A Creative and Business Review of "City of Lakes"

If you follow the video DSLR world, or if you’re an event filmmaker, chances are you’ve seen Kevin Shahinian‘s epic wedding film “City of Lakes.” This is an actual wedding movie shot for a client of Kevin’s. The clients originally hired Kevin to produce their wedding film plus have Kevin work his concept film magic. Kevin has made a name for himself creating wedding concept films with production values that rival films you see at Sundance or Cannes. That is no exaggeration or hyperbole.  Kevin uses steadicams, cranes, jibs, HMIs, and 35mm adapters (or in the case of “City of Lakes” all Canon 5DMark IIs and 7Ds). His films often have musical and dance numbers with professional choreography.

Now his film “City of Lakes” has raised the bar again. But what does this film really mean for the event filmmaking industry? Will we see an increase in production values on all films? Will brides finally give wedding film (aka wedding videos) the proper respect they are due? And how good is “City of Lakes” really? Well, here is my personal take on all these questions.

A Filmmaker’s Review

I think what Kevin has done with this is nothing short of amazing. Anytime anyone writes, produces,  and brings to completion any kind of film, it is a major accomplishment. What makes this one all the more amazing though is that it combines a fictional script written by Kevin, with the real-life events surrounding his clients’ wedding in India. And it was shot and edited in such a way to make the two blend seamlessly together. (If you want more details about the making of this film, listen to my podcast with Kevin on Crossing the 180).
So, here is my filmmaker’s review of the film (don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this review):
  • Visuals: It looks amazing. I wish I could have seen it on a big screen at NAB. I think it’s funny that it aired shortly after an infamous thread on the popular RED cinema camera forum Reduser.net, where one disgruntled Red fanboy expressed how pissed off he was that a major TV show like “House” decided to shoot their season finale 100% with the 5D Mark II. There was a lot of talk on that thread about how crappy the quality of the HD DSLRs are, that they can’t hold up. Well, watch the film below and you be the judge. And if you think it only looks good because this is the web, I’d advise you to talk to the ASC cinematographers at NAB who watched it on a big screen and were blown away. The game has changed folks.
  • Storytelling: very well done. I could nit pick a few things, but they’d just be that, nit picking (e.g. why didn’t young boy continue to follow the elephant when he attempted to give the gift to the bride. He didn’t really try THAT hard. Come on kid, get some chutzpah. 🙂
  • Acting: the two kids in the film are marvelous. As is the “guide.” I thoroughly enjoyed watching them. They always say that working with kids and animals is the hardest job for a director. Kevin did a masterful job.
  • Technical: it seems practically flawless in this category. I did notice a high shutter speed motion blur in the scenes outside the palace. Perhaps there was a creative reason for this. Or perhaps it was just so darn bright, they had to increase the shutter speed to lower the brightness. (Kevin tells me it was a little bit of both).
  • Music: the music and sound design are terrific. I don’t know how much of the music was cleared. It is not uncommon for wedding films to have copyrighted music. Given the level of publicity this thing has gotten, and the companies attached, I’m assuming all the music was cleared. In any case, it works great.
  • Trailer vs. the Feature: For me, I think the trailer is more impactful, but that is often the case with any film. Short and sweet with a concentrated emotional punch combined with the anticipation of the full feature. This doesn’t take away at all though from the achievement of the full length film.  Also, as is often the case, there are some scenes in the trailer that didn’t make it to the final film. I wish they had as they were a couple of my favorite.

What does this mean for the event filmmaking biz?

Many have said this lifts the bar for wedding video. In all honesty, it’s so far out of scope for most other wedding filmmakers, it’s almost a moot point. It’s really on a level all it’s own in the event filmmaker world. I don’t think we’re going to start seeing wedding films of this caliber out of pure practicality. First off, 99.99% of event clients will not be able to afford such a production. And most American brides who can afford this don’t want that kind of production on their wedding day. In fact, many uber high-end brides want the exact opposite. They want an unobtrusive documentarian for the day. Not steadicams and jibs.

However, it definitely does change the way the average Joe or Jane should look at this industry. It gives the industry a level of cache that it needs.  Event filmmakers the likes of Kevin (as well as his co-horts in this project, Patrick Moreau, Joe Simon, and Casey Warren) have made it cool to be wedding filmmakers. The work of these artists is FINALLY being taken seriously. When I started in the business eight years ago, I never heard of a wedding videographer being sponsored by a major brand (the way wedding photographers like Mike Colon are). That’s changed. Major manufacturers like Canon, Tiffen, and Adobe are sponsoring these guys. Even now Patrick and his StillMotion crew are doing a Canon-sponsored educational tour around the country; and the NFL hired StillMotion to do work for them based on the wedding films they saw on Vimeo. The N-freaking F-L people!

And lastly, films like this bring respect and attention to the event filmmaking industry by other filmmakers who heretofore may have snubbed their noses at doing weddings. That alone has opened up opportunities for event filmmakers to get the recognition they deserve.

This may seem odd, but given the scope of this project, I think the best audience of filmmakers to learn from “City of Lakes” is not necessarily wedding filmmakers but indie filmmakers. How to think creatively; make adjustments on the fly; deal with set backs; shoot a 30 minute, all DSLR film; etc.  The issues affect indie filmmakers way more than they affect the average wedding filmmaker.

I for one am excited about this industry and where it’s going. “City of Lakes” has inspired me to think about shooting my own “magnum opus” on HDSLRs. The work Kevin has done here has paved the way for a new generation of filmmakers to shoot for the stars and make their dreams come true. Thank you Kevin.

And without further ado, I’m proud to be one of the few insiders to have access to post the full feature film, “City of Lakes.” Enjoy…again!


6 thoughts on “A Creative and Business Review of "City of Lakes"

  1. Oh, wow! I want to watch it again. It's beautiful! And when I realized what was going on, I couldn't hold back the tears anymore. What a great love story! Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Oh, wow! I want to watch it again. It's beautiful! And when I realized what was going on, I couldn't hold back the tears anymore. What a great love story! Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. thanks Ron, that was a really well thought out and well written review. I absolutely love and respect the film for so many reasons. What they've created, how they did it, the technical, the storytelling, it's amazing. But I really appreciate how you highlighted some points and then explained. That helps some of us who maybe aren't quite at this level, but trying to get there. Thanks to you and Kevin, and all the folks involved in pushing our industry, and especially the way you guys all help out and give back.

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