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A one-man production band… on wheels

Capturing an event with pro know-how and flexible tools

By David Hurd

I recently had an opportunity to shoot a gala event at a mall for the Tampa Innovation Alliance. The CEOs of all the big local companies, as well as the mayor were there, along with 600 guests. The event was held in the large space that used to be an Old Navy store, and there were booths out in the mall that needed coverage as well.

The plan was for Tracy, the interviewer, to get short interviews with the VIPs before the sit down part of the event and then I would record the speakers. The footage would then be edited down into a five-minute 720p YouTube video.

Because of the many set-ups, and the size of the venue, I needed a rig that was quick and portable. I started with a pair of American Grip Dana Dolly Baby Combo Stands on wheels. These things are awesome and built like tanks. I then attached a 48-inch SmartSystem slider to the top of the stands and a Manfrotto head and pan bar. The 48-inch SmartSystem slider can take a lot of weight and allows me to use any camera rig.

I assembled the rig in the parking lot, and just rolled it into the mall. During the shoot, I used the slider to re-position shots quickly when the crowd got in my way, and it came in handy for creating moving shots as well. Let’s talk about the camera.

My Gear
I have grown to love my Blackmagic 4K production camera for jobs like these. I use a 35mm Rokinon lens, which due to the crop factor ends up at around 50mm. Indoors, I set it to Film mode (iso 800) and a color balance of 4000, which always seems to work best. I also turn on the 2:35 mask so that I have an idea of what the image will look like later.

The Rokinon lens is f1.3, so it does well in low light. Since I was going to be constantly on the move, I just used available light. Did I mention that the lighting inside the event looked like a dark bar? That’s where Film mode (iso 800) and the lens saved my butt.

For important jobs, I record a 220Mb/sec stream in ProRes 422HQ, otherwise ProRes 422 100Mb/sec works fine for the web. You will only see the difference when you zoom in a lot in post. For power, I used a V-mount Blueshape battery. Blueshape batteries are what professionals are changing to. The one I used that night lasted the whole shoot.

For audio, I use the amazing little JuicedLink BMC366 mixer for Blackmagic cameras. It’s small, lightweight, and has everything I need. I used a Shure VP64 mic, plugged into a Sennheiser RF transmitter in one channel of the mixer for the interviews. I also needed the house audio for the sit-down speeches. For this I used a Sennheiser lav transmitter plugged into a sub out on the house mixer via a 1/4-inch jack. Since the jack was mono and the mixer was stereo, I only pushed in the jack to the first click to avoid shorting it out. After adjusting the in and out levels, the Sennheiser transmitted the house audio to wherever I was in the room.

Interviews
The interview part of the shoot went something like this: Tracy walked around with his mic in hand, finding interview victims. I followed him, happily pushing my rig along. When one was found, I directed them into position to make use of available light, framed for a wide shot, focused and hit record. It was painless, and the process took about one to three minutes per interview.

When everyone went inside for the sit-down part of the evening, I found a place off to one side of the stage, about 30 feet from the podium. Using the same lens, I could get most of the stage in the shot. After a quick battery change in the house audio transmitter, I was ready to rock.

About an hour later, after the event, we stood by the exit and snagged people for interviews as they were leaving. Then I rolled the rig to the parking lot, took it apart, loaded it up, and headed home for the edit.

The Edit
The edit is where the magic happens. Thunderbolt is wonderful, and I have built up a system that is fairly state of the art, so that I don’t have to wait much while editing.

I called on a Mac Pro “Trash Can” with 64GB of memory and 12GB of GPU processing on the two video cards. The computer is connected to four G-Tech G-Speed esPro drive boxes via two HighPoint RocketStor 6328 RAID controllers. Each controller is connected to its own TB channel. Each set of two boxes (eight drives) is a RAID-5, and all 16 drives are striped RAID-0 in OS X. The system reads data at 2000MB/sec and writes at over 1700MB/sec. — perfect for 4K editing.

For viewing, there are two 32-inch monitors, one of which is a Boland broadcast monitor run through a Blackmagic UltraStudio 4K interface box via SDI.

The workflow is easy. I simply drop the SSDs from the Blackmagic camera into my RocketStor 5212, which transfers the data via Thunderbolt to my RAID really fast. I record on OWC 480GB Mercury Extreme Pro 6G SSD cards, so the transfer rate is over 550MB/sec.

In Apple FCPX I create a 720p timeline and when I import the 4K footage, I select “Leave Files in Place.” Basically, I am dropping roughly 2000×4000 pixel footage onto a 720×1280 pixel timeline.

For more of a “film” look, I place a 2:35 aspect ratio mask that I made in Photoshop over the footage. Now, I simply open up the scopes and color correct the footage, which is much easier to do before it’s all cut up.

My intention was to have the original wide shot, and zoomed-in medium and close-up shots, so first I had to see where I wanted to cut them. To do this I had to go through the footage and make cuts with the Blade tool. For example, I may start close-up on Tracy and go to a two-shot when he introduces his guest. Then I go to the guest when he says something interesting and then back to a two-shot for the close.

With the cuts made, I clicked on the clips, re-sized them and moved them around into the medium and close-up shots. Because I had about 2000×4000 pixels to work with, I was able to zoom in up to 300 percent and still have pixel-to-pixel coverage. If the shot was in focus, but looked a little soft, I would call on a sharpen filter to fix it.

Since I shoot with a Prime lens, there is no zoom. If the client wants a slow zoom, I just use keyframes. This is actually better than trying to zoom in and out at the event, where there are no re-takes.

This rig and workflow turned what would have been a lot of lifting and moving about in a crowded space into an efficient one-man shoot. I didn’t have to worry about zooming, or getting the exact framing, which removed a lot of stress. I got 90 minutes of footage, and I only needed five.

This story has a happy ending. The client was pleased with the video, and I got paid.


David Hurd is the owner of David Hurd Productions in Tampa, Florida. He has been in the business for over 40 years.

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