Dubbed "the Chip and Joanna Gaines" of the wedding industry, the Wheatons are capturing real-life love stories around the world.
- Posted on Oct 26, 2018
Toni and Chris Wheaton are being called the Chip and Joanna Gaines of the wedding industry.
It’s not a title they’ve invented for themselves, but considering they’re a young, married couple who works together and has their own reality TV series on Amazon Prime, the slogan sticks.
The Wheatons have been capturing some of the most high-profile, lavish weddings around the world for the past decade, building their own production company, Heartstone Films, from the ground up. They’ve photographed ceremonies of celebrities like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and The Bachelorette’s Emily Maynard. They’ve traveled to exotic locales like Italy, Scotland, Aruba, and Mexico. And they’ve done it all as a team, suffering through faulty equipment, scheduling conflicts, bad weather and creating a work-life balance together, as a couple.
And they’ve learned some things along the way. Their first piece of advice to couples looking to work together?
“Have a foundation of being friends first,” Toni tells Guideposts.org.
Toni and Chris met in their early 20s at her father’s church. The two like to joke that Chris never even noticed her while Toni harbored a huge crush on him, but the reality is they became friends and cultivated that relationship first for nearly five years before they began dating. Toni had dreamed of becoming a photographer, capturing her family’s mission trips, while Chris was interested in sports before a career-ending injury derailed his plans. Just six months into their marriage the couple had an idea: to start photographing weddings full-time using their own production company.
“I was more than ready to jump in. Both feet, head first, feet first, whole body. I was ready to do it,” Chris says, adding, “I think that there was a lot of being naïve and young in there.”
While Toni had years of experience behind the camera, Chris was beginning from scratch, learning the ropes from his wife and setting up a foundation, not only for their business, but for their marriage as well.
“Your marriage is a priority, and your relationship as husband and wife and as friends is a priority over the business relationship. Try not to blur those lines together,” Chris advises. “Part of that has to be learned because there's always going to be times when that can be tested and tried. Within the business, the best thing we ever did is, because we work so closely together, is just defining our specific roles in the business; what our jobs were, what we're responsible for. And I think that helps take a lot of heat out of potential conflicts that you're going to have.”
Starting your own company in your mid 20’s, not even a year into your marriage sounds like a tall order, but with the challenges came the rewards.
“We learned how to be strong when the other’s weak,” Chris says.
For Toni, owning a business with her husband showed her a new side of the man she married.
“We went kind of all in and that showed such a deep commitment in Chris, to me, outside of our marriage, too.”
Ten years, one two-year-old named Elijah, and a reality series on Amazon Prime later, Toni and Chris Wheaton still have a passion for telling a couple’s love story. It’s why they decided to document their work, filming and producing their own show, Weddings with the Wheatons. In it, audiences get a glimpse of the couple's quirky, fun-loving romance, their hectic, often chaotic lifestyle, their travels, their struggles, and their joy in creating a beautiful memory for a deserving couple.
“When we're with a couple, we're with them at the start of their marriage, we're not with them for the duration, Chris explains. “But we're giving them this film that's a gift and a tool for them to use for the duration of their marriage. I mean, we had a couple come back to us, we saw them three or four years after their wedding day. And they stopped us and they were like, ‘Hey guys, we just want to let you know, the wedding film that you created was really beautiful, but it's such a tool for us because, you know, when we're going through difficult times in our marriage, or if we're spending time away from each other, we watch our wedding film. And that helps us remember, and remind us of the covenant we made, and the commitment we made on our wedding day.”
“That just clicked with us,” Chris continues. “We really felt like God was speaking to us, saying this is the purpose behind what you're doing. Yeah, you're going to make beautiful videos of this beautiful wedding day. But you're really giving a couple a tool that can help them in their marriage. And so, we’ve just latched on to that. We take that perspective when we're filming when we're editing. And we really try to tell that story. Knowing this is going to be something that can really help their marriage.”
With 400 weddings in the books, the Wheatons have learned quite a few tricks of the trade. The most important lesson: things will never go as planned.
“We've done 400 weddings and no wedding that we've filmed has ever gone 100% according to plan,” Chris says with Toni adding they’ve had to sit through hours-long rain delays and other disasters in order to get the perfect shot. What it’s taught them?
“At the end of the day, that stuff isn't as important as two people coming together.”
It’s something they focus on with their show as well: the power of love to overcome all obstacles.
“We kind of have a mission statement on our show and in our business that states, ‘We believe in love.” And we really do,” Toni explains. “Our business turned 10 this year and we've celebrated 10 years of marriage. This year has been the best and hardest year of our relationship personally. And so, you know, we've just committed to working through whatever together, no matter what. Because we've made that commitment to each other, and we believe in love. And I would hope that people would be able to be entertained through our nonsense, and also see the love and relationship that we do have. And that we are not perfect. And we are walking a road now, together, that we're committed to going through.”
Chris echoes that sentiment.
“This is what real marriage is like. It's not perfect and sunshine and rainbows all the time. We’re courageous enough to, and vulnerable enough to put it out there in hopes that it will help people, and inspire them in their own relationships.”
And if you’re wondering after 400 weddings, what still chokes both up about the job, the answer is simple: dogs.
“If there’s a dog in your wedding, I’m done,” Toni jokes.
Future couples take note.