why most wedding films suck

I was scrolling on Facebook a couple weeks back and saw this rather insightful post from Nino Leitner.

He was judging an international wedding video competition and was pretty stunned with what he was seeing.

 
 

He sure is right–the cinematography in wedding films has gone through the roof.

Leveraging new technology, the understanding of light, lenses, and composition, and folks getting far more adventurous in post.

Sadly, he was also right on his many other points. 

The one that particularly caught my interest was this:

"How bad the storytelling is."

What a wild paradox we have on our hands. A collection of gorgeous pixels that come together to say very little.

Now I used to be a wedding filmmaker back in the day. In fact, it’s how I cut my teeth in this whole filmmaking biz. With a background in psychology, my interest was less in the wedding and more with the people.

Right before we transitioned out of weddings into full-time commercial work and education, we were charging between $20-50k for a wedding collection. Now I certainly don’t want to say that the price paid equals quality, but I do believe we must have been doing something right. 

And so today I’d love to take a moment and share my perspective on where we’ve gone so drastically wrong with wedding videos today.

If nothing else, I hope these ideas help you reconsider your approach so that it may be as intentional as possible.

1. The couples could be replaced by mannequins and the results would be eerily similar.

weddingmannequins

This one is tough for some people to really grasp if they haven’t spent a lot of time understanding story.

It takes more than pointing your camera at a human to really capture character in your video. While most weddings have a bunch of people, and often prominently feature a couple, they rarely have any character.

What’s the difference?

Well, character is about depth, desire, and intention. Truly developing a character involves imparting their personality on the audience. When you’re done, you should get a sense of who these people truly are.

But the reality is, most couples are simply interchangeable. That means that you could swap in a different couple with the same venue, attire, and details and you’d end up with the same wedding film.

The people, and who they are uniquely, have done little to influence the content being created.

Now I can hear some of you starting to get defensive. “My clients just want me to cover their wedding day, and they always love what I put together.

If you’re making music-video type pieces that make YOU and your client happy, then all the power to you. But realize that the idea of capturing character in your wedding video is what allows for who these people truly are to be communicated to future generations. 

Sure, it may be funny to look at Sally’s wedding dress from 30 years ago. But when Sally’s long gone, I bet those around her will value something that helps communicate her essence far more.

Check out this wedding film we did for Winnie and Jerry in California many, many moons ago. Watch it not for the cinematography, ‘cool shots’, or even the storytelling. But rather, I invite you to pay attention to the characters.

Watch Winnie and Jerry and, at the end of the video, ask yourself how much you know about them.

That’s character development.

Want to do fewer music videos or more character-driven stories?

Try getting to know those who are getting married. Not for their wedding colors, bridal party, or budget size. But for what truly moves them, what they dream about, and what continually brings them together.

Our favorite question used to be “what’s your favorite cookie?” Such a simple question yet it can say so much about somebody not just in what they answer, but how they answer.

2. The story structure has become more predictable than Wheel Of Fortune for 3rd graders.

Don’t believe me just how predictable they’ve become? Choose 5 wedding videos at random and watch just the first 5 shots and I bet you’ll see a drone in the majority of them.

As Nino clearly noticed, drones are being used a ton. But rarely are they used legally, or properly. A pretty camera in the sky does not a story make.

In it’s simplest form we can think of a story in threes–beginning, middle, and ending. Now, if that means your wedding video always starts with morning, into the afternoon, then evening–it becomes quite predictable, no?

Some have decided to push back on this wave of predictability by putting shots and sequences in a totally random order. But that’s no more effective than giving a friend driving directions by deciding to put all the turns in a random order.

Why is it important to not be predictable?

Well, the moment you know what’s going to happen, most will lose interest. Which is way a general audience can’t make it through more than 12 seconds of an average wedding film.

Your story’s structure is what can create engagement in your film. At the most basic level, the goal is to try and get the audience invested and have them wanting to know what happens. Hollywood and documentaries often employ conflict to grab your attention and set the characters off on a journey.

Admittedly that is harder to embrace in a wedding film, but that’s no excuse for not doing everything in your power to at least salvage some semblance of a plot within your video.

Check out Jess and Brian’s Irish wedding film. This time pay special attention to story structure and look at how the narrative is woven together.

It’s not predictable, yet also not random. 

I hope you feel like you’ve gone on somewhat of a journey into how and why they took on this Irish wedding and what is about. And at the end, I hope you really feel like you get these two people.

Want to increase the plot within your wedding videos?

Make a list of everything happening that day and do as much intel as possible. Try to check out the vows, the speeches, the ceremony program–anything you can get your hands on.

Look over everything you can find and try to make connections. Try to find themes between materials. Perhaps somebody talked about dad wearing a kilt and you expect he may actually be wearing one at one part of the wedding celebration. Or maybe somebody else will talk about the groom’s love for drinking and you might just be able to capture that in the days leading up to the wedding.

Find new ways to string together your story and lean more in character–who these people are–and less on the prescriptive formula of a wedding video.

Now again I have this sense that some of you are getting defensive. How in the heck can you spend all this time looking at materials for just one wedding, plus shooting events around the wedding when you have over 50 in a year to capture?

And to that, I'd reply...

Would you rather spend 10% more time on one wedding video and see a 400% increase in your total profit, or is it better to keep your time to a minimum and focus on pumping out as many cheap cookies from that cutter as possible?

 

3. The needle is dropped down on the last song of the record.

I’m going to get a lot of flack for this one, but I truly believe that a wedding is more than just one day. Somehow, at some time, somebody decreed “WEDDING VIDEOS MAY ONLY BE FILMED BETWEEN 6AM AND 10PM THE DAY THE COUPLE GETS MARRIED” and everybody else fell in line.

But the wedding day, the actual marriage, it’s much more the crescendo of the story–it isn’t the whole story. While you’re spending late nights in the edit bay trying to crank through the never-ending backlog, people are falling in love, they’re proposing, they are coming closer together, and then eventually they marry.

If you were a sports filmmaker, you’d be shooting just the last three minutes of the fourth quarter. 

Wonder why you find it so hard to do something original, different, or inspiring? Probably because you’re working with 1% of the material available to you.

Now let me be clear–I’m not suggesting you go out and film for weeks leading up to the wedding at no charge. No, no, no. Instead, consider getting to know your couple (see step one), looking for connections between all the events that are happening (see step two), and then proposing a story that goes beyond the wedding day.

Remember this. You run a business in which you’re highest billable time is when you are out shooting. So why the heck wouldn’t you consider broadening the billable days beyond just that of the wedding?

We’ve shown up at 6 am to film the bride’s father milking cows on the family farm. We’ve arrived months in advance to follow the bride as she tries to find the perfect dress (after 100 failed attempts). And one time we even went on a hunt to get broll of rubber duckies and tomatoes (Asa and Coralie will always hold a special place in my heart).

Check out this film, An Italian Polaroid, and look at how all of these ideas come together.

The story comes together over multiple days, you get to know real people, and the story structure is far from predictable. Yes, we spent another 5 hours developing the creative and another 8 hours filming outside of the wedding, but we also billed over $20,000. 

This ‘story' thing in wedding videos is really worth your time to consider.

Now here’s the thing, the really big point I hope all of your remember–the wedding is just a backdrop, it’s the people that make the story.

Get to know these people–really, truly, deeply–and you’ll find many creative sparks on how to approach their film in unique and intentional ways.

I may not shoot weddings anymore, but I’ve felt the grind, and I have a deep passion for helping other wedding filmmakers create better content and get paid what they’re worth while doing it.

Here's a quick recap if you'd like to take your wedding storytelling deeper:

  1. Get to know the couple and think about how you can shoot content that helps to convey them uniquely. An hour of focused pre-production can pay massive returns.
  2. Try to develop a story structure that is neither predictable nor random. Do your research and look for themes or common elements that you can use to string the narrative together. Remember that your goal is engagement, so try to give the audience a reason to watch.
  3. Consider starting your story before the wedding day. If you have things that are relevant to the couple and would make for a far better story, consider suggesting additional coverage and looking at how you can really broaden your paradigm of what a wedding video has to be.

UPDATE–this post caused so much controversy, we did a follow-up podcast, which you can find here.

Now, if you want to take your wedding business to the next level, I invite you to join me on a webinar next Tuesday, March 28th at 1:00PM PST "How To Build An Irresistible Wedding Brand That Sells”. 

To make this as accessible as possible for filmmakers of all levels, we have a flexible pricing model of just $89 to $189. That’s for the 2.5 hour webinar, a recording, and some powerful resources before and after.

We’ve got less than 200 spots left, so head on over here for more info. 

Personally, I’m really excited to challenge all of you to see what’s possible for both your weddings and your business. 
 
Most of you have spent your entire career looking at the world through a camera with a fixed lens. But the truth is, those damn lenses have been interchangeable all along and all you have to do is click it off and try a much broader perspective on for a moment.