Classic Chicago-Style Weddings: Keith and Jennifer Anderson, Wedding Day Cinema
What's in a name? For Chicago-area wedding filmmaker Keith Anderson, everything. He jumped into the business "with both feet" in 2002 with a company name that brought him into contact with more video clients than his two-person studio could handle, but didn't really connect him with the high-end bridal clientele that matched the custom-crafted work he was producing. It was actually Keith's wife and shooting partner, Jennifer, who suggested that they name their company "All Occasions Video," when they first entered the business. "I hated that name," Keith recalls. "But, in the end, it was the right thing to do, because it made the phone ring." And even though he's been mostly successful in shedding that old identity, over the last 2 years, since rebranding his company as Wedding Day Cinema, he says, "I still get calls from clients who say, ‘It sounds like you do a lot of different things.'"
Doing a little bit of everything put All Occasions Video on the map, but Keith found, over time, that he didn't want to do all those different things. "My passion was doing weddings. Wedding clients just appreciated my work so much more than corporate clients. With corporate work, the dollars came easily. But they just stick it on a shelf. There wasn't an emotional bond to the work like there was with wedding clients."
Meanwhile, Keith was developing a reputation in the video industry as a filmmaker who consistently won Creative Excellence Awards (CEAs) from WEVA for his dazzling wedding work and creative edits. But his "all things to all people" company image seemed increasingly at odds with that. "All Occasions just didn't sound specialized enough for someone who was asking people to spend top dollar for a wedding film," he recalls. "I wanted to distance myself from that name and to cultivate a client base on the upper tier. I felt like there was an open market for top-end wedding films. No one was going for it; no one was asking top dollar in the market in Chicago."
The heart of Keith's increasingly high-end brand has always been the signature edits he delivers, which are unique in the Chicago market in the way they capture what he calls "the classic Chicago-style wedding" in a customized short film edited in Adobe Premiere Pro. At the time he started developing his style, Keith says, "No one was offering what I call the ‘Vignette'-an 8-14 minute wedding, edit that anybody could sit through, especially during my presentations. I would show the vignettes and they would book jobs for me." Today, with Wedding Day Cinema, Keith provides a 20-30 minute edit that he brands "The Feature."
On a typical Wedding Day Cinema event, Keith shoots with a Canon 5D Mark II, while Jennifer runs a Canon 60D. They also set up a Sony EX1 (Wedding Day Cinema's camera of choice before the company went all-DSLR last summer) for audio acquisition. Jennifer's direct involvement ends when the shoot is over; Keith handles all the editing.
As an editor, Keith says, "I've been working in Premiere from Day One." He started with Premiere 6.0, working in Windows, and progressed through successive versions, upgrading to CS5 last year. After running his old PC "into the ground," he says, "I jumped platforms, and went over to the Mac prior to going to CS5. I went to a Final Cut users' meeting, and I tried to like Final Cut. I tried to wrap my head around the workflow, but it didn't take."
The main reason Keith considered switching to Final Cut was that he was still overwhelmed with All Occasions edits at that time-the customary backlog that comes from running a volume business-and it was easier to find freelance editors who worked in Final Cut. "I'm just so glad I didn't do it," he says, "because CS5 can read XML files from Final Cut so well."
"Switching to the Mac platform was really expensive," says Keith. "I started with a laptop. I called [Senior Business Development Manager] Dennis Radeke over at Adobe. I told him I was holding off [on a desktop purchase] until the new Mac towers came out. I gave him the specs of the laptop I was considering and asked him if CS5 would run on it. He said I should have no problem editing a couple layers of DSLR footage on it, and he was right."
Keith says he edited all his HD wedding footage for 8 months on his Mac laptop using CS5 Production Premium and an external RAID drive and Blu-ray burner. Then he upgraded to a 12-core Mac Pro with 16GB of RAM and an SSD drive for his primary editing system. Overkill, perhaps, but Keith says, "When I buy a system, I want to get 6-7 years out of it.'"
Perks of Production Premium
Keith says his reliance on Adobe applications in post isn't just about his facility with Premiere Pro-it's about the seamless integration of CS5 Production Premium. "I love Dynamic Link. I think that's Adobe's strongest suit. I right-click a clip that I have an audio problem with and I can send it straight to Soundbooth. With the new CS5.5, you can send it right to Audition, which is an even more robust sound editor. I fix it up in Soundbooth, save it, and Dynamic Link sends it right back to the Premiere Pro timeline. Dynamic Link is Adobe's bread and butter, and it works as advertised."
Keith also appreciates the versatility of CS5 Production Premium's format support, and the ease with which it ingests an array of formats when he's working with footage from the 5D Mark II, the 60D, the EX1, and occasionally a GoPro camera-all ingested from different media. "Bringing everything into Premiere Pro, I go to the Media Browser to find what I'm looking for. I use separate bins to keep my Project Window neat and tidy. One for raw footage, one for miscellaneous stuff, one for sequences, that kind of thing. I'll just bring in all the stuff. Premiere Pro will go ahead and conform it so it will all play nicely."
One essential component of Keith's edit workflow is working in Premiere Pro's Multicam editor. When he first upgraded to CS5 on the MacBook Pro, he says, "I just couldn't believe it worked-on a laptop? I threw all these different formats on a laptop, and it played smooth enough to get the job done, to get a rough cut, which is all I needed."
Keith says he follows the same exact workflow now on the Mac Pro tower, with the an approved NVIDIA card for GPU acceleration enabled by Adobe's powerful Mercury Playback Engine. "It's really smooth. I've got all different formats on the timeline. There's obviously no rendering, no conforming of the DSLR footage. It just chews right through it."
Keith says that on a typical Wedding Day Cinema project he'll cut the ceremony in the Multicam interface in Premiere Pro CS5, use Plural Eyes to sync the audio (particularly for the reception), and then tweak the audio in Soundbooth. He says he'll also create some effects in After Effects using Adobe's presets. "I'm not a heavy After Effects user, but I know just enough to be dangerous," Keith quips. "I know how to create a Composition and use one of their text animations that looks like you spent all night making it when it really took all of 10 minutes to do."
With the project edited, he's ready to author for DVD or Blu-ray in Encore. There, Dynamic Link comes in handy again: "By using the Dynamic Link feature instead of launching Media Encoder separately," he says, "it creates a Dynamic Link between Premiere Pro and Encore, and it tells Encore, ‘Hey, you figure out what the bitrate needs to be,' and it does it automatically." This is a far cry from "the days of old," he says, when he needed to keep a chart on hand to reference bitrates for wedding DVDs clocking in at different lengths.
"In Encore," he continues, "I'll create my menus in Photoshop. The Dynamic Link between Encore and Photoshop is seamless. You just right-click on your Menu, select Edit Menu in Photoshop, Photoshop opens up, there everything is. Click File > Save and it goes right back to Encore."
Editing an Award-Winning Trailer
Last August at WEVA Expo 2010, Wedding Day Cinema added to its already-crowded trophy case with a Gold Creative Excellence Award (CEA) in the Trailer category. As with most movie trailers, the real magic comes from what happens in the edit. "There's a transition in that clip that a lot of people ask me about," he says, that comes from the TV show The Bachelor. "It gets totally blown out. It's like a flash, but it's not a matte white. All the colors ramp up so it ends up looking like a flash. When I saw it, I thought, ‘I wanna make that.'" So he created his own version in Premiere Pro CS5, and made it the main transition in the trailer.
"In Premiere Pro, you can stack up multiple effects and save them out as a particular effect. The two effects in Premiere Pro that allow you to achieve this effect are Brightness and Contrast and Compound Blur. You ramp up the Brightness and Contrast and the Compound Blur over time, using keyframes. You start with a low value and increase it until it's blown out on the screen. The position of the keyframes dictates the speed of the ramp."
Keith says trailers are a key part of the Wedding Day Cinema experience, which is all about attentiveness to what couples really want in a product custom-built to their expectations. "The trailer is more about future marketing than anything. The key to it is getting it up online the week after the wedding when they're still really high on the wedding"-a goal that would be virtually impossible to achieve without a postproduction workflow that empowers a filmmaker/editor to produce compelling and creative edits quickly. "It keeps the excitement alive," he says, "and does a lot of my selling for me."
Stephen Nathans-Kelly (stephen.nathans at infotoday.com) is editor-in-chief of EventDV.