It’s a formula that works for Bruce and his partner, Angela Desveaux, editor-in-chief of WedLuxe, a national Canadian magazine with both western and eastern editions and an invitation-only advertiser pool. A blogger recently described WedLuxe as follows: "You honestly have to see this magazine to appreciate the quality of it, not to mention the content, which is fantastic."
If it’s forward-thinking, technologically superior, and luxurious, then Cloud Nine is probably first out of the gate with it. Bruce has shot weddings exclusively in HD since 2005. Angela pioneered a publication to serve couples in search of decadent details for their soirées and Canada’s most gifted wedding professionals. Together, they’ve done something very avant-garde by bringing the magazine to life in HD online, which is an idea they call "revolutionary" and will "change the way you experience planning your wedding."
Cloud Nine takes a conscious approach to couture. Bruce strives to be the antithesis of an assembly-line video production outfit, which tends to shoot the "everybride’s" wedding day with a vanilla "Here’s Suzy. Here’s Johnny" flavor. Without a story comprising a beginning, middle, and end or an emotional buildup rivaling a feature film, Bruce says it’s merely a "wedding video," a term that makes him cringe. "If you’re constantly focused on telling the story, your product will be what you want it to be in the end," he says. Bruce likens his half-hour custom art films to compelling documentaries such as Michael Moore’s recent work, contrasting this with films that give documentaries a bad name (Think: a camera on a tripod shooting a tortoise in the Serengeti). His goal is to emulate documentaries that "feel like feature films. They are well-composed, tell a story, and use the rule of thirds."
This approach has helped Cloud Nine grow from a graphic design firm with a large corporate clientele in 1999, to the extravagant yet accessible, wedding-centric company it has become. Bruce’s cinematographer friends joke that they wouldn’t touch a wedding with a ten-foot pole, for two reasons. One, there are no second takes. And two, they wonder why Bruce doesn’t get burned out while filming what basically boils down to different people in the same attire who "just walk around." Bruce views each wedding as an opportunity to dig into the lives of the people involved, and tease out the details that make each one special. "It’s such a personal event for them, and you want to become a part of that," he explains. "You don’t want to be an outsider or nuisance at their wedding." Even his former career as an elementary school teacher benefits him in this respect. "It really helps with the kids at the wedding. If they’re spinning around in their little flower girl dress, that’s always a cute, endearing shot."
As a boutique producing a modest 20-25 wedding films each year, Cloud Nine is able to make each one its own original creation. Bruce is the lead shooter (though he has a few assistant shooters) and edits every film himself, with an assistant editor preparing footage and sometimes taking the reins on corporate work. He believes that using a Steadicam consistently throughout the day—and using it in his own unique style, holding it by hand, sans vest or other device—differentiates him from others. "It gives people the feeling that they’re experiencing it rather than just watching it from a distance," he explains. For example, "I do a lot of Asian weddings, and one of the wedding traditions is a ceremonial dragon dance, which is a performance for the bride and groom as well as their guests. It’s a lot like what you may see at a Chinese New Year parade. The performers are underneath the dragon and they parade around the reception for a short time. With the Steadicam, I can literally follow it around as it makes its way through the reception site. It’s much better than a shot that’s sitting on a tripod where you’d be watching it from a distance. It gives the film more depth."
Bruce’s toolkit includes Sony Z1Us and a Glidecam 4000, but he is quick to point out that equipment isn’t what sets a videographer apart; in Cloud Nine’s case, "it’s our dedication to learning how to use it properly" and their commitment to exploring evolving technology. Switching from standard-definition to HD shortly after the technology came out in late 2004 was a natural step, but it’s not one he took blindly. After researching the equipment for months and renting a Z1U, "I knew right away it was time to shift. The widescreen allows you so much better composition, and you can fit more in and be more creative than when you’re working with a square box format. It’s a lot more colorful and clear, and [it] allows me flexibility in postproduction."
Working in post on his Macs with HD, he has the ability to zoom in on details without sacrificing picture clarity. "In one of our full-length films, there is a medium shot of a couple saying their vows. In one of the scenes, a tear rolls down the bride’s cheek," he says. "I pulled the frame in by nearly 300% in postproduction, and it was still crystal clear. This really demonstrates the flexibility I have in editing when shooting HD. It allows me a lot more options than when I was only shooting in SD," which would give the tear a jagged look. "Our clients get a more high-end product, and using HD is more forward-looking as well because CRT TVs are starting to drop off and a lot more people are getting the flat-panel monitors." This approach is in step with Cloud Nine’s mission: to create products that are almost ahead of their time.
A Typical Bride Already Has Her Head in the Clouds
Imagine you’re a bride who has just begun to plan her wedding. "Most brides will buy every single magazine they can get their hands on," Bruce says. You thumb through mass-produced, catch-all U.S. magazines like Martha Stewart Weddings and Modern Bride—magazines that aren’t regionally focused, so their use is limited to eye candy. But the oversized, opulent WedLuxe features artisan pastry chefs, specialty aperitifs, Christian Louboutin gold strappy heels, and silk peau de soie gowns—all locally available.
"The brides’ feedback is that they are surprised it’s from Vancouver and they can get the things that are in the magazine locally. It’s such a great resource for them—they can go buy what they see." (That is, if budget is not really an issue.) Bruce has found that although every couple may not have the means to dress their pint-sized ring bearers in Perry Ellis or host an all-night open bar at the Vancouver Club, they will splurge on one or two extravagances, whether its a floral ring pillow accented with Swarovski crystals or, better yet, a couture film created by an award-winning videographer. This is yet another function of the magazine—to help promote a medium where it is traditionally overlooked. "We are trying to elevate the image of weddings and remove some of the stigma that sometimes accompanies them in terms of videography. The magazine is our way of screaming from the top of a mountain, ‘It doesn’t have to be that way!’"
So, you settle in at your office and Google "wedluxe" to find a YouTube video called "Modern Starlet." You watch a fun, classy editorial that gives you a behind-the-scenes look at a Hollywood’s Golden Era-inspired photo shoot from the winter 2007 issue. The HD online component of the magazine, which features many of the editorials and wedding stories in HD, is a way to "extend the length of time people spend looking at the magazine, because especially as a new brand we want them to last longer while visiting us and get to know what we’re about and click around and give our advertisers more value."
What’s more, a bride "surfing the internet at work when her boss isn’t looking" is likely to notice details that can get lost in print, and become emotionally involved. "You know, print is such a static thing. There might be a shot of the ring, but for the online content it’s a Steadicam shot around the ring or the details. You can see it sparkle and glisten, which helps the advertisers and also helps brides feel the emotion."
Cloud Nine on the Horizon
As if Cloud Nine needs to rise any higher, Angela would like to explore other markets for the magazine. They’ll soon test market a California-targeted issue and then decide whether to branch out to other areas of the U.S. Bruce would like to make destination weddings—such as the one he just shot in Mauritius—a larger part of his business. He has also been exploring tapeless cameras and may swap out his Z1Us when the time is right.
In the beginning, Bruce worried that the name Cloud Nine would portray the company as a "happy, fluffy company" rather than one with lofty ideas and the vision, drive, and talent to realize them. Now the name is clear to all who know Cloud Nine: It brings a bride a little slice of heaven on her wedding day.
Elizabeth Welsh is a freelance writer and editor based in Madison, Wisconsin.