Agile Film Making

With our first short film, Rebecca in the can, it's time to start planning our next film. Fortunately, two of out actors had been working with a short script during lockdown, which was ideal for adaptation for a shoot on location.

Rebecca was very much a demo film which we used to learn about film making and this second project is an ideal opportunity to deepen our knowledge. While filming Rebecca, we had been mainly concerned with overcoming technical issues — principally audio. We kept the camera on a tripod throughout filming, for symplicity, which this led to a rather static feel to the final film. This time we wanted to experiment with getting more movement into the shots.

We also had a director working with us this time. The amazing Heather Long was on location helping to coach the actors through the scenes.

We spent a total of three days on location. The first day scouting and shooting test footage, and then two days of filming.

Gear

We're using a Canon 5D mark III camera, which doesn't have stabalization, so getting stable footage is a challenge. It was obvious from the script that we were going to be filming lots of tracking shots with the actors walking, so we needed a solution. We decided to invest in a gimbal. This is a device which allows the camera to be held by hand while three small motors compensate for the operator's movements to keep the camera steady.

The gimbal is a complex piece of equpiment and it does seem to have a tendency to misbehave if the operator isn't used to its idiosyncrasies. However, it mostly behaved itself while we were shooting test footage, which was reassuring.

We met did run into another challenge. When we planned the shoot, it wasn't expected that the actors would be walking and talking at the same time. The walking shoots were conceived as transitions between scenes in which the actors would be static.

It became clear, during our scouting, that the best way to make use of the location would be to have the actors walking and talking at the same time. That would be highly impractical using the same lavalier mics connected to the field recorder with cables setup that we used for Rebecca.

The obvious solution was to use wireless lavaliers, but we had no experience of using them, they are expensivem, and in any case, there wasn't time to buy any before we were scheduled to shoot. We thought of renting, but now that winter has arrived, there are only so many hours in the day and we didn't have time to collect from a rental shop before the shoot.

Fortunately, we came across a site called Fat Llama, which seems to be AirBnB for photography equipment. It's a bit cheaper than renting from commercial rental shop. More importantly, however, if you're looking for common pieces of equpiment like wireless mics, there are videographers dotting all around the country who have them at home. Our producer could collect them the night before from someone who lived nearby and return them on the evening of the last day of filming, so it was much more convenient that traditional rentals.

Wireless mics + gimbal makes for agile filming

One big lesson from this shoot, is that the combindation of a gimbal and a set of wireless mics makes for a very agile setup. Using tripods is favoured by narrative film makers could it allows for more precise execution of planned shots. However, carrying tripods around and repositioning them between shots takes a lot of time and makes it very difficult to move around a large location. In contrast, with a hand-held camera, actors carrying their own mic and using natural light, makes for a very agile setup. You can land in a public location with no crew and shoot scenes while working around passers-by.

With the pandemic promising to continue throughout the winter, many traditional locations are going to be closed and we are not going to be getting into a studio or any indoor locations any time soon. Having access to an agile setup like this will be essential for being able to continue to make films safely.

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