Media

Here Comes the Celluloid: Marrying Life Events With Film

Elizabeth Messina

Paul Korver of Fifty Foot Films, with a client. Today, partly because of Mr. Korver’s efforts, “cinematography” seems to have become a buzzword among wedding videographers.

Published: November 15, 2006

A WEDDING, as the saying goes, is the beginning of a new life. But for Paul and Kristine Korver, it was also the start of a novel business. Soon after they married, they founded Fifty Foot Films, a Hollywood-based company that is dedicated to fixing major life events on film — a medium that many videographers regard as too risky, sensitive and pricey to be profitable.

Photographs by Paul Korver

Mr. Korver’s work, from top, a wedding at the Westfall Winery in Montague, N.J.; the baseball player Mike Piazza and Alicia Rickter; the winery on 16-millimeter format.

In the last four years, the company’s films have captured some high-profile unions, including the pop star Christina Aguilera’s to the producer Jordan Bratman; the baseball player Mike Piazza’s to the former Playboy playmate Alicia Rickter; and the actress Mariska Hargitay’s to a fellow “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” actor, Peter Hermann.

The Fifty Foot story began in 2001, when Mr. Korver, an out-of-work actor who had been making films as a hobby since childhood, was asked to shoot the wedding of a friend, the actress Marley Shelton. Later, while watching the footage, he said, “I thought in my mind this would probably be amazing set to music and edited.” He decided to have his wedding preserved the same way.

Although Mr. Korver had no trouble finding wedding videographers, he couldn’t find anyone equipped to record his event on film. “That’s when I started thinking this could be a business,” he said. Mr. Korver and his wife eventually persuaded a struggling director friend to shoot their wedding. After their honeymoon, they began refining the idea. The concept they settled on was to make real movies of weddings, filming with vintage cameras and carrying out postproduction with the same digital techniques as a modern movie studio. Not only was film a more flattering medium than video, they reasoned, but it also had better heirloom potential: properly preserved, film stock can last decades longer than video.

The marketing pitch would emphasize the difference between video, the medium used for reality shows, and film, the medium used for movies. Although the finished product would be rendered on DVD, even the company’s name would emphasize the movie theme: 50 feet is the length of film in a Super 8 cartridge.

Working with footage of his own wedding and honeymoon in Bora Bora, Mr. Korver, 34, created a 15-minute short that he set to music. The couple used it to persuade a few friends to let them film their weddings at cost, with the proviso that excerpts would be used for a demonstration DVD. Ms. Korver, a 33-year-old entertainment lawyer who had majored in film as an undergraduate at the University of Miami, assisted on the shoots and handled the legal paperwork.

By 2002 — $40,000 worth of credit-card charges later — Mr. Korver had digital editing equipment and a demo DVD. He began shopping the concept to local wedding planners, he said, promoting it as “a tasteful alternative to videography.”

At first, he encountered resistance from those who feared that clients might quail at the expense. (Though a very low-end video can cost as little as $1,000, Fifty Foot’s cheapest wedding offering was $5,000 for a Super 8 short.) “They did have that initial response of, ‘Don’t you do video, too?’ ” said Ms. Korver, who now negotiates entertainment deals for the Lifetime network. “A big decision that we both had to back each other up on was saying, “No, we don’t, it’s not an option.’ We decided to go at it on a very purist level.”

It was precisely this purism that attracted clients. One of the company’s early jobs was for a couple who worked for Avid Technology, makers of the professional editing software used by most movie studios. Producers, photographers and actors soon followed. “Celebrities don’t need to be taught the difference between film and video,” Mr. Korver said, “because they see themselves in movies and they see themselves on ‘Access Hollywood.’ ”

By 2003, Mr. Korver paid off his $40,000 debt, while also investing in a Web site and more cameras and editing equipment. In early 2004, he quit his bartending job. That year, he began offering 16 millimeter — as his Web site romances it, “an opulent film format that hasn’t been available for weddings since J.F.K. married Jacqueline Bouvier.”

One 16-millimeter client was the actress Jessica Capshaw, who received Fifty Foot’s demo reel from an actress friend in Los Angeles. She and her fiancé “sat down and watched it,” she said, “and we were completely captivated.” Mr. Korver ended up filming her May 2004 wedding to Christopher Gavigan, a nonprofit group executive, held at the East Hampton estate of Ms. Capshaw’s stepfather, Steven Spielberg, an event that East Coast wedding planners duly noted.

Though the company did advertise early on, its reputation has spread mostly by word of mouth. And then, of course, there is the product — “a much less literal take on getting married,” said the actress Stephanie March, who hired Fifty Foot to film her February 2005 wedding to the chef Bobby Flay.

In contrast to what Ms. March called the “surveillance” quality of many wedding videos, Mr. Korver’s films, which are made with a combination of hand-held, tripod-mounted and Steadicam-mounted cameras, have the feel of hip art movies. Establishing shots set the time and place, and the story of the day unfolds like a visual tone poem, accompanied by music and voice-overs. Synchronized sound is used for important moments, like the vows. “It looks like it could be an old home movie,” Ms. Capshaw said, “but at the same time there’s something very modern and clever about it.”

Because film stock must be used more judiciously than video — each reel records only 3 to 10 minutes — Fifty Foot doesn’t document every moment of an event. This makes the movies mercifully brief, free of squirm-inducing moments, a benefit noted by Mr. Piazza, who enjoys entertaining friends with the movie of his January 2005 wedding to Ms. Rickter.

Normally, Mr. Piazza said, “When you say, ‘Oh, let’s go watch our wedding video,’ your guests would consider jumping out the window. We’ve had guests that had that look on their faces. Then you give them a sample, and they’re surprisingly impressed.”

Although Mr. Korver handled virtually everything himself early on, by 2004, he said, he had “learned to delegate.” Today, he has an eight-person core crew (paid by the project) whose members are as impassioned about film as he is. Heather Seybolt, 31, who has a master’s degree in filmmaking, edits all the company’s movies.

Today, partly because of Mr. Korver’s efforts, “cinematography” seems to have become a buzzword among wedding videographers, much as “documentary” became the in-word among wedding photographers in the 1990s. A few do incorporate Super 8 and 16-millimeter film into their videos for an extra charge, including Bliss Video Productions in San Francisco, Stellar Films in Santa Barbara, Calif., and Milk and Honey Productions in New York. But most find that shooting exclusively film is too expensive to be financially worthwhile.

Yet Mr. Korver has made his labor-intensive product relatively affordable, at least in the context of today’s wedding budgets, which now average $27,852, according to a 2006 Condé Nast bridal report. The company’s prices, on par with those for high-end video coverage, have not changed much from the beginning. The typical range for a 45-minute full-day film with synchronized sound is from $12,500 for Super 8 to $27,500 for 16 millimeter. They also offer a $3,500 do-it-yourself Honeymoon Director’s Pack; it includes a Super 8 camera rental, a coaching session and eight rolls of film, which the company later edits into a movie. (That’s how Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott documented their elopement to Fiji earlier this year.)

Mr. Korver is continuing to expand. This year, Fifty Foot produced its first big-budget Hollywood-style project — a 35-millimeter wedding movie filmed in Hawaii, complete with helicopter shots, for a cost in the low six figures. And early next year, Paper Tape, a budget offshoot, will be introduced. Its intention, Mr. Korver said, is “to democratize the filmmaking process, to try to make the beauty of Super 8 film available to more average wedding budgets.”

The company, which will take over Fifty Foot’s lower-priced business, will have an outpost in most major metropolitan areas around the country, the better to cut down on travel costs. Priced at $3,000 to $7,000, the movies will be shot by local filmmakers on Super 8 and edited at Fifty Foot’s offices in Hollywood. For the last few months, Mr. Korver has been recruiting and training frustrated film-school graduates, and he has had no trouble finding talent.

The only person on his team who never went to film school is Mr. Korver himself. But that doesn’t seem to worry his clients. “In a few years, I think he’s going to be a truly great filmmaker,” said Ms. Hargitay of “Law and Order,” “and I hope to work with him someday.”