I don't know about you, but my year started off right.
Just as 2017 came to a close, I was hard at work on the most ambitious wedding film Love You Back Productions has ever produced. I completed the documentary-style highlight on New Year's Eve, with enough time to spare to join in on some New Year's eve festivities.
In mid October of 2017, Love You Back Productions was hired to film the wedding of Anna and William, a couple who work for the United Nations.
Anna is American, William is French. The two currently live in Dakar, Senegal. William's lived in a dozen countries before, Anna's lived in 8, and they've traveled to countless others.
They wanted us to film not only their wedding day, but the flurry of friends and family coming together from all around the world to celebrate their marriage in the days prior to the wedding.
So why get married in New Orleans of all places?
Anna and her sister Jocelyn jointly own a shotgun double in the Lower Garden District neighborhood of New Orleans. The two bought the home as a part of their family tradition of buying and renovating old houses. Jocelyn's lived in New Orleans for the past couple years and was a student at Tulane University. She's now moving back to Pittsburgh, her hometown, where both sisters grew up.
Anna's traveled to New Orleans a handful of times in the past and she loves the feeling of the city. Many say it's the place in the U.S. that feels most like you're in another country--which knowing Anna, is probably why she's drawn towards it.
She said her and William are looking for a place to settle down after years of traveling around the world, and New Orleans is a serious contender.
After an initial Skype conversation with Anna, we came up with 4 project keywords for her wedding film:
We also got a sense of who the key characters would be.
On Anna's side the key family members were:
Ndeye - A close family friend from Senegal who Anna regards as a sister
Fatou - Ndeye's daughter, like a god-daughter or niece to Anna
Emily - Anna's long time best friend from France
Bebe, Fatouma and Moussa - Anna's close family from Nigeria who she has adopted into her family as children
On William's side the key family members were:
Nathan - William's Franco-Thai son from a previous marriage
Naomie - William's Franco-Thai daughter from a previous marriage
There were many other supporting family members and friends on both the bride and groom's side, but these were the people that meant the most to the couple.
I realized that in order to capture the true spirit of their wedding, we'd need to follow the couple at 3 crucial points. Here's what we decided to film:
Family Time - Baking Cakes with Margaux, Anna, William, and family - Anna's friend Margaux, a master pastry chef, would bake four small wedding cakes in lieu of one big cake. The whole family would get together to help bake.
We loved the idea that this would be an informal family gathering centered around a wedding-related activity. We couldn't have asked for a better opportunity to film the family interacting.
A Virtual Call (same day as Baking Cakes) - We noticed that the children on Anna’s side of the family, Bebe, Fatouma and Moussa, couldn’t make it to the wedding because of visa issues.
It was clear that Anna and William's family in Dakar were a big part of their lives and we wanted their presence to be felt in the film. We realized that as filmmakers, we had the power to incorporate those people into the film even though they couldn't be there in person.
So we came up with a plan to film a video chat with between Anna, William, and Bebe, Fatouma and Moussa.
This shoot date touched upon the following keywords: Family, Blending, International
Party the Day Before The Wedding - The party took place at Anna and Jocelyn's shotgun double in the Lower Garden District. This is where we captured greetings, hugs and first time meetings of the couple's friends from all around the world.
This day was essentially a "rehearsal dinner" -- I put that in quotes because it was a much more relaxed environment than the typical wedding rehearsal dinner. Many of the couple's friends and family members would have already arrived by that point or be arriving earlier in the day.
This shoot date touched upon the following keywords: Family, Blending, Reunion, International
The photos below were taken two days before the wedding. I visited the house where the rehearsal party would be held to scout the location. I hung out with Ndeye, Fatou and Emily while they waited in the kitchen.
I'm so glad I tagged along on this day. This is when I discovered Fatou's scrapbook about her journey to the United States. I didn't know it then, but this scrapbook would be key in deciding the structure and story of the final film. Just goes to show, "hanging out" and pre-planning scouting always, always pays off.
With multiple pre-wedding activities and shoot dates, it was hard to sit down and compile the final film. What would be the beginning, middle and end?
I structured and re-structured the order of the film at least 3 times during the course of editing.
In the end it was a poem from Fatou's scrapbook that would become central to the final organization of the film.
The poem she was assigned to read at the wedding, "Vive les Mariés" told a story about the journey of a husband and wife as they experience both the closeness and hardships of marriage. It served as a great vehicle for much of the pre-wedding day footage and carried the love story to its natural conclusion.
On the day of the rehearsal dinner, I asked Fatou to go over her scrapbook with Naomie and read the poem out loud.
Fatou also read this poem during the ceremony--a moment that was visually stunning and intimate--but in the end, I decided that the interaction between her and Naomie better underscored the closeness and diversity of their family.
Take a look at the final film below.
Bonus: Anna sent me a photo of the family in Dakar watching the wedding highlight for the first time on New Year's day. This was the sweetest thing ever!
I always send the final film off via email and am left guessing at the reaction. Seeing this picture makes me feel truly appreciated.