Theme Matters / The Ideation Process of Wedding Cinematographers

Christian PetersonComment

Weddings are about love, no doubt. And good wedding films convey that love beautifully. But what separates a good wedding film from an excellent one? Theme!

In my humble Toronto and Vancouver wedding cinematographer's opinion, it is incredibly important for couples to collaborate with their vendors not only to tell them what is going to happen, but also to share some insight about themselves.

We can make any couple's wedding look fabulous - I think -, but to ensure we get something extra special, here is what we do.

Now, before going too deep, I want to acknowledge the fact that this method is essentially borrowed from Stillmotion, who are pioneers of visual storytelling, incredibly kind knowledge share-ers, and have become a great educational resource for many in this industry. If you know their work and have read their blog, you might recognize some of this. We share in the spirit of disseminating the 'good': we're not the authors of some of this (including some specifics), but this is how we treat it. If you're interested in knowing more about them or their educational offerings, head over to their site.

All right, now that that's out of the way... how do we get to a STORY?

1) We ask the couple a series of 10 questions through an online form. These questions range from the usual (what do you do for a living?) to the more 'mundane' (what do you do on a typical Sunday?)

2) We then sit down and read the answers from the bride and groom (sometimes they answer together, sometimes separately) and highlight all the words, expressions, or phrases that seem to particularly meaningful.

3) We put all of those on a board, or a master document. If I'm doing this exercise with another OHF cinematographer or editor, then we cross-reference, and the words that come up in both our versions are, likely, key words. Once we're compiled everything that's important, we usually have a pretty long list with a lot repetition, and that good...

4) Because the next step is to look for patterns. We pool the words together and from ideas, we start to see themes. For example, if the bride wrote 'real', 'uncomplicated' and the groom wrote 'down to earth', 'simple' then it gives us a sense of who they are, and we might settle on a theme like, say, 'genuine'. Themes emerge from keywords.

5) We look at potential themes, settle on key ones, and discard others that end up being too similar, or that, it turns out, we might be less inclined to develop, for a reason or another.

6) At that point, we start finding links and progressions. For example, what is the link between 'home' and 'fun', or between 'distance' and 'intimate'. Sometimes it's obvious, other times it requires us doing a little bit of thinking. And other times, well, the themes end up being separate from each other. That's ok.

7) The last step is to create a visualization of the themes and keywords that will help us communicate our ideas to the couple. It's always easier with a graphic that highlights how things connect, and how we get to where we got. We like to do a central circle [the couple and their story] surrounded by other circles that represent the themes.

8) Lastly, I chat with the couple about how we can integrate those ideas into their day. For example, could they do some yoga in the morning (if that's something that links them), or can I convince them to address the theme of distance in their speeches (if they were in a long distance relationship), etc, etc, etc.

When couples want to work with us, and they listen to what we derived from their answers, wonderful things happen. But it takes effort from everyone involved, and it goes a bit beyond 'I want it to be romantic'.

At the end of the day, this process of coming up with a theme is about making sure that the wedding film is specifically about the couple - YOU - and the things that make you your own entity, the moments and thoughts that make your relationship unique, that make you the perfect person for each other.

Being yourself at your wedding that some willpower. People will want you to do this or that. The questions we're asking and the work we're doing will, hopefully, help you figure out what really matters to you!