Interview with Jeff and Michelle Maeck Weddings

Last November I had the pleasure to photograph a wedding at Revival House in Stratford, and two of the pivotal and wonderful people that were responsible for making it all happen, were Jeff and Michelle from Maeck weddings. After it all went down, I knew that I wanted to sit down and have a chat with them.

As a wedding photographer, I see a lot of wedding ceremonies and wedding officiants. That said, there seemed to be something special about these two. So one chilly day, in March I made the trek to visit their wonderful home in Kitchener Ontario. I took the back roads, and halfway there the flakes began to fly, but it didn't stay cold as I was warmly greeted into their awesome home.

So after discussing insurance needs for wine cellars (or lack therof), and sharing some laughs we sat down to it. I wanted to ask questions, sort of from a bride’s perspective. And also from a photographers. In preparation, I googled questions to ask your wedding planner and wedding officiant, before you book. The questions were terrible, ha! So I didn't have a script. We’d do it live!

So what's the deal with Maeck weddings?

We are wedding planners who started in the business six or seven years ago, basically we do coordination and planning of people's weddings. We can be involved in is much or as little of the wedding process as you'd like us to be. Things started well, and  a few years later, we branched out into wedding officiating. It always seemed like something that would be fun and interesting to do. We were always referring officiating out to other vendors, they were great, but putting it diplomatically we thought there was room for improvement. So many areas of weddings have improved dramatically, the quality of photography or videography for example. We just asked ourselves why isn't the ceremony getting the same treatment?  It's the centrepiece, and really the big reason that you are getting together, why you're having everyone to come and see you on this big day!

So, officiating, we aim to avoid the old archaic and formulaic methods. Let's get to know you, let's figure out how we can fit this to you best. Let's make this really something great. More of a bespoke feel. And that really starts with getting to know you.

A quick example; one thing that people do, to customize their wedding is to ask someone to read. You're the bride and the groom, whomever you ask is going to say yes. They are going to want to make you happy. But before you ask them you really need to think about, is this the right person to ask? Are they going to be super nervous? You want them to enjoy the day as well, and do a great job, not just sweat and fret because they're going to have to do a reading, or a speech. This is not a small detail, and it can be easily overlooked.

Everyone finds themselves in a different spot.

We meet with couples who are in different stages in the planning process, some are saying we have zero planned we work way too much, and we need some help to put this together. Others say, I don't know what all these things should cost, and we need a second opinion, we need help to make sure what we're getting is fair.

So what sort of couples are a great fit for your services?

More now, than when we started the couples who find us are couples who really see that we love each other. We get to do this together, we work together, we enjoy it and we want to get to know these couples really well. Know them on a different level, than most people want to. We want to get to know their story. We get to step into their lives, at a time where they are making the most important decision of their lives. We get to help shape not just a day, but their marriage moving forward.

We always say that you need to know and like all of your vendors, but there are two big ones where that is especially true! First, your wedding planner who is going to be walking you through your entire process. You better like them, as you need to spend a lot of time with them both on the day, and in preparation leading up to the wedding. And the second one is your photographer. On the day of you are going to be spending a lot of time with them, so make sure you meet them, make sure you get along with them. Their work can be incredible, but if you don't get along with them, your photos might not turn out the way you want. You see all these incredible wedding shots in a portfolio and think that looks easy, but at the time if you're not at ease with your photographer, it might not be so simple.

As a quick wedding planning aside, at your reception don't stick your wedding planner, and your photographer down the hall. We realize that space is limited, but we need to be there, to help things run smoothly to anticipate things happening, to capture moments. You spent all this money, to have them there and then you stick them down the hall, or in another room. They should really be sitting at one of the tables, and with a decent view.

It's amazing the bond that is formed, while planning the wedding. So much so, that at the end of the wedding, at the end of the night, it can seem like were saying goodbye to a good friend. We keep in touch, with many of our couples after the wedding. But we've been through so much, and built so much trust, and respect it can almost be hard to see them go. They're all grown up now!

Make sure you trust your vendors.

How do you build that trust?

It starts from the very beginning, when we sit down with a couple. We are very fortunate that we found an area, where were comfortable and genuinely excited. Our attitude is sort of, come on in… we're excited for you! It's really natural for us. We don't have to try and be excited. We have big smiles, your engaged, you're getting married that's a big deal!

Often, after a wedding we hear a lot of times, that we knew right away that you two were for us. It's something we place a ton of emphasis on, we really value and cherish that.

If you feel like Jeff's not the right guy for you to officiate your wedding, we promise we will not be offended! We’d rather you go with someone else you feel better with. Jeff loves to tell stories, and be involved, if you’re looking for someone more laid back, that’s fine too. We want you to feel connected with your officiant. Truth be told, not everyone is going to be a perfect fit.

So how will I know if you’re likely a good fit?

If you go through our website, and read through it all the way, the chances are if you want to inquire at that point, you're gonna be a good fit. We rarely get the, hey are you available for my date?” Anymore. Instead we get a story, from couples who love each other and who are really excited about their wedding.

We get inquiries from fledgling wedding planners and officiants who are just getting started, who ask for help, on how to get their business started well. And really what we have to tell them is, it's our style. There is no secret. We are always striving to do better, make the process simpler, or smoother but ultimately we've really found our style.

So I suspect that you two might be for me…

Absolutely, the next step is to reach out so that we can meet. If you're in town we can get together at our place or meet for coffee, if there's a distance we can always meet over Skype.

When you're planning a wedding, there's lots of things that you don't know you don't know. And that's where we can try and help, to steer you in the right direction.

Couples will say for example, and are eager to share: oh we rented a tent! That’s great! But our next question will be, does the tent have sides? Why would it need to have sides? Because rain doesn't always come straight up and down.  Those little things, you think you've got it covered. But we've been to the weddings without sides on the tent, when it probably should have had them. Or our reception, it’s outside in open air. So pretty! We saw it on pintrest. Awesome? How are your placecards held down? Because they are gonna blow everywhere. Just all those tiny little details.

There are bigger things too. We want to have a barn wedding! Nice and simple, and DIY.  That's great. Just realize, they're way more work. You might think, that you're saving a bunch of money, and doing it on the. But, after you factor in renting washrooms, and a generator and bartenders and everything else that goes with a barn wedding, all those costs can add up quickly.

Macro and micro things. There are a lot of potential blind spots.

Any other common pitfalls?

A really common thing, that can happen is that parents can have unwritten expectations. A week before the rehearsal, the parents ask when are you doing this or where are you doing that? And the answer is, well we aren’t doing “that”. Unmet expectations can make for a lot of friction. You have to have, those conversations early. An experienced wedding planner is going to foresee those challenges. What are mom and dad's expectations? Are mom and dad helping to pay for this? Does that mean they get a lot of say? Creative control? I want this, I want that, and I'm inviting 20 of my friends. Guest lists, and budgets can blow up quickly.

Sounds like a lot! I am learning something here.

Whether it's planning or officiating, we are really coaching. We're figuring out expectations. Jeff actually became a facilitator for marriage coaching. We don't want to plan a day, and then send you off… Okay Best of luck you're on your own, in life and in your marriage!! We kinda want to have more of an impact. Marriage is difficult and it's an amazing thing and you go into it so optimistically. But there are conversations you should have before you are married. So the coaching that we do with couples, (highly encouraged, but not mandatory) we sit down over a few sessions and we work through an assessment they completed individually at first, it generates a report and that I chat to them about it together.

It gets out unwritten or unsaid expectations (again we come back to expectations!), for example: we will do holidays this way. Well, my family is expecting us here, and my family's expecting this. It can cause friction. Which isn’t bad. Two lives and two families are coming together as one, some difficulty is completely normal. But it really helps to have some of  it worked out ahead of time.

This past year more and more couples are doing full planning. Planning, coordinating, officiating, coaching. So much so that we even added a second tier to our full planning, where we will do just about everything for them. Our couples are busy, they have a couple jobs, a dog, a side hustle and they just don't have time to plan a wedding on top of it all. So we send those emails, set up meetings, post invites and take care of it all.

Through it all that relationship is central, we've had brides who want hold our hands before the ceremony. We become, almost members of the wedding party, members of the family and it never fails to amaze just how attached we can get to someone, in such a short period of time.

So how does someone really customize a ceremony?

The ceremony really sets the tone for the day. If you do a great job and you nail it, it really sets the tone for your guests.  There are some parts, that have to be included. The government makes it so, we can’t skip the official stuff. But there are other parts, where we get to craft a bit more, how the ceremony takes place. We believe that it should gradually get more and more exciting and end in that kiss. One crescendo that ends in sparks flying.

In and effort to improve our message, one other thing we do, is sit down and meet with couples who have been married for 50 years or more. We try and glean some wisdom, pull out some threads that go into the tapestry of a vibrant and long lasting marriage, and craft a message around those gems.

Typically, we always encourage our couples to write their own vows. People are often nervous about this, they don't want to screw it up, but we've always got your back. We have some very simple tips to make sure that it's going to go well.

Some of the most memorable moments in a ceremony are the vows. It's a great opportunity to make it more your own. We ask couples to send us their vows whenever they have them done, hopefully a month or two in advance. Write it early on, you can always revisit it closer to. We will have them loaded on the iPad as a backup copy just in case you forgot to bring them with you in the hustle of the day. Also, we can just make sure they're similar length and tone, you don't want one party speaking for 10 minutes pouring their heart out in a soul filled soliloquy, and the other partner speaks for 30 seconds. It's not a great look. It's still up to you, but we've given you the heads up if the vows differ in length.

So what is a great question to ask a wedding planner? That people should ask, but rarely do.

What is the worst thing that you've ever had to deal with on a wedding day? How did you deal with it?

Our answer would have to be, we had a tent wedding and a tornado warning, and the water was coming in and it just kept filling and filling, the bride's dress was soaked. We had to move, everybody into the house that was on the property. Fortunately, we had someone from the fire department there, who was able to get on the mic and sort of order everybody out of the tent. The bride was game, grabbed a bottle of wine from the table and said okay, let's go! The tornado did touch down, but it was all over in about a half hour. Dinner got a bit cold, but we were able to carry on.

Experienced wedding professionals have seen it all before, and they are going to keep a cool head when things go sideways. We have to have backup plans, we have to have something in place. We don’t have the luxury of being in denial. We need to be able to deal with the weather. Rain, heat, tornados. Yes we hope that your big day in July is going to be perfect, but if it is torrential rain, we are prepared!

My take…

To me, Michelle and Jeff seem like the ultimate package! With as much or as little involvement in the big day as you would like, that’s incredibly flexible. A wealth of wisdom and a really genuine, youthful and interested style. If you have a look at their website, and it strikes a cord. Reach out quickly, as I’m sure they book up well in advance. I’d have to say I’m ultra impressed that they aren’t just in it for the quick, hi and bye. The couples that I know who have had Maeck Weddings to help plan and officiate their wedding, are friends after the fact! How great is that?

These two are really remarkable, and are pushing the envelope in a wedding space that regrettably often seems to be lagging behind.

Davidiam Photography approved, I give ‘em two thumbs up.