Back at university, I remember that you are implicitly taught that as a graduate filmmaker, being a “wedding videographer” is the worst thing that can happen to you. It means that you have failed. But that was in the UK … and living in Rwanda, artists don’t get state subsidies for being “creatives”, housing allowance, economic benefits, unemployment benefits — not any kind of social benefits to put it simply. Hence, since I moved to Rwanda, wedding videography has been an option to consider. Weddings are not our only chance at filmmaking, us African filmmakers, but because I had no other choice to see my career from a business perspective, or from an I-have-to-eat-and-pay-rent point of view rather and therefore explore how my work or my creativity can generate revenue.
And being a giant cash cow in Rwanda or in Africa, the wedding industry represents an opportunity for professionals in many different fields to make money — including for filmmakers. Ask around, I’m sure one of your aunts could easily find friends that have a son, nephew, niece, goddaughter who is getting married and to whom you offer your services. The wedding season lasts the whole year! In my 2 years living in Rwanda, I’ve attended traditional weddings, civil weddings, church weddings, Muslim weddings, outdoor church weddings, multiple-couple church weddings, weddings on the Kivu Lake beach, pre-wedding ceremonies that I didn’t even know existed in our culture … you name it, I’ve been there.
Weddings are fun but I wish they were as fun for filmmakers. I’ve never had bad experiences with shooting weddings, as I had done only a few for family and friends and they have never been the main focus of my work. It was only last year that I took my first wedding video job from a client and to my great surprise, it came to be a valuable experience! In fact, shooting weddings can actually teach you a few things:
- Planning: Weddings take quite a lot of energy (because you could be filming from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m.) and they take quite a lot of work (days and days of editing, not to mention your laptop crashing). They require extra memory cards, extra batteries, extra space on your external drive … and on top of that, clients can have Hollywood expectations with a budget that doesn’t even cover your own expenses (meaning staff, because trust me, you can’t do that on your own!). You’ll need one or two fellow camera operators, one person to keep an eye on your bags (because even simple things like a phone charger can be stolen) and a taxi driver available all day because you can never rely on that uncle or family friend who was supposed to drive you around and I don’t drive (which is my fault; at almost 30, I have no excuse).
- Effectiveness: Weddings force you to focus and be effective throughout the day because nothing, expect perhaps location, can be shot another time! You need to pay attention for when the sharing of the wedding vows is going to take place, the declaration of consent (“I do’s”), the exchange of wedding rings, the signing of the marriage register, the bride’s bouquet toss, the cutting of the cake, and other key moments take place. These are all quick, major things to get footage of, but that can be missed if you are distracted. This also means that you need to pay attention to when your memory cards get full and when your batteries are about to die, and you are responsible for your fellow camera operators as well. Additionally, you need to make sure that wherever you save all the footage of the day remains in a safe place (and get duplicates! External drive repairs are costly!).
This represents a lot of work and planning for not much money. Moreover, what makes it repetitive and dull, is that wedding have expected components, from arrival of the bride, prayers and blessings, speeches, wedding dinner, the cutting of the cake to the first dance. But this is where it gets interesting to me! Not only weddings test your organizational abilities but they can also test your storytelling abilities. How do you tell the story in a unique, personal and deeply meaningful way every single time? That would have been a good question if the title was ‘Weddings Are Great Opportunities To Test Storytelling Abilities’ — perhaps this is an idea for another post. Nonetheless, embrace all opportunities that weddings represent, because both the organizational and storytelling skills that you get out of that will help you for your film-making endeavours.