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The YPSI 24-Hour Shootout is a popular filmmaking competition that asks teams of filmmakers to produce a short film in the span of 24 hours. At the start of the shootout, several “ingredients” are announced. They may include a line of dialog, a prop, a location, or any other requirement for the film being produced. This element forces teams to think on their feet. As a filmmaker who has participated in two YPSI24 events, I’ve put together a few tips to help you survive this intense experience.
A pre-determined style or technique will help inform your script.
TESTING THE WORKFLOW
Before each 24 hour shootout, I think about a style that would be challenging to implement in 24 hours. A pre-determined technique will also force you to create a story that will fit within the parameters that you set. At this year’s YPSI24, I wanted to execute a continuous one take shot across multiple locations. This would be extremely challenging without testing so I experimented with a range of equipment to create the right recipe. Too much equipment would bog us down and too little gear would compromise the production value.
The unsung hero – my cheapo $80 fisheye lens for the GH4.
Our main gear list included my trusty Birdycam Lite gimbal, the Panasonic GH4 and a super cheap $80 CCTV Micro 4/3 8mm f3.8 Fisheye Lens that I bought off eBay. My goal was to shoot 4k with a very wide focal length that I could defish in post if necessary. The lens provided a very interesting image that simulated surveillance footage while also giving off some interesting flaring effects against the sunlight.
Sometimes enthusiasm trumps experience when it comes to 24 hour filmmaking – choose your crew wisely.
CREATE YOUR TEAM
As a team captain, you are involved in every step of production but assembling your cast and crew to delegate roles is an important, if not THE most important part of a successful 24 hour shootout. This does not automatically mean choosing the most experienced filmmakers (obviously it helps), but rather, the most enthusiastic group of people who are willing to put in a lot of highly concentrated time into their roles. People who can think on their feet and discover creative solutions on the fly are some of the best folks to work with in a 24 hour shootout.
For our 24 hour short “The Delivery”, the concept was simple – a heated argument between a couple gets resolved. It’s the sci-fi elements that happen in between which add flavor.
GET TO THE POINT
Telling small stories with a simple conflict helps to streamline your script and give the audience a way to connect with your film without being bogged down by long exposition shots or monologues that don’t move the plot along. Think about classic conflicts in literature – man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, man vs. self and man vs. technology. Having a basic conflict thought out in advance can make it easier to implement your ingredients and create obstacles that your protagonist must overcome. Don’t let your film be the one that makes the audience check their watches during the final screening. Remember, every minute counts. Don’t waste them!
Always keep things social and fun, especially when your team is going above and beyond the call of duty.
STEER THE SHIP
How you organize your shoot depends on your script, the equipment and how much experience you have but there’s a few things that can make a set run more efficiently. Always keep things social and fun. Having the cast and crew together will create a natural camaraderie that’s reflected on screen but with such a tight time crunch, you want people around who are great under pressure and don’t lose their cool by the slightest change in plans. Keep the entire team involved and active during the shoot and they’ll be more inclined to chime in with ideas that can improve the script.
“The Delivery” 2nd Place Winner of the 2016 YPSI24-Hour Shootout
FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
Participate in a 24 hour film shootout because you want to have fun and challenge yourself. Taking it far too seriously can lead to unnecessary frustration. Sure it’s a competition but it’s more about enriching your current artistic relationships and forging new ones. Get rid of the idea of winning awards and know that your 24 hour movie will always be remembered as a bold experience amongst your peers. Check out our 2016 YPSI24 short “The Delivery” above and remember to always stay inspired!
Photo Credit: Jessica Bibbee
After racking up hours of DIY electric longboarding videos, I’d like to share some of the tools that I use for capturing high speed action. If you recall from my original DIY Electric Longboard build article, I was initially inspired to use an eboard as a dolly when paired with my camera gimbal. As I got into high speed riding with eboards I needed a way to capture the action and feel of a ride through inventive, hard to reach camera angles. Here’s a very compact setup that’s easy to handle while in the midst of all the action.
The Xiaomi Yi has been my main action camera for quite some time. At around $80 you get a wi-fi action cam that records 2k videos with natural colors, definition and solid low light ability. The quality is comparable to the GoPro Hero3+ and the best feature is the 1/4-20 female thread on the bottom which allows better compatibility for clamps and rigs instead of GoPro’s proprietary mounting system. The Wi-Fi app is super easy to use for live preview and remote recording. You could pick up three Xiaomi Yi’s for the price of one GoPro Hero3+ which is a value that’s really hard to beat.
ACTION CAMERA GIMBAL
The Came-TV 3-Axis Action Gimbal is a 32-bit gimbal that features brushless motors with Encoders. Encoders are often used in Robotics for highly accurate monitoring of motor position. This helps prevent motors from losing synchronization and skipping steps, provides important information about frame and camera angles, increases battery life, increases torque and the precision of stabilization. The gimbal is constructed from aluminum alloy, weighs in at a very light 300 grams, has a 1/4-20 female thread and is compatible with the Xiaomi Yi.
PAINTER POLE ADAPTER
This DIY Painter Pole Adapter is designed to connect to the top of a standard paint pole and turn it into a very long monopod. It’s made of CNC machined aluminum with an anodized black finish and has a 1/4-20 male stud to fit perfectly with the Came Action Gimbal. Alternately, you can use this with a small ball head for accessories or even as a microphone boom pole.
The Shur-Line Easy Reach 60″ Adjustable Extension Pole extends from 30″ to 60″ with almost no flex. It also features an ergonomic handle and is great for capturing hard-to-reach shots. With a painter’s pole I’m able to get the camera as close to the action as possible. One shot I like to do is having a rider cut in front of me as I raise the pole from bottom to top to create a booming effect.
Mileage may vary depending on your stance on the eboard but since I ride goofy and use the eboard trigger remote on my right hand – I keep the painter pole tucked under my left shoulder while balancing the whole rig on my left hand. This position lets me use my whole body to maneuver the camera while still being able to lean and carve on the road.
For safety, I’d advise wearing full safety protection (helmet, pads, etc) and always keep your eye on the road through peripheral vision. Communication is also key so be sure to direct the rider and let them know if you see something cool. You’ll know that you’re nailing your technique when you forget that you’re filming and are focused on composition.
Electric longboards are super fun to ride and combine the feeling of longboarding and snowboarding except you can eboard anywhere with large, smooth pavement. With speeds that hover around 30mph and over, having a compact, lightweight rig is essential to capturing the rush of excitement that comes from eboarding. Also get creative – shoot some drone shots, capture B-Roll of your homies or clamp the action cam on the board itself. If you have any questions or suggestions hit me up in the comments below!
Ztylus has been releasing some of the best iPhone accessories for quite some time and their latest product, the premium Z-Prime Lens Kit is no exception. The Z-Prime claims to be a professional grade solution for serious photographers. But I’m mostly into video so in the clip above, I pair it with the Varavon Birdycam Lite to see if a Ztylus equipped iPhone could produce professional DSLR-style results. In short, I was blown away.
Ztylus Z-Prime Telephoto Lens for iPhone 6
Both the wide and telephoto lens contains 5 glass elements in 4 groups that enable corner to corner sharpness with ultra low distortion. Packaged with the two lenses is the iPhone Metal Series Case, a lens carrier, a pouch and lens cloth. Once again, Ztylus has reinvigorated the power of the iPhone. Be sure to click the banner below to receive 25% off all Ztylus products with our special RUNPLAYBACK referral code.
Here’s a quick field test of the Varavon Birdycam Lite using inverted mode. Inverted mode is a great way to get a higher angle without having to over extend your arms. It’s also useful for getting a clear view of your camera’s LCD screen without the need for an external field monitor. With an already light weight form factor, the Birdycam Lite is quickly becoming my favorite run and gun gimbal. Hit me up in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to visit the Varavon website for more details on the Birdycam Lite.
High quality video tripods have proven time and again the importance of stability, composition, and movement and will bring more to your productions than any other type of camera support system. However, a professional tripod system can typically cost a thousand dollars or more which is a lot to ask for budget conscious shooters.
I discovered that I could build a heavy duty video tripod for under $385 that consists of a fluid head, sticks (with dual rubber/spiked feet and spreader) and a bowl leveler for precise balance. Here’s how I did it…
The Manfrotto MVH500AH Fluid Head is designed with a wide platform, a weight load of 11lb and professional quality fluid cartridges on both its pan and tilt axes. The fluid head is the brains of a decent tripod and having a heavy duty Manfrotto as my main point of contact is always reassuring.
The 8.5lb ProAm Heavy Duty Tripod Legs are typically built for jib cranes but work great with the Manfrotto fluid head and even a slider as they can hold up to 80 lbs. The legs extend up to 72″ tall and it has a mid level spreader for added stability. The adjustable rubber or spiked feet are perfect for all kinds of terrain and with the included carrying bag, this makes the ProAm an exceptional deal for the quality.
A 100mm Riser is typically used as an intermediary for sliders and hi hats. I’ve discovered that they work perfectly with the ProAm tripod legs, effectively creating a wider platform for the Manfrotto fluid head as well as providing a more convenient way of leveling your shot without having to adjust the legs. The riser also features several 1/4-20 threaded holes for accessories.
The Desmond 100mm Half Ball Bowl Adapter is small enough to fit inside of the riser and facilitates the quick leveling of the Manfrotto fluid head which connects to the top 3/8-16 threaded screw.
So there you have it. For a grand total of $385 you can build a high quality tripod that rivals brands that cost almost three or four times as much! If you have any questions or suggestions, hit me up in the comments below.
Recently, I explained how to build a Shape style shoulder mount rig for under $300 and one essential part of the kit was the Kayo Maxtar V-Mount Li-Ion Battery. The Kayo Maxtar is the best, pound for pound V-Mount battery out right now. With a whopping 177Wh 12000mAh, the Kayo provides all day power for your camera and accessories like field monitors, audio recorders, lights, etc. There’s also an independent 5V/2.1A USB output perfect for charging your smart phone. Another cool feature is the included D-Tap battery charger which is a bargain considering most brands require you to buy a seperate charger. The Kayo Maxtar V-Mount battery is currently $228.99 which is less than what you would pay for most 98Wh Li-Ion batteries. And with our custom coupon code: RSH8BJNK, you will receive a 5% discount. This promotion is for a limited time only so don’t wait too long.
After a few years of having a bunch of DLSR parts cobbled together as my main run and gun shoulder rig, I decided to upgrade it with a few new bits that will be compatible for future compact camera systems. One rig that I’m especially fond of is the Shape Canon C100 Shoulder Mount. The quality of Shape products is awesome but at $600 it’s a little out of reach for some filmmakers. I discovered that with a little bit of perusing through eBay, you can put together a rig that’s more than half the price.
While there is a lot of crappy rig parts out there, the parts I list have been battle tested and hit that sweet spot of quality, affordability and performance. One thing to keep in mind is that I prefer to keep my rig as lightweight as possible in order to maximize my endurance on a shoot.
The backbone of any good rig are the rods. Aluminum rods offer maximum durability and grip but I find that carbon fiber rods shave off so much unnecessary weight that it’s tough to go back to aluminum. There’s some debate as to wether or not these are actually carbon fiber or a mixture of fiber glass and carbon fiber but either way, I’ve had these for years and they still hold up in all conditions.
Although I have the OEM Manfrotto 577 baseplate, the P200 Manfrotto Compatible Quick Release Plate + Adapter is a great alternative I found on Cheesycam. It’s more than half the price of the OEM Manfrotto 577 plate and even has a bubble level on the side. This plate attaches to the dual cheese plate mounting baseplate with 15mm rod clamps. With the cheese plate the same size as the Manfrotto baseplate, you save a lot of weight and real estate on the rig for other accessories.
PRICE (Manfrotto Compatible Baseplate): $19
PRICE (Cheese Plate): $48
Nothing beats Shape’s innovative push button design when it comes to their hand grips but I found something close. These 6 degree interval stop handle grips are compatible with the ARRI Rosette system which means you could upgrade the handles to something fancier albeit more expensive. With the included one piece 15mm rail block, these hand grips are an incredible deal and almost 1/4th the price of anything you’ll find at B&H.
For critical focus moments, I like to keep my right hand directly under the lens which is why I chose to include a front handle grip mounted right behind the main handles. Having a third handle is always useful when picking up the rig from the ground as the weight is evenly distributed when placing it over your shoulder.
I use this adjustable shoulder pad with my V-Mount Power Distributor which acts as a counterweight. It has numerous 1/4-20 mounting options and an adjustable structure which makes it great for getting the perfect angle for your shoulder. The velcro cover also makes it very easy to add foam cushioning if you prefer a softer pad.
So there you have it. For a grand total of $294 you get a pretty robust rig that can hold it’s own with the Shape Canon C100 Shoulder Mount for a savings of about $300. Hit me up in the comments and let me know what you are looking for in a camera rig.
Last week Arbor Day Pictures aka Nancy Mitchell, Hannah Mitchell and myself participated in YPSI24, a 24 hour shootout competition where we won second place amongst 40+ entries. It was an awesome experience to witness so many filmmakers of all levels express themselves using a variety of video techniques within experimental and narrative storytelling.
However, with a 24 hour time limit and a 3 person crew including myself (2 of whom were acting on camera), it was vital that I assemble an equipment package that worked for our story. Too much gear and I’d risk a lot of unncessary setup and breakdown time. Too little gear and I’d lose the visual storytelling that was essential for characterization. We were super honored to win an award and it may not have happened without our 24 Hour Shootout Survival Kit. So here’s how we did it.
A few weeks before the shoot, we bounced around some preliminary ideas, some that either proved too difficult or too time consuming. Finally, the night before YPSI24, Nancy assembled all of our initial ideas into a creepy story about supernatural revenge. Next, I fleshed out the summary into a rough, 5 page script which would be our blueprint for the day. We all agreed that the concept would remain loose in order to incorporate the YPSI24 “ingredients” that we would be given. Creating a script as a guide for our shotlist/schedule was definitely a critical part of our planning.
For Camera A support I went with the heavy duty yet light and portable 8.5lb ProAm Heavy Duty Tripod Legs which are typically built for jib cranes but work great with a Manfrotto fluid head and Konova K3 slider as they can hold up to 80 lbs. It even has a super convenient mid level spreader for added stability and adjustable rubber or spiked feet for all kinds of terrain. At $120 shipped, the ProAm Heavy Duty Tripod Legs are an exceptional deal for the quality.
Lighting was very minimal as we were mostly daylight dependent. For the ending interior shots we used a pair of budget friendly ePhoto 600 CN600HS LED Lights with Kayo Maxtar V-Mount Li-Ion Batteries. The Kayo Maxtar is a new addition to my kit and one of the best V-Mount battery options out right now. Fully charged, the Kayo can power these lights for up to 6 hours straight. Very impressive!
To keep our sound kit as light and simple as possible, I went with the Zoom H1, Rode Micro Boompole, Rode VideoMic Pro, Aspen HQ-S Lav Mic, P&C Handgrip and an audio extension cable. Our rule was that whoever wasn’t on camera would be the Sound Recordist. With some easy to remember sound recording basics and having a kit this simple ensured that no one would have to be a pro to capture quality sound.
THE CAMERA A KIT
Having some early success with the latest Panasonic V-Log color profile, I decided to use my workhorse GH4 mounted with a Metabones Canon FD Speedbooster and classic Canon FD glass – 20mm, 28mm, 50mm and 35-105mm. This combination would create a vintage, lived-in look that I thought would be perfect for a horror film.
I kitted out my GH4 shoulder rig with a Varavon Armor Cage, Aputure V-Screen field monitor, Fotga follow focus, Ikan Tilta V-Mount Plate and a Kayo Maxtar BP-GL175 Li-Ion Battery. With the Kayo, I was able to power the Aputure monitor and use it as a counterweight for the GH4. There’s also a convenient USB port located on the side which kept my iPhone charged at every location.
THE CAMERA B KIT
Our story included many scenes of walking through the woods so I wanted to incorporate gimbal tracking shots without having to spend any time balancing or breaking down the Camera A Kit. For this situation I went with the Ikan Fly-X3 Gimbal paired with the Xiaomi Yi Action Camera aka the $80 Chinese GoPro. Since these walking shots would include both Hannah and Nancy in the shot, it would leave me as the Sound Recordist. The Ikan Fly-X3 doesn’t have a 1/4-20 thread so I rigged a Joby GorillaPod to the handle and fitted it with a Rode VideoMic, Zoom H1, an audio extension cable and a pair of lightweight Auvio Headphones. With the shotgun mic I was then able to capture realtime location sound while also performing stable gimbal shots while walking backwards through the woods. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Another interesting rig we built was an Indy Mogul style DIY 3rd person POV action camera backpack. Designed with cheap PVC pipe from Home Depot, we mounted an Oben Mini Ballhead and the Xiaomi Yi on the rig to create the over the shoulder look during the “search” scenes in the woods. With the Xiamoi’s Wi-Fi app, I would be able to monitor the shots while giving direction to Nancy. We wanted to present an unusual sense of vertigo during these scenes since her character would become more desperate as day turned to night.
THE CAMERA C KIT
For a 24 Hour Shootout, it would be tempting to use the DJI Phantom 3 Professional as a shortcut for production value but we didn’t want to go that route. Our initial thought was that an aerial would take up valuable time that we could put towards characterization. Also, because of the hazardous weather conditions on the shoot day, flying a drone would prove too risky. However, nature was on our side when we had a small 10 minute window of clear weather. It was a tricky manuever as I had to fly through a 10 foot clearing in the trees towards a height that revealed just enough of the forest without showing any residential homes or highways. I fitted the Phantom 3 with a Polar Pro Polarizer Filter to prevent glare off the water and was able to get the shot in just two takes. However, flying the drone back to home point was nerve racking as I clipped a few small branches due to the wind and unstable GPS lock. Luckily I had Nancy and Hannah as my spotters on each side of the clearing to prevent the Phantom from going down into the water. The shot was definitely worth it as it created a vast sense of exploration for the Alice character, establishing the forest as a kind of supernatural playground.
THE POST PRODUCTION
We finished our last shot at about 11:30pm and after ingesting all the footage in Adobe Premiere, post production began at 12 midnight. By this time, I was exhausted but not completely tapped out. I knew that once I got past the hump of assembly I would go into creative mode, driven by pure adrenaline. With the help of a large iced coffee I finished assembly by 2:00am and edited straight until 9:00am. The GH4 V-Log setting was especially helpful in color correction for each clip. After dropping in the Panasonic Varicam 35 LUT, I simply adjusted exposure within Lumetri Color and did my best to match the Xiaomi Yi and Phantom 3 footage.
As the sun started to rise and the 10:00am delivery deadline looming, I did a few last touches and exported the file onto a flash drive. Since the YSPI24 rendevouz was a half hour away, I wasn’t able to do a final preview. At this point, I was completely delirious and just grateful that we completed our film.
YPSI24 was an insanely inspiring good time. From the cordial and energizing meetup with our fellow filmmakers to the hack-a-thon like shooting experience to the final screening at the 500 seat venue, YPSI24 reminded me of why I got into video in the first place. It wasn’t to win awards or make commercials. It was to tell a story using a language that didn’t require an army of people pontificating about the laws of Cinema. It’s a relief to know that the DIY spirit that’s shaped both my personal and professional life has never left me. Hashtag #setlife is not enough. Old traditions and new technologies are not enough. It’s the communal experience of being vulnerable with people that I care about which matters most. Check out our 2015 YPSI24 short “Always Alice” below and remember to always stay inspired!
Always Alice (2015 YPSI24)
We recently got our hands on the new Varavon Armor II A7S Cage, A7S Battery Package and the Atomos Shogun Cage. I’ve been anticipating the new A7S Armor II cage for quite some time and it was definitely worth the wait. As with all of Varavon’s cages, it features a unique, form-fitting design with plenty of clearance for accessibility and accessories. Other features include a leather hand strap, built-in Allen wrench, and rod adapter
The Varavon A7S Battery Package is a must have accessory since the A7S is notorious for having very weak battery life. The package features an A7S dummy battery coupler, a DC 7.5V external battery, and battery check indicator.
Finally, the Varavon Atomos Shogun Cage is another essential item for providing maximum protection for the Shogun’s plastic body which is often vulnerable to dings and scratches. The Shogun Cage features a variety of 3/8″ and 1/4″ mounting holes, L-Bracket for protecting the SSD drive and battery, cable clamps, and rubber dampers for shock resistance. For more information visit the Varavon website here.
The Sony FS7 was a popular camera on the floor at this year’s NAB Show, however, the design and weight definitely requires some kind of modular support system. Luckily, Cool-Lux has created the Cool-Lux SHIFT Baseplate which features a quick-shift release button that allows shooters to quickly and easily transition between tripod and shoulder mount modes while also providing extra chest support for stability. Also, from now until June 30th 2015, Cool-Lux is offering a 30% discount on the SHIFT Baseplate as well as all of their camera rig and accessories via their online store. Judging from the quality of their parts at NAB, this is an incredible value. For more information visit their company website at Cool-Lux.com
NAB 2015 coverage continues with the versatile CamDolly Cinema System, a fully portable and modular dolly system for professional-grade video and film equipment. Here are some of the massive features of the CamDolly:
Ride-On Track Dolly – “The Sidewinder”: full-size dolly with a seat that rides on included Rubber Rail flexible track (or optional rigid track)
Ride-On Doorway Dolly – “Doorway X-Dolly”: full-size dolly with a seat that rides on four skate wheels for smooth surfaces or pneumatic tires for outdoor shooting
Heavy Duty Slider – “XL Slider”: much more stable than a portable slider, the XL Slider is uniquely capable of supporting heavy cameras and performing smooth tracking moves
Tabletop Dolly – “The Table Topper”: attach wheels directly to the core to achieve four-wheel or three-wheel dolly shots on a tabletop, or dramatic shots near ground level
Orbit Dolly – “360° Orbital Dolly”: a three-wheeled dolly with lockable wheels. Lock the wheels to specific degrees (using included chart or app) to easily create graceful arcs around a subject without a track
A few weeks ago I posted about the Switronix PTC-A7S Coiled Powertap Cable short circuiting inside of the Sony A7S. Switronix reached out immediately to examine the damaged cable and figure out the source of the malfunction. After running a series of tests – voltage, surge, runtime – the PTC-A7S passed all of them.
Once they shipped the new cable, I had some downtime to test it out at NAB and discovered that the Tilta Hyperdeck Shuttle distributor plate bypassed the on/off switch when both a D-Tap and 12V cable were plugged in simultaneously. This led us to believe that there was a freak, surge of voltage that happened when the Tilta Hyperdeck Shuttle plate sent power to the Switronix PTC-A7S dummy battery even though the switch was off. This was confirmed by Tilta when we visited their booth and demonstrated the glitch.
So shout out to Switronix for their patience with my freak out and super customer service – from testing the cable to also performing on-site quality control at their NAB booth. For the rest of the convention, the PTC-A7S D-Tap Cable performed flawlesly, providing hours of uninterrupted power with the Atomos Shogun. Look for more NAB 2015 coverage when we speak to Switronix about their new HyperCore Li-ion batteries and VoltBridge app. Stay tuned!
Recently, we received a prototype of the PVGear Full Metal Cage for the Atomos Shogun 4K Recorder so we decided to test out it’s features in the video above. The Atomos Shogun hardware has been gaining some serious momentum since the release of the 6.2 firmware update yet the plastic housing leaves a lot to be desired in terms of daily wear and tear. The PVGear solves this by designing a full metal cage system that locks down the Shogun to protect the various cable ports and provides several mounting threads for accessories. The PVGear Cage is currently in production and will be shipping this month.
A few months ago I had the opportunity to shoot overseas in the Dominican Republic for Project Picture Day, a non-profit organization that creates school pictures for children in under developing countries. The clip above chronicles our journey through Cienfuegos, Santiago.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Campos
The Panasonic GH4 and LG G3 became my tools of choice for the portability. For a more detailed explanation on how I used the LG G3 on this shoot click here. I realized early on that it was best to travel as light as possible and to only bring the essentials to avoid attracting too much attention. According to our local hosts, DSLR-style cameras are common items targeted by opportunists on motorcycles.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Campos
For on camera sound I used the Rode VideoMic and for the interviews, the Aspen HQ-S Stereo Lav Mic and Zoom H1 were a perfect combo. Everything was contained in my Lowepro Pro Runner which fits into most carry on compartments and can handle a lot of abuse.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Campos
Since our goal was to capture candid moments with school children, I wanted to appear as if I was just another photographer shooting stills. The GH4’s built in EVF is surprisingly sharp and detailed and was perfect for shooting in the carribean climate of Santiago. Without the need for a huge rig or a field monitor, I could quickly and easily build out my camera to shoot spontaneous moments.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Campos
I’m really pleased with the work we accomplished in the Dominican Republic. To shoot for a positive cause that can directly influence or inspire children is a feeling that’s very different than any other job and I look forward to doing it again. Please visit the Project Picture Day website for more information and hit me up in the comments if you have any questions!
Four years ago, I wrote and directed an independent feature film titled “Starla”, which I’ve recut into a 35 minute short film called “Water Weight”. Narrative filmmaking can be incredibly demanding but with the right gear and skilled crew, it can also be one of the best experiences of your career. I wanted to revisit the making of the film by having my good friend and Director of Photography, Clayton Combe discuss his experiences working on set with a small crew and the Panasonic AF-100, which at the time was touted as a “DSLR Killer”. Here’s what Clayton had to say about shooting “Water Weight”:
For the first two weeks of April 2011, I had the pleasure of working as DP for “Starla,” a narrative feature by director Rik Cordero. Now, Rik has recut the film into “Water Weight,” a 35-minute version that pares the story down to its bare essentials. From the film’s conception, it was designed to be shot quickly and on a minimal budget; most of the scenes required only two actors at a time, and locations (while visually diverse) centered around only two geographical places. Our speedy eleven-day schedule and small crew meant that we had to use as much available light as possible, and we rarely did more than two takes except for action- or effects-oriented shots. Prior to “Starla,” I’d shot several music videos and commercials on my Panasonic AF100, and it seemed like a good fit for the feature. Little did I know just how perfect it would be.
(A disclaimer: the then-unique features of the AF100 can now be found in many other cameras with better resolution, dynamic range, and low-light performance. But at the time, it was on the cutting edge of small-body-large-sensor-low-price camera technology. Today, we’d probably shoot this film on a Canon C500 or Sony FS7.)
My basic rig was built around the Zacuto universal baseplate, with 15mm rods supporting matte box, follow focus, and a 90-degree-offset Anton Bauer mount on the back (like an ENG camera). I monitored with a 7″ Marshall with SDI pass-through to video village. This rig could be switched between tripod build and shoulder-mount in about twenty seconds, and was light, comfortable, compact, and well-balanced. However, by removing the Bauer plate, switching to the 5″ Marshall (incredibly lightweight), and adding the camera’s removable ergonomic handgrip to the side, I could build the AF100 more like a stripped-down Red Epic, allowing much more flexibility in small spaces. With my Canon 7D rig this would have meant I couldn’t monitor, since my AJA SDI converter needed battery power, but the AF100’s many video outputs mean this small build worked great for jib, steadicam, and car rigging as well.
This small configuration was the element that made possible several shots that move through spaces in unpredictable ways, which was an aesthetic choice Rik made very early on in pre-production. The best thing a camera can do is allow you to make your director’s vision a reality, and the AF100 had my back at every turn.
A large part of the film takes place outside in bright sunlight, and because we didn’t have the time or manpower to fly large diffusion frames or fight sunlight levels with big lights, I frequently had to use the sun as a key light. Paired with a polarizer, the AF100’s built-in ND wheel made exposing for the sun simple. I also used varying strengths of Tiffen Black Pro Mist in front of the lens, to soften the highlights and give the image a little more filmic look. I rated the camera at 200 ISO for most exteriors and 400 ISO (its native speed) for most interiors, pushing one stop to 800 ISO for a few shots. Even at 800, the image was fairly clean, and what noise was there wasn’t too bad-looking.
I shot the film using my Canon FD prime lenses, mounting them on the AF100 with a Micro 4/3rds to FD adapter. With the optical adapter I used for these lenses on the 7D, I’d have to stop down a bit to avoid blooming, so I’d almost forgotten how gorgeous this glass is wide open. I’d recommend Canon FDs to anyone for lower-budget work; the lenses and adapters are cheap and the image quality is fantastic, very similar to a cine lens.
Because of the low budget and short post-production schedule, I chose to achieve the film’s look in-camera, rather than rely on color grading. My beloved Panasonic painting tools made this process quick and painless, and I was able to fine-tune the image as we shot, as well as avoid the problems of grading footage that’s been compressed. If you get the picture close to what you want before it’s encoded onto the cards, you’ll end up with less work trying to hide compression artifacts in the graded image. It leaves less room for post-production changes, but Rik knew what he wanted it to look like beforehand. Nowadays, most cameras can record to an external card to avoid high compression, but that option wasn’t feasible at the time.
“Starla/Water Weight” is a diverse mix of aesthetic styles, but the AF100 handled all conditions beautifully and allowed us to create images that exceeded the director’s expectations. They say out of the trio of money, time, and quality, you can choose two; but the AF100 (along with a few talented, passionate people and a lot of planning) got us as close to achieving all three as I’ve ever been.
On a recent trip overseas, I worked alongside a videographer who was shooting with a Sony A7s on a Revo SR-1000 shoulder rig with counterweight. Although I’ve had passing glances at the Revo while browsing online, I’ve never seen it up close. Because of its minimalist, almost artistic design, affordable cost, and versatility, I got my hands on the SR-1000 and proceeded to add modifications to it. The Revo SR-1000 is currently on sale at B&H for $67.96, a savings of 15%, but only until March 9, 2015.
The SR-1000 is strikingly simple with clean, curved lines thats very attractive for video enthusiasts. There are rigs that make my back hurt just by looking at them but the SR-1000 is sleek and forgoes the chunkiness of universal compatibility for aesthetics. A single handle attached to a sliding baseplate allows for one handed operation with thin, curved rails that bend seamlessly with the adjustable the foam padded shoulder mount. An optional Revo Counterweight can then be added to the rear to complete the design. Although I took it off for my mod, it’s definitely a must have accessory when shooting with only the camera.
My first add on was the Varavon Armor Cage for the Pansonic GH4. The lightweight cage also features red trim that matches the colors of the SR-1000. The top handle can be reversed to attach accessories such as the Atomos Shogun 4K Recorder which hangs slightly behind the GH4 for even weight distribution across the middle of the rig.
For the rear counterweight, I detached the plate from the Revo Counterweight and attached it to the Ikan Tilta HyperDeck V-Mount using a standard 1/4-20 screw which connects to the Revo shoulder mount with the remaining screws.
The Ikan Tilta is then fitted with a Switronix XP-L90S Li-Ion battery and Fiilex D-Tap power cable. Because the Switronix battery is unusually light, I added a Flashpoint 2.5lb Counterweight to the Tilta HyperDeck using two short 15mm rods. This evened out the weight distribution for the rear.
There are countless ways to configure the Revo SR-1000 such as adding additional handles and accessories to the baseplate but I found this setup to be the most efficient for run and gun shooting. Hit me up in the comments if you have any questions.