We're at a point where we find ourselves shooting weddings less and less. Last year, we shot a total of two. One of these was an epic adventure to Florence, Italy with Robin and Gary. This was initially a five-figure contract—a wedding in which we didn't just show up and shoot the big day, we of course went much, much deeper than that. And it's precisely that care and intention that attracted Robin and Gary, and other like-minded clients.
Strolling through the streets of Florence, driving through wine country—their wedding was a wonderful experience for all those involved (including us). But the wedding was just the backdrop, it wasn't the story.
Let's take a step-by-step look at how we developed the story for our wedding film, An Italian Polaroid.
1. Building Out Our Characters
At its core, story is about people. That’s certainly no different with a wedding film. Our first objective is to get to know the couple really well.
That doesn’t mean we were trying to figure out Robin’s favorite colors, what gifts Gary got his groomsmen, or their first-dance song. It means we were genuinely interested in getting to know these two people as people. More than their wedding day, we wanted to know about them.
Robin and Gary don't live in Portland (where our studio calls home), so that meant we had to get to know them over a Skype call. Over the course of roughly an hour we asked them everything from, What’s your favorite cookie? to What do you love most about each other? Our goal was to really learn what they were most excited about, what makes them different, and the reason behind their big decisions (why did they choose each other?, why Florence?, and so on).
All in all, we had two Skype calls that lasted two hours total. We also spent a few hours online reviewing their invitations and online profiles. We looked into their interests, and anything else that would offer another perspective on who they were.
At this point it was months before the wedding and we were ready to move on to the next milestone–the 5 Keywords.
2. Developing Our 5 Keywords
Those of you who have learned Muse (or have hung around here long enough) know that we define the purpose of a story as 5 Keywords. That gives us a clear and actionable way to filter and focus all of our decisions.
This is so, so, (so!) important in wedding stories because it’s far too common that Aunt Martha wants you to get a shot of the cake, and Uncle Earl thinks a shot of him and his partner would be great too. There are so many proverbial cooks in the kitchen that maintaining clarity is the single biggest way you can cover just the right things very well, rather than scrambling to get it all.
So we developed 5 Keywords for Robin and Gary’s film:
- Together (Keyword 1) // Robin and Gary were heading to Florence to have a shared adventure. They didn’t want it to be just about the couple, it was about everybody coming together to explore something new. That meant we’d want to focus on events where folks were doing things together. Where a traditional wedding film would be mostly about the couple, we wanted to have this one feature many of the other people there.
- Florence (Keyword 2) // As the chosen location of their adventure, Robin and Gary had a lot planned for all of the guests to really experience it together. We wanted to be sure that the feel of Florence came through in their film.
- Experience (Keyword 3) // Rather than having a 300-person wedding back home, they travelled with the 40 closest people in their lives to have a much more intimate experience.
- Meticulous (Keyword 4) // Robin and Gary are obsessed with details. In fact, they were barely sleeping in order to ensure that every detail was perfect. They're both very meticulous, and we wanted to capture that attention to detail in everything that we’d be filming with them.
- Polaroid (Keyword 5) // Gary loves photography. While it's not his chosen career, he loves his camera and has invested a good deal in nice gear. At the wedding, they would be giving each guest a Polaroid camera with film so that those guests could capture images throughout their time in the old Italian city.
When we arrived in Florence, we got the opportunity to sit down and share the 5 Keywords with Robin and Gary. We took them through each word, where it came from, and how we were interpreting it. At the end Robin looked at me and jokingly said, "I think you know us—and our wedding—better than we do."
That’s an incredible comment to receive from a client, but realize too how much more creative control they then gave us, as storytellers. The couple understood that we really understood them.
These 5 Keywords would then be used to build the story by helping us decode what we’d cover, and how we’d shoot what we did cover.
3. Preparing for the Shoot in Florence
Now that we had our 5 Keywords it was time to build out the story. For us, that starts with finding out all of the events and moments that are available to us. In other words, we collect all the potential Plot Points, lay them out, create a structure, and focus on covering just the ones we need.
Often we just think of a wedding video as being the wedding day, but if you look at all of our 5 Keywords, it felt like so much of the togetherness and experience would happen outside of the wedding day. We wanted to cover things like the family arriving at the airport (keywords: Together, Experience, Florence), a guided tour through the town (keywords: Together, Experience, Florence, Polaroid), and even Robin and Gary preparing the gift bags for all of their guests (keywords: Experience, Florence, Meticulous).
Since this was all outside of their wedding contract, we shared the idea with Robin and Gary and suggested another day and a half of coverage. Now, we didn’t just suggest they add to their wedding package—we explained why these things were needed so that we could faithfully deliver on the 5 Keywords, our purpose behind this film.
In other words, if we wanted to express people being together and experiencing Florence, we needed to be there when those things are happening. The wedding day itself would be such a small slice of what we were trying to convey. They agreed and this extra coverage added roughly $10,000 to their package overall.
To make a more intentional and relevant wedding film, lay out all the potential Plot Points you could cover. Next, write down which of the 5 Keywords (if any) these pertain to. From there, highlight the Plot Points that are most relevant and cross out the ones that are the least relevant. Finally, order the remaining Plot Points into an overall structure (beginning, middle, and end).
This is exactly what we did for the three days that we were shooting for Robin and Gary's story. It meant that of absolutely everything that was happening in Florence, there was only a fraction that we’d actually focus on. We also knew exactly why we were covering everything that we were: the keywords indicated the relevancy of each situation or object we shot.
A huge mistake so many storytellers make is that they try to capture everything "just in case" and so the shoot often feels like a whirlwind of activity and they're left always trying to keep up.
Going into the production of their wedding we had a pretty clear outline of what we were covering, the reason behind each, and how it all fit together.
Here’s what the plot structure looked like before the wedding day.
The beginning of the film would be Robin and Gary walking around Florence taking Polaroids of each other. This would drop us into the location and introduce the Polaroid theme.
We’d then capture them preparing the gifts for their wedding guests (the Polaroid cameras, maps of Italy, and these pictures they were taking). We would also cover the guests arriving in Florence and heading to the hotel.
The middle of the film would be the guests arriving at the hotel to find their gift bags from Robin and Gary in their room. This one would be tricky to pull off. We’d have to be in their room before they arrived while not freaking them out—but hey, a good story isn’t easy.
We would then follow a couple key events that the group was doing together, including the tour around Italy. That would then build into the preparations for the wedding day, and some of those preparation moments that fit our keywords.
The ending of the film would be Robin and Gary getting married and then heading into the reception. We knew that they wouldn’t be overly emotional in their vows, and there wasn’t a great deal we could pull from their speeches (not for a highlights clip), so we really had to be creative with the ending.
We looked at our keywords and tried to think about what could make a strong, yet relevant, emotional crescendo. That’s when it hit us: throughout the wedding we would ask guests to pick out their favorite Polaroid they took and we’d film them holding it. We’d shoot dozens of these video portraits over the three days so that we could cut them together into the final ending scene. This would really exemplify four of our 5 Keywords: Together, Experience, Florence, and Polaroid.
There you have it–a detailed breakdown of how we built out the story for An Italian Polaroid. The film feels very unique and rather different for a wedding film, yet it wasn’t some crazy creative insight that led to the concept. Rather, it was simply taking the time to listen, getting to know Robin and Gary, and being intentional in everything we did.
When it came to shooting the wedding, we used the keywords to guide what we were looking for and how we shot it.
This is such a powerful way to cover events because it helps you do so in a different way each time.
For example, we chose to cover Robin and Gary preparing the gift boxes for their guests. This is a situation you definitely would not normally shoot. Before we started shooting, we looked at the keywords this scene represented and used those to guide our decisions. The top 3 keywords that fit this scene were Polaroid, Experience, and Meticulous.
For Polaroid, that meant we’d be sure to cover them packing and preparing the Polaroid cameras. We’d also look for moments when they took the Polaroids they shot and placed them into the gift boxes.
For Experience we wanted to look for anything that would suggest or foreshadow what was coming. So the maps of Italy would be important, but more than that, we wanted to look for any markings that might be on them that showed where everybody was going. We also knew audio would be huge here. We would want to capture moments where people talked about the experience that might be coming up.
And for Meticulous, this meant really looking for the small details in how everything was prepared. When your keywords are well chosen they really shouldn’t be hard to find–and this one certainly wasn’t. For example, Robin had a very particular way that she wanted the tissue paper placed on top of the gift, as well as the exact location and angle that the bags should be left in each guest's room. So naturally, we covered that too.
See the difference in taking the time to build out the story and be intentional with everything you do? Most folks wouldn’t have been in the room days before the wedding, covering them packing. And more than just being there, we had great clarity on what we were looking for and why it mattered to our story.
Sure this all takes time, patience, and thought—but art takes time. And as crazy as the idea of charging roughly five figures (with $10,000 in add-ons) for a wedding film might sound to you, realize how few storytellers are actually willing to spend this much time to get to know the couple and build out the story, all before showing up.
The whole process and how to start applying it with your couples:
Get to know the couple really well. Beyond the wedding, figure out what they really care about, what makes them different, and the "why" behind all of the big decisions. Meet with them, but also take the time to do some research online.
- Develop your 5 Keywords. Once you have a really good sense of who these people are beyond the wedding, it’s time to develop your 5 Keywords. These represent the goal of your film and are something we suggest sharing with your client and getting their approval on.
- List out all the potential Plot Points. To really get at all the potential Plot Points, you need see what others don’t. The wedding itinerary is a start, but it won’t take you all that far. Get a really clear picture of everything that’s happening in the days leading up to the wedding. The couple may not think it’s important, so it takes some digging to find out about everything, but this phase is so critical to finding unique ways to build your story.
- Match your 5 Keywords to the potential Plot Points. Grab a piece of paper and list the potential Plot Points down the left hand side. Beside each, write down the 5 Keywords that you think that particular event or moment represents.
- Choose the strong and relevant Plot Points. Once you’ve matched up the keywords for each Plot Point, you can easily see which events are absolutely not relevant, and which ones are absolutely the must-haves. I’d suggest circling the events you know you’ll cover while striking out the ones you definitely don’t need.
- Create a story structure. Next, build your chosen Plot Points into an overall story structure. Focus on creating a clear beginning, middle, and end. Remember that a beginning should bring us into the story and the characters. The middle will build out the journey. And the ending is your emotional crescendo.
With that, here’s what that process looks like when it all comes together.
Robin and Gary, An Italian Polaroid.
Woohoo! See all that intention coming together in one short story? Over three days of coverage, hundreds of decisions, all in the effort to create art over fashion, a piece that says something about Robin and Gary.
And some quick technical background (as I know y’all will ask):
- Shot on the C100 (wide DR profile) and a 1DX (low contrast)
- Ambient audio via a Rode Video Mic Pro
- Dialogue was mainly via wireless Sennheiser G3 lavs paired with the Countryman B6 into the C100
- Movement was mainly monopod with the MoVI M10 used for the opening scene
- The narration was written by Mary and Jeremiah and voiced by Kevin Barbare from Voices.com
- The look of the piece was achieved with FilmConvert using one of their Polaroid presets (clever, right?)
- The lens flare transitions were bought online for $14, though I can’t recall the name
- Edited while wearing my lucky sweater. That matters.