8.26.2020

What can I tell you about pre-production phone calls with directors and producers? Hmmmm. More than you want to read.... I'd conjecture.


The amazing Martin Burke. 
An Austin Theater Legend.


My left ear is sore. That's the ear that listens most to my phone. My brain tries to listen as little as possible. 

We're going to shoot a twelve hour day on Saturday. It's one part of the theater project I've been working on for the last few weeks. The first four hours will take place outside. We'll film 30 different actors on a wide pedestrian bridge. We'll film some of the more notable talents individually, some in a groups and then get shots of all of them together. Unlike still photography both the camera and the actors/dancers/singers will be moving all the time. We'll get shots of the group coming toward our side of the bridge as I move directly backwards with the camera in my hands. We'll circle around singers with the camera as they belt out the theme song chosen to open the big event. And, of course, we'll try to capture all kinds of close-up shots as well. 

Everyone will be lip syncing to the same music so our editor has a reasonable chance of cutting everything together in post. While the director is aware we're trying to make sure the final client knows that we need to do multiple takes of each part of the process to make sure we get what they need. People unused to video productions have the idea that everyone just kind of magically knows what to do, where to dance and how to move and when someone yells, "action!" everyone will just automatically fall into place. Without rehearsals. And later, in the edit,  we'll just zoom in and grab the parts we like. But it doesn't ever work that way. 

After four hours on the bridge and in the vicinity (exterior) of the theater we'll head inside where I'll light a set for a "quick" into camera welcome speech by an "important person." We'll ask over and over again if they have a speech or need a teleprompter but we'll hear over and over again about how the person in question is a consummate pro and plans to just wing it. We'll remind the client on the shoot day about our script discussion as "the important person" wings it again for the 14th or 15th take. 

Then we move to the stage for three or four hours of piecing together several creative dance and music numbers but we'll need to do it in chunks so we can limit the number of people on stage to ten or fewer to conform to local pandemic safety standards. The client is "certain" that this will work just fine and that the editor will "bring it all together and make magic". The director,  editor and I are not so sure. We're wondering where to make the edits...

After that it's been decided that we'll do a big music and dance number on the exterior plaza which, at the scheduled time, will be half in deep shade and half in full sun. But the client feels confident that we can make that work.  And yes! I could make that work with a crew of grips and some silk diffusion fabric to hang over the hundred foot by hundred foot plaza space....  if only we had a budget...

So, the director and I had an hour long phone call to discuss all the production issues today. The list of topics was nearly endless. We needed to discuss everything from access to restroom and access to drinking water. Those were the easy ones. We discussed timing and whether we would shoot multi-camera or single camera. The director came down on the side of single camera. That led to a discussion of how many takes we'd need to cover each scene. I thought four. Wide establishing shot, small group shots, MCU of the "star" of each segment and then some wild b-roll. The director agreed and then, metaphorically (because I couldn't see him) wrung his hands together and wondered where we'd find time in the schedule to cover so much. 

We discussed time of day and angle of light. We talked about camera moves. We talked about gimbals versus handheld camera work for specific shots. We talked about a "look and feel" for the interior lighting and we even dialed down and talked about who would come early the day of the shoot to rouse the homeless people who sleep on the steps of the building at night. And who would remove the trash and broken bottles from the night before. 

We discussed which kind of microphone to use on our "straight into camera" welcome shot (lavaliere/wireless) and which mic to use for our emcee to start the show (Rode Reporter Microphone/ in the frame). Who will run sound? Me, of course.

When could we schedule breaks? Will we break for lunch or do a "walking" lunch? Where are the restrooms for the actors and our meager crew? Is someone bringing water? Who is handling craft service? Can we do make-up? (no. actors to do their own...). Can someone run two extension cords to the interview site? Who's manning the board for the stage lights during the interior portion of the shoot? Where can we set up a secure location to charge batteries and store back up cameras and lenses? Do we have security at all? Do we have a rain day scheduled? Did anyone think to put said rain day on my calendar? 

We went through the schedule in 30 minute increments and talked through technical issues. We both adhere to the idea that a shoot should be fun and that we can't fall on every grenade that gets tossed nor catch every javelin thrown our way. We can only pre-plan to the best of our abilities and hope that everyone else delivers their best. 

It should be a crazy day. I'm bringing white towels to wrap cameras in between shots. Wide brim hats are mandatory. Face masks a must have. Ice gloves at the ready. Hopefully the coffee will run like water through my kitchen today.

If anyone asks why I do all those walks around town in the blazing heat it's to stay in shape for stuff like this. We probably won't get hit directly by any part of hurricane Laura but we'll get the heat (102° predicted) along with whopping humidity from the edges of the storm. It's best if you are acclimated. We'll have actors in the elements for a half hour at a time. We'll be on that bridge from 7:15 until 11:30 a.m. (more or less). And at that point our day will have just hit the one third mark. Bring your own shade. It's good to be prepared. The Boy Scouts were right.

Ah. The glorious perks of homeownership. The paralysis of turning off the water.

 

It started a couple of days ago; a tiny puddle, maybe an inch by an inch, appeared along the edge of one of the Saltillo tiles in the kitchen. At first I thought someone had just spilled or splashed some water but every time I wiped up the puddle with a paper towel it reappeared. 

I checked under the kitchen sink but everything there was dry and happy. I suspected the refrigerator. They are complicated and sometimes non-cooperative. I thought one of the valves that bring was to the ice maker or the water filter was leaking. Maybe it was the drain hole for condensation run off. I don't know, refrigeration has always seemed like magic to me. 

If the pipes under the sink were still good I decided to blame the refrigerator and call an appliance repair guy who has always done good work for us. I was sure he could minister to our KitchenAid side-by-side and bring it back to good form. In all honesty I did clean the dust off the coils so he wouldn't think we were totally unaware of the idea of maintenance. 

Patrick showed up this morning with his tool kit and usual no nonsense manner and the first thing he did was to pull the huge, heavy, massive refrigerator out of its cubby to look at the back. And there is was; a broken shut off valve on the wall. A valve which should work to protect us from leaks!

The stem of the valve was broken right off and there was no way to shut off the persistent stream of water other than to go to the shut-off valve at the stream and shut off water to the entire house. As I left the front door to go and shut off the water (so proud of myself for knowing where that is!) I heard Belinda yell through Ben's bathroom door, "Ben, finish your shower! Dad's turning the water off in two minutes." 

Patrick is not a plumber. We were clear on that. But he has a friend who is a plumber. He gave us his friend's cell phone number and suggested I attach photos of the valve in question (and a valve under the sink that's had a checkered past) and send along a text. 

Having no other expertise than photography I went into the studio and grabbed a small LED panel and used it, along with my iPhone, to get photos of both valves. I sent the pix along with an urgent message (by this point I realized that toilets work via running water...) suggesting, pleading, and cajoling that today might be much better than tomorrow for this particular act of plumbing. 

It's a little after noon now and I expect our aqueous salvation to arrive around 6-ish. I've retreated into my office to escape the task of floor mopping (which I believe should fall to the youngest in the house) and to order myself a sandwich for lunch. 

I thought I was so clever to pay off the house last year but in truth a house is never "paid off" they just continue to rack up obligations. More or less a ploy by the fates to keep us on our toes.


I hope we have water tonight. But I'm happy it wasn't the refrigerator proper. I have a nostalgic relationship with that fridge and I'd hate to lose it. 

Hope your day is less fraught with domestic aggravation. KT

Thoughts about workflow and new gear.


The gimbal for the iPhone was a good first step. That made movement with the phone smooth and sure but we needed to do something about locking in white balance, frame rates and other particulars. Two days ago I downloaded an app for the phone called, Filmic Pro. It's pretty amazing for $14.95. To take full advantage of the program you'll probably want to download an upgrade that's priced at $13,99 which unlocks Log files, shadows and highlight recovery, noise reduction and a few more goodies. You can get along for most stuff with the basic app but if you can afford it the additional upgrade adds even more control.

As many of you here probably already know Filmic Pro is a powerful software tool for making smart phones into very capable video cameras. You can work in a fully manual configuration and control most parameters just as you would in a video camera or hybrid camera. 

I shot a test roll on Monday, along with the Zhiyun Smooth 2 gimbal. Here are my ungraded results:

I still have a lot to learn about mastering iPhone video and gimbals but I'm ready to do a deep dive and find out as much as I can. My friend, James, took some time to show me how to walk forward and backward with a gimbal in a way that minimizes the up and down motion of walking. It's paying off the more I practice it. 

We won't be using the iPhone as our primary camera for the Zach video projects, mostly because my iPhone XR is limited to a wide angle vision. One other flaw of the iPhone, which was mentioned in a comment yesterday, is the tendency of the native Photo App to over sharpen videos. That seems to be much less of a problem when using Filmic Pro.

The impetus to install Filmic Pro was my realization of how much fun it is to work with gimbals. But after working with my little phone gimbal for a handful of days I'm ready to experiment with other set-ups. I've ordered an inexpensive but well reviewed intermediate gimbal; the Zhiyun Tech Crane V2 (an older generation) to use with my Lumix G9 and I'm taking time this afternoon to charge, assemble and balance the much bigger (and stronger) Ronin-S gimbal that I have on loan to use with an S1 + 24-105mm. 

My hope is that the G9 on the Crane V2 will work well and I'll be able to designate that set-up as my primary gimbal system. It makes sense since the G9 benefitted from a free firmware upgrade that handed G9 owners access to 10 bit, 4:2:2, 4K video files that look really nice. I'm getting great hand held shots from the S1+24-105mm system as long as I don't try for big moves or long traveling shots. Clearly those are the province of either gimbals, or well laid dolly track and a dolly grip. 

Moving on to the Ninja V. I've been very pleased with its basic operation; as a monitor that also records easy to edit files in the Pro Res codec. My one gripe is that the camera and Ninja don't sync up completely. The monitor doesn't automatically start recording when you push the record button on the camera. It's not a fault of the monitor it's down to Panasonic not including an HDMI trigger signal in the S1. If you splash out for the S1H the synchronization works fine. 

Monitors and digital recorders are certainly not essential if you are out shooting your own art or if you've been let off the leash to pursue footage for a client on your own. They do come in handy during those collaborations that include client hand-holding. Many clients, either new to video or just insecure, want you to play back every take to make sure they've got what they wanted before moving on to the next shot. In those instances the external monitors are so much easier to share than having one or two additional people hovering over the back of your camera trying to look at the 3.2 inch rear screen! 

The external monitors are also much more flexible in their placement. I've loved having the monitor set up so it leans away from the camera body and over the lens. It's makes for a much more stable way of holding the camera for a lot of casual shooting. I also love being able to put a camera at the end of a small crane and have the monitor at the other end of the crane where you control the operation. Finally, you can see what you are doing....

But the really interesting thing about the Ninja V is its ability to take 6.5 K information from the S1H sensor or Cinema DNG raw information from a Sigma fp (with available beta firmware in the Ninja...) and write out Pro Res Raw files from them. The implementation from the S1H looks more sophisticated and might be of more interest to fast working pros since the camera works in V-Log and the monitor can use LUTs to show that one is in the ballpark. With the Sigma fp a working videographer will need to make a series of exposure tests to see just how far into overexposure one can get away with in order to raise the shadows. (No Sigma Log file forthcoming...).

But with either camera and a Ninja V you'll be heading into the higher end of what's possible with video. 
It's good to temper expectations a bit though. The Pro Res Raw codec is still a compressed format and while it provides good exposure latitude (at least one full stop in either direction around optimum) the color is mostly baked in and isn't anywhere close to being as malleable as photographic raw files. On the other hand the Pro Res Raw will get you a lot more information on your storage before it fills up, when compared with the totally uncompressed raw files at 12 bit that you'll get directly from a Sigma fp. 

On the video project I've been working on we are still shooting directly to the camera's memory cards. Shooting bigger files would quickly become unwieldy as we're shooting between 30 minutes to an hour and 30 minutes of video per shooting day. If we shot that as uncompressed raw on the Sigma fp we'd be filling up SSD drives about every twenty minutes...and the back end of the process would become overwhelming. 

I'm gearing up for a long and varied day on Saturday. Unwanted mission creep is starting to accelerate its creep-itude. In addition to the stuff I've already seen on story boards we just added an interview style presentation with the managing director who is flying in and then out to do this. So, from gimbal work with a cast of up to 30 on the big pedestrian bridge, to music and dancers on stage we're also adding a completely different set up with different lighting and the need for full audio. Mission creep = the bane of every volunteer project. And the thing that keeps one from re-volunteering for months or years afterward.

If Hercules has been confronted with volunteer mission creep he would have walked away from his labors and changed careers... Makes cleaning stables look like fun...