The First Day of Shooting on the March Video Project.

Number One Son Stands in For Test Shot.
A few years back. 

I'm trying to get as much work from Ben as I can before he goes off to college in the Fall. And it's Spring Break. I got him out of bed this morning at 6:30 and we were on the road by 7:00. Our (my) goal was to spend the day shooting lots and lots of different shots/clips/scenes/exciting video that I'll be editing into a two minute video for a technology company website. We loaded the car the night before. 

While I am mercurial and compulsive Ben inherited his analytical and measured personality from his calm and rational mother. Thank goodness. Ben's been watching my recent re-immersion into film and video with a critical eye. When he heard that I'd contracted to shoot another industrial video he came into the office and said, "Dad, we have to talk." Since he is smart beyond his years, has produced well over sixty videos, taken cinematography courses and won awards for his work (and he is generally patient with me), I decided to listen to him. 

The gist of his "friendly chat" was to tell me that if I wanted to do really good work with video I could not do the "fly by the seat of my pants" routine I've been practicing in still photography for many years. It just wouldn't work. "Here's what you need to do if you don't want to embarrass yourself in the edit suite..." is the way he started out. "You have to pre-plan, then script and then story board." I was taking notes. "The camera is the least important component. Being organized is the surest path to success." He closed by telling me to make a check list for estimating the job and not to undersell the massive importance of adequate edit time. 

Okay. I went with the program. I did a project overview with goals and objectives. Then I burrowed down and did an outline of the project with a description of locations, required talent and major shots we needed to achieve. Ben looked the list over and asked me how I was going to get from one point to the next. I  looked a little perplexed and he sat me down to talk about the importance of good transitions. Both in the writing, the shooting and the editing.  I took notes and when I wrote the script I ended each segment with as good a transition line as I could figure.

When I looked at my shot list and my script and my locations and talent figures and stuck in a rough estimate for editing I thought I was finished until I presented it to Ben (preparatory to presenting to the client).  He shook his head and said with a sigh: "Are you planning to log in the footage and go through to select the best takes? I don't see a line item in here for ingesting and transcoding the video, converting it to pro-res and making a log with time code notations. Were you just planning to give that full day away for free?" ( This is the teenager who once talked me out of buying a motorcycle...).

All that prep stuff happened a while ago and we found ourselves driving to the client's location in North Austin in the gray of the morning. We set up our cart and loaded my gear on it and headed for the top floor of a chic looking office building. Our first task was to shoot an interview with the CTO about the company's new software product. Because of my recent, strict schooling in preparation I had written out several pages of leading questions and also one sentence statements I wanted to get worked into the interview. 

We set up in a lab with a background of servers and screens. I lit it with two, fluorescent fixtures pushing soft light through nice diffusion as main and fill lights and one Fiilex P360 LED light with barn doors for a back light. My "A" camera was a Panasonic GH3 with an Olympus Pen 40mm f1.4 lens on the front, stopped down to f4. I miked our CTO with a Sennheiser wireless microphone set and listened carefully to every syllable with a pair of closed back earphones. I swear my kid walked by my position just to check my sound levels....

I had the interviewee facing me and I stood just to the left of the main camera for the interview. Ben was manning a "B" camera that was also a Panasonic GH3 with a 14-45mm kit lens. His rig was mounted on a  40 inch slider equipped with a Manfrotto ball head. He was positioned about 75 degrees off to the right from my position. 

We both agreed that the GH3 is a nearly perfect camera for shooting this kind of video. The .Mov files, set to 1080P, 30fps, generating 50 megabits per second, are as detailed as I've seen even from state of the art, dedicated video cameras and, to my eye, much sharper than the Canon EOS 5D mk2 or 3. And the wide range of lenses we can adapt and use is breathtaking. 

After we shot ample footage, even a transitions shot that invites the viewer with: "Let's go see (blank product) in action!" we stopped to also shoot the CTO's hand gestures for additional cutaway shots. 
In every office and with every person we videotaped we did not only our basic shot but also tight hand shots and second camera shots from different angles with a little controlled motion via a slider or tripod move. 

Ben and I had fun with the slider. We did the usual horizontal slide from left to right but we also did slides into and away from the subject. What a movie person might call a "push in" or a "pull out."
At one point in the day we found a Metro cart with big, smooth wheels that we used as an improvised dolly for some fun, sweeping, wide shots of people working in the lab. That was fun to do and fun to watch in playback. 

We broke for lunch around one p.m. and had burgers at Mighty Fine Hamburgers. They were pretty darn good. We split the fries. They were great. 

After lunch we did as many fun "B-roll" shots as we could find. Technicians working. Super close ups, extreme wide angles and lots of gear shots. Then we headed outside for an establishing shot of their building. It was sunny and eighty degrees when we stepped outside. The building faces West so at 3pm our timing could not have been better. For the exterior we used our third video camera, the Sony RX 10. Why switch cameras from something as good as the GH3 and settle for a (slightly) less detailed file codec? Well, the RX 10 has several things going for it but the most important for me was the built in neutral density filer (3 stops) and the really well corrected 24mm equivalent zoom lens. 

Even in taking our exterior shot, which will probably be on screen for several seconds, at the most, Ben was adamant that we have a wide shot, a moving wide shot and a tighter "entrance shot." And yes, he made me wait until cars were driving by and people were entering the building before shooting. He felt that having movement and action in several planes would move the scenes forward in a more exciting way...

Before packing up and leaving our location he made sure that we spot checked all the major shots and that we watched the exterior shots to make sure we had good takes. 

The project calls for another shooting day at a second location as well as a quick turn around trip to Chicago for an interview with a client customer. 

I learned a lot today and I had a blast working with Ben. His attention to detail makes me look permanently afflicted with hyper-ADHD. 

When we got home he assisted me in unloaded the gear and headed out to meet up with friends. But he did leave me a template for efficient log in sheets. How thoughtful...

Much more to come on this video project.


  1. I could almost see the production value that you put into this. Can't wait to see the dailies. Ben Rocks!

  2. A lot to be proud of in that story. Your son seems well prepared to jump into the real world,and he had time to work with his father in a real business environment. I hope to do that with my ten year old in a few years myself. Thanks for sharing this, and your many other great articles!

  3. Very Cool Kirk
    What is the phrase? "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear"
    Please be sure to let us know when it is released so we can see what your mentor/task master has taught you.

  4. This I want to see, if at some point your client OKs online display to a general audience.

    It sounds like a disciplined, collaborative approach, one liable to be highly productive.

  5. As a fledgling filmmaker, I think this was your best post ever. I'm about 55 years older than Ben but he knows much more about being organized that I ever have. Willing be starting a new film soon and I'm going to use the "Ben" method!

  6. It's always good to consult with and defer to experts, even if they're half your age and related to you. Great team work!

  7. Great write-up of the job and your son's key involvement. Sounds like you could be working for him in a few years (and enjoying it).

  8. John (and others), I am always amazed a what a good job Ben's mom has done in bringing out the best in the boy. He's kind, generous and amazingly immune to emotional stress or manipulation.

    The reasons I trust his judgement in film are these: He's studied three years of cinematography and film making at what is probably the best high school in Texas. He's created, from start to finish, at least 60 two minute projects. He's wrangled teams of twelve to fifteen people into his projects, trained some to run sound, some to act and some to help with special effects. He understands in a very profound way just how important every link in the chain is. And he's done it without the baggage of "how we used to do it in the good old days..." These are the kinds of people that we (me) older photographers who aspire to be cinematographers need to learn from...IMNSHO.

  9. Ed, You are so right. If you are willing to listen your children can become your Buddhas.

  10. Michael Matthews, the second my client launches the project on their web site I'll have it linked on the blog. Thanks for being interested in my work!

  11. "... But he did leave me a template for efficient log in sheets."

    Would you be willing to share the template?


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