Starring bride and groom: videotapes for a lifetime

They are standing in formal dress on the deck of a yacht club near Boston, smiling at the camera. Behind them the water ripples gently in the sun. Lifting the microphone he is holding, Dick, the groom, says he knew even before they were introduced that Joan was the woman he wanted for his wife. Joan looks at him radiantly.

A moment later, their respective mothers join the couple, in turn express their thoughts on the occasion, and embrace both children. For the next two hours, scenes from their wedding, the reception, and from Dick's and Joan's childhoods follow, with background music appropriate for the occasion.

Dick and Joan have just joined the growing ranks of Americans who have had their weddings professionally videotaped.

Most couples who want a visual record of their weddings still opt for the traditional photo album. But as the video age advances, many companies in the recording business are finding weddings a lucrative addition to their range of services. Indeed, some firms report that the taping of weddings has quickly become half their business -- and many have been at it less than two years.

H. Paul Slifer Associates in Boston, which taped Dick's and Joan's wedding, keeps three crews on the road every weekend from April to November. Action Video in Seattle usually has four crews out on weekends, and recently sent one of them all the way to Detroit for a weddings. H.S. Productions in Bolingbrook, Ill., outside Chicago, taped 13 weddings in one weekend not long ago, and co-owner Kay Billman says she foresees the day when some recording firms can afford to limit their services to wedding alone.

Services -- and prices -- vary around the country. Basic one-camera coverage of the ceremony alone can cost from $95 to $200, depending on the length and the firm one choose. All the video firm needs to know in advance are where to show up and when.

What if the couple desires something more? Some firms, such as Hal Slifer's, prefer to "establish a relationship" well in advance, "so they think of us as a frind," and agree on the various options that will be included in the final package: favorite photographs and music, scences from the place where the couple first met, interviews of relatives at the reception, perhaps even the bride-to-be's final morning at home with her family before the ceremony. Such packages can cost $1,000.

Nor is that all. Other firms offer couples the opportunity to bring back home movies of their wedding trips for inclusion in the final package, or to narrate and supervise the editing of the tapes. H.S. Productions, which has been in the broadcasting business for 17 years, usually doesn't edit the final product at all but treats the ceremony and reception as a live telecast, using the same equipment it would bring to, say, a football game. Thus, if the couple chooses, the finished products can include such frills as titles, closing credits, and split-screen coverage that can focus simultaneously on the bride's mother's reaction as the groom slips the wedding ring on her daughter's finger.

Like any other fledgling industry, the videotaping of weddings occassionally hits some snags, technical and otherwise. Some firms report finding church officials reluctant to permit the setting up of lights and microphones on grounds that they could detract from the right spirit of the occasion.

And there is still the issue of competition with still photographers, who until now have had the wedding business pretty much to themselves. Indeed, there are reports of some photographers who have branched out into the video business in self-defense.

But still-photo wedding coverage generally continues to be cheaper; one of the most prestigious Boston-area studios charges $189 for its basic package, $ 475 for its top-of- the-line version. And managers of several video-recording firms that service the wedding trade say they don't see themselves in competition with their still-photo brethren.

"I think there's room for both," says Neil Scott of Action Video in Seattle. "In fact, we encourage both." Says Mrs. Billman: "I don't think [videotape] will replace pictures; it enhances them. We're not trying to put the still photographers out of business. We got along with them very well." It's just that with videotapes, a couple's children can see how their parents looked -- and soundedm -- at that moment in their lives.

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