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Ian F. Hunt

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Magazine – Filming on a Budget

Filming on a Budget

Filming on a BudgetFilming on a Budget - Camera Rig

As a full time student money is always in short supply so I’m always looking for a bargain but without compromising quality when it comes to buying equipment for my video projects. The recent addition of a camera rig has opened up all kinds of new ideas for filming. But I’m getting ahead of myself; before you can think about the accessories you need to buy yourself a camera, which as a minimum requirement can shoot Full HD Video.

So what kit do I have?

Camera

After a lot of research I settled on the Canon EOS 60D, it’s a great camera for video and works particularly well at low light levels. The Canon 60D is so good that I’ve managed to film most of my projects since acquiring it using just natural light and even when filming sports under low level floodlighting the camera still performs exceptionally well. The swivel screen is great, ideal for that overhead or low level shot. In fact it’s the perfect choice if your budget does not stretch to a full frame camera, for example the Canon 6D, 7D or 5D MKIII.Filming on a Budget - Camera rig in use

Lenses

The kit lens 18mm to 55mm is OK but it’s only really sharp somewhere between the extremes, use the lens at either extreme and the focus drops off. The focus ring is also far too narrow and difficult to adjust when following the action, I’ve added a rubber lens hood, which I’ve reversed and its to this that I now hold and turn to adjust the focus. I’ve also added a 50mm to 250mm Canon zoom lens, which comes at a budget price but is surprisingly good, the images are sharp and for getting a close up its just about right. But the must have lens and the easily the best bargain is the 50mm F1.8, which is razor sharp and has become my lens of choice for most video work. I’ll happily film the whole production just using this prime lens, moving the camera to get the different shots. In a way this is perfect training for a budding videographer rather than changing the lens or using a Zoom just move the camera. Another bonus to working this way is that the effect on screen appears much more professional, but of course this is balanced by the additional effect required to move the camera each time. Another cheap purchase was a wide angle/macro lens which screws onto the lens filter thread. The quality is dubious but for less than £15 it was a bargain and perfect for a few seconds footage, the macro option is perfect for B roll footage for example I’ve filmed close ups of fingers working on a keyboard and then extreme close up of the keys themselves.

Audio

To be honest the cameras built in mic is just plain awful, it’s flat and very tinny and non-directional picking up everything including the cameras movements. So after some research the best possible microphone for my budget I found was the Rode Videomic, which was featured in March’s tech reviews. There are cheaper video microphones but the results from the random sample I’ve tried and the not so positive user reviews suggested that they offered little more than the cameras built in mic could offer. I recently confirmed this microphone as being a good choice when filming an interview with a sports coach while a game was in progress. We had two cameras for the interview but when editing it was only the audio from the Rode Videomic that was useable.

Camera Rig

This is a new addition and has proved to be a best buy particularly for my most recent projects, filming sports videos.

The camera rig itself is a very popular basic camera rig known as the spider camera rig. It’s available from a number of online shopping sites in a range of prices from £29.99 to £75, I paid £29.99 on Ebay and it came delivered free all the way from a company in China. At the same time I bought a couple of screw thread adaptors, which serve to change the female 1/4-inch screw threads that are supplied at the end of all the rigs grips to male. Basically they are 1/4-inch screws with a centrally located nut, simple but effective and very useful for attaching accessories or indeed a second camera.

I’ve never been much of a fan of hand held cameras and the resultant video footage. I have spent hours in editing; stablelising footage shot this way in After Effects. But I’ve become a fan of the steadicam techniques used in some popular TV shows that use steadicam’s as their primary video recording method. An good example of this is Borgen a Danish TV political drama, well worth a look for examples of how this technique can be applied well. The images are steady but never still following the actor’s movements. I’ve also researched this and have found that some production companies are using this technique to follow the entire movement of an actor through a set, capturing minutes of footage that does not require any editing. A great example of this is from a scene in the film Goodfellas where Larry McConkey the steadicam operator follows Ray Liotta as he enters the back door of a club, passing through hallways, kitchens and into the club itself in total over 3 minutes of continuous POV filming in one continuous movement. Extremely difficult at the time but with DSLR’s this can be achieved with some very basic equipment and a steady hand/movement.Filming on a Budget - Sports

Using the Canon 60D Camera Rig

Side view of the Canon 60D Camera Rig as you can see I’m using the screen flipped out sidewise from the camera body and fitted this with a Viewfinder Magnifier which is 3x magnification which roughly translates into viewing the scene using a 9 inch display.

Front view of the Canon 60D Camera Rig. The camera is fitted with the 18mm – 55mm kit lens but I’ve added a cheap Wide Angle filter screw attached lens to the front, which effectively opens out my angle to 11mm.

Note the Cable Release on the right hand grip. This controls the Auto Focus and start and stop recording when used in conjunction with Magic Lantern and operates the focus when the button is half depressed and starts recording on release, push again to stop recording. It also functions as a shutter release for taking stills when the button is fully depressed. Without Magic Lantern software it will only control the shutter for taking still pictures. The only other way I know to get remote video control this way without using Magic Lantern is to use the Canon infra-red remote release RC-6 set to option 2 and modify/channel the signals direction to reflect onto the front of the camera and the infra red sensor using a length of fibre optic cable. Note the Camera must also be set to one of the Remote control modes; some have more than one like the 60D although the 60D can be set to either for this to work.

Camera Rig – how does it work?Canon 60D Camera Rig

I’ve used the setup a few times now filming Sports and the footage I’ve taken using it shoulder mounted have proved to be very stable. The cameras position is adjustable lengthwise so it is easy to find a position that balances the rig on the shoulder and in my case also positions the viewfinder directly in front of me. The rig has also proven to be very useful when taking low-level shots just by putting it on the ground and adjusting the rear leg to control the cameras angle. In fact the rig has opened up a number of creative possibilities. Just by changing some of the rigs grip positions it’s possible to create a variety of methods for holding the camera, for example extending one of the grips using the slider grip you can position the grip directly over the camera, which is great for holding the camera at very low level to follow the action at almost ground level. For example a skateboarder doing tricks while following from the side, again the Canon 60D adjustable screen helps you keep your eye on the action while filming at ground level.

Future Purchase’s and wish list?

Focusing, always a problem when using a DSLR could be improved by adding a follow focus, which could be operated by reaching up with a finger from the left grip, alternatively they do make follow focuses with a cable control which could be mounted actually on the hand grip. A bonus when using the spider rig is there is already the benefit of being able to control the distance of the camera from the subject and therefore in turn keep in focus just by walking towards or away from the subject. I’ve also seen a method of controlling the focus using a small electronic device linked to the cameras USB port. This device consists of a remote control knob, which can be rotated; the lens focus follows this knobs movement in steps, which you can pre-program. In effect it works in a similar way as using the Tethering to control the camera using a Laptop and Canons software that came free with the camera. I believe this device only works on a limited range which includes the Canon 60D and 5D MKIII at this time. But what this allows you to do is mount the control on a rigs grip positioned perfectly for fingertip control.

Download or view the PDF click hereFilming on a Budget - download the PDF

 

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Magazine – Make A Documentary

make a documentary

Make a DocumentaryCoastal Path

Why not have a go at making a documentary? It could be easier than you might think. There is generally no script just an outline, there will need to be a shot list, there are usually no actors and you can make one with the minimum of kit, in fact all you need is your DSLR and a Tripod to get started.

Where to Start? Research an idea; find a subject that you think will be interesting both personally and to a target audience. Alternatively find a client who needs to tell a story. Use your Networks to find a project.

At University we are encouraged to work with external organisations to get experience of working on real projects and briefs.  For the London Olympics 2012 I was lucky enough to be working with Southwest’s Inspire Programme filming an Arts & Sport festival. Thanks to the success of that project I had the opportunity to work on producing a documentary for another project also awarded the Inspire Mark the ‘Weymouth Bay’ Coastal Access Project.Waves at Swanage Beach

As this is a client driven project the first thing I had to do was to meet the client and ask a series of questions, for example what is the project, who is going to want to see the final documentary and what are the key points that they want to get across. In many respects it’s the answer to who will be the target audience for the documentary that is the most important as this sets the theme. An example would be if the audience is predicted to be young school children then you will need to keep the language simple so that they can understand it.

InterviewsCoastal Path Signage

Chances are you will be conducting a series of interviews. You’ll need to prepare a list of questions that you will ask the interviewee, remember to keep these simple and make sure they are not closed questions. I always get the interviewee to repeat back the question so that the audience knows they are answering a question otherwise this would be confusing. Conduct interviews in an environment that they will find comfortable but balance that with production value. By this I mean if you have the choice between filming them in a garden shed or a Cathedral choose the Cathedral.

Always pick experts as your interviewee rather than someone you just met on the street, we’ve all seen the news reports where they’ve managed to find a member of the public who has no idea of what is going on but happened to be in the area.

Keep it interesting, think about the backdrop behind your subject, try and avoid plain backgrounds but at the same time watch for inappropriate objects in the shot. Film whenever possible in natural light, DSLR’s are quite good at working in low light levels but watch for noise and colour balance in very low light conditions.Coastal Path Signage

A-Roll

The A Roll is usually going to be the footage from the interviews or of subjects directly related to the documentary. For example if your documentary is about local transport you should show footage of Buses and Trains. The thing about footage of interviews is that generally there is only a limited amount of time that you can engage your audience before they lose interest; this is where the B-Roll comes in.

B-Roll

Basically the B-Roll is everything else. Generally it helps if this footage is related to the documentary subject but not necessarily. While conducting the interview look for things to film that confirm their relationship to the subject. For example bookshelves filled with reference books on the subject, certificates on a wall or maybe just photographs. You can also use B-Roll footage to show the passage of time for example the Sun rapidly setting using time lapse. Time Lapse is a good way of showing something happening very slowly in real time, for example over a period of hours or longer in just a few minutes on screen.

Don’t limit yourself to images that are only relevant to the subject sometimes something just works, for example in my documentary I managed to film some dogs playing on the cliffs and this arguably is the most remembered scene from the documentary.

Location filmingDorset Cliffs

For this my first foray into documentary I had to shoot on location, in fact several locations along the Dorset coastline. As I was working on my own it was down to me what kit I carried and to make sure I had everything I would need with me. It would have been great to take everything but climbing up steep hills carrying a tripod and camera would be hard enough but carrying anything non-essential had to be avoided. So what should you take? A choice of lenses or at least a good Zoom lens, some filters (graduated filters for landscapes), backup batteries and most importantly take lots of water to help keep you going.

A Tripod is essential when filming in the open and probably a substantial one is needed, most of the Tripods, which are easy to carry are going to be too lightweight to remain steady in windy situations. Although I’ve found you can sometimes get away with this by keeping the camera low to the ground or position it on something off the ground so that you do not have to fully extend the tripod legs. Standing to one side to block the worst of the wind sometimes works but not it the wind is coming directly from the front. Remember to turn off lens stablelisation when the camera is tripod mounted, you can hear the lens constantly moving and this maybe picked up by the microphone.

Location soundPortland

When filming in the open, wind is your enemy when it comes to sound recording. Even the gentlest of wind can create that booming noise on your soundtrack so protect your microphone from this by filming from sheltered locations. This is even more important if like most DSLR’s there’s no way of monitoring the sound being recorded. My own personal experience is that the dead cat wind shield on your camera mounted microphone will have limited success, they help to limit the wind noise but they do not eliminate it. This is even more of a problem when trying to conduct an interview in the open, remember the golden rule have the microphone as close as possible to the subject. I use a camera mounted Rode Videomic but this struggles when recording interviews in open air on location. I’ve since had more success using radio microphones or if your budget will not extend to one of those buy a cheaper Lavaliere microphone and a 5-metre cable extension.

Editing & Titles

Editing for documentary in many cases will be simpler than for other genre videos generally there is limited reasons for using any special effects a simple dissolve fade between clips does the job. My preference is to insert B-Roll video clips for transitions between clips of the interviews or scene changes for example  different locations. For this documentary I used video clips of sailing boats moving from left to right to provide continuation between the clips even though they are not sequences of the same sailing boat, it still works well as a means of carrying the audience from scene to scene and location to location.Smugglers Inn Osmington

Use music where appropriate, it’s unlikely that a documentary will need a music soundtrack, an exception to that maybe a Wildlife documentary. You may also need to record a separate narration in order to explain to the audience the significance of what they are seeing on screen for those clips for which you have no soundtrack from the interviews to use for this purpose.

Generate the opening and closing credits, it’s surprising how important this can be, take particular care not to miss anyone out. I asked the client to produce the list of contributors but I still had to add people or credit organisations into subsequent edits.

Another use of titles is to use these as transitions between video clips, which will also have the additional benefit of introducing the next scene or location. Handy if you do not have a sound bite or narration for the upcoming video clip, using a title can be enough to inform the audience of what the following clip is all about.

Contemporary editing practices call for rapid cuts between scenes and transitions are usually instantaneous not even time for a short dissolve.Rufus Castle Portland

Audience Previewing

Preview your creation to an audience; in my case this was the client. The client wanted some changes made which meant editing out scenes, changing the order or dropping more scenes in, which may mean shooting additional footage. If there’s no client involved ask a group of friends to watch and then ask them for their viewpoints afterwards, or ask them to complete a short questionnaire. It’s surprising what you may have missed especially after all those hours staring at the screen when editing.

Summary

Do your research – getting this right is important to the success of the documentary and make sure you have proof from several sources before committing to film. Getting the facts wrong will effectively make the documentary worthless and damage reputations including your own.

When filming on location check the weather forecast, travel times and facilities at the location. Be prepared to re-schedule for bad weather.

Get help, really this can be the most important decision you can make, an extra pair of hands to help carry your gear, hold a photographic reflector or microphone boom can make all the difference.

For your first documentary keep it short 15 minutes is a good target but be prepared, as for even such a relatively short time you will be shooting hours and hours of footage for the B-Roll.

Downloads

Download the orginal as a pdf – download Documentary

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Magazine – The Student Perspective

the student perspective

The Student Perspective Ian F. Hunt

From Website Designer to Filmmaker

Two and half years ago I started at the Arts University College Bournemouth, which from 2013 became the Arts University Bournemouth as an undergraduate studying BA Digital Media Production. I was convinced at the start of my degree that I would concentrate my studies and project work on web related topics and eventually graduate some three years later as a website designer. But thanks to a chance meeting with a guest lecturer from the professional film industry; my studies, my project work and future career interests have taken a radically different path.Studio Film Shoot

This key first lecture had a very simple concept; divided up into small groups each group would write, create a storyboard/shot list and edit/produce a 2-minute short film by the end of the day using the lyrics of a song for inspiration. Our group had the chorus from KT Tunstall’s, ‘Black Horse & A Cherry Tree’. For the production the technical parameters were set as follow, we were restricted to using a mobile phone to film, but we would have access to a suite of iMacs all running Adobe Creative Suite CS5 for editing, which meant we could use iMovie or Premier Pro CS5. I remember my only concern at the time was ‘where are we going to find a horse’ but of course we found one in the end.Green Screen Filming

I wondered about the mobile phone restriction for the project when we had access to several Sony HVR-Z5E Camcorders, but now I can see that this limitation was put in place in order to generate creativity. It would have been so easy to use the camcorders with their zoom lenses to capture the image of a horse from afar. But with just a mobile phone we ended up sneaking up on a horse in a damp field armed only with a recently purchased apple from the University Refectory to tempt the horse close and so get the shots we needed. By the end of the day I was hooked, in less than a day we had created a short 2-minute film, filmed in HD (on my Sony Ericcsson W995), edited in Premiere Pro CS5 and which was also a faithful representation of the lyrics from song chosen to be the soundtrack for our short film.

We are extremely lucky at the Arts University Bournemouth with access to a large number of cameras and film/video equipment including DSLR’s consisting of several Canon 5D MII’s, Canon 550D’s, 600D’s and 650D’s. This switch to DSLR’s has revolutionised the way we students approach projects, for example you can work individually or in much smaller teams on a project. Video clips are captured directly onto Flash or SD memory cards, no more capturing from tape. Another bonus of capturing your footage direct to SD cards means it is so much quicker to get video clips into the computer ready for editing.

As a creative University, students cannot help but be inspired and to be creative; this is helped by collaboration between the courses. I have worked with Acting, Makeup and Costume courses to make films, in fact all the essential resources and skills that a filmmaker needs.Canon 60D Green Screen Filming

Student Films – the approach (Not just for students)

Pre-Production

From the very early days of the short film unit and throughout the course it has been instilled into us that preparation that is pre-production is the key to the successful production of a film. But I’m getting slightly ahead; the process actually starts with the idea development. Student films tend to default to films about the Homeless and most recently Zombie films, I’ve made or been involved in the making of both. So how do you come up with an original idea for a film? There’s the mood wall, or a scrapbook of things that interest or inspire you. This can be anything; examples could be photographs of people, materials or just ideas for colours. The social networking site Pinterest has updated this concept recently, Pinterest lets you pin images of things that you like and/or inspire you. You can share these Pins with your collaborators and hopefully out of all of this pinning and sharing that unique idea for a film just pops out at you.

Sometimes a client sets the subject for the film and so the challenge then becomes how to interpret the brief and come up with a unique and interesting way of fulfilling the brief. Again the mood wall can help, as will a brainstorming session either with team members or your friends.

Now that you have your idea for a film its time to start pre-production, which means everything that you need to do before you start the actual filming process. Included in that list of things to do is to first create an outline of the film, a script if there is any dialogue, storyboards/diagram and a shot list. You need a film location and almost certainly actors unless the team/crew are also happy to be on camera. For some locations you will need permission to film particularly if it’s in a public area. You may need a risk assessment; we produce one of these for every film production in fact without one of these you will be unable to book equipment from the stores. How long is the film is it a short or feature length? Finally or maybe this should be the first thing to consider, where is your film going to be viewed? Online YouTube and Vimeo, on a self-hosted website, DVD etc.

Filming

To give you an idea of what is involved I produced a short film with another student of a Team GB athletes evening training session for the Long Jump. The pre-production, including the recce of locations took at least 10 days but the actual time filming was less than 2 hours. Most of this pre-production time was spent creating storyboards, shot lists and trying to come up with a unique way of producing a film that would make it more than just a video of an athlete training.

The key concept in the end was to try and capture the drama in the sport by showing the build up, the explosion of effort required to be the best at their sport. The filming took place on a very cold and dark Winters evening under stadium floodlights; this is where the DSLR’s low light abilities make it the ideal camera for the job. Having researched the key elements of the Long Jump, the dramatic build up at the start where the athlete psyches themselves up before starting the approach the run up to the launch point. These would be the scenes to capture and for dramatic effect using close ups and different angles.

During the filming process we decided to film additional shots not in the original shot list. This is always a good idea and this proved true for this film as we used most of these in the final film. Additional shots could include those taken at different angles and distances of the scene planned shot list but they could also be of anything. That is anything that adds to the films interest, for example a full Moon, wind in the trees a Sunset or Sunrise.Green Screen Setup

Don’t forget the importance of Sound

As important as the visuals are the sound has equal if not greater importance. Many problems with visuals can be fixed in post production but sound usually cannot, so this has to be captured right at the outset. This highlights a problem with DSLR’s most of which do not have a headphone socket and the means of monitoring the sound being recorded. There are ways around this e.g. using Magic Lantern but the only way really is to record using a standalone sound recorder like the Zoom H4N rather than record sound direct to camera. I personally use Magic Lantern on my Canon 60D which means I can monitor the sound being recorded from my cameras hotshoe mounted Rode Videomic.

Post Production – EditingStudio Shoot Canon 5D MKII

Premier Pro is a non-linear editing program and it is the preferred editing tool for our course although we do have access alternatives including several Avid editing suites in the University used by the Film Production course.

Remember those additional shots? I used these so that I could create rapid cuts to match the music soundtrack. Cutting to a different shot for each beat of the music. Modern editing trends mean rapid cuts especially in an action film, these cuts add to the dramatic effect, the quicker the cut the faster the pace of the film.

The choice of music is important to, I’d already researched the perfect soundtrack with a beat to match the movement building up to a crescendo at the end perfect for this type of on screen action.

Towards the end of the editing process is the time to add special effects (if required) and colour grading.

Get Feedback

It is always a good idea to preview your film to a group of friends before going public with your latest creation. I usually upload my film to YouTube as unlisted and then send the link to friends for their comments. Typically I fully expect then based on the feedback to have to do several changes to the final edit before the film is ready to go public. For University assessment we present our films to our peers for critique, this is when you find out if its good, could be better or it’s a real stinker. But no matter what the feedback is positive or negative learn from it, this can only help you to be a better filmmaker.

Downloads

Download the original article as a pdf – download Student Perspective