Technology and Romance

Another stream of consciousness beam to the Personal View forum community, this is mostly tech oriented but sets the stage for coming posts on story and production:  


It's been a interesting month or so. (Or has it been nearly two months, now, haha?) In this Panama high season (roughly January-April), I was quite insecure about subsisting solely on the 'Wild Life of D.P. Jones' budget and perhaps overloaded on the usual bread and butter advertising and promotional gigs, as well as extending myself pretty far with charitable, but not personal, work. In the midst of it all, I was brought on to produce an experiment in cinematic television for Panama's leading national broadcaster. There has been a dry period in national narrative production and they're looking to change that. Our half-hour political comedy airing a few days before Presidential elections is an extremely exciting step in that direction. Also my lead actor on the feature has to undergo surgery and will not be fit for action until late April, so everything is falling into place for rolling the entire month of May. I'm looking to get the last of the commercial stuff off of my plate this week and focus entirely on post for the Television show and final pre-production details for the feature, which, on the strength of these last months of learning experiences has become slightly more formal in terms of actors, schedules, shooting plans and the like. I've no doubt that it will still be very guerrilla, but not quite as hopelessly documentarian as I'd once expected. The real take-away from this time is that I love TV/Film work, can survive with it, and need to learn to say no, even to good money on the commercial front, if I cannot build a better team to handle it, or I will go nuts.

I'd like to explore thoughts on what I learned on the Television production, where I was nominally producing but jumped in with a shoulder mounted GH3 as Bcam on about 40% of the show, but first I'm going to explore some continuing thoughts on technology that have cropped up during this process, and the evolution of tech for the feature, as well as some intangibles about tech and the net in general.

Right off the bat @VicHarris was right about the CamTree EVF mount. It's as solid as they come and that plus the Zacuto EVF really solidified the rig that I've been cobbling together over the last year or two. (Gini Extreme 17" mostly completely retrofitted with Shape handles, shoulder pad and weights and red rock carbon fiber rods) This is the area where the title of the post starts to come in...out here on the fringes I feel like we often have a personal or sentimental relationship with technology. The same weekend I got the Zacuto and Camtree, I received a $1,300 upgrade to my Phantom Drone, with expanded controllers and FPV, new motors, etc. Hundreds of flights and upgrades and openings hadn't caused a hitch with the drone, but something in this upgrade threw a ghost into the machine we still can't seem to fix. The sensation of having spend close to a thousand dollars to mount a tiny monitor on what started long ago as a $400 Gini rig was initially stomach churning, but the feel of the thing finally balanced on my shoulder, being able to see and focus, having my old Z-finder be slightly loose and Zacuto instantly ship me a new Z-finder skirt for free really sold me on the idea of paying for the right kinds of gear...whereas the $3,000+ smouldering pile of tangled wires and drone that looked nothing so much like a broken toy got me thinking about when DIY and consumer gear become more of a liability than an opportunity. At any rate even at that point I attempted to disconnect my emotions from the machine even after it failed after repeated fixes and tests, to the point where after an attempted repair I was shooting with it commercially on a one day trip the Dominican Republic on the client's dime and had a devastating crash after the brain went nuts near hi-tension power lines and had to pay a group of Somalis who found and kidnapped it to get it back....and I'm sitting in my hotel room with a soldering gun trying to get it ready for the morning and pondering what the fuck I've gotten myself into by dealing with this tech at all.

I'm not sure I have the writing skills to find the heart of what I'm trying to explain here, but I guess I'm starting to understand what needs to be personal about filmmaking and as we all say in lip-service gear isn't that thing...but it takes a lot to really live and breath from that perspective. Then again my rig is now something perches by itself on my shoulder and gives me the exact heavy 35mm hand-held aesthetic I'm looking for from Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, or parts of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, which are a trifecta of inspirations for me (visually and in terms of how they were made) Seeing it sitting in the corner of a room and having the feeling that one could pick it up and make a movie at any moment is a romantic, but powerful notion. Watching the behind the scenes of the aforementioned films one realises that they simply rig out an Alexa or 35mm Cam in a straight forward way and achieve that aesthetic because that is where that aesthetic comes from. (Please not I'm not interested in shaky-shaky cam...Phillips for instance is much more steady overall than early Greengrass Bourne films, but it does have an immediacy that I will have no choice but to embrace on rivers and in Banana Plantations where all equipment comes in on horseback.) Rigging a GH3 out in a similar manner is a daunting task, it turns out, and in Sean Bobbit, BSC's excellent lecture on hand-held cinematography, a waste of time for anyone with the ability to do anything else. Finally achieving something that can be psychically felt every-time it's hoisted on the shoulder is incredibly gratifying. It gives on a distaste for the endless internet 'these are my rig' posts and the poorly balanced or thought out pre-fab solutions sold by everyone that now seem an idiotic waste of time. Then again, without being able to comb through, research, try and cobble together, one would not end up forging a primary story-telling tool out of the muck. I'm not sure where this puts me on the tech scale, other than to say I guess I'm learning that a complete enyclopedic knowledge of the tools is required to be able to cut throughout the chaff on a budget and effectively tell stories, but that any emotional feedback loop between wallet and latest purchase is a mistake...the romance is in what you can do with it, and both spending too much money too quickly on the perceived best solutions and being afraid to spend too much money for the best when it is required are ultimately harmful. It's a fine line.

To that end it is surprising at times with how many resources there are on the internet just how few there are when you really need to know something. The rental houses of a major U.S. city are one thing I've grown to envy, as nothing beats trying things out for one's own. I continue to have an anamorphic problem, with letters, tweets, and painstaking research in all corners of the internet not totally convincing me on the Letus. You'd think they'd be eager to share something if it meant selling more products, unless the product isn't that good, but even that is an over-simplified conclusion...they may just not care or not fully understand why I'm asking such detailed or oddball questions. Zacuto's customer service has been mighty and miraculous, though even they stumbled a bit in terms of offering a reply about the Z-drive and tornado when I really started to grill them on focus systems. (To be fair I went from asking specifics to basically asking them to recommend something for which a solution may not exist) Right now I'm evaluating a custom diopter solution for my LA7200 to keep the wide end of the zooms open and and SLR Magic anamorphot plus diopter set for longer lenses. The overall price will scratch the bottom end of a Letus package, but the community at large is more open and sharing on both issues and @BurnetRhoades recent SLRMagic stuff has been incredibly helpful. I offered to pay for an LA guy who just got an SLR Magic over Letus do to price to Rent a Letus from Division camera and test, but nothing materialised.

In a Vitaliy inspired move I bought an ISK hyper cardiod to try for interior dialog and I really like it. We used a Rode NTG-3 (and Sennhieser and Audio Tecnica Wireless Lavs) on the Television thing and I was less impressed by the Rode and Blimp than I'd expected to be. They broke the actual mic from my Sennhieser on the production so I've also bit the bullet for a Sanken lav for the feature. I don't love my dialog line up right now, NTG-2 which I hate, ISK which I like, Sanken which I will presumably like on Senn wireless transmitters...end of the day that is going to be the principal source of dialogue recording for the main character as we'll be in remote or difficult locations and I want him laved up and running with it all day. Still queasy about my overall sound options and dreading the idea of buying a pair of Sanken's if I stick one of Panama's leading TV actors in the film and up the supporting role's dialogue which is looking like a good idea right now. Either way I need someone to handle it and the skill set seems in short supply down here. I also (in a very un-Vitaliy) move purchased a Mitra 3d Mic Pro, which will be either one of my stupidest purchases ever or one of the best, and the jury is still out. The sound guy used is a lot on the second half of the TV special, and claims to like it but we haven't hit sound post. I've only used it once, since and am waiting on a shock mount and wind-muffs. The idea of having something in my background audio that gives a punch to indie sound is extremely attractive (I'm afraid I'm no Shane Carruth) and worth the price. I am unsure about processing and results thus far, however, and the support materials and information seem pretty thin or low quality. I have a hard time believing Laforet and Bloom were out and and out lying however, and I'm going to make an effort to make this thing sing...hopefully before running up against B&H's 30 day return policy, which I understand is extensive, though I've never used it, nor is it my style to do so. Time will tell on this one, but I'm certainly attracted to the idea of standing out in jungle with it or gurgling down the river...but is it the real technology or the romance of the marketing working on my brain?

While the GH3 and rig performed amazingly during the TV thing (stacking up against an FS700 as ACAM, looking better in most cases), I did have a follow focus problem as noted above, which is what really drove me to look at the Zacuto one man band systems. I did OK by hand but realised the trouble I would be in on the feature. Honestly for a lot of commercial work which is shot doc style I use auto-focus which was simply not an option for narrative. However I'm worried about the Tornado and use of anamorphic adapters which are damn close to Mattboxes in size/position in some cases. I ended up finding a clever way of rigging my Gini follow onto the rig on the right hand side, which allows me to hold the top of my shape handle and follow focus with my right hand...feels damn solid and nice. I need some bigger 360' follow focus gears to get the follow away from the lens and fit the anamorphic, and for lumix lenses, which work better than I'd hoped (perhaps I show inexperience without marks and hard stops but honestly I can hit focus without a lot of issues this way). At some point maybe a lighter follow focus, but for now, I'm happy. I notice that even Bad Lieutenant and Dallas Buyer's club basically handle focus from hand-held with a right facing monitor and a right mounted follow and some dude pulling it by hand, which seems crazy to me but is an option if I have an assistant around. This feels like an area where tech is going to get a lot better in the future but will work for now. Oddly this also makes me keep my Gini 'cage' apparatus, the only heavy chunk of metal on the rig, with a lot of knobs to support one handle. I'd considered Swedish Chameleon, but doing everything from the 'wrong' side like this...the Gini setup is actually coming in handy to support a rod with the follow on it.

Lighting is something I don't see myself using much of in the field on the feature, though I did double down on my F&V LED kit last month with 3 V-mount to NPF adapters and 10 NPF battery clones and couple of dual chargers. I've never loved or hated these lights, but an experienced gaffer on the TV program really made them shine, mounting them to drop-cielings with a special adapter and gelling them and using the battery power for maximum speed and potential. I'd like a few LED fresnels, Camtree doesn't look cheap are cheap and am heeding Vitaliy's warning against them for now. It was cool to have a panel van full of HMI's and Fresnels and little kinos and stuff but half the time it slowed us down and other than some city interiors I'm staying away from most of it on the feature.

GH4 is on pre-order...I wish Panasonic Latin America was something that existed on the Lumix front, but unfortunately I think May 2nd is my earliest chance of delivery. I would have gone forward on the GH3 but with my lead being indisposed and my spring freeing up this seems like a good time to start. I'm hoping to reshoot a lot of my early test and documentary material, but also hoping it will intercut with the GH3 stuff to some extent. Also hoping it doesn't turn my anamorphic stuff into a waste of fucking time and money.

Ah, cinema :). I realize I've basically written a book about my shopping list here, while decrying having any emotional connection with technology. I'll be getting to actors, TV promotion, and film preproduction, as well as samples from the art department, soon...just had to get this stuff off my chest, and as always, the personal view community is insightful about tech and I have issues left to solve and an overly romantic connection to my pocket book and film budget hahahahahahahaha....


Links to gear mentioned in this post or that comprise the mentioned rig:

Gini Extreme 17" Rig:

Shape Handles:

Shape Shoulder Pad: Can only find composite/mini composite on Shape or B&H's site...I have something bigger with an adjustable back that may only come now as part of their rig kits.

Shape Additional Counterweight:

Redrock 18" Carbon Fiber Rods:

Cavision 8" Carbon Fiber Rods:

Zacuto EVF Pro:

Camtree EVF Mount:

Mitra 3D Mic Pro:

Sanken Lav with Sennheiser connector:

Sennheiser Wireless Kit:

ISK Super Cardiod Microphone:

F&V Lighting 1x1 Panels:

V-mount to NPF Adapters:

NPF batteries:

Dual NPF Chargers:

Letus Anamorphic:

LA7200 Anamorphic:

SLR Magic Anamorphot:

Panasonic GH4: