Today I want to talk about film theory and how I use it in my wedding films. This is basically the concepts, ideas and explanations that make a film what it is. This ranges anywhere from the camera angles used, to the editing technique employed to alter the effect that a film has on you as a viewer.
I know what you’re thinking: bloody hell Arran, it’s only a wedding film! What are you talking about film theory for? And I completely understand why you might think that: the world is still reeling from decades of VHS tapes of grainy weddings shot by blokes in black polo shirts with camcorders on their shoulders. Historically, wedding videos have been all about simply pointing a camera at what’s happening, without much thought as to how or why. But this has changed. Wedding films are now an art form. Filmmakers all around the world are now employing cinematic filmmaking techniques in their wedding films both to make them look better, but also to change the way the footage effects the viewer. It’s this latter point that’s really important, because I truly believe using these techniques enhances a wedding film to the point of allowing you to relive the emotions from the day. In other words, when you watch your film, my goal is to try to make you feel how you felt on the day. I want you to relive that funny combo of nerves and excitement when you were walking down the aisle. I want you to feel your face flush at your dad’s naff jokes in his speech all over again, I want you to remember that feeling of happiness when all your friends and family throw little bits of flowers in your face (confetti is a weird one). Using film theory helps me to achieve all of these things, and I find it fascinating; the ability to manipulate emotions through my own perspective and approach is one of the biggest reasons why I love being a filmmaker.
So let’s dive in and look at how I might make your wedding film have a bit more impact by using some film theory…
The first thing I use to try to enhance your wedding story through filming is framing. This essentially means being aware, when shooting, of how I’m framing subjects and how that might look later on to a viewer. A wedding is a very fast-paced, live event, which means it’s very easy as a videographer to just point your camera at the action and pat yourself on the back for nailing it. After all, the couple have hired you to film their day, so as long as you’ve managed to get the key moments, you’ve nailed it. Right? Actually, I disagree. For me, simply capturing the walk down the aisle isn’t enough. Getting the first kiss on camera isn’t enough. These moments have to be captured well. They need to be captured in a way that makes you feel, and the best way of doing that is by changing how I frame the shot.
Shot framing (otherwise known as ‘composition’) is important because it directs the viewer’s attention and tells you where to look. One example of this is the rule of thirds, which dictates that subjects should be placed on one of three vertical or horizontal lines over the frame. This mimics natural landscapes and imagery, so makes scenes appear more natural to the human eye. I use this in conjunction with the idea of negative space (the empty space around the subject in a frame) to focus the audiences attention on a subject. If the frame was more cluttered, you might be distracted by other things going on in the background.
Another example is symmetry, which I use a lot in my films. Symmetrical shots automatically create a sense of harmony and aesthetic balance. For shots such as the first kiss shot, this is obviously preferable to an asymmetrical shot that may make you feel uneasy, despite viewing such a heart-warming scene.
You’ll notice that the example below is filmed at eye-level. This is another example of a cinematic technique being used: by filming from the eye-level of the couple, you as the viewer feel that you are equal to the character, which in turn leads your mind to consider how you would feel if you were there, in their position. This is essentially a simple way of pushing the viewer towards emphasising with the couple and therefore feeling the emotions that they are feeling in that moment.
I’ll often use framing in conjunction with light to create a silhouette shot. This is used in film to signify the importance of a moment. In the example below, Victoria, the bride, has just put on her dress and picked up her bouquet for the first time. She’s about to go to the church where she’ll get married – her life is about to change forever. By silhouetting her profile against a window, I’ve intended to convey the significance of this moment to make the viewer register its magnitude and perhaps feel the excitement and anticipation that she herself feels in that moment. Silhouettes can also be used to convey morality and good vs. evil, but this is obviously less important in wedding films (fingers crossed).
Colour is often used in film to convey tone and emotion, and to enhance the story. For example, red can be used to indicate love or passion, while yellow may be used to convey madness. Film sets are designed with this in mind, and films are then colour-graded to enhance the colours used.
When shooting weddings, there’s obviously no ‘set’ to be designed, and so the colours present are a result of the venue you choose, your colour scheme, what people are wearing, the weather on the day etc. As a result, I have very little control over the colour of a wedding film. That being said, I strive with every wedding film I edit to tweak the colours and make things as aesthetically pleasing as possible, and to mirror colours you’ll find in films. This often means warming up the colours to evoke feelings of warmth and happiness (obviously appropriate on a wedding day), while making sure the skin colours remain realistic (so you don’t end up looking like a photograph from the 1940s). Editing the colours are usually something I spend a couple of days on for each film because it’s such an important part of the end result, and can really alter the way the visuals make you feel.
Finally, let’s talk about camera movement. In cinema, you’ll find that camera movement is used to a varying degree. For example, the director David Fincher (Gone Girl, The Social Network) uses a lot of static shots, while Steven Spielberg (ET, Indiana Jones) will often use movement in almost every shot. I actually use very little movement in my wedding films, as I think it’s important in shooting weddings to let the content of each frame speak for itself. In other words, I don’t want the viewer to be conscious of the presence of the camera. However, there’s a select amount of movement I do use.
One example is zooms, which I’ll use sparingly in certain shots to really focus the viewer’s attention on one aspect of the frame. I’ll often use this in conjunction with the voiceover to illustrate that what you’re hearing has some significance to the person who’s in-frame. For example, in the film above, a shot of Lucy reading a letter from her fiancé for the first time and beginning to cry is tied in with the audio of that letter being read. The subtle zoom really focuses your attention on Lucy as the enormity of the words she’s reading (and you’re hearing) sets in. I’ll also sometimes use this in shots of the first kiss: even though the couple are surrounded by other people, in that moment they are all that matter, and the zoom is used to communicate that by focussing the viewer’s attention on the couple at the expense of all of those around them.
Another time where I think movement is important is during the dancing part of a wedding day. Whereas the majority of the day I film on a monopod, I’ll film the dancing handheld to try to introduce a bit of shake and movement into the shots. This emulates the energy and fast-paced environment that is a dance floor, to once again make you as a viewer feel that you’re there in amongst the dancing.
That summarises just a small part of my approach to filming a wedding, but the reality is that there are hundreds of conscious and unconscious things that contribute to a wedding film making you feel as though you’re back there, on the day, experiencing those emotions all over again. I think when choosing a wedding videographer to capture your day, it’s important to figure out what it is you’re after: some people want to have a cry when reliving the day, while others simply want things documented in the most basic way. It’s up to you to decide what’s important to you and find a filmmaker that fits your needs.