Dreamwood: In May we received a very interesting letter on our E-Mail. A young woman wrote us from China. She wanted us to come to Beijing to film her wedding which was to take place in September. It was a very heart-warming letter with many pleasant words in it. It was much unexpected for us to get such an invitation, because we hadn’t even talked about going to China before, let alone working there. But such a letter couldn’t leave us uninspired. We were thrilled and soon replied that we would be delighted to come to China. So, in September we landed in Beijing airport. It was already quite cold in Minsk but Beijing met us with hot weather. Our couple’s names are Anna and Tigran and this is their story…
PREPARING FOR THE WEDDING
Anna and Tigran: I have never dreamt of a big wedding, I always thought that I would get married quickly, Las Vegas-style. But everything grew out of our control when we decided to get married in Beijing. The groom’s whole family (it’s about 50 people), lives here as well as all our friends and colleagues (about the same number).
Most of the Chinese couples invite guests in huge dark halls of 400-seat hotel restaurants. A big podium and a stage are usually installed there and couples hire a host that talks all the time, even when the bride is walking down the aisle. It is something like a TV-show. Outdoor ceremonies are quite rare, but it was exactly what I wanted.
The major problem was to pick the right day so the air would be clean – in Beijing smog is even less predictable than weather. Sometimes it is so thick that everything looks grey and brown. So for some time I even dreamt about something like speed wedding that we could prepare in couple of days, if it would be necessary. But, of course, we couldn’t teleport our families, friends and photographers from cities thousands kilometers away from Beijing in two days. So we had to plan everything traditionally.
One of the most picturesque districts of Beijing is Shichahai lake district. I found a boat club there that agreed to lease us their pier. So we almost made the deal but once we were walking by the lake and saw some interesting flecks coming through fence. I walked past this fence and figured Chinese windows so many times always trying to look inside but the gates were always closed. And then there was an opportunity to come in. It turned out to be “London House” – bar, restaurant, and event center that was built for the Olympic Games in Beijing. There was a lot of greenery in the yard. When crows greeted us with “Ni Hao!” from a bird cage we decided that our wedding would be held here.
The dresses were chosen quickly and easily. There is an entire street of professional wedding dress sewers in Suzhou city. Many shops have a page on Taobao.com, it’s something like Chinese eBay. I looked through many dresses and finally I realized that there are, basically, two types of them: meringue dresses and sheath dresses. At first I found a translucent sheath dress with skirt of flowing ribbons that I really liked. But a month later I accidently saw another one, it was a meringue dress. I could not restrain myself and bought I as well. I actually used both of them – one for the wedding and one for the photo shoot. To be honest, I didn’t have any special attitude to the dresses. They flew from one corner of the flat to another during filming of bride’s morning and the photographers were clearly not happy about it .
Dreamwood: The guys paid a lot of attention to the shooting and did everything to help us to do our job to the highest standard. We had the whole day before the wedding so we had an opportunity to walk around Beijing visiting places where we would shoot the next day and the wedding venue and getting into the spirit of the city. At the evening we met Anna and Tigran to get to know each other better and discuss all the details. We decided to divide filming process into four stages that would be completed in three days.
Filming of bride’s and grooms morning was the first stage. Anna and Tigran rented a very cozy Chinese style apartment just for the morning shooting. Our advice it to allow at least two hours (three hours – even better) for the morning shooting. It takes about an hour to shoot the bride and about the same time to shoot the groom, about half an hour to shoot additional details and the remaining half an hour is usually very helpful because we have an opportunity to think of something else. This way we get through filming easily and pleasantly, because we are not in hurry, we have plenty of time to sensitize the couple to shooting, to look around and to film not only “standard” scenes, but also something new, inspired by the present moment.
The bride prepared little Chinese dress that is called “qipao”. The groom wore light white trousers and blue shirt of natural fabrics. One of the key events of our shooting was the tea ceremony. All the other events developed around it. Tigran is very good at holding traditional tea ceremony by all the rules. It’s a very calm process, like a meditation. Tea ceremony is relaxation, communication, enjoying soft flavor of green tea. This process sets positive mood for the whole day. Besides, a tea ceremony looks very beautiful and aesthetically pleasing: traditional small table, transparent tea kettle where you can see leaves of the Milk Oolong unfold, tiny cups, the interior of the apartment and all the details – the general picture was very beautiful. We like when a photo or a frame look natural and calm, when our heroes are involved in some actions, when there is contact and communication between them, when they live inside the shot.
The wedding was the second stage of the shooting. Everything took place in Beijing’s city center, not far from The Forbidden City.
STYLE OF THE WEDDING
Anna and Tigran: Before going to agency I dag across the whole Pinterest so I knew exactly what I wanted to see on the ceremony. Unfortunately, all the Chinese agencies see weddings as flower explosions on every possible spot for some reason. It was very difficult to convince them that we like modesty.
I wanted a European-style wedding with elements from old Beijing. For example, we served deserts on a tricycle – they were the most popular means of transport in Beijing for some time. Even now venders and breakfast sellers use them. We also invited musicians and a tanghulu master – it’s a traditional Chinese desert, fruit shashlyk of foxy hawthorn berries with sugar liquor.
Everything was quite complicated because of mentality differences. In China all the weddings should be over before lunch, only people who were already divorced once get married after lunch. Brides throw their bouquets during the ceremony, deserts are eaten before lunch and after deserts the celebration is over. Of course, we planned everything differently. It was very stressful and exhausting, especially when I was told that people who are unfamiliar with western traditions might come wearing track pants and take a piece of cake before the ceremony. Two days before the wedding our florists called in panic and told us that they couldn’t find peonies anywhere and asked me what flowers I wanted in my bouquet. Probably, the only people who tried to preserve our nerves in those days were our photographers that we invited from Minsk, Mikhail and Ludmila, they helped us and supported us all the time.
It’s incredible, but despite smog, different expectations of Tigran’s relatives and some guests in running shoes everything went great. “London House” was perfect for the bad weather because of many trees. It started raining only during dancing and the rain actually added something special to the wedding photos. Even Chinese relatives admitted that evening ceremony, absence of spangles and balloons is great as well.
Dreamwood: Filming on the Great Wall of China was the third stage of our plan. On the photos we’d seen before the Wall was always filled with people and it seemed impossible to make a photo without crowds of people in the background. But it turned out that even on The Great Wall there are uncrowded areas, which is not that surprising if you take its’ length into account. The morning after the wedding Anna and Tigran picked us up from the hotel and we started driving towards the Wall. If you drive 80 km away from Beijing you won’t meet almost anyone in those areas and if you walk on the wall for some time, you will almost certainly be alone. It was quite a difficult ascent but it was worth it. At some places the Wall was flat, sometimes there were stairs and slopes and sometimes we had to almost crawl on all fours carrying plenty of things like equipment, wedding dress, food, cosmetics and a small but very heavy bonsai. But it was definitely worth it. The shooting was perfect.
There was haze in the sky and it gave us cold but evenly lightened picture.
The fourth stage of our shooting took place on the day of our departure. We met Anna and Tigran in the morning and went for a walk along the ancient streets of Beijing. The guys rented a scooter and attached a sign “just married” with flowing ribbons to it. We wanted this shooting to be cheerful and light so viewers would think that this couple escaped some noisy party to spend some time together, to walk along the streets, to eat some food sold on the street stands and, finally, get on their scooter and drive far-far away.
TIP FROM THE COUPLE
Many of my friends live far away from Beijing. I knew that some of my girlfriends became moms some months before my wedding, so I decided not to disturb them with my wedding invitation. And I regretted it. Because in this case the gesture itself is important – it’s important that they find out about the wedding from me, not from Facebook photos. If I had a chance to do everything again, I would invite more guests.
Photo Highlights you can look here.
You can also watch a whole lot of photos in the form in which we give it our loved couples: Link Pixieset Password for viewing, we provide personal.
Photographer: Liudmila Nilava - Dreamwood
Locaton: China, Beijing