Just looking back at a video we did for a client in Toronto last year. Simple but to the point. Most projects aren't breathtaking and spectacular. It's okay if they get the work done.


I spent a few days in Toronto making four different video programs for the German healthcare company, Ottobock. The program here was made to celebrate the anniversary of a very successful product that helps amputees be more mobile.

The CEO of Ottobock Canada anchors the video while the b-roll material is from either an afternoon spent shooting in the company's production facility, or from material shot for the two other videos we were tasked with creating in a short amount of time.

I had an assistant for one of the shooting days but the first two days of shooting were done solo. There is a web-based lie/fiction/fairytale that suggests that it is impossible to do acceptable video without several ingredients.

Those are:

1. A crew of helpers and technicians. Sound operators, grips, gaffers, production assistants and assorted entourage. Plus a secondary crew that shoots behind the scenes videos.

2. State of the art, video specific, gear.

3. The ability to shoot and edit entirely in a S-Log or V-Log setting.

4. An enormous budget and acres of time.

5. Multiple, expensive tools with which to move the camera while filming.

Of course, this is all nonsense. The basics are still what matter most to just about any production.

With practice and some previous experience a good single operator can easily set up for a one person interview in fifteen or twenty minutes. You need to light the interview and can do so with two well chosen fixtures and two modifiers. You need to set up to record sound. I favor boom mounted microphones over lavaliere microphones because I think they sound better. Setting up a mic boom on a light stand, and orienting the microphone correctly, takes five minutes. A few more minutes to set levels and you are good to go. It's always nice to have someone around to pack and haul gear for you but it's not anything someone in reasonable health can't quickly and efficiently do on their own.

The advantages of having NO crew? You don't have to listen to their suggestions, you don't have to feed them and you don't have to pay them. I move quicker when I don't need to explain my delegations.

In the four videos we made in Toronto I used two different cameras; a Sony A7Rii and a Sony RX10iii. You might think the A7Rii was the primary camera but I used it sparingly, and only when I needed to drop focus out in the backgrounds to a greater degree than was possible with the RX10iii. I used the RX10 for over 90% of the shots because its great zoom range made effects and composition so much easier, and, counterintuitively for most people, the video files from the all-in-one camera are just better. The RX10iii was a $1500 camera and at that price it's set and ready to use. About the price of a professional compendium lens shade for the $,4500 Zeiss prime on the front of that $20,000 Sony F55 video rig...that pundits insist one must bring.

So, just how much are you getting paid? How do you justify the cost of ultra-high end gear to create an inexpensive (modest budget) video for web distribution? For YouTube? Really? And you need an Arriflex Alexa to get it done? I didn't think so.

I guess V-Log is great if you shoot on the beach or in super high contrast situations. The rest of the time a non-Log setting is just as good, easier to work with, easier to expose well and ....... just less of a pain in the butt. I spent an afternoon testing the V-Log on the Panasonic GH5S and it works well. Just not any better than shooting in a well modified "natural" camera setting. And the "natural" settings always seem to have much better flesh tones...

When it comes to budgets you may have noticed that most video projects these days have budgets that are sized to match up with their predicted market. Big budgets come hand-in-hand with big distribution and also the intention to do broadcast across multiple markets. The north American market for high tech prosthetics is, at any given time, a tiny fraction of the number of people who will tune in and watch a re-run of "The Big Bang Theory" after work today. You may have noticed that most corporate video projects are intended for one or two small granules of a very granulated media market. It's a small segment... But we probably shoot more often than ever before.

My budget to get to Canada and back, stay in a decent hotel, rent a car, eat nice food, shoot, direct and edit video over the course of four days was less than $20,000. When I look at the numbers I realize that I won't get into the 1% by doing this kind of work but, on the flip side, it's fun, collaborative, refreshing, a constant source of education and learning and, well, it's always been more than enough to pay the bills with. And, with a range of video work added to my photography work, it's easier than ever before to justifying new bits of gear here and there.

If I were to charge what we charged at my former advertising agency for a 30 second TV spot we'd wipe out my client's current video budget for the year with one project. The market has changed. Pricing changes with it. With less money to spend on production of each project you create you need to come up with concepts and shots that are easier to produce. You distill the messages down to make them more direct and accessible. You work with smaller crews. You figure out ways to use the gear you have in-house rather than bleeding off part of your fixed budget to rent the current popular gear.  Makes sense to me.

Finally, there is the idea that the camera needs to be moving all the time. This leads most new filmmakers to rent or buy giant cranes, SteadiCam rigs, and giant, motorized sliders to insure that cameras are constantly buzzing around a set. But too much movement is distracting and takes away attention from the speaker and the content.

Some stuff, like sliders and cranes, are getting replaced by handheld gimbals. Sometimes handheld gimbals can be replaced by dual image stabilization technology combined with digital image stabilization in post. Soon, as the newness of endless movement wears off people will put their cameras back on tripods.

But the bottom line is that all the gear and excessive crew is secondary to:

A really good script.

A really good plan of attack.

Better lighting.

Great Sound.

Wonderful acting.

Good direction.

and.... knowing the limitations and constraints of your project.

Just a thought while reviewing some older work.


Kristian Wannebo said...

".. cameras back on tripods."
Hear, hear!

( Yes,
I've seen so many monologues continuously disturbed by zooms, moves or cuts done by (an) overeager filmer(s).
And I hate it when cameras buzzing around barely allow you to catch glimpses of a performer's expression or body language.

Sigh... )

There is (almost) nothing like a still standing not zooming video camera well framing the talker to really emphasize a well told important story.

( As in your video above.)

Carlo Santin said...

Great sound is a big one for me. If the audio is great I tend not to notice small discrepancies in other areas, or at least they don't bother me much. Maybe that's just me. Poor audio is unforgivable.

NickD said...

Great stuff, Kirk. I just did some low-budget corporate video for the first time, and it turned out reasonably well, although I did learn a few things too!

Would you mind elaborating on your audio setup? That's the part that makes me most nervous, coming from still photography. I have an NTG-2 into a Tascam DR60D that I sync in post, which works alright, but I'm always worried about noise and mic position. I preferred to use a handheld boom as close to the speaker as possible, but it certainly would have been more convenient to mount it on a lightstand. Do you have a large boom coming in overhead, or aim upwards from just below the frame line? I'd like to improve my audio, and it seems (as usual!) that technique is the key element, rather than buying more gear! I already have what should be sufficient, and the next upgrade level is quite pricey. Thanks!

Michael Matthews said...

The Ottobock videos — and even more so, some of the Zach Theater videos like the Million Dollar Quartet series — prove your point beyond question. One person who knows what he or she is doing can crank out a thoroughly professional product using limited equipment. Now that I’m fiddling around with video my only crew involves pressing my daughter into service in order to get pans or other camera moves because I can’t be on both sides of the lens at the same time. Of course there is no comparison to your work. My exposures are all over the lot (clouds do move without warning) and my editing sometimes looks like it was done with a hammer and chisel. The idea of remaining open to less than top tier equipment proves to be of great value. I shot several takes of one opening with my EM5.2, then tried the same thing using an iPhone for video with audio provided via my $17 lavaliere recording into an old iPod Touch tucked away in a pocket. Yes, the winner was the iPhone/iPod combo with a handclap as an audio sync point.

Brandon Scott said...

I am very interested in your one man video techniques, especially processing, microphones, and lighting. Following your adventure into video has been really interesting.

Anonymous said...

Very nice work.

Bob Kruse said...

Very nice video, Kirk.