive training for other event filmmakers. Joining Ray at his first event, held Jan. 18–20 in a number of southern Florida venues, was Konrad Czystowski, fellow EventDV 25 All-Star, frequent Ray Roman Films collaborator/second shooter, and founder of the newly minted FreshSox (www.freshsox.com) studio. Ray and Konrad have teamed up to create a top-notch training team. I don’t want to divulge too much about the shooting techniques, angles, and editing techniques shared by Ray and Konrad in this article; it would be difficult to do justice to that information in print. To learn those items, you just need to attend a workshop on your own. What I would like to share are some concepts and thoughts about the day they shared to give you a little insight into the thought processes of the videographers at Ray Roman Films and how they approach the art and business of wedding filmmaking.
Shooting the Preps
Day 1 of the workshop began with hands-on shooting of the preps. Ray set up the workshop to create a realistic experience for the attendees. The preps were done on location at a very high-end home in Lighthouse Point, Fla., an incredible venue with incredible surroundings. During the bride preps, Ray repeatedly discussed the importance of getting solid footage with basic techniques. “Make sure to get your good content for the film before worrying about getting the eye-candy shots,” he said. This point was stressed many times over the course of the 3 days. Ray and Konrad both stressed that the story is your first priority, and the creative stuff is a bonus to enhance the story. Without the story content, they said, your film will fall apart.
Another key thought Ray mentioned concerning bride preps was to be aware of your surroundings. If you walk into a bridal prep area before shooting has started and notice people are set up under bad lighting or in an area where the background is cluttered and not complimentary to your film, then take charge and move the prep to a well-lit or uncluttered area. Many shooters may feel intimidated about changing a room around a little for their advantage. There is an easy way to handle a take-charge situation with a bride or wedding planner, and Ray stressed this many times as well. Ray said, “I tell the bride that if she will make these few small changes to the surroundings, or [to the lighting], then it will make her look better, and her film [will] look better.” And what bride doesn’t want to look better in her film? This is one of those nuggets of information that can make the whole workshop worth the cost. This one-liner gets used in many situations throughout the wedding day to improve the film.
Ray and Konrad also stressed multiple times the importance of getting a variety of shots to build your films. These various angles give you lots of content to build your films with multiple options of angles. This is the basis of a good-quality film.
During his groom prep demonstration, Konrad also threw in some valuable insights in setting up the DSLR picture profiles and the white balance shift functions of the camera. Konrad again stressed a variety of angles and a variety of content.
After the preps were done, it was off to the first-look setting at a local boardwalk along the beach. The first look before the ceremony is not popular in many cultures or parts of the country. But with all his customers, Ray attempts to get the bride and groom to have this moment before the ceremony. The first look is a special moment for many brides and grooms, and they want it to happen as the bride walks down the aisle. Ray tells his couples that if they have a first look before the ceremony, they get to share the moment in a more intimate setting. They will still have a wonderful reaction at the ceremony, but by shooting a first look before the ceremony, you get multiple special moments to work with in your film, each of them special in their own way.
Ray and Konrad demonstrated how to set the camera angles at the first look to get the safe shot, the close-up shot, and the creative shots. Of course, get your safe shots first before setting up the creative ones. Ray and Konrad showed us how to do the first look with three different cameras and only one person. Once you know the angles and techniques, a single shooter can set up the whole scenario in a matter of minutes and have money shots for the film.
The Ray Roman Rules
Ray and Konrad also taught attendees a number of rules for the day of the shoot that will improve anyone’s work. Days 2 and 3 were filled with additional great information, but the following rules were reiterated several times:
• Communicate, communicate, communicate. Ray and Konrad stressed repeatedly the benefit of communicating with the bride, the officiant/celebrant, and all the vendors involved in the day. By communicating with the photographer, planner, and minister, you establish your credibility as a professional. Otherwise, you may be viewed as just a videographer who is there to cover the event with no desire to create a professional documentation of the day.
• Study your frame and control it. Don’t accept what’s there in the frame and background just because it’s there. Clean it up and make your visuals look right. Photographers control the scenery, so why shouldn’t we? We’re both creating visuals. Let’s create visually stimulating films instead of the typical fly-on-the-wall stuff we are used to seeing in this industry. Konrad mentioned that he tells a bride and groom that he wants to become like a groomsman on their wedding day. He wants to become comfortable with them to the point that they don’t feel intimidated by his camera and the few requests he may have. Both Ray and Konrad may control a few situations, but at the same time, they do it in a very unobtrusive and low-key way. They stressed that we can be part of the day, controlling it visually without ruining what is happening. Ray and Konrad never change what will happen naturally, but they just make sure what does happen looks great and visually stimulating.
• Don’t put something in the film just because it looks good. It can be a great shot, but if it doesn’t further the story, leave it on the cutting-room floor.
• The core of what you do should be capturing solid shots for the story. Most of the shooting Ray and Konrad demonstrated was done from a tripod or monopod. They were locked down properly with well-framed and well-planned shots. Gadgets work great, they said, but the core of their amazing work is very clean, basic shooting that we should all know how to do.
• Anticipate. This bit of frequently repeated advice came up first during the preps demonstration. If you know the groom is about to put on his belt, for example, position yourself ahead of time and get prefocused and ready so that when he does it, you haven’t slowed him down in his prep time.
Ceremony and Reception Coverage
Day 2 was all about the ceremony and reception coverage. Here, Ray did something I have not seen in a seminar or workshop before. He had a local minister on hand who discussed the minister/videographer relationship with us for a few minutes. He had some valuable insight on how to approach the minister as a professional and create a good working relationship with him or her. This often allows us to have more freedom in our shots for the ceremony. The pastor can provide a mother lode of information we often don’t mine because we don’t take the time to build videographer/officiant relationships.
A new concept for the workshop was introduced on Day 2: prepositioning equipment for the ceremony and reception. This allows Ray and Konrad to move between camera positions without hauling a big tripod around. By doing this you are less obtrusive since you’re just a person walking around instead of a person walking around with a big tripod. Ray will set up a tripod, a monopod, a slider, and lenses around the ceremony site where they will be used. He then just moves a camera to where he needs it and sets it up for a shot. It’s quick, easy, and very discreet.
For reception coverage, Ray and Konrad demonstrated some very unobtrusive lighting techniques for the best footage possible. Many shooters are afraid to light a reception for fear that they will overlight it, ruining the mood and becoming “that obtrusive videographer.”
The reception setting created for the workshop was lit lower than the receptions most of us ever work in. Simple lighting was implemented, offering great exposure for the different parts of the reception, but it never ruined the mood of the reception. It was ample yet very subtle.
Ray and Konrad both discussed at length how they handle audio acquisition throughout the wedding day. They use similar techniques for both the ceremony and reception. Wireless and solid-state recorders were discussed. Microphone placement and even miking a bride, if needed, were covered.
Attendees got a few moments to actually practice miking the groom and minister. Konrad stressed that when it comes to audio, redundancy is crucial. If one source fails, your backup covers you, and the backup of that backup covers you as well.
On Day 3, Ray began going through the process of how he rough-cuts his footage with Final Cut Pro. In the process of gathering the rough cuts from our first 2 days of shooting, Ray covered how to find the key moments for a scene and how they come together to make a compelling section of a film or a same-day edit (SDE). He covered how timing is critical to make a scene compelling.
Konrad continued the day covering SDEs. He gave us some insights on his equipment list and how to pack the correct equipment for the day and the edit. Konrad covered the good and bad sides of having a dedicated editor or editing your own footage, and he emphasized focusing on your edit and not getting lazy. It’s the stressful part of the SDE, but it’s critical. After going through many of the details explaining techniques and tips for the SDE, Konrad pulled up a SDE in the editor and walked us through the process of building the edit and how it all came together between multiple shooters.
An unexpected treat, at least for me, was a session in the afternoon on Day 3: Konrad demonstrated colorization to make your footage pop. I have long been a fan of using my scopes and monitors to enhance my footage, but very few people understand how to use them and what they mean. Konrad explained how the vectorscopes, waveform monitors, and histograms work in our NLEs. These are valuable tools for color correcting and grading that many editors don’t understand. Konrad used multiple shots from his timeline to show how different filters affect the scopes and monitors in positive and negative ways.
A filter favored by both Ray and Konrad in their colorization is the Color Picker from NewBlueFX (one of the workshop’s sponsors). NewBlueFX has done a good job of simplifying many of the complicated colorization techniques using an easy-to-use filter interface. Konrad explained the use of the Color Picker and its simplicity.
Ray dove into the building of a main feature, showing the workflow and some of the thought processes he and his wife, Jessica, implement to create an epic film that will stir emotions for many years. Ray showed us how his rules for creating solid shots using basic techniques are used to build a classic feature film with an engaging story. Ray, Jessica, and Konrad all have a natural talent for storytelling, and it was fascinating to have the opportunity to look inside their minds for 3 eye-opening and enlightening days.
Philip Hinkle (philip at frogmanproductions.com) runs Madison, Wis-area video production company Frogman Productions. A 2008 EventDV 25 honoree and Grass Valley software trainer, he won a 2008 WEVA CEA Gold in the Sociel Event category and a 2006 4EVER Group AAA Diamond. He was a 2009 WEVA CEA judge and a featured speaker at WEVA Expo 2009. He is co-founder and vice president of the Wisconsin Digital Media Group.