Shooting Super 8 film has become a popular way to record weddings but it's deceptively difficult to do. Image © s8 films.
One set of photographers is ahead of the loop when it comes to shooting video – wedding photographers. Wedding videos have been popular since the 1980s, when Sony launched the first affordable camcorders and video players became widely popular. They’ve come into their own in the digital age, with camcorders offering higher quality than ever and the happy couples owning DVDs and laptops that make playing the results easier than ever.
But despite the technological advances, a much older technique is booming – Super 8 films. Popular in the US since 2006, Super 8 is now gaining ground in the UK too, with celebrity couples such as Frederick Windsor and Sophie Winkleman, Rachel Stevens and Alex Bourne, and Alexander Cochrane and Alannah Weston (she’s the creative director of Selfridges) opting for this approach. In fact, they all opted for one company’s take on the style – s8 films. Founded by Super 8 aficionado Roland de Villiers, s8 films offers clients Super 8 film, HD video, or both, and it’s winning widespread praise as well as celebrity clients. Wedding Ideas, You & Your Wedding and Brides have all recommended it, as well as the more leftfield Rock ‘n’ Roll Bride site.
The attraction of Super 8? Two things – the ongoing fascination with all things retro and the flattering light it casts on its subjects. “Seventy percent of our business is shooting Super 8 weddings, with the remainder on HD,” says de Villiers. “Both media have their strengths, but many brides don’t get excited about the idea of being filmed on HD, for obvious reasons. They prefer the softer, more flattering Super 8 option.”
De Villiers started filming friends’ weddings on Super 8 film back in 2001, and it gradually evolved into a business. De Villiers now has two permanent members of staff and a team of regular freelancers who work on both filming and editing the footage. They use original Super 8 cameras and cine film stock almost identical to that used in the 1960s and 70s, despite the lighting issues and three-minute cartridges they involve. “You get wonderful retro colours and magical moments, such as when a flutter of light hits at a key moment and that makes it all worthwhile,” says de Villers.
“People generally like the ‘imperfections’ of Super 8, the glitches, flutters and flares. In fact, sometimes we even exaggerate this look by dropping in burnouts, pushing the colour an so on. We shoot our Super 8 footage using a handheld reportage style, so we don’t set out to create a smooth, slick staged production for our Cine work.”
But if Super 8 is charmingly imprecise, it still needs to be handled carefully. Operators have to know how to handle variations in sound, from hushed wedding vows to live 12-piece bands, and be able to hold the camera steady – all the wedding videos are digitally transferred onto VHS or DVD, and wide-screen TVs are particularly unforgiving of shakes. Depending on the package the couple agrees to, up to 12 hours of footage will be shot, by one or two camera people, which s8 films then edits down into a coherent narrative. The trick is keep all the key moments but make sure that the story moves reasonably quickly, says de Villiers.
“We tend to initially compile all the vital storytelling footage and then make an edit using this,” says de Villiers. “Then any spare, non-essential footage can be put aside for a separate mood section, so that we are not slowing down the main film too much with scene shots. As the creative director I am heavily involved in the full editing process, and I have a particular style of narration that has to be followed by the editing team. I give them certain guidelines for the initial edit and then we work together to create the final story.
“I get sent a lot of showreels by people that want to work for s8 films and the general standard is pretty low. There is a tendency for companies to produce over-long edits that show too much. Also, there are a lot of companies out there producing seriously cheesy productions using things like soft focus and corny music.”
Currently s8 films doesn’t offer stills photography, and although de Villiers doesn’t rule it out, he emphasises the differences between the media. Wedding videos and photography can complement each other, he says, but no one imagemaker should attempt both at the same time. “Both parties are fully occupied when working and adding additional workload to the day could lead to compromises,” he says. “If you had two people working as a direct team, one on the photographic side and one on the video, there could be a good dynamic, especially if there was a potential to switch between the two skills throughout the day.
“Filming and photography both have their strengths and weaknesses. With photography you can present a very selective, stylised version of the day, omitting any negative or unflattering photos. With film, if some of the key footage contains unflattering imagery there is little that can be done. Photography also allows the bride and groom to create their own mental memories of their day, based around the selective images in their photo album, whereas film tends to fill in all the gaps and tell the full story, albeit from the filmmaker’s perspective.
“But while photographs do a fantastic job of showing a ‘snapshot’ of the day, a film can take you right back into the heart of the wedding. Most brides tell us their day flew by and that they weren’t aware of half of the things going on – with film they get to see all the key bits they missed, what guests were doing, what the DJ was playing, and so on. Most of the events that take place during a wedding are audiovisual experiences, from the service and vows through to the speeches and first dance. Film is great at documenting both aspects.”
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