About a week ago, Tim Blackmore and I learned that we were providing tech support for Rob Nilsson’s upcoming film, “Maelstrom”, a Direct Action workshop film with four actors. We knew it was going to be shot with an EX1 (which we have), handheld (EX1, handheld? hmmm), with the wide-angle adapter if at all possible. Cool, sounds like fun, what’s the schedule?
We didn’t get the schedule nailed down until day before yesterday: we’re starting day after tomorrow, and shooting for six days straight. Kinda makes it difficult to prep; rental gear and personnel tend to be booked already, with only four days’ notice before a six-day shoot.
Still, we had enough warning that I had ordered two DVTEC DvRig Juniors last Friday, one for each of the two cameras (because, you never know, we might want two cameras). I went with DvRig Juniors because what I really needed was something to support the weight of the EX1, yet stay out of the way (the EX1’s lack of remote controls means that I really needed one hand on the grip for start/stop and expanded focus, while the other was on on the lens for zoom, focus, and iris). I’d worked with the DvRig Pro on a documentary, and had played with the Junior at last December’s DV Expo and at IBC a couple of years ago, and it seemed tailor-made for the EX1.
Tim put in our lighting order with DTC; stuff we were planning to get in the long run to outfit the studio, but we could use now on this location show. I verified that VMI had some of the BP-U60 batteries the EX1 needs to run for more than two hours, and put two on hold (and their prices were better than Internet prices—even with tax, we saved money by shopping locally).
Monday, I picked up the batteries, and we got the outline for the story. Indoors, outdoors, day, night, two-person scenes, four-person scenes. More talk about a second camera for coverage and for backup (though it’s not how Rob normally shoots workshop films), but we’re waffling on the budget hit, so we hold off.
Tuesday, the nice folks at Alan Gordon, DVTEC’s US distributor, called and said one rig had shipped, but it was their last one: it would be two weeks before the other was available. Fortunately, they said I could cancel the other one if I wanted to.
Tuesday night, we nailed down the starting date: this Saturday! And yes, we really, really, should have a wide-angle adaptor. And a way to feed Rob’s Sony Glasstron video goggles, which is how he monitors what the camera sees. A late-night trip to B&H’s website showed the EX1’s wide-angle adapter was in stock, as well as the VMC15FS A/V cable with S-Video connector that Sony should have shipped with the EX1 (and the V1, and the Z7) but didn’t. Hey, what are credit cards for, if not for buying glass and copper and overnight shipping?
Yesterday Tim and I go for a recce; the location is about two hours north, in Mill Valley, at the end of a mile and a half of steep, single-lane road (single-lane in that if a car comes the other way, someone has to back up to some place where one car can pass the other). Gorgeous house, nice 3-wire power (and plenty enough for our Kinos, Litepanels, and HMIs), lots of windows (danger, Will Robinson!), large outdoor deck. Rob’s associate Aaron will be along to help, and he has a friend with another EX1, which he’ll try to rent. Aaron and I can operate; Tim will design the lighting and record sound; we’ll all gaff and grip. Marshall and/or Tim will data-wrangle.
Oh, and I should mention that Tim’s MacBook Pro woke up dead Wednesday morning. Yes, Apple will fix it under warranty, but not in time for the shoot. That leaves us with just my MacBook Pro to read the data off the SxS cards and onto FireWire800 RAIDs. If mine decides to die, we’re in a bit of a pickle… fortunately, Marshall says he needs a MBP anyway, and after a brief dalliance with Amazon.com, he has one on its way.
Today: Marshall, Tim, and I meet with Rob. One question: frame rate. Rob normally shoots 60i and likes the look, but is intrigued also with the idea of 720p60 (full progressive frames, but smooth motion). We tentatively decide to shoot 24p (after discussing 60i, 60p, 30p, and 24p) for best international compatibility, and to ease the transfer to film should it come to that. Rob is concerned about motion judder during pans, but I say I can either track people during panning, or whip-pan, and that we can use a 1/32 or 1/24 shutter to smooth the stroby edges a bit. In any case, we’ll look at some test footage Saturday before we start the show for real.
Another question: how to mike the four-person scenes? Rob really, really likes wireless lavs on everyone. I pull out the Air and start cruising the ‘net through Marshall’s WiFi (y’know, there are times when wireless connectivity is really, really handy); Chater has Lectros, and Chater’s Jay Farrington writes back to say they’re available when we need ’em (Chater is in the same neighborhood as DTC, so we can get the mikes when we get the lights).
The DvRig, wide-angle lens, and A/V cable all show up. The DvRig needs some work; some of the tapped holes on the camera platform were tapped but not cleaned, and the brass camera screw can’t be threaded into them. A bit of work with a steel screw cleans the holes and I get the 8-pound EX1 (with BP60 battery and wide-angle lens) balanced on it. The DvRig’s sprung support column and two-axis fluid head won’t make me Steadicam-smooth, but they take the load off my poor wrist and make handholding the heavily-laden EX1 possible for more than half a minute at a time!
The 0.8x wide-angle looks to be acceptably sharp even at f/1.9, and is almost entirely free of lateral chromatic aberration—the fatal flaw of too many wide-angle adapters.
This afternoon, Aaron calls to say that his buddy’s EX1 is going to Cuba with his buddy. Dang. Chater’s EX1 is in Hawaii, but one of the two that Videofax rents is available, and with the wide angle adapter to boot. I get approval to rent it (at lunch, we had decided that another EX1 would be a Really Good Thing), and before you can say “ostrobogulous” I have more forms in my inbox to fill out and return. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom, we now have an EX1 waiting for pickup tomorrow. Or, erm, today: it’s past midnight as I type this.
So today, it’s off to Keeble & Shuchat for a quick-release plate for the DvRig, and (if I can find it) a Bogen/Manfrotto fluid-head monopod for the B camera, then meet up with Tim and head north to pick up the B cam, the lighting & grip package, and the mics. And then back home to pack all the kit for the road (including my two existing wireless mics, mixers, cables, boompole, hypercardioid, headphone splitters, more AA batteries than you can shake a stick at, Panasonic BT-LH1700W monitor, tripod [just in case], Macs, FW drives, and what the heck, a kitchen sink or two, because, well, you never know…).
And then Saturday—tomorrow!—it’s off to Mill Valley for six days of provocation, confrontation, deception, betrayal, and—finally—catharsis. And on the seventh day, OMG, we’ll rest. And return rental gear.
Should be fun. Details to follow.