The 21st-Century Wedding Movie: Grab the Popcorn

21st Century Wedding Film


Few things about wed­dings have changed more in recent years than the wed­ding film. Sure, pho­tos are now dig­i­tal and guests are shar­ing events on social media, but the wed­ding video has grown up and become the wed­ding film.

This Is Not Your Mother’s Wedding Video

The cin­e­mat­ic wed­ding film com­bines video, audio, and music to tell a sto­ry as opposed to sim­ply record­ing an event from begin­ning to end. The change start­ed short­ly after Apple’s intro­duc­tion of iMovie in 1999 made it eas­i­er for wed­ding video­g­ra­phers to shape the footage after the fact. But it’s only in the last few years—since around 2009—that the gap has real­ly been nar­rowed, part­ly due to improved cam­eras. So the peo­ple shoot­ing wed­dings start­ed ask­ing: Why can’t this be more like a movie and less like a video?

Where we were then: The old-style wed­ding video (still avail­able from some ven­dors as the “doc­u­men­tary” video) typ­i­cal­ly uses a sin­gle cam­era, cen­tered fram­ing, sta­t­ic shots and the flat light­ing of a TV news show. It is only light­ly edit­ed, and can last two hours or more.

Where we are now: The cin­e­mat­ic wed­ding film is shot and edit­ed more like a movie or a mod­ern TV show. The cam­era­men look for telling moments and details. They use fram­ing and light­ing, cam­era move­ment, var­ied lens­es and edit­ing to help tell the sto­ry. Typically there are at least two cam­er­ap­er­sons, which allows the sec­ond cam­era to cap­ture reactions—like your grandmother’s tears—while the first cam­era cap­tures you exchang­ing rings.

The edit­ing is dif­fer­ent, as well. Rather than includ­ing every­thing and mak­ing you wait for the “good parts”—or forc­ing you to skim through a video to find them—the cin­e­mat­ic wed­ding film takes all those bits and pieces and weaves them into a short sto­ry that helps you recall the feel­ing of the day. It uses the tech­niques of mod­ern filmmaking—from music scor­ing to inter­view audio to col­or grad­ing to play­ing with time—to cre­ate a short movie of your day that tells a sto­ry and evokes an emo­tion.

Why do we call it a film if it’s not shot on film? Most of the movies you see in the the­ater today are shot with dig­i­tal video cam­eras rather than film. It’s not about the tech­nol­o­gy as much as it is about the tech­niques.

But I Already Have a Photographer

Posed por­traits of you, your fam­i­ly and friends dressed up for your wed­ding and wear­ing cam­era-ready smiles are won­der­ful keep­sakes to put in an album or hang on the wall. But you and your guests don’t spend most of your wed­ding day pos­ing like stat­ues.

What pho­tographs can’t cap­ture is: the catch in your voice as you say your vows; the tears in your father’s eyes and how he tries to hide them; your young niece’s excite­ment about the new dress she got to wear to your wed­ding; your young nephew’s chaf­ing at his first tie; the unposed shared glance between your par­ents as they dance. Photographs can’t cap­ture your feel­ing of antic­i­pa­tion as you put on your cuf­flinks, or how you share a joke with your friends in the bridal par­ty to break the ten­sion.

The Long and Short of It

Not only does the old doc­u­men­tary-style video use long con­tin­u­ous wide shots to catch as much of the action as pos­si­ble, it is itself long—often 90-min­utes to 2, 3 or more hours. By con­trast, depend­ing on the stu­dio and the wed­ding, the mod­ern cin­e­mat­ic wed­ding fea­ture is typ­i­cal­ly 8-to-25-min­utes long. Cinematic wed­ding film stu­dios also typ­i­cal­ly offer a high­lights film of 2-to-7-minutes—perfect for shar­ing on Facebook or YouTube with dis­tant friends.

Afraid that the short­er films will leave too much out? You can still find doc­u­men­tary-style video­g­ra­phers. But con­sid­er this: If a friend sends you a link to his or her 45-minute-plus wed­ding video, how like­ly are you to watch it all the way through with­out skim­ming? You know the answer by how you watch YouTube and music videos: A well-edit­ed, short 3-to-5-minute movie can actu­al­ly com­mu­ni­cate a lot more about how your day felt than a 45-minute-plus video.

How to Select a Wedding Filmmaker

Ultimately, it comes down to find­ing some­one whose work, pric­ing and personality/​approach mesh­es with you. It’s your wed­ding day, and you want to make sure the moments that make up your day are cap­tured. But here are some things to think about as you start your search.

  • Decide if you pre­fer a doc­u­men­tary or a cin­e­mat­ic approach, and choose peo­ple who spe­cial­ize in the style you pre­fer.
  • Is film just an add-on for a pho­tog­ra­phy busi­ness, or does the com­pa­ny focus on cin­e­mat­ic film pro­duc­tion? Photographers don’t have to think about things like sound equip­ment, get­ting smooth cam­era motions, how to choose a frame rate or how to choose an effec­tive licensed music track. You might save mon­ey get­ting a com­bined pack­age, but is the com­pa­ny real­ly com­mit­ted to film…or do they treat it like an add-on?
  • Look at sam­ple films online. Are all of the studio’s films from a ‘cook­ie cut­ter’ mold—using the same music and the same reper­toire of shots so all the wed­dings look alike? Or do the videos cap­ture the dif­fer­ent fla­vors and unique styles of the events? If you make it all the way to the end of a com­plete stranger’s wed­ding film with­out click­ing away, that’s a com­pa­ny to con­sid­er.
  • Read reviews or ask pre­vi­ous cou­ples how the com­pa­ny was as a col­lab­o­ra­tor. Do you want some­one who will give you a lot of direc­tion to make the per­fect film, or some­one who will work qui­et­ly in the back­ground so that they can cap­ture can­did moments as your day unfolds?
  • Talk to the film­mak­er. Does he or she seem to get you as a cou­ple? Will you be com­fort­able hav­ing this per­son fol­low­ing you around all day dur­ing your wed­ding?

This arti­cle was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in slight­ly dif­fer­ent form by Windy City Times.