“If you’re in it for the money, do local weddings!”
Ever wondered what it’s like to shoot a destination wedding? Or how you can get into shooting one too? We caught up with Jeff Wood to get a deeper insight of how he got into destination wedding filmmaking and what that entails.
How did you get into destination weddings? / Where did you film your first wedding?
My first overseas wedding was in Corfu in 2009. This happened to be a destination wedding for a couple from the UK. I make the distinction between destination weddings and overseas (to me) weddings because in one case the couple travel and in the other I travel. It isn’t always the case that we are both travelling away. I remember nearly passing out in the Church in Corfu town. In those days I would run around at a break-neck pace with a weighted Redrock shoulder rig. I try to keep as calm as possible these days and practice calming techniques in high pressure (and high temperature) situations. This original couple I mention found me online and I shot it for £800 plus expenses with an £80 deposit. I even included a free Baptism video for their daughter! I charge that much just for the booking fee now.
Where did you travel to shoot Charlotte and Johan’s wedding?
Charlotte and Johan’s wedding was in the amazingly beautiful, rustic but luxurious, Hacienda Temozon in Yucatan, Mexico. This was an absolute joy to shoot! Everywhere you look there’s an impossibly rich looking frame of colour and history!
What does your typical timeline look like when preparing for a destination wedding? Take us through the process.
I have my clients arrange the flights, ground transport and hotels. I know a lot of people like to do it themselves but it really takes a lot of work and worry out of the equation for me if they do it. They know the area, the routes, the right airlines to use and they feel more in control of the massive expense of having a video. I advise that I need time to rest, recce and shoot location shots before the wedding day. There also needs to be time to get alternative flights in the event of delays or cancellations. I had a flight cancelled on me last year and was diverted onto 5 alternative flights which had me arriving at my hotel at 1am before a wedding later that morning. It all worked out fine but it was a good job I had a day spare to absorb that extra travel time!
I also like to stay below the VAT threshold and having the client pay for expensive travel costs directly saves me ramping my turnover. I also get lucky enough to be flown business class sometimes which wouldn’t happen if I was booking it myself.
When packing, it’s all about getting the essential kit in carry on baggage. I have a Stuffa jacket so I can wear most of the gear and then transfer it into the wheelie bag as soon as the check-in process is finished. I also make sure I pack a messenger type bag – being able to shoot while you walk is essential as you can’t always drop gear off at churches and venues and it’s impossible to shoot a bunch of groomsmen walking to a church while dragging a wheelie bag behind you. I learned all this stuff the hard way a long time ago.
Do you / Did you work alone or do you have a team?
It’s a mixture. More often than not, (and in the case of Charlotte and Johan’s wedding) I am alone. It’s kind of been my style to be low key and low impact from an early stage in my career. This makes it a lot more personal and gives me complete control over the filmmaking process. The shoot is a big part of this process and I like to put my stamp on the shooting style of all the footage.
If I’m in a team, it’s usually working in partnership with another company. As well as working for myself, I also do freelance with a few good friends around the world. I like the social aspect of the wedding and event business and find collaboration very satisfying. I’ve been a part of big teams in India, North African and all over Europe shooting royalty, celebrities and the super-rich and have enjoyed it. I like to put a ceiling on the scale of events in my own business to keep the personal aspect of my style – I love my clients and want to stick with the type that I attract. But if asked, I will team up with the big companies to shoot spectacularly big events just for the fun of it.
What are the common obstacles you face during the process? What about this film in particular?
As I mentioned, I like to be free and mobile. There’s nothing worse than missing shots because you are busy carrying kit. I learnt once, that a better story can be told with minimal kit – my baggage didn’t make it to a wedding on Ischia, Italy and I had to shoot the lot with mostly one lens and one body. The results were my best work of that era!
So, most obstacles (baggage allowance, mobility, heat) can be overcome by taking less kit. I already mentioned cancelled flights and how to be prepared. Another problem is finding your way around without a phone signal. I have the Tom-tom app on my phone and prepare as much as I can before I even fly by entering pins for all the venues on the map. then I drive to each venue the day before the wedding to make sure I know where I’m going on the day.
I also once had a problem with batteries depleting rapidly in -40 temperatures in Russia, as well as lenses steaming up when entering buildings but that’s another story.
In Mexico, for this film the planning was second to none thanks to Charlotte, Johan and their family member/planner Margarita Fink. I was well looked after with plenty of food, transport and luxury accommodation. If anything, the biggest obstacle at this wedding was the Tequila that was being offered to me by the groom every five minutes! But seriously. In this case a second shooter really would have helped. I had to risk all for that Glidecam shot of Charlotte and her dad walking down those steps for the processional. It was very nerve racking! But worth it.
What equipment did you use? What camera? What lenses? Tripods, gimbals etc… And why did you choose this setup?
I used thee Sony a7s bodies with Zeiss Batis 85 f1.8, Canon 35 f2 and Samyang 14 f3.2. I walked around most of the day with no bag but two bodies on Spiderholster Black Widows with the 85 and the 35. It worked really well but I’ve altered to using a Temba messenger bag now as it’s easier to travel with and put down than a second body.
I used a Glidecam HD2000 as I was unimpressed by the gimbals on offer at the time. I’m still not 100% convinced. I have a Beholder EC1 but still miss the simplicity of the good old fashioned Glidecam.
I’ve also now acquired a Zeiss Batis 18 f2.8 and Zeiss Loxia 50 f2. A brilliant setup as the 18 is AF so great for a gimbal and the 50 is fully manual so great for handheld. The focus ring on that thing is addictive! My favourite lens in the hands! I also tried the Loxia 85 out but it just felt a little awkward compared to the 50 and the Batis 85.
Did you use any filters on the lens?
No, I experimented with ND filters when I first started and had good results, but found that for my style of ‘in camera story telling’ shooting style, it is imperative that I have a shot exposed correctly and ready to record within a split second. Now, if I find a shot that is spoilt by the over sharp, staccato effect of high shutter speed, I apply motion blur in post.
What kind of lighting setup (if any) did you use? If you only used available light, what were the struggles and benefits of this?
No lighting on this one, I usually take one Mini Pag Light. I like to use a spot in a creative way to add a rim light to a singer or dancing. In this case, things moved pretty fast from speeches to cake, to fireworks, to first dance. Plus, there was a ring of guests holding sparklers for the first dance so hard to compete with a Mini Pag. The only struggle with available light is if it is an ugly lit room, which is usually in a church. Natural light can always look beautiful if you’re creative with it. It’s if that natural light is overpowered with something ugly that you wish you could do something about it.
I recently shot in a church with really bad orange lighting. If I had been allowed one well-placed spot light would have transformed the image, but it’s a judgement call. I think it is always a wedding first and a video shoot second. A spot light in that situation would have looked a bit out of place and off putting.
What importance do you place on sound?
I’m having a bit of a love affair with sound design at the moment. I feel that capturing nice aesthetics and even telling visual stories comes as second nature – almost muscle memory. So, you have to study and experiment with new aspects of film making to keep it fresh and enjoyable. I went down the post processing and colour grading road a while back.
Now I like to get most of my final look in camera and give myself more time and energy to work on the story structure and sound design. When I am selecting and rejecting clips in the edit process I am listening to the natural sound of the clips just as much as watching the visuals. All natural sound is captured with the onboard mic on the Sony’s and it is usable for general ambiance. Quite often, though, I have to add foley (in a non-notable way) to my films as the natural sound caught at the time might not be dramatic enough. In this one I used foley for fountains and fireworks as far as I can remember. There was also a sample from a flamenco guitar which I’ll go into later.
Are there any particular shots you know you want to get from the offset?
No, I find it a much more organic process if I clear my mind of preconceived ideas and past projects. Every wedding is a discovery process of what is unique about the people, surroundings and feelings. Like I said before, shooting comes as second nature. I concentrate on picking up on what I am feeling and what emotional effect the sights and sounds are having on me so that I can reproduce these emotions in the film.
Could you tell us about any techniques you used and why? (i.e the rule of three)
Ha ha, I’ve not squeezed the rule of three (not to be confused with the rule of thirds) in it’s pure form into a wedding film yet, but I will one day. I like to fill my head with techniques borrowed from cinema – ‘the language of film’, because it will be useful to solve an editing headlock at some point in the future. Each of these narrative story-telling techniques are meant to solve a problem.
I’m not in the habit of squeezing one in just to show off. For example – in the short highlights I felt the structure and pacing was just right up until the third act. But there was still a lot of relevant and visually stunning story that I wanted to include. So, I used parallel action with a graphic match to transition into the evening scene.
With quick cuts between similar framing and movement of the processional during the day and the grand entrance in the evening, I was able to move the story forward in a pleasing way without any questions being brought up about the gap in between. Both visual micro-stories are played out together in a kind of mini montage.
Did you have a rough idea of the narrative in your mind prior to the shoot?
No, in fact I changed the whole structure of the piece after seeing the photographs. I had started the edit with the welcome dinner scene which included the time-lapse of the party on the rooftop bar. But I was moved by the story telling in the photographs and the way that the scene setting of the immediate surrounds of Hacienda Temozon worked much better than the tack I had taken with the night time scene. So, I switched the first act around to include this rustic (very Mexican) imagery along with a local Yucatan poem read in Spanish by the father of the bride.
What was your post-production process like? What software? Colour grading? Music?
I use FCPX with Filmconvert. Like I said I get the image 99% there in camera and just balance things in post. When shooting ‘baked in’ profiles you need to nail exposure on the day and be prepared to tone some of the shots back in post to balance things out – in terms of exposure and saturation.
For this piece, I used a stock library track for an Echelon Effect track called Visitors on The Bow Wave (check out Filmstro’s library of royalty free music). I felt the haunting feel of the music reflected the slightly eerie beauty of this rustic converted factory and the way it nestles in the thick of the jungle in the middle of nowhere. But it didn’t quite sound Mexican enough so I blended in a sample from a flamenco guitar arpeggio.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wanted to get into the destination wedding filmmaking industry, what would it be?
Don’t have kids! No seriously, the only part I find really challenging is being away from my family. Everything else is quite easy. I got into shooting abroad more because I love to travel and love to record the feelings and experiences on these journeys. This was my motivation for picking up a video camera in the first place, tens of years ago. If you have a similar passion, then you will do well. If you’re in it for the money, do local weddings!
Where do you see your career progressing from here?
I will always love travel, adventure and people so don’t see it changing dramatically. A cool idea would be to make luxury holiday films. Imagine, if you had the money, to have a professionally made documentary film of your luxury holiday? I’m talking about drone shots of super yachts or skiing, underwater shots of swimming and driving, that kind of thing. It might be pie in the sky and too expensive to be viable but I’ve worked with quite a lot of rich and famous people recently and this idea is with them in mind.
Other than that, I have been doing more and more education work recently and enjoyed it. I’ve presented workshops all over the UK, in Hungary and in Italy. I was ‘master videographer’ presenting a three-day seminar for the ANV and headline speaker at Shadows and Light wedding cinematic this year in Oxford.
I continue to do presentations as ambassador for Sony Imaging who have been extremely supportive and kind. As I get older and older I like the idea of new blood taking the industry to new heights and if I can help the general movement in just a little way I’ll be over the moon.
By popular request he will be presenting a last minute mini workshop on 30th May at Heythrop Park in the Cotswolds. For more details click here.