My Experience: Wedding Film Retreat 2020


Never in all my days did I picture getting the opportunity to attend the all-inclusive filmmaker event in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico that is Wedding Film Retreat. On top of that, I never imagined I’d be making the decision to attend the night before the event kicked off, but I couldn’t be happier that I did!

 Photo by Peter Aponte of  Moments Revisited

Photo by Peter Aponte of Moments Revisited

Never in all my days did I picture getting the opportunity to attend the all-inclusive filmmaker event in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico that is Wedding Film Retreat. On top of that, I never imagined I’d be making the decision to attend the night before the event kicked off, but I couldn’t be happier that I did!

I’ve been a big fan of Pen Weddings for a long time. I actually met Rick and Sarah back in Charleston, South Carolina at In[Focus] 2015. To my knowledge, they were the first to pick up the torch of uniting wedding filmmakers when In[Focus] retired its efforts after the 2016 conference in San Antonio, Texas. For the last few years, we’ve played a small role in sponsoring the event by providing door prizes and coupons in attendees’ gift bags.

Until now!

After a 3am wake up time, nearly forgetting my passport in my checked bag, and a minor heart attack from hearing a last call for a “David Aguila” at a completely different gate, I finally made it to Puerto Vallarta. Once I got to the beautiful, ocean-front villa, it was non-stop fun, laughs, and deep conversations. Oh, and some transformative educational sessions to top it off.

For those who missed this year’s retreat, here are a few of my favorite takeaways:

 Photo by  Jeff Bush Videography

Photo by Jeff Bush Videography


Being defensive of your work is one of the most common occupational hazards that comes with filmmaking at this scale—or when creating any form of art. In the wedding filmmaking industry, most companies’ histories can be traced back to one or two friends or partners picking up a camera as a hobby and scaling the business in their garage through their blood, sweat, and tears. Filmmakers’ brands become synonymous with their personalities. Stylistic shooting and editing choices grow to be the thumbprint of a filmmaker’s identity, so it can be extremely difficult to hear critique with an open mind.

Breaking down these walls is where the Wedding Film Retreat community really shines.

The most vivid example of this aspect was our group activity on the second night of the retreat. Susan Fielding at Light Parade Films boldly volunteered to have Sarah critique one of her films live in front of the whole group. Sarah’s feedback didn’t disappoint. Every point was delivered with grace and with the intention of being constructive for Susan to improve her craft and elicit the feelings she strives for in her films. It was powerful to hear the dialogue open up the room and for Susan to participate as well, ingesting Sarah’s coaching openly and honestly.

I think I speak for everyone who was in the room when I say that the things Sarah highlighted were incredible. She not only identified specific aspects of the shots, sequences, and overall film that could benefit from some changes, but also gave deep and learned insight into why and how these subtle adjustments would strengthen the film. Sarah called out elements that affect a viewer’s subconscious—like seeing footage of a speaker with shifting eyes, or causing confusion through tight framing without first establishing the space.

The success of this activity is what I think paved the way for another one of the highlights of the event, which took place on the following night:

 Photo by Christian

Photo by Christian “Whitey” Pokrywka


Another brilliant and brave suggestion of Susan’s was for everyone to submit their first wedding film for the group to enjoy. It was completely voluntary to submit a film and Sarah mentioned she’d only received a handful of submissions. After about the first two or three films, we were hooked.

From there, Sarah’s inbox was flooded with even more submissions, each one having its own hilarious and telling signs of a budding filmmaker just beginning their journey. The room erupted into laughter countless times. A collective “ohhhhhhhh!” would frequently echo through our ocean-view living room as we watched films wrapped with white vignettes, shots of wedding guests eating, less-than-tactfully-edited bride dress faux pas, and an impressive range of transition effects.

The undisputed winner however, was the film submitted by Peter Aponte. The sound of the ocean waves were drowned out as the entire room shouted in amazement at the fully-animated ending of Peter’s first film. The time and dedication that Peter put into that sequence were beyond belief! He’d constructed a three-dimensional ballroom fully furnished with photos of the wedding couple and life-sized, rotoscoped people! Every jaw hit the floor and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Peter received a standing ovation and took a victory lap up to the balcony to bask in his win.

I truly think that this activity united everyone on an entirely new level. By laughing at ourselves and embracing others laughing at us too, we were able to reconnect with the journeys we’ve all made as artists and to realize that we’ve made substantial growth since creating our first films. Being that we were all attending an event centered around continuing education, it’s evident that our growth will only continue. Maybe there will be a day in the future where we’re able to laugh at the work we’re producing today, and to recognize that we’re doing our best with the knowledge and skillset we have.

 Jonathan breaking down pricing structure.

Jonathan breaking down pricing structure.

Focused while being well-rounded

One of the first things I noticed as a differentiator for Wedding Film Retreat was its structure. While most conferences and workshops host a wide range of speakers and topics, Sarah and Rick successfully crafted an engaging experience around a limited number of presentations—four to be exact. I was curious to see how this would play out, and I’ve got to say, I was pleasantly surprised!

Since I ended up making it to the retreat halfway through the first day of classes, I completely missed Matt Johnson’s relational filmmaking presentation and only saw half of Jonathan Snyder’s pricing class ???? I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen them both speak before, as well as get know them on a personal level, so I’m confident they killed it and gave attendees tons of valuable and tangible information. The two classes I did get to see were Henry Martens’ discussion on finding your voice and Sarah’s presentation on getting your films noticed—and sometimes stolen!

I came to realize that this spread of classes offered 4 integral pillars of running a successful business:

  1. Relationships
  2. With such a saturated and growing industry like filmmaking, couples have limitless options to choose from. Forming an emotional connection with inquiring couples can often be the best approach to seeing continued bookings. Plus, having skin in the game helps keep your projects feeling fresh and less of a chore.
  3. Pricing
  4. Obviously businesses need to make money to exist, but oftentimes money isn’t the motivating factor when beginning a company based on a passion or hobby. Filmmakers need to be savvy in their pricing structure, and guiding clients toward options that benefit both sides is integral to sustaining and building a business.
  5. Style
  6. Once a client is won over on a relational level and agreed to pay your asking rate, now it’s time to deliver! Your film has to match the quality and feel that justifies the price and feels authentic to the relationship you’ve formed. Not only that, it’s important that it keeps you creatively fulfilled so that you can sustain the style for many projects to come.
  7. Distribution
  8. Finally, it’s on to delivery of that product—not only to the couple, but to the world at-large. Your business’s growth depends on continuously generating new leads, getting your films in front of new eyes, and starting the relationship cycle over again. In a web-based industry like wedding filmmaking, playing the SEO game and getting top rankings is key.

Wedding Film Retreat 2020 boasted an impressive lineup that knocked it out of the park on all four of these topics. It was a refreshing format that focused on a deep and narrow exploration of integral business practices.

 Me with Rick and Sarah from  PenWeddings !

Me with Rick and Sarah from PenWeddings !

I’m so thrilled to have been invited to attend Wedding Film Retreat. As you plan out your educational budget and workshop schedule, make sure you seriously consider adding this experience into your year. I’m not certain where next year’s conference will be held, but don’t let the international venue dissuade you! As someone who has rarely travels alone, trust me, it’s easier and more approachable than you might think.

Pro tip – check out the Mobile Passport app to ease your journey back through U.S. customs. Thanks Brian and Shelly!