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Truck driver Travis Morrison turned wedding filmmaker discusses his journey

Travis the truckie sets free his inner 'Suppressed Creative' by following his passion to be a videographer

We caught up with truck driver Travis Morrison who has recently quit his job as a truckie to follow his dream of being a videographer and filmmaker. The 28 year old from Perth, Western Australia opened up about the challenges of being a suppressed creative and how he took his first steps into wedding filmmaking. So let's jump straight in to our conversation with Travis.

I am what you would call a "suppressed creative" who is trying to break free of the self-doubt and disbelief that I can be anything I want to be. For the past 10 years, I have been driving trucks for a living. 5 of those years were working away from home on various mine sites in Western Australia. However, for as long as I can remember I've been fascinated with all things creative - music, photography, stage production etc. It was filmmaking that kept sparking the most interest for me.

Having spent so many years in primarily masculine industries, consisting of working very long hours in a small truck cab, I didn't get much time to dedicate to my hobbies and my passion for filmmaking. That can very quickly sap the creative soul out of anyone! That's why I refer to myself as a "suppressed creative". It didn't completely stop me of course, and the past year has been all about transitioning from the truckie lifestyle to the filmmaker/solopreneur lifestyle and 2017 will be all about CHANGE!

 

How did you branch into wedding filmmaking?
I was always the kid with the video camera growing up so when my aunty got married back in 2006 naturally I took along my JVC miniDV camcorder to film it. I noticed my brother was also filming on his camcorder so I asked for his tape after the wedding and spent the next few weeks editing together a creative wedding film which had music and creative cuts and even multiple angles of the ceremony! Haha! My family was blown away with the film and I think it was the reactions from them watching it that ignited the flame inside me. That feeling, combined with my late Grandad, who was the most respected man I've ever known, telling me that this is something I should definitely be doing after filming my sister's wedding, convinced me to stop driving trucks. 

 

What equipment do you use?
This may surprise some of you but I have NEVER owned a Canon camera or lens! I know right… So my sister's wedding, my 2nd ever film, was filmed with a Sony HDR-XR250 Camcorder which was a gift for my 21st birthday. I also borrowed somebody else's Sony camcorder as a locked down shot to cut to during the ceremony, and I was using Sony's proprietary Bluetooth mic to capture the vows (I still use this today as a backup). 

I used a cheap Vanguard tripod as a monopod with just one leg extended. For extra light during the reception I attached an LED bike light (the ones you attach to the handlebars) and covered the lens with baking paper to diffuse the light. I think the most important thing to note here is that it was the 5min highlight film I created for this wedding that scored me my next 2 weddings… from using a camcorder and baking paper on a bike light!

My most recent wedding was shot solo (as are all of them) using the following

Cameras:

Sony A7s mkii (rented)

Sony A7s

Sony NEX 7 (very unreliable for video, randomly shuts down, DO NOT use for weddings!)

Sony HDR-XR250 (last resort backup), (didn't use footage but did use the audio from the bluetooth mic)

GoPro Hero 3+

Lenses:

Sony FE Zeiss 55mm f1.8 OSS (rented)

Sony FE 16-35mm f4 OSS (rented)

Sony FE 24-240mm f3.5-6.3 OSS

Sony EF 50mm f1.8 OSS

Audio:

Røde Videomic Pro

2x Røde SmartLav+'s

iPhone 4

iPhone 5

Sony ECM-HW2 bluetooth mic

Zoom H2 (oldie but a goodie)

Lighting:

Yongnuo YN-216 LED light

F&V HDV-Z96 LED light

Hardware:

Manfrotto MVM-500A Monopod w/500 series head

2x Vanguard Espod 233AP tripods

Veldon PH-157Q tripod

Fotolux 2.4m light stand

Life of Photo SlideCam 100cm Slider

Cases:

Lowerpro Pro Roller X200 AW

Lowerpro Event Messenger 100 (wear during prep, photo session and dancing for quick lens/battery/card changes)

You'll notice that besides the cameras, lenses, audio equipment and case, most of what I use (at this stage) is not big-brand expensive gear. The reason for this is simply that I haven't been able to afford it. I've slowly built up my kit based on what I could afford and what I knew would get the job done without costing a fortune! It's not been based on simply wanting the flashiest brand name equipment. However, as I move forward with my business I will be looking at upgrading my gear as I can afford it, because I am a believer in "you get what you pay for".

As I've mentioned before, I've never owned or used a Canon camera for a wedding. The reason for choosing Sony in the first place (even before the A7 line was released) was due to the mirrorless system making them super compact and allowing the image from the sensor to be displayed in an EVF rather than just on the LCD display.

Did you use any filters on the lens?
No. In fact this was the first wedding I didn't. Before this I used to wear a little filter pouch on my hip which had ND's, polarises and step-up rings because I was anal about keeping that cinematic look and not breaking the 180 shutter rule. The problem was that as a solo shooter I was missing too many special moments while I was changing filters. At this last wedding, it was so freeing to not worry about it and to just crank the shutter up and capture the moment, which left me with so much more quality content to work with in post and to be honest the untrained eye would never tell the difference.

What kind of lighting setup (if any) did you use? 
Recently I've been focusing a lot more on composition and finding the natural light in a scene, but I certainly have a long way to go! The only time I use synthetic light is at the reception to light the speeches and the dance floor, however it is something I intend on paying more attention to moving forward. Good lighting is often overlooked, and I'm certainly guilty of this.

How did you go about location scouting?
In regards to the photo sessions the photographer usually has that covered or quite often the couple will also have a place in mind. As for my recent wedding, I spent the morning of the day after the wedding simply driving around and pulling over to grab a shot of some cows for example. It wasn't planned, but I knew I needed those establishing shots to better tell the story so that's what I did. 

What is your process in regards to setting up, finding the perfect shot, framing etc?
This is an area where there is huge room for improvement! I'm a pretty shy guy so when I turn up at the bride's house I tend to default to a wide angle and grab some shots from the corner of the room. Once I've relaxed a little bit and the girls are getting comfortable with me being there I'll slap on the 50mm and start getting more intimate detail shots etc. as well as interact with them and try to capture natural reactions. I'm trying to train my eye to see more interesting compositions and lighting but I think this is something that can only come with more time and experience shooting.

Setting up for the ceremony is always hectic to say the least! I start by grabbing my monopod and getting a few establishing & detail shots. I'll then set up my 2 or 3 cameras on tripods - one up the back (preferably shooting 4k), one near the front locked onto to bride (I'll get somebody to stand-in so I can set focus), and then the other, if I have it, will generally be facing back towards the guests somewhere. However, I rarely use this angle. I then chase down the Celebrant/Officiant and the Groom to mic them up with the Røde SmartLav's. I'll grab my monopod and camera with the 24-240mm and start getting shots of guests arriving and the anxious groom. Just as the bride arrives I'll run around and get my other cameras rolling (due to the record time limit).

The reception is much the same except instead of mic'ing up the groom I'll ask the DJ or band for an audio feed to record speeches and I'll try and get a light set up as well.

How do you determine the kind of shot you want when you find a good place to film? 
My general rule of thumb is you have to move. By that I mean physically move around, kneel, stand on a chair, lie in the grass if you need to. I'm not saying every shot has to be moving but often it's about you moving or repositioning to get an interesting shot. It's very easy to get lazy and have a whole wedding filmed at eye level. Also, if you want to feel a space or a scene - go wide. If you want to see the details in that scene - go tight.

Do you have a rough idea of the narrative in your mind prior to the shoot?
Besides the obvious wedding dialogue of "do you take…" "I do" "I would like to introduce the newly-wed…" etc etc. I don't often have a narrative in mind. I do, however, try and think up a story in my head as I'm driving home. But then I find the final edit, more often than not, ends up being completely different to that first idea. This is something I am definitely going to pay more attention to though. After hearing Patrick Moreau of Muse Storytelling speaking on a recent episode of the Studio Sherpas podcast about spending more time on pre-production and getting to know not only the couple's back story but also getting to know the characters in that story and connecting the audience to them, it had me questioning what direction do I want to take my wedding film career in?

What was the overall budget spent on this shoot?
As far as what I spent, too much! Haha. As I still consider myself very much a newbie at all this I'm probably not charging anywhere near enough for my services at this stage, but with this last wedding I wanted to step up my game in all areas including production value to hopefully increase the value of the product allowing me to charge more in the future. So, to do this I hired some high-quality equipment, purchased a LUT pack for colour grading and used a total of four licensed songs from Musicbed. I also drove about 500km's (310mi's) for this wedding because it was in the country. So, I would say the total expenses for this shoot were roughly around the $900 - $1000 (AUD) mark.

Is there anything you would have done differently if you could shoot the same video again?
Yes. There was a more meaningful story with this couple that went beyond their wedding day. It included the special connection between the groom and the shack where the ceremony took place (his Great Grandad built it by hand, and the groom is now also a builder). They got engaged in Palm Springs California and themed their wedding day accordingly. They have been together for over 10 years and together have been very successful in the building and interior design industries. If I were to do it again I would put more thought into the underlying story of this couple and then execute a plan to try and capture that.

From a technical point of view I would have liked to take more control of directing the couple during the photo shoot instead of taking a back seat/over the shoulder approach (although I was still able to work with what I had thanks to slow-motion!) I should note that this wasn't due to the photographers, they were amazing to work with and very inclusive. It's more to do with my self-confidence and allowing myself to take control and direct if needed.

What was your post-production process like?
I'm running FCPX 10.3.2 on a late 2012 iMac. I use the built in colour-board and scopes to do my first pass of colour correction and then I use the Color Finale Pro plugin for the grade. On this project, I used James Miller's DELUTS for Sony via Color Finale. The licensed music was from Music Bed which I chopped and changed in the edit as needed. Most of the sound effects were from the in-camera audio. However, there were a couple of clips used from the built-in SFX library in FCPX and some native bird sounds which I grabbed from a local bird watching website… it's the attention to detail that counts!

When you're cutting these kinds of videos, what is your thought process?
This is surprisingly difficult to answer! It just kind of happens to be honest, but I know that's a shit answer so i'll try my best to explain it - It starts by literally thinking about the vibe you felt on the day and what kind of personality's your couple had. For example, I've had a couple who couldn't wait for the ceremony to end and just wanted to get stuck into the party where they proceeded to head bang to Metallica. So, for that edit I went with a more upbeat party vibe rather than a slow romantic sappy love vibe, and they loved it! It is also very important to me to have dynamics in my wedding films. I try to emulate the emotions of the day as it unfolded by means of music choice and pacing. The goal is to bring the audience along for the ride (check out Filmstro's royalty free music).

Can you take us through the editing process for the "CineTeaser" to teach us how you made these effects?
Here's the short answer: I made it up as I went!

It's the first time I've made an edit like it but I knew going in that I wanted it to be only 30 seconds long and very choppy with good foley. Then, I fell into the unexplainable editing vacuum and several hours later, there it was. So, perhaps it was the mindset going into the edit which helped the process. As far as effects go, there weren't any, it was just a matter of carefully placed and precisely trimmed clips.

What advise would you give to up and coming wedding videographers/filmmakers on getting motivated to do find their first client? 
Well I'm not even sure I'm qualified to answer this question as I still consider myself to be an up and coming rookie but I will say this - If even a truckie can make a fellow truckie tear up after showing him one of his wedding videos (that happened) then anybody with a desire to tell a good story and evoke emotion through filmmaking can too! On a more practical level, I shot my first 4 weddings for free. As I mentioned before the first two were family members. The third was the onsite paramedic at one of the mine sites I worked at and the fourth was a friend of a friend who saw the paramedic's wedding film on FB.

So, to put it in steps:

1. Use the endless amounts of free online resources to educate yourself on all things filmmaking. Wedding Film School on YouTube and Facebook is a great place to start! (Shout out to Kraig Adams)

2. Bring up the fact that you love filmmaking and would love to film a wedding in as many conversations as you see fit.

3. Offer your services for free.

4. When you finally snag a lead, meet up with the couple face to face, be yourself and most importantly set realistic expectations! I used to say "if a wedding film was already in your plan and budget I would encourage you to hire a professional, however, if it wasn't but you would still like one, then I would love to have that honour and will be forever grateful for the opportunity and the experience".

5. Less is more! Don't make the mistake I did for the first 7 weddings - which was promising too much! I used to offer a 3-5min "sneak peek" + a 15-20min fully edited Feature + the edited multi-cams of ceremony and speeches + all the raw footage! Here's the lesson. One person simply cannot capture enough quality content to produce this amount of wedding film at a high level. So, what ends up happening is when it comes to the edit you find yourself having to roll a turd in sprinkles so to speak. 

And that takes a bloody long time! And brides don't like to wait a bloody long time! Ok so it's not impossible. I've done it myself, but I can tell you it's certainly not viable from a business point of view and it just becomes a tedious and unenjoyable process.

6. On the day of the wedding make sure you're pleasant, smiling and calm even though it's panic stations inside! Your attitude on the day is what people will talk about until they see the film. Give them something good to talk about.

7. Once you've finished and uploaded the film, give the couple the honour of seeing it first before sharing it to the masses. They'll respect that and respect goes a long way.

8. Always keep a copy of your films on your phone. You never know when the opportunity could arise for you to show off your work and snag another lead (that's how I got the paramedic's wedding).

You can follow Travis on Facebook and Twitter.