Four Reasons to Produce SDEs
Why would you subject yourself to the difficulty and stress of an SDE in the first place? The biggest reason of all is marketing purposes. When you book an SDE, the client is paying you to market your work to 200 or more people. Before my company started doing SDEs, when we did traditional wedding videos, the couple and their parents and maybe some of their friends were the only people who would see it. Our audience was 10–15 people, tops. SDEs open opportunities for viewership of your product that you would never get otherwise.
Second, with social networking, you are able to post a short film you’ve produced on the wedding day on Facebook or Twitter right away.
This extends the longevity and the marketing potential of the work you produce. If you post it immediately while the “wedding high” of the couple is still there, the value of your efforts are multiplied via Likes on Facebook and retweets on Twitter.
Third, doing SDEs gives you instant feedback on your work and encourages you to critique your own films as soon as you shoot them. Before we started doing SDEs, it would take us 3–4 months to see the footage we shot on a wedding day because of our backlog. By the time I would see the footage of a wedding shot in January and edited in April, improvements our shooters could have made right away would have been delayed 3 months. If the video was underexposed or overexposed, if the composition was bad, if the framing was bad, if the camera movement was off, there was a delay in the feedback to the shooter and myself that limited our opportunities for improvement.
If you can see the footage during the wedding, you can instantaneously tell yourself and tell your shooters what you are doing wrong and make any technical adjustments that will improve your shots.
Fourth, SDEs provide added revenue. Sometimes you just factor in the amount of money that it takes to produce an SDE (extra shooter, extra editor) and add it to the package price. So you have to learn to factor that into your costs and pass that cost on to your client.
Jason Magbanua shooting a wedding in the Philippines with the Canon 5D
Doing the Impossible
It’s not impossible to do an SDE, although it may appear so if you’ve never done one. You just have to get over the first hurdle of fear and then equip yourself and your crew to do it effectively.
The main enemy of SDE production is time. Every minute you can save yourself in your workflow will help you edit a better film.
Begin by getting the fastest available laptop you can afford. It will help you do your SDEs better and lessen the stress. If you can afford 8GB of RAM for your laptop and your NLE can access that much RAM, get it. Soup up your video card so you can take advantage of your NLE. The most recent thing I did to upgrade my laptop was to get a solid-state drive (SSD). It’s a very expensive upgrade—almost $1,000—but in the first 5 weeks I had it, it made a big difference. Also, get a FireWire card reader instead of using USB. It will shave off the copying time. Anything you can think of that will help make your workflow faster and more efficient should be added to your SDE process. Any equipment you buy to speed up SDE production is a legitimate business expense.
Here’s another tip for maximizing efficiency and making your workflow faster: Say, for example, you’re shooting with DSLRs. It’s very important as you shoot to take note of footage that you’ll use in the timeline later. If you’re shooting tape, take note of the timestamp for the segments you expect to use. If you have a great shot of the first kiss on your camera, make a mental note that it happened at, say, 42 minutes so that when it’s time to edit, know what you’re looking for. If you’re not good at taking mental notes and keeping numbers in your head, write this info down and ask your shooters to do likewise.
If you’re shooting on CF cards, don’t let the cards get filled. It will take too long to copy them. Use a card to shoot the bride prep, eject it, and replace it before the ceremony. Dump it to your computer, and move on to another card.
There’s going to be a lot of footage. Organize it in bins as soon as you dump it so that you don’t get overwhelmed with the time you have to spend sifting for your shots. I have an assistant take care of the bins and set up the project before I edit it. I have bins for each shooter’s footage of the church. If I have one full 32GB card, it’s going to take a long time to sift through the footage. I have each CF card’s footage identified by bride prep, church, etc., as well as organized by shooters. If it’s footage of accessories (rings, shoes, etc.), and I’m looking for a ring shot, I know it’s on CF1 because of the organization we have in place. It’s easy to do and worth implementing.
You’ll also want to mark out in advance where your sequences are going to be within your NLEs timeline. It’s a good idea to place markers in your timeline. I do this in my NLE of choice, Adobe Premiere Pro CS5, and this feature is available in most NLEs.
Working With the Music
I also break up the song I’m using for my SDE in advance of the shoot. The basic structure of the songs we use are verse-chorus-verse-chorus. I cut the song up mentally. I’m very accustomed to that because I’ve been doing this for a long time. If you’re new to SDEs or short-form edits, you can add place holders or add text directly in the timeline. You can say, in the first part of the song, I’m going to place bride prep, then groom prep, then church setup, then an establishing shot of the church, then the bride or groom walking down the aisle, and so on. You can map it all out the night before using the music you’re going to use for the SDE.
People who have grown confident about their editing skills may plan it out the morning of the wedding instead of the night before, which is perfectly acceptable if you can take this approach and still finish the SDE. But if you’re new to this, spend a half hour the night before working with the songs and mapping out the sequences you want to use.
Use the crests and troughs of the music to guide your edit. There are peaks and valleys in the waveform that you can see. For me, as an editor, if there’s a peak in a particular piece of music, that’s exactly where I want to put the highlight of an event. Of course, you have to identify what your highlights are before making any placements. For me, those are the bridal procession, the veiling of the bride, the first kiss, and the first dance. I always keep them in mind and place them in strategic parts of the music so that the buildup is assisted by the music chosen by me or by the couple. And in any kind of edit you do, whether SDE, short form, long form, or highlights, I always recommend, as an editor, that you start strong and end strong.
Estimate Your Time Allotment
You may want to produce a WEVA CEA gold-winning entry for every SDE you produce, but if you don’t have time to do it, you have to compromise. You have to make quick decisions. If you have five shots to choose from, you have to decide quickly and pick the one shot that will move your edit forward. That’s why a lot of great editors I know can’t do same-day edits, because they feel they are compromising their edit and shortchanging the client by doing something so quickly.
The dynamics of editing an SDE are different from editing a highlights film in 5–7 days’ time. You have to be quick with your decisions and you have to be quick with your edits. Sometimes, you’ll realize in hindsight that you made a bad cut, but you can’t do anything about it; it’s already been shown. You accept it, you learn from it, you move on to the next same-day edit, and you make it better than the last one.
There are a lot of factors to consider regarding time allotment when producing an SDE: the length of the program, the travel time, the ceremony, the venue, or even how close you are to the coordinator or the planner. Some planners will give you all the time in the world, putting you at the very end; others won’t cut you any slack. These are variables that you have to find out about ahead of time.
When I’m doing an SDE, I need to be comfortable. I need to have my favorite mouse and mouse pad. I need to avoid being grumpy. There’s no point in doing SDEs every day of my life, especially during January and February when I’m always busy, always angry, and always yelling at my employees and shooters. I need to keep cool. If there’s anyone who needs to keep cool, it needs to be the boss, and it needs to be the person who does the same-day edit.
One thing I do to make sure my time is well spent is to listen extra carefully to the audio—to the homily, the vows, the readings, or even as early as the preparation—to identify sound bites I can use. These all can contribute tremendously to the buildup of the timeline for the same-day edit, and they are things we shouldn’t ignore while we’re picking shots and other visuals.
Overall, I’m always trying to identify the shots and the sequences that I want. Since I am also the principal shooter in the prep and the ceremony, I know exactly what to look for and exactly what I need. This is just as important at times when I’m not shooting. For example, if I have a particular shot in mind for the formal portrait session, I tell my shooter, “I’m going to start editing the SDE now; this is the sequence that I want.” Then he or she shoots that for me.
I also edit nonlinearly, which means that sometimes I can start at the middle of a piece of music rather than at the beginning. Sometimes I find the peak of the music and start my edit with that.
The SDE Process, Minute-by-Minute
Let’s go through the timeline of the last SDE I did before I wrote this piece. I’ll break down the process minute-by-minute, step-by-step, starting at 4:25 when I sit down to edit and ending at 8:00, when it’s time to present the edited clip. At 4:25, the clips are in the bins, ready for me to edit. The music I chose is a Filipino song. I start by thinking of how the song progresses and how to start strongly. I choose a piece of the homily from the priest and use it right until the vocals begin.
4:25—choosing a piece of the homily that will provide a strong start and end just at the point where the vocals in the song begin (indicated by the arrow)
At around 5:01, the intro is done. On the right-hand side of the timeline, I have a bunch of clips placed randomly. This is the footage I saw while flipping through my bins. I may or may not be able to use them, but they’re good shots, so I put them there so they’re easily accessible; I won’t have to skim through my bins again to find those clips if I want to use them. If I see a good shot but don’t know if I have a place for it, I put it on the right side so it’s there if I need it.
5:53—Adding more natural audio at a point in the song with an instrumental break (indicated by the arrow)
It’s 6:14. I kind of cheat at this point. The song I’m working with is 5 minutes long. I have plenty of time to build a 5-minute edit, but, as an editor, I want a certain amount of brevity, so I shorten the music. I’m going to cut about 40 seconds, trimming with a nice fade.
At 6:24, I’m expecting my shooter to give me good footage of the formals so I can put that in the first part of the timeline. Right now, I’m really deciding on a closing. I have two major events that I have not used: the bridal prep and the bridal march.
6:24—looking through my bins for a clip sequence that will close the SDE nicely
I’ve decided to use those parts at the end. At 6:56, I’ve chosen the shots for my ending.
At 7:05, I need to do titles and final touches for the SDE. This should be preplanned since you’ll most likely have the information you need for your titles before the wedding day. If you use After Effects, why not do an animated title and have it ready to go before you do your edit at the wedding? I don’t use After Effects—I’m kind of lazy that way—so I just use static titles. These are my final touches for the SDE.
7:05—adding a static title in Premiere Pro CS5
Now it’s time for export. I export using Adobe Media Encoder, using the Vimeo HD preset. A 3.5-minute timeline takes roughly 8 minutes to export. This timeline, at just longer than 4 minutes, will take just a few minutes more. I export it and play it back from a laptop provided by the third-party AV crew to use for projection, which is typical for weddings in the Philippines. If there is no laptop available, we burn a DVD. You can see the final SDE from the edit described here, Mary and Guido.
Pushing Your Same-Day Edits to the Next Level
The first thing you can do to take your SDEs to the next level is to develop the storytelling aspect of your work.
For this you need to be willing to break chronology. Another word for this approach is time shifting. When you start doing same-day edits, you’ll have accessories, the bride prep, the groom prep, the setup shots of the church, the march of the groom, the march of the bride, and so on, and you’ll do it all chronologically. But as you progress, you’ll gain confidence and more skills and storytelling; you’ll learn to tell a story in a manner by which you don’t need to do it in a chronological fashion. This is something that you’ll perfect through practice. A lot of SDEs are done in random fashion, almost like a montage, where storytelling isn’t really the focus. There is a science to this, but that’s a subject for another article.
You can also learn to cut faster, which will free you from some of the crutches that inexperienced editors rely on. The de facto newbie same-day edit is 50% slo-mo and dissolve. I know that because that’s what I did for my first 2 years. It didn’t matter if the dissolve didn’t look good, as long as I could fill up the timeline with half as many clips as I should have put into it.
You can also color grade if you have enough time and a fast enough computer. Right now I’m very much in love with Magic Bullet Looks and Mojo, and, if there’s enough time, I grade my footage. I’ve been a user of Adobe Premiere since very early on in my career, going back to version 4. Now I use Premiere Pro CS5 because I’m able to edit flawless MOV files from the 5D. It took quite a while for me to adjust to editing native MOV files from the 5D because we used to convert to something more editable, but with the advances in processor speed, 64-bit processing, RAM, and the ability of Adobe’s Mercury engine to leverage the power of video cards, we always edit unconverted 5D files, whether we’re working on a MacBook Pro or Alienware PC laptop.
Setting the Bar
I recommend shooting and editing like you’re going to be judged later. In the Philippines, competition is very tough. If you’re lucky, you’re the best videographer in your market, but don’t let that make you complacent. I always think, “I am only as good as my last wedding, and I will do my damnedest to do the best presentation for the reception for my couple.” That’s my mindset. I imagine that Randy Jackson of American Idol is going to judge me, and I want him to say good things about me and not mock me.
People have come to expect more from videographers here in the Philippines, and we have to up the ante every time. The piece you show at the reception will determine if the guests will book you or not book you to shoot their upcoming events.
Always think of your reputation as a videographer, which is at stake, to some degree, in every SDE you produce, and think of your promise to your bride and groom to give them the best video possible. Sometimes, my couples tend to think of their SDE as their video, and regardless of the time pressure, they expect nothing but the best from me. If you work in a market like the Philippines where the SDE is a standard part of just about any wedding that has a videographer, that’s something you have to live with.
For those of you who are in nonsaturated markets—i.e., areas where SDEs are less common or not done at all—don’t stress that much. Even if what you produce the first time is not CEA-worthy, your clients and their guests are still going to be blown away by what you whip up. Start by setting the bar low, and try to get better every time you do it.
SDEs are very addictive. Anyone who does them will tell you that. The feedback that you get from the couple, the friends of the couple, the general audience—it usually makes up for all the stress, hassle, and exhaustion that you get from doing them.
Jason Magbanua (jason at jason magbanua.com) is a five-time EventDV 25 honoree, member of the Re:Frame Collective, and internationally recognized speaker who has been a featured presenter at events from San Francisco to Sydney. Winner of dozens of WEVA Creative Excellence Awards, he has won multiple Gold CEAs for Wedding-Day Edit production. Based in Makati City, the Philippines, Magbanua is the subject of Bio, a collaborative film project developed by five award-winning Filipino studios and premiered at Weddings at Work (W@W) Videofest 2011.