Before the holidays, you may have shared, "Liked" or received Savannah College of Art and Design alum Tony Pombo’s (M.F.A., film and television, 2008) viral wedding video. His Atlanta-based production company Iris Films documented a husband (Steven) surprising his wife (Kelli) with an epic anniversary celebration, then watched the social media stratosphere explode with admiration. It’s proof that good work speaks for itself. With a season full of engagements complete, and eager brides gearing up to plan their nuptials, the timing couldn’t be better for Tony’s business. Here’s the story behind the video and his success as an entrepreneur. It’s not Tony's first viral video.
Thread: What do you think about all the attention your video has received? How did it get picked up by BuzzFeed and Cosmopolitan?
Tony Pombo: This video has been a whirlwind for me. It has gotten all kinds of exposure, which is fantastic. When completed, I sent it over to the husband in the video for review. He loved it and put it on his YouTube channel immediately. Slowly but surely, it got more and more hits and shares. Before we knew it, it was being picked up by all sorts of media outlets. Pretty exciting stuff.
T: How did this collaboration between you and the client unfold?
TP: It came about just as any other wedding video would go. He took a look at my work and really liked the look and feel that I have in my videos, so he reached out. This was months and months prior to the big day. We were in constant contact throughout and discussed all aspects of the shoot.
T: Tell us about directing the video and your production decisions: crew, cameras, audio, etc.
TP: We have filmed all sorts of weddings, from the fun and quirky, to million dollar extravaganzas. One of the key things I learned from my experience is that traveling light is the best way to go. I keep all of my essentials within arms reach, but the smaller the better. For this shoot, there were two videographers (myself and another), two cameras (Canon 5D Mark III and Mark II), and two lavaliere packs that I mic’d the husband and the rabbi with. The husband hired a coordinator to go over the logistics of people moving, arranging the band, keeping secrets, etc. I met with them to stay in the loop and it all went flawlessly.
T: What storytelling devices or techniques did you call upon?
TP: One of the biggest things was getting the story from the horse’s mouth as soon as we got there. That way, I wouldn’t need to waste a lot of time with slates telling us what was going on. We were able to hear it from the husband and hear the excitement and passion in his voice. Another thing was that he had originally planned for me to film his wife getting blindfolded and then follow them in a separate car back to the house. I suggested that we lead her into the backseat instead while I rode in the front so we could get a firsthand look and her initial reaction.
T: When it comes to a viral video, do you think it’s the content or the form that compels people to share it?
TP: It’s really a toss up, as it could be either or a combination of both. You never really know what is going to get picked up or not. Sometimes it’s just a feeling. For example, I had a feeling that this would be big the moment I heard the idea. I had another video go viral about a month before this one. It’s a personal video that I did where we revealed to my mom the gender of our baby. I knew that it would hit big just because of my mom’s reaction. I got calls from Yahoo and The Ellen Show and all sorts of places. It just goes to show that it could be something you just randomly shoot on your phone or a produced piece. It just happens.
T: Why did you get into the wedding business? Wedding videography seems to have evolved significantly.
TP: I was working as a creative director for a company after graduating from SCAD. I decided to shoot weddings on the weekends, as they were not a conflict of interest with my job and I could make some extra cash. I did my first few weddings for free to get an idea of how they are. I really liked it. They are extremely fast-paced and hectic at times, but I meet tons of really amazing people and contacts all the time, which have led to all sorts of other work. People seemed to like my take on weddings and I was getting more and more popular. Enough so that I was able to leave my job and focus on my business full-time. It has been a dream come true. And, yes, the wedding videography scene is not like it was 10-20 years ago. People get a chance to have an actual cinematic experience where they are the stars instead of their uncle with a handy cam capturing their day. It really is an awesome opportunity for the couples.
T: What are the benefits of using your film degree outside of the mainstream industry?
TP: I think it just helps to add a bit more validity to what I do. I am very proud of my MFA degree and I know that it gives me a bit of an advantage when being compared to others in my field.
T: As a professional storyteller, what advice do you give your clients on documenting their most important memories?
TP: My biggest advice is just to be yourself. Every wedding is different because the people are different. And that is a great thing. Even people who are camera shy, that is totally fine. They just get lost in the moment of the day while spending it with their new spouse that they forget we are even there. I like to try and make it feel that I have known, not only the couple, but all of their friends and family for years. Like I am an old friend coming in to shoot their wedding for them. To be honest, this is one of my best secrets that people talk about when recommending me to others. Personality on the day is so crucial.
T: How did SCAD prepare you to form a successful production company?
TP: SCAD helped me the most by giving me a direction to follow in my life. When I graduated from my undergraduate university, I was still a bit lost on which path I wanted to go down. I was passionate but not the most confident in my work. SCAD helped me evolve and grow as a filmmaker and as an adult, which ultimately led to my business.
T: What insights would you share with film students or those looking to attend film school?
TP: Be open to new ideas and new people. This is such a collaborative industry where it is all about networking and being social. You are going to work with people that you might not necessarily have hung out with before attending film school, and more often than not, they will inspire you and help you grow as an artist.
T: What’s next for you and Iris?
TP: I am branching further into branding and creative, corporate work along with more fun and exciting weddings. I also want to get back to my film roots and create another short film or two in the near future. I just had my first little girl a few months back and she has become my full inspiration to tackle the world. 2015 is going to be great.