With all the camera announcements in the past 6 months and now with NAB giving us at least three more to contemplate (Blackmagic Cinema Camera, 1D-C, C500), I thought I’d start a series of blog posts on my process (as it’s surely to change very soon). One, for my own journaling purposes and to have the ability to look back and reference techniques of the past, and the other to maybe to connect with other folks out there to share and build a community as I currently take on this mad world as a one man team. I am quickly approaching the final month of my first year as a freelance/business owner, and I’ve learned quite a bit, I think it’s time I start preserving a thought or two.
New York, beautiful. I was able to get two quick shoots out of an extended weekend of work and play. One for Sprout Skincare in Brooklyn, and the other for Axial Market in Manhattan. Two completely different goals, but both wanted that “un-produced” style/aesthetic. So I decided that we should go handheld on one of the cameras to give that feeling that the viewer is sitting there with the subjects, and then have another on sticks as B-Cam (wide/basic cam set up). On Axial, I actually never ended up cutting to the B-Cam. We were in such a hurry with only two hours to scout a spot in their under construction offices, set up, interview 5 subjects and get out, my b-cam just wasn’t my favorite framing wise. And because we ended up only needing the final edit deliverable to be on the web, I just made the sequence 720 and jumped in with my 1080 frame when needed (one of the reasons I’d love to have 4K resolution with 1080 deliverable, as it would work in my benefit on shoots like this, though post-production workflow and file size with 4k is another beast for quick turn arounds).
I used the 5DM2 as my A camera, handheld on the interviews (Canon 50mm 1.4 for everything except Sprout interviews), and for all the b-roll. And then you’ll see the 7D play a role with the 24-70mm as the wide frame in the interviews. With Sprout, I took a big risk at the last minute that paid off in the end, but made my heart beat quick during the process. We got everything set for the interview, mic was in place, Adina and Adam sitting down, and then I got a frame up with my 50mm on the 5D, and it wasn’t nearly the throw I wanted from my perspective behind Kelsey who was conducting the interview. So I dropped on an old Vivitar 135mm 2.8 I had gotten at a $5-for-any-lens-in-the-box sale and had rigged to work with an MD-EOS adaptor. I’d never used it in a pressure situation, but figured if anything, it fit into the un-produced style I was going for. Thankfully it paid off, both in the throw I needed to get the intimate framing and also the nice flare from the windows directly behind the subjects (see the flare on Adina’s right shoulder below).
Didn’t use any lighting on the Sprout video, and only used a little ikan iLED 144 5 inch LED light for the interviews on Axial. Though, I am not saying that’s what I had wished for, but that’s what the really tight budgets and no crew called for. So I used natural light to my advantage to get close to the look I was hoping to achieve.
I went Neutral with the picture profile. I’ve worked with CineStyle in the past and believe when you have the time to spend in post production it’s the best profile to maximize dynamic range and have the most flexibility. However, on these two jobs where it was run and gun, with mere hours to shoot and low/no budget for editing, I stuck with my modified Neutral to get close to what I was looking for, in camera. You can see my modified neutral profile I used on both these pieces below (Sharpness – 0, Contrast – 0, Saturation – 3, Color tone – 4).
Color correction was simple. Quickly white balanced Sprout using 3-way in FCP, I had over estimated on how warm I’d want things during the shoot. Then used Magic Bullet Looks to boost the contrast, desaturated 10% or so, and added a slight vignette to the outdoor stuff on Axial. Probably didn’t need MBL, but it’s such a quick and easy to use interface, basic color jobs are handled with beauty with this little machine. The color you get from the Axial portraits and b-roll was from the color profile and warmer color temp (around 6000 I think), plus I added a tad bit of sharpening, just a little, like salt on salad. I tested out Gorilla Grain on Sprout, using their 35mm Fine-Muddy grain to add a bit of texture. Though, it gave me trouble when exporting to .mp4 for Vimeo. So you’ll notice that I am still trying to figure out the best compression settings when dealing with grain. I tried MPEG, Episode and ended up coming out of After Effects CS5 which yielded the best results.
Audio is and has always been a second thought. Which needs to change in a big way. But something is bound to be sacrificed when you’re a one man show. The set up I ran for these two projects was a Audio-Technica AT897 shotgun mic into an H4N Zoom, asking them a couple questions to set levels and then no monitoring after that. I ended up having issues with the headphone jack (I was using it as a direct input into the 5D), which actually started effecting the recorded track (not sure what is/was going on), so I just recently bought the Tascam DR100. Does the same job, but has a stronger build quality, and the dedicated headphone jack separate from the 1/8 inch output, is nice as well.
With Sprout, I tried to get the mic pointed into the middle, this was my first time interviewing two people on camera at the same time as a one man show, so I just ran with it. You’ll notice an echo in Axial’s piece, their entire office was under construction, and we shot in a room with elevated ceilings and hardwood floors. Best thing to do in that situation is find a rug or carpet to put under your subject (and get the mic as close as possible), but there was nothing around to help ease the bounce of sound – so we had to deal with the echo.
Thankfully on these two projects I had someone else asking the questions. I enjoy asking the questions more than anything, but trying to focus on getting a good image and developing a solid story for post, at the same time, takes a big toll on the overall quality of both. I love to be focused on directing or DPing, but not both at the same time. Kelsey did a knock em dead job on the Sprout video (hoping to make that more of a habit), and then an executive from Axial asked the questions for the latter, because we had zero pre-pro for that project. Lesson here: Kelsey and I put a lot of thought into storyline, where we wanted to take the story and it played out pretty close to how we wanted it to, and exactly how the client had envisioned it. Axial and I decided to do this project at the last minute, a couple days before we flew out there, and had no prior discussions about the project, questions, or shaping a tangible storyline, and a lot of the footage we captured (with five different subjects) was unusable because the questions were way off base from what they actually wanted to share. I’ve always known story trumps image, but it was a beautiful display of how evident that really is to go from shooting on Friday with Sprout with a plan, to Sunday with Axial and no idea what was going to happen.
Both of the clients were ideal; open to letting me do my thing and trusting they’d be thrilled with the results. Not to mention, I loved getting to shoot on top of Axial’s offices under the shadow of the Empire State Building.
For a while I was stuck, and now I am starting to see things a little different and focus in on areas I have wanted to, but didn’t have the other skills built around in order to do it, like light, color, and even tested the waters with a little bolder/less corporate music on both these pieces. Cheers to continuing the stride.
Here are the two final products, Sprout Skincare and Axial Market ::