A New Hope (Red 5, Standing By … )
That watershed moment in Loyd Calomay’s childhood was the day he watched Star Wars for the first time. "Watching Star Wars was one of those defining moments in my life. I was only six years old, but I clearly remember that day. It was the greatest thing I had ever seen and it really took a hold of me." Episode IV: A New Hope (the first installment in the original Star Wars trilogy) "ignited a passion in me. My creativity was unleashed," he remembers. "I started drawing a lot. I created my own comic books, animated flip books, and also produced slide shows that I projected on my walls."
What’s more, "It started my lifelong love of movies," he says of the epic space opera. Along with Star Wars creator George Lucas, Calomay says, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and Robert Zemeckis were some of the other "great storytellers" whose films "blew me away." These early moviegoing experiences imbued in the aspiring filmmaker a passion he would revisit later in life—as evidenced by the name chosen for his wedding videography studio: Red 5, the call sign of Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing fighter.
But like any delicious movie plot, you could say Calomay’s path to wedding cinematography was a sinuous one—more "life is like a box of chocolates" than "you had me at hello."
Growing up, Calomay spent much of his free time quenching his drive to create. But sadly, for a kid from a traditional Asian family, art school was out of the question. "Strangely enough, growing up, I never considered going to art or film school," he says. "My career choices were limited to medicine, accounting, and engineering." But that didn’t stop him from single-handedly keeping his local Blockbuster in business as a teen, immersing himself in movies. While planning for a "real" career, never in a million years did he think that one day he’d be more interested in PDWs and DSRs than MCATs or GMATs.
It wasn’t until his parents gave him a video camera to take on a trip to Europe that Calomay really began playing with moviemaking. Like lots of kids in the ’80s, he and his friends spent hours filming themselves ollieing on the launch ramp in the driveway or "stabbing" each other in the shower, making skate videos, horror flicks, and slapstick comedies for fun.
He recalls, "We pretty much filmed anything we could think of. I found a new passion. It was art on a different canvas. And the medium was so much more exciting. I was actually making movies! I fell in love with the whole process of filmmaking."
While studying engineering at the University of California–Irvine, Calomay found a way to balance his technical major with a creative pastime thanks to a cultural club he belonged to, which produced a show each year for friends and family. "We needed a way to entertain the audience while they sat in the dark during set changes. So we made commercial parodies and movie spoofs just like they did on Saturday Night Live and MTV," he remembers.
The spoofs "unexpectedly became one of the main attractions," Loyd says, and there was little then that anyone could do to stop him from changing his major to studio art.
Naturally, after graduation Calomay went into (cue sound of needle scraping across record) … mortgage lending. If it weren’t for a happy twist of fate, he might still be approving home loans today. It was when he and his wife, Hazel, returned from celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary in Maui. He agreed to videotape an old friend’s wedding, as a favor. It was the first time he had picked up a video camera in 7 years.
At the wedding, "A guest came up and asked if I did this professionally," he remembers. "She had not seen any footage, but said that she liked the way I was shooting. I guess she liked the fact that the camera wasn’t stuck in a corner on a tripod. She hired me on the spot. And that was the beginning of my journey in wedding videography."
As luck would have it, a few months later a similar opportunity came up. At the engagement bash of some college friends, Hazel and Loyd learned that the couple hadn’t budgeted for a videographer. So they offered to shoot their wedding (friends discount) and pitched the idea of making a movie trailer spoof, starring the couple, to project during the reception, "for old time’s sake," Loyd says.
Their friends agreed, and "it was a big hit. That was when I knew that this was what I had been looking for. It had never occurred to me before then that I could make money doing something I loved."
The Calomays quickly discovered that their trailer spoofs were a marketer’s dream come true, and they really didn’t have to advertise beyond projecting trailer spoofs at friends’ weddings. "We had the full attention of 200 to 300 guests. Some of them were future brides or friends and family of future brides, so the word spread pretty quickly," Loyd says.
Friends in sales helped get the word out too, as did a bridal show they attended. At their booth, they played four demo clips and served popcorn from a popcorn machine. It was a solid start. Loyd remembers, "The phone wasn’t exactly ringing off the hook, but the work was very steady."
In his early wedding and concept videos, Loyd says, he drew his inspiration from MTV and romantic comedies like Jerry Maguire. His goal was to create videos that were "modern and hip with a cinematic flair." Today, he says, "I’m also a fan of a lot of filmmakers like Cameron Crowe, Christopher Nolan, Paul Greengrass, and J.J. Abrams. I want to be able to entertain my audience in the same way I’m entertained by these movies. I want them to be blown away."
As a two-person crew, Loyd and Hazel shoot about 20 or 30 weddings and events each year. "We are limited to one wedding on any given day," Loyd says, "so we have to turn away clients once a date is booked. However, we can produce movie trailers for couples even when we’re not available to be there to shoot their wedding." But they don’t aggressively sell the movie trailers. Instead, the Calomays keep this option on the down low, "like the secret menu at an In-N-Out Burger."
They produce only about five or six trailer spoofs a year to keep their schedule manageable. Some of the movies and TV series couples have chosen to satirize include Napoleon Dynamite, The Bourne Ultimatum, Jerry Maguire, Spider-Man ("I now pronounce you Spider-Man and Wife," the spoof goes), The Office, The Matrix, Mission: Impossible, Kill Bill (actually, a less macabre "Kiss Bill"), and Nacho Libre and Return of the Jedi (in a mashup titled "Nacho Jedi").
Script to Screen
The couples who are privy to the "secret menu" usually have a good idea of the martial arts scene or love scene they’re dying to act out before they even meet with the Calomays. At their initial brainstorming meeting, "nine out of ten times, the idea changes—maybe even several times," Loyd says.
Just 3 months before the wedding, the movie choice is finalized and Loyd begins scripting—but not until he watches the movie "almost to the point where I have it memorized." He has the couple list their favorite scenes from the flick too so he can build the script around these. Scripting involves tying a wedding theme into the plot, of course. "Most of the lines come straight from the movie, but with the added wedding twist." Scripts are typically light on dialogue since he’s never sure of the talent he’s dealing with until the day of the shoot. And sometimes he’s really pleasantly surprised.
"When I first met the groom" who would be starring in his Napoleon Dynamite trailer spoof, Loyd recalls, "I was a bit worried because he was very, very shy. But when it was time to shoot, he transformed into this great actor and natural performer. I remember laughing to the point of tears."
Once the couple has reviewed their script and gives the green light, they get to work on casting. Meanwhile, Calomay storyboards, organizes his shot list, and thinks about how to mimic the film’s mise-en-scène. "To me, just as important as the screenplay, is getting the right ‘look,’" he says, adding, "Sometimes, I actually think it’s even more important than the dialogue."
And just as Netflix is wondering why their copy of The Bourne Ultimatum has been out for 3 months, Calomay watches it one last time. "This time, it’s to study the camera angles, movement, framing, pacing, etc. My goal is to make it look and feel as close to the real thing as possible so that the audience will quickly recognize what they’re watching," the key to a successful spoof, he says.
Given the difficulty in gathering the entire bridal party prior to the wedding, shooting is done in just 1 day, with the scenes with the largest casts getting priority. "That way, friends with the smaller parts don’t have to sit and wait around too long." Sometimes he ends up needing to schedule a day for pickup shots involving the betrothed.
Usually, everything goes off without a hitch. But on one particular shoot, things got a bit sticky. To hear Loyd tell it, "We were in the middle of filming [a Spider-Man trailer spoof] on the UC–Irvine campus when a group of policemen stopped our production. Somebody in the building had apparently called the cops on us for public disturbance. The groom, dressed in a Spider-Man costume, had to explain that we were shooting a video for his wedding day," he remembers, laughing. "The cops were probably too amused to arrest any of us. They just told us to keep it down and left with smiles on their faces."
As much fun as they all have shooting, Loyd says that directing is actually his least favorite part of the process. "I believe the editing bay is where the movie gets really made, and this is the part I enjoy: adding music, sound, and special effects and getting the details right."
But the ultimate satisfaction comes with the spoof’s "world premiere," he says. "To play the movie for the first time at the wedding reception is a wonderful experience. I love watching the reaction of the bride and groom and all their friends and family. That’s the reward for me."
Pay it Forward
The Calomays are well aware that their success hasn’t happened in a vacuum. Reflecting on his career thus far, Loyd often thinks about those who have inspired him. "There are so many out there who have blazed the trails and are willing to share their knowledge and experience—Jason Magbanua, Mason Jar Films, and StillMotion, to name a few," he says. "Their work has set the bar really high and they continue to push the creative envelope. They made me realize that there is so much to learn and so much more room for improvement."
And if he sounds a bit like an Oscar winner rattling off a litany of thanks to those who have helped him reach the top, it’s only fitting, since he recently took home two WEVA CEA Silvers, including one in the Concept Video category for a Mission: Impossible III trailer spoof. Red 5 also collected three major industry award earlier this year when the studio snagged a Ruby in the Concept category at the 4EVER Group Artistic Achievement Awards in January and two WEVA Creative Excellence Awards in August.
Still, he says, "If I had a time-traveling DeLorean, the one thing I would change is that I’d get around the other videographers in the business sooner. I credit the growth that we’ve had in the last year to the fact that we’ve been able to associate with some very successful and talented people." But it doesn’t stop there. The key to making a name for yourself, according to Loyd, is to "pay that forward and help others in return." Much like other videographers with reputations on the rise in an industry that assumes far too often that its best talents are only on loan, Loyd increasingly faces that inevitable question: What’s next? "I always get asked the question, ‘When are you going to make a feature film?’ That’s a really great compliment. And although it would be nice to do someday, I don’t consider this business a stepping stone. I really love what I’m doing. I love weddings and as an event videographer, I enjoy capturing the important moments of the day. And with the movie trailers, I get to experience being a filmmaker, creating special versions of some of my favorite movies. It’s great to get to to both those things in the same business."
But just because the Calomays are staying put in wedding video doesn’t mean they’re standing still. Loyd says he wants to grow creatively, learn more about business, and even build out Red 5. "We’re looking to build a team that shares the same vision that we have," he says. That vision? "I want to be remembered as the guy who made the video that helped that one couple stay together."
Elizabeth Welsh (www.lizwelsh.com) is a freelance writer and editor based in Madison, Wis.