Literal Truth vs. Emotional Truth in Event Filmmaking

An emotionally true wedding film will be re-watched again and again.

When I first started in this business (nine years ago this month by the way), I produced wedding films in a style that today people call “cinematic short form.” They were cinematic…and they were short. đŸ™‚ (That is, short compared to the 90 minute to 2-hour wedding videos that a lot of studios were doing at the time.) My films were in the 25 to 40 minute range. Although I hadn’t coined a phrase for it at the time, my style as a storyteller was to employ more of an “emotional truth” approach vs. literal truth. Let me splain.

A literally true documentary of a wedding day is essentially recording the day as it happens. The sights and sounds, the music, the full 30 to 40 minute ceremony, all of it shot and edited to pretty much re-cap the day. I think this is what many people who don’t get wedding videos think all they are. For many people, including me, this is boring. (If you make these kinds of videos, please don’t be offended. If you have a client base that likes that and wants that, more power to you. Don’t let anyone, least of all me, tell you what’s the “best” way to make a wedding video). Pretty much the only people who will be moved by such a video are the closest friends and family members of the bride and groom. While the events as they happened are captured (literally true), the emotion that people felt that day is not necessarily conveyed (emotionally false).

An emotionally true wedding film is one that has the power to evoke the same feelings and emotions people had that day, regardless of who is watching. I would have clients watch clips of wedding films from total strangers and being crying, laughing, etc. The emotion of the day was conveyed in such a way that most people watching would be moved.

Many of you may already employ this style of storytelling, but for those of you new to the biz, here are some tips for creating emotionally true event films:

  • It’s quality, not quantity. Don’t feel you need to make a video longer to make it better.  A 15 minute, emotionally power wedding film will be much more engaging and fun to watch that a 120 minute documentary that drags (do you really need to have 15 minute montage of people dancing badly?) Remember, there’s a reason they call editing “cutting.”
  • Music. Naturally, the music you use will have a huge impact on the emotional feel of the video. Don’t bother asking me in this blog post “Can I use popular music?” If you want the scoop, read this blog post. (Or just remember the URL
  • Juxtaposition of Audio and Video. Combine audio from one part of the day with video from another. Take the father of the bride’s tear-jerking toast and use it as a voice over during the scene where the bride comes down the aisle. If you’re editing a bat mitzvah, take the funny stories told about little Hannah and use them as voice over scenes of her acting silly on the dance floor.
  • Non-linear storytelling. An emotional chronology of the day isn’t necessarily temporally chronological. In other words, don’t feel like you have to have the video start with the morning activities and end with the bride and groom driving off. You may have the video start with that aforementioned father of the bride toast to set an emotional queue for the film. You may end with the processional and first kiss, using the reception dancing as a credit sequence. These are just ideas.
  • Stage some shots. This may be anathema to some of you who want to be pure “photojournalists” in your storytelling, but one way to reach the emotional truth is to stage shots. Maybe it’s just shots of the bride and groom walking along a grove holding hands, kissing, etc. Maybe you re-enact some aspect of their relationship. Maybe you even re-enact some aspect of the wedding day (e.g. in some churches, cameras aren’t allowed close enough to the altar to get a good shot of the first kiss, so some wedding filmmakers re-enact that.)
  • Find your story. Find some special aspect of the wedding day or the couple’s experience together that can be the emotional throughline of the film. Maybe it’s the special relationship between the father and the daughter. Maybe it’s the fact the bride and groom both come from broken homes and each has made it a point to say on camera that this marriage will last forever. Maybe the location is some exotic locale and that will be crux of the story. Think to yourself, “If I were writing a script of this wedding day, how would I write it?” Then shoot and edit it accordingly.

The event filmmakers who are able to effectively tell emotionally true stories (and are equally capable at marketing and branding themselves) will be the ones that snag the highest price tags for the work they do. And I have found personally, that telling these emotionally true stories are more fun and fulfilling for me as a filmmaker.

What’s your style?

5 thoughts on “Literal Truth vs. Emotional Truth in Event Filmmaking

  1. Emotional truth is what story-telling is all about. It is something that captures the heart, mind, and soul. I like your emphasis on truth as well. Truth is also important, particularly for non-fictitious narratives. What you are suggesting is something that remains truthful to the sense of the narrative, but but tells the story with imagination, creativity, and passion. I love it!

    1. Bingo! That’s exactly it. There’s a lot of debate in the journalism world around this. Should documentary filmmakers go into a disaster scene like Japan and Haiti, create a “cinematic” film that’s emotional and poignant, but to some may seem “manipulative”? Or should they just press “record” and capture the sights and sounds only as they really are?

  2. i find it very hard to do short films when I shot 50+ weddings last year.
    Even with 32 weddings this year, I think it will be still hard to make kick ass short film for every single weddings. don’t get me wrong. all of my couples are great, and have a story of their own. I think I can focus more on storytelling on short film when I have less than 20 weddings. We try to document the whole day, but still try to be cinematic with storytelling on trailers and highlights. Hope to make a leap to short film world next year..(crossing fingers).

    1. Hey JJ, You’re right, if you do a large volume of weddings a year, this style will be more difficult to pull off. But that’s necessarily a bad thing. There is no right or wrong method. As long as you’re offering great customer service and your clients are happy with their end product, that’s a good thing. You could always charge a premium for the cinematic short wedding that have a higher production appeal. Trailers and highlights are great too.

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