WHEN lovers become colleagues, they often find it is bad for business, and romance. But for Elizabeth Ashlea Wood and Gabriel Spektor Nussbaum, both 26, the immersion of teaching children in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans and making a documentary together further melded their hearts.
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Photograph by Gordon M. Grant for The New York Times
“It didn’t add pressure to our relationship,” Mr. Nussbaum said. “It formed our relationship.”
They had first noticed each other on a morning in October 2005, at an East Hampton cafe during the Hamptons International Film Festival. Mr. Nussbaum was there to show his first feature film, “Treasure,” but was moaning to a friend, Hannah Grady, that he just could not find the right girl.
“Someone like her?” Ms. Grady suggested, pointing to an exquisite-looking sprite with wild red hair. That was Ms. Wood, who was bobbing in laughter with friends in a booth.
Mr. Nussbaum vowed to speak with the redhead “by 4 p.m.” But Ms. Wood left the cafe before he could approach.
That same day, well before the clock struck 4, he spotted her again during a screening in a nearby art gallery. He maneuvered over to her through the crowd and asked whether she had worked on the festival entry being shown, “The Saffron Limited,” a short film about Christo’s “Gates” installation in Central Park.
“Yes, I shot the good parts,” replied Ms. Woods, a photo-animator on the picture.
As it happened, she had noticed Mr. Nussbaum back at the cafe. “He was the cutest guy I had ever seen,” she said.
After the screening, Mr. Nussbaum, a New York native and a graduate of New York University, told her of his film. Suitably impressed, she exchanged information with Mr. Nussbaum, who then gave her and her friends a ride to catch the Hampton Jitney.
That night Ms. Wood, who grew up in Oklahoma City and arrived in New York shortly before 9/11, e-mailed Mr. Nussbaum. She wondered if she had left her cellphone in his car. She had not, but he grabbed the chance to ask her to accompany him upstate the next week to the Storm King Art Center, a sculpture park.
On the date, “The chemistry was through the roof,” recalled Ms. Wood, who was entranced by his pale green eyes and proper, polite manner, not to mention the picnic lunch he had prepared. “I was just giddy.”
They were soon inseparable.
On a New Year’s trip with her family to New Orleans that December, Ms. Wood was alarmed by the condition of the city, still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. After reading that the public schools — those that were open anyway — would have to drop all arts programs, she telephoned Mr. Nussbaum and said: “Let’s go down here and volunteer. You teach theater, and I’ll teach film.”
Once back in New York, she and Mr. Nussbaum held cocktail party fund-raisers and asked friends to donate videocameras. By spring 2006, the couple arrived in New Orleans for what they thought would be just a few weeks.
They immediately offered their services at the James M. Singleton Charter Middle School and gave cameras to a group mostly consisting of eighth graders to record their experiences.
“We started with five kids, and by the third week we had 30 kids in the room,” Ms. Wood remembered.
Working, living and creating together, she and Mr. Nussbaum fell in love. Ms. Wood said that in an “intense situation with people who were hurting and traumatized” she learned that “Gabriel has a unique ability to make things happen, make an idea or a concept real. To me it was like magic.”
As weeks turned into months, Mr. Nussbaum found her “sense of empathy” very appealing, he recalled. Being in a “totally foreign environment” and feeling “really responsible for these kids,” he said, served to cement the couple’s relationship.
When they went to Louisiana, making a film from what the children produced had not been part of their plan. They quickly saw that their students’ work was very compelling. The couple also found that in developing it they had entered a creative caldron.
“We are both fully stubborn and fully committed to our own artistic vision,” Mr. Nussbaum said. Each learned to listen to the other, yet “fight when you needed to fight. Once you know that someone loves you back and is going to forgive you if you get mad, you have a lot more freedom to get creative.”
They spent nine months shaping 300 hours of video into a documentary, “Wade in the Water, Children.” And its premiere in 2007 put them back where they started, at the Hamptons Film Festival.
As intense as that project was, they soon began another. They flew to California to interview Mr. Nussbaum’s 97-year-old grandmother Ruth Nussbaum for a documentary about her prewar experiences in Berlin and later in Hollywood, where her late husband, Rabbi Max Nussbaum, converted Elizabeth Taylor to Judaism.
Last October, on the third anniversary of their first meeting, Mr. Nussbaum proposed in their West Village home, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono had once been tenants.
They were wed on June 6, as a nippy fog rolled in and 200 guests, including Ruth Nussbaum, gathered under a cherry tree in the garden of his parents’ Amagansett home. The ceremony was led by Dr. Arlis Wood, Ms. Wood’s father and a Church of Christ minister, and Cantor Debra Stein sang blessings.
The bride, wearing a pale mocha silk gown with peacock blue straps and a temporary “Elizabeth-Gabriel” tattoo on her arm, giggled and shouted, “I do.”
After a buffet of pulled-pork sliders and fried macaroni and cheese balls, friends and family paid tribute to the couple with a song and dance revue. Then Mr. Nussbaum stood and serenaded his bride with a Johnny Mercer song, “My Sugar Is So Refined.”
The bridegroom summed up their union this way: “As beautiful as Elizabeth is, as sexy as she is, as funny as she is, the thing that I am marrying her for is how incredibly compassionate she is, and how she has been able to teach me effortless compassion toward others.”