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Ronin S MCC Cable Pinout

The Ronin S is a fantastic gimbal which has given us the agility we need to get out and film in public places.

In shots where the actors are moving towards or away from the camera, we need to be able to adjust the focus on the camera so that they are always clearly visible. This can be done on the camera, but it's tricky and makes it hard to keep the camera still. Or, you can buy a focus wheel for the gimbal and a cable to connect the gimbal to the camera. This means the you can control the focus without touching the camera, which makes things much easier.

The focus wheel costs £65, which is ok. BUT, for the cable -- which must cost around £1 to manufacture -- Ronin charges £17 + £7 postage. £24! And, if you have multiple cameras, you may need to buy one cable for each, as cameras have different types of sockets.

This cable is basically just a USB cable, which can be purchased very cheaply, with a proprietary connector on one end. The only reason you can't make one yourself is you don't know which of the five USB wires to connect to the eight pins on the Ronin.

Well, now you do. Here's the pinout for the plug on the Ronin end of the cable. If you connect these to the corresponding USB pins (pictured) you should be able to make your own cable.

If you do, please us me. We'd love to see what you've made.

Note: The Ronin plug is not quite a rectangle. It has two beveled corners which are towards the top in the image.

Rebecca — An Actor's POV

When Hannah and I were first paired up from our acting group and agreed to do a duologue I don't think either of us had anything more ambitious in mind than a bit of creative fun while we were in full lockdown. We started chatting on zoom and tried out a couple of scenes from various plays but nothing really had much resonance. Which is when I thought of the novel Rebecca which I have always loved.

The initial idea was to find a single scene between the two main female protagonists - the second Mrs de Winter and the sinister housekeeper, Mrs Danvers. The novel is a classic gothic horror story, with a young ingenue bride arriving at a spooky ancestral home with her glamorous, but mysterious husband, while the ghostly presence of his first wife, Rebecca, is felt everywhere and is manifested in the persona of Mrs Danvers who keeps everything "just as it was".

The conflict between these two women is the kernel of the story but the tension is allowed to build slowly across time so no one scene really seemed complete in itself, which is when we had the idea to mesh their main interactions into a way of telling the whole story. The speed from normality to mad dramatic conclusion, all within 10 minutes, is a bit of a gallop, but we hope we have produced a coherent narrative!

We rehearsed remotely using zoom, building on the characters and their relationship, but as everyone knows, zoom has its limitations for an actual performance and, as by then we were heading out of full lockdown, we were inspired to try and meet up so we could film in person. Roland then became involved and we went from a very simple thought of using a camera phone to deciding to make the most of the extended dearth of live performance opportunities and see what we could do, experimenting with film.

We had two fantastic days at an outdoor location using the ruins to represent the remembered house of Manderley with the scenes playing out almost as a dream. We learned a huge amount and fully acknowledge this is very much a fledgling attempt — we did not even have a director — with Roland having to play that role along with being camera-man, sound crew and editor!!

This is literally our first attempt, but we really hope it shows what can be done just with a small team, a tiny budget and heaps of enthusiasm! We have already shot a second "short" film and are looking forward to the challenge of doing many more and to learning and improving each time we do!

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.

Second day on location

We returned for a second, and final, day of shooting on the set of Rebecca. It was a gorgious late-summer's day and, more importantly, the weather was identical to our first day, which will be a great help with continuity.

Gear

Last time we were using mobile phones, to record the audio, which proved to be deeply unsatisfactory. So, in advance of our second day of shooting, we invested in a field record and TRS extension cables, so that the lav mics could be plugged directly into the recorder. The disadvantage is that the actors have to be careful to not to trip over the wires. However, the sound engineer/camera man is able to monitor the quality of the audio live and so issues can be identified and fixed immediately.

We also invested in a boom mic, which gives a backup source of audio if the lavalier mics are affected by clothes rustle or other issues. An additional benefit of the recorder is that all audio tracks are recorded in sync and match up with the corresponding video clips, so it is much easier to organize the footage in post production.

While not perfect — it's almost certainly not possible to capture perfect audio on location — the results are much better than before and required much less work in post.

Vistit the project page to see the final film.

First day on location

It was great to be back on set today with real actors for the first time since lockdown began. The panda is cute, but she's not the same as real actors!

We had beautiful weather, in a lovely countryside location, which is ideal for keeping safe while filming. I think we're going to be limited to outdoor locations for the forseeable future, and it's definitely going to get a lot harder as we move into winter.

Mobile phones for audio?

This was our first time shooting narrative dialogue with a DSRL and it went fairly well. We didn't have time to secure audio equipment, so we decided to use lavalier (lapel) mics plugged into a mobile phone in each actor's pocket. This turned out to be a very good demonstration of how, while it is possible to get good quality audio (and footage) from a mobile phone, in practice, it probably won't happen. Or, you will have to work very hard to make it happen.

First of all, we couldn't get one of the actor's phones to talk to the mic, so we had to use another phone. That phone records good-quality audio through the internal mic, but it wasn't as good using an external mic. Also, the phones were too big to be easily concealed and remain accessible, so it was very difficult for the actors to start and stop the audio. The result was huge audio files, that took a long time to deal with in post production. Getting the audio files off the phones after the shoot was also a big nuisance. Worse, with all the pulling phones in and out of costumes, the gain controls got knocked and lots of the audio was unusable.

All in all, it was a lot of fuss, and a huge amount of time was needed in post production cleaning up the audio and the result was not amazing.

Nice footage

Despite the problems with audio, the footage was very nice visually. So, we've proved that we can shoot high-quality video on the DSLR; we just need to sort out the audio.

We managed to shoot about half the footage for our short film, so we'll be planning a second day of shooting soon. An audio recorder and extra mics are definitely on the shopping list before then!

First DSLR short film

It goes without saying that lockdown has been difficult for actors; a disaster for professionals, who depend on acting jobs for their income, and a miserable experience for amateurs, who miss the emotional connections with their collaborators.

Throughout lockdown, we've been organizing activities to keep people engaged. We've organized two remote acting courses, using video conferencing software, and we've been pairing up and working on scenes together, recording each side of the dialogue on a mobile phone and then editing together, as if the actors were physically present.

Working remotely isn't the same as being together in the room though. It's a good next-best-thing but it's clear that actors feed off the buzz they get from working intimately with other people, and it's hard to reproduce that remotely. The prospect of us all getting together again in a rehearsal room, let alone organizing a show, seems a long way off. Still, as the lockdown eases, it should be possible to start meeting up again and film could be a way to bring actors together again, working towards a tangible goal. We could film outside, and would only need two actors and a cameraman on set, so it would be very safe.

We had to use mobile phones while people were working remotely. It's possible to do good work with a phone, but you have to work quite hard to get good quality footage. We are fortunate enough though to have access to a good-quality, albeit slightly dated, DSLR. I was doing some monologue work using this camera recently, and I realized that I should really learn how to use it properly. I would also need to get the rest of the necessary equipment together — lights, mics etc. — learn how to use them and improve my editing.

Hunting around on YouTube.com, I came across Darious Britt. He's an indie filmmaker and he has lots of instructional videos online about narrative filmmaking. In particular, he has a thirty-day film school video — a thirty-day curriculum to teach yourself filmmaking.

I had a fifteen day-gap in my schedule, but I knew some of this stuff already, so I started working my way through as much as I could. I think his idea of working on microfilms — very short filma with few, if any actors — while you learn the craft, is very powerful.

So, here is our first microfilm. It's a simple thirty-second montage. It's fast-paced and so required a lot of shots and a lotem> of playing around with lighting. It's a perfect opportunity to learn the equpiment and an important first step towards getting real actors in front of the camera.

I can't wait to get real actors in front of the camera. Here's the film…

Microfilm: Dreams of a Youngling

Is Meisner over VC… possible?

Ever since we went into lockdown, we've been thinking about how to keep actors acting even though everyone is stuck at home. We been experimenting with two actors filming their individual halves of a scene separately and then editing the two halves together. But, it's hard to act on your own and have to imagine that your scene partner is there. Also, the connection with your scene partner is one of the things that makes theatre so exciting, and you really miss that acting against an imaginary partner.

It's possible to partially address this by iterating the dialogue towards the final takes. One actor records their lines as an MP3 and sends it to their partner. They in turn act against the first actor's lines, recording themselves as they do it and send their recording back. After a couple of interations of this, both actors have an emotionally authentic recording of their scene partner, which they can use to record their final take. This process is actually a pretty good technique for learning the lines, so it's the kind of work that both actors would need to do anyway, just with a bit more organisation.

It's not the same as acting against a real human being though. For one thing, you know exactly what your scene partner is going to say and how they say it, which is never entirely true in live theatre. And, you've probably listened to the same recording many times. Plus, of course, it's audio only; no facial expressions or body language.

We didn't think there was any way around this, but, in fact, we were wrong. We were using Video Conferencing [VC] calls to rehearse the scene with the director and she was doing us to do Meisner reps, as a way of deepening the connection between us and getting into the scene. Doing this, gave us the idea of doing the same thing to film the final take.

Now, the easiest way to do this would be to simply have the VC software record the call, as we did with Immaculate. The trouble with that is that the video quality is pretty poor. A better way is for both actors to use two mobile phones each; or, even better, a phone and a proper camera. By placing the two phones close enough together, you can record yourself on one phone and run the VC software on the other. You see your partner on the VC phone and the other takes a high quality recording of yourself. Once you're face to face with a real human being, you can do Meisner reps and prep and you can react off one another in a fairly natural way, as you would on stage. Afterwards, you both send your footage to your editor for post production as you would for a regular shoot.

We shot our scene from Frankenstein this way, and it was a lot more enjoyable than acting alone with an imaginary partner.

Scene: Frankenstein Scene XVIII

Acting in Lockdown

Ever since our live show, which was scheduled for May 2020, had to be shelved because of the lockdown, we've been trying to think of ways to keep acting. Fortunately, one of the team was in contact with a director who was keen to have a go at running a remote acting class on line.

We organized an online eight-week course over video conference [VC]. We did lots of general scene acting and scenes from different plays in the first half of the course. Then, in the second half, we prepared a heavily-abridged version of Oliver Lansley's Immaculate. This was performed live over VC and the resulting footage lightly edited to improve audio quality, remove glitches due to the VC software and add overlays and titles. Two additional scenes were then recorded separately and added in post. Here is the result…

Scenes from Immaculate