Dreamwood: In May, we received a very interesting email. 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 heartwarming 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 inspired us. We were thrilled and soon replied that we would be delighted to come to China. So, in September we landed at the 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…
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 to 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 the entire 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 a speed wedding that we could prepare in a couple of days if it would be necessary. But, of course, we couldn’t teleport our families, friends, and photographers from cities thousands of kilometers away from Beijing in two days. So we had to plan everything traditionally.
One of the most picturesque districts of Beijing is the 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, we saw some interesting flecks coming through the fence. I walked past this fence, 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 birdcage, we decided that our wedding would be held here.
The dresses were chosen quickly and easily. There is an entire street of professionals who sew wedding dresses 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 a skirt of flowing ribbons that I really liked. But a month later, I accidentally saw another one; it was a meringue dress. I could not restrain myself and bought it 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 toward the dresses. They flew from one corner of the flat to another during the filming of my bridal portraits, 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 were free the whole day before the wedding, so, to begin to understand the spirit of Beijing, we visited the wedding venue and other places in the city where we shoot the next day. In the evening, we met Anna and Tigran to get to know each other better and discuss all the details. We decided to divide the filming process into four stages that would be completed in three days.
The filming of bride’s and groom’s morning was the first stage. Anna and Tigran rented a very cozy Chinese-style apartment just for the morning shooting. Our advice is to allow at least two hours (three hours is even better) for the morning shooting. It takes about an hour to photograph the bride and about the same time to photograph 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 further wrap-up additional details. This way we get through filming easily and pleasantly because we are not in a 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 a Chinese dress that is called “qipao.” The groom wore light white trousers and a blue shirt of natural fabrics. One of the key events of our photo shoot was the tea ceremony. All the other events developed around it. Tigran is very good at holding a traditional tea ceremony that adheres to all the rules. It’s a very calm process, like a meditation. The tea ceremony is relaxation and communication, enjoying the soft flavor of green tea. This process sets a 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 action, when there is contact and communication between them, when they live inside the shot.
Anna and Tigran: Before going to an agency, I searched Pinterest, so I knew exactly what I wanted to see in the ceremony. Unfortunately, all the Chinese agencies see weddings as flower explosions in 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 desserts 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 dessert, 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 have already been divorced once get married after lunch. Brides throw their bouquets during the ceremony; desserts are eaten before lunch, and after desert, 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 a 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, Michael and Lucy; they helped us and supported us all the time.
It’s incredible, but despite smog, the 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 only rained during dancing, and the rain actually added something special to the wedding photos. Even Chinese relatives admitted that evening ceremony and the absence of spangles and balloons turned out 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 steep 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, the 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 a cool 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. They 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 a 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, even if I knew they wouldn’t be able to attend.
The wedding was the second stage of the photoshoot. Everything took place in Beijing’s city center, not far from The Forbidden City.