Further Ramblings about Filmmaking (and Gear)

I don’t post here often. Mostly because writing is my profession and giving my work away does not make much sense. That being said not everything I write is meant for publication nor is it intended for a diary. So the challenge is to find pieces of writing that falls in-between these two categories – and is hopefully of interest to someone other than myself. What I post here are my attempts.

With that out of the way here is another post concerning filmmaking gear and my struggles to make sense of the no-budget world I inhabit. I shall try and imbue the following nonsense with some sort of value for others.

value-proposition
I call this “Really making the point.”

This past year I’ve tried to focus more on making things than thinking about how to make them. It’s lead to a few interesting projects and discoveries.

There have been more missteps than leaps forward but any progress is progress. The greatest trap of trying to do this on my own is spending more time “researching” or attempting to learn new skills rather than doing. Case in point:

One of the largest hurdles for me regarding filmmaking gear concerns stabilization. I don’t care much for shaky handheld footage in fiction. Usually it feels like the wrong choice. That being said the simplest and cheapest form of stabilization (using a tripod) often feels lifeless and distant. Which is why I looked into gimbals this year.

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It’s slim pickings for images out there – this version two of the Merlin, mine was version one

Many moons ago I tried using the Stradicam Merlin with a DVX100B. It was not for me. I found that after weeks of use and practice I could get a steady shot for about thirty seconds at a time. I could never get the camera to balance properly and holding the DVX100B with one arm was a feat I could do for maybe four minutes at a time.

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Not my arm

I assumed the fault was with me. I wasn’t clever enough to balance it properly (the instructions were terrible) and I wasn’t strong enough to hold it for hours at a time because I don’t go to the gym. Simply put – I am not Garrett Brown (genius/strong man/inventor of the steadicam).

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Flash-forward to this year and the pre-Christmas sale for the Moza Air. I decided to give stabilizers another shot and despite numerous YouTube videos demonstrating the ease with which you can balance the gimbal I found myself with another contraption I couldn’t balance and was left wondering if I am truly that inept.

hammerwrench1
It WILL work

Wherever the fault lies I returned the gimbal. Yet I still don’t like shaky handheld footage and I have an upcoming shoot where I need some sort of stabilization solution.┬áSo, what to do?

I feel foolish because I currently own three cameras (Sony A7S, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and an iPhone 7+) and only one has excellent in-camera stabilization. Yet, and this is forever my conundrum with filmmaking gear, I find myself not wanting to shoot with this option.

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Steven Soderbergh knows my pain

In part this is because the iPhone controls are vastly inferior to those of my other cameras. Both of my proper cameras can get a “better” image than the iPhone and allow for greater flexibility in post production regarding manipulating the image. There is also the sense of ridiculousness that comes from choosing my phone as my capture device when the more expensive cameras are in arms reach.

I need to shoot night interiors in a moving car and I know that the iPhone isn’t going to perform as well as the A7S, the low light is going to lead to very grainy footage – but it will have less rolling shutter and micro jitters even if I shoot handheld.

Assuming I go this route I have purchased two small off camera lights –
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Only to find that they have their own set of problems. The Aputure light takes four batteries and most likely won’t make it through a full night of shooting without changing them out. I can solve that one! Both have a cold shoe mount. Meaning I can mount them to a camera but nothing else that I own. So having a light out of frame below the dashboard would require a small tripod and a camera body…which isn’t really a viable set up.

Searching through the selections of possible mount adapters on B&H is a bit daunting. First there is the basic problem of the Internet, everything has a generic name so that you spend more time sifting through detritus than you do looking at viable contenders (looking at you Apple Motion whenever I have attempted to find a tutorial).

Once you get through the dreck there are some inexpensive solutions like this clip mount-

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I’ve no idea if it’s any good. So I need to purchase it (or something like it) then test it to see if works in a moving car. Never mind the fact that there are only so many places where I could put this.

So despite a good deal of searching and listening to those sharing their wisdom online my solution is still “buy it and try it”. I recognize that I am in this place because of my lack of firsthand knowledge and not having a group of likeminded people to bounce these ideas off from.

Nearly all of the advice dispensed at people who are, presumably, like me boils down to – find your tribe. Get that group of people that you can rely on to help you do this stuff. Which sounds great but I’ve no idea how that actually comes to be. Nearly everyone I’ve met in the past three years who is a filmmaker has no interest in watching a short film I’ve made, let alone discussing clamps to hold small lights. Perhaps there’s a secret handshake you need to learn first.

yagkyga

So I continue to share my ramblings here, now and then getting specific like this post, in the hope that someone out there might connect with the material or the sentiment. I’ve linked the items I’ve posted here to make it easier for anyone interested in checking these things out. I don’t have an affiliation with B&H Photo, I just use them to buy filmmaking equipment.

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