Category: Film production

Pitch Hill – Behind the scenes

Video Production – Behind the scenes at Surrey Hills

All of us here at fly love a good documentary, and we’d decided it had been far too long since we all made one. The last one we produced was The Lurcher’ way back in 2014, which proudly for us was a runner-up at the Sony Production Awards 2014.

We knew we wanted to make something beautiful, insightful, and emotive and whilst we were researching possible topics, we came across mountain Biker Phil Grundy who lives in Brighton. His story was simple on the surface, he loves mountain biking and often goes out and rides – but after chatting with him more we realised that mountain biking to him is so much more than just a sport. Although his life has taken a number of twists and turns: from injuries to business struggles, mountain biking has always been his anchor and his focus to pull him through the dark times: It was this idea that we wanted to explore.

 

 

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Phil getting ready for the day

 

We decided to shoot the film in Surrey Hills as Phil has ridden the trails there before and knows it well. We wanted to make sure we arrived before sunrise to capture our opening scene of Phil setting up the bike, but if we had known how cold it was going to be, maybe we would have waited! If the cold wasn’t bad enough, we also had to lug all of our camera kit up and down the bike trails!

 

2017-01-20 11.53.45

A beautiful (but cold) day in Surrey Hills

 

We knew that we wanted the film to have a very slow, atmospheric and emotional tone, so we decided to shoot everything in slow motion (because what doesn’t look good in slow motion!) We have access to a great range of cameras here at fly, but we decided to use our Red Epic for this shoot. The high dynamic range and resolution combined with the high frame rates offered (300fps at 2K resolution) gave us a great deal of shooting flexibility.

The red was primarily attached to a Manfrotto 529B Hi-Hat Tripod. Being lower to the ground meant that we could get some really beautiful low angle shots of Phil as he took off from the jumps, but it also meant we could be closer and get a better perspective for our super slow motion shots.

 

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Our Red Epic shooting at 300fps for some lovely slow motion

 

The weather played a crucial part in bringing this film together. The shoot had to be called off the week before because of snow (did I mention how cold it was?) but luckily, this time we were treated to a gloriously sunny (but cold) day with a perfect sunset.

 

SANTA CRUZ EDIT .00_03_18_23.Still011

Phil standing in front of a perfect sunset

 

We’ll be submitting this film into action sports festivals and it will be live on Vimeo, where we hope it might even catch enough attention to garner a coveted staff pick!

We love creating stories like this for brands and what sets these type of films apart from the traditional brand film is that they give one a sincere insight into a person’s lifestyle and what the product genuinely means to them.

If you’d like to know more about our unique approach to brands then please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!

We hope you enjoy watching it as much as we did making it.

Dan

More stories from fly

https://mustard.film/portfolio/the-lurcher-a-film-about-a-banjo-maker/

https://mustard.film/portfolio/visit-london-celebrate-christmas-in-london/

https://mustard.film/portfolio/knowhow-openingceremony/

TV look with crew

Achieving the TV look on an online budget

It’s 2016 and the marketeers are telling us to invest in online video. We are hearing many reasons for this:

“It will help your SEO”

“It’s cheaper than TV advertising”

“Your audience can be targeted on their commute, at home and at work

All very good reasons, sure. But once we have accepted that we need to invest in online video, how can we make sure that our content looks good enough to be on TV yet stays within the realms of an online budget?

Whilst anyone can in theory take out their phone, shoot a video and upload it in seconds to their website and social media channels, businesses who care about their image and production values (I imagine that’s most of us) will certainly get better value from investing in professional online video. Gone are the days of dull looking corporate videos. We’re in the age where online advertising should look as good as TV!

So, how could you get the TV look on an online budget?

Through utilising cost effective technology.

TV look Ronin

Getting the TV look (or even the film look!) with the nimble DJI Ronin

One of the major benefits of opting for online content rather than broadcast media is that the fast moving digital landscape is allowing technology to be more affordable than ever before. You’ll have already experienced it with your electronic devices at home and the same applies in the video production industry. Cameras that produce beautiful images fit for broadcast are now within reach. As a result we use everything from larger cinema cameras to tiny DSLRs to portray your business in the best light. To keep things economical we buy some of the equipment outright whereas other bits are more cost effective to hire. This ensures that we can provide quality equipment all year round and still have access to anything specialist or brand spanking new when you need it, getting the best of both worlds.

Another example is in the aerial photography world. As HD cameras have gotten smaller they have been easier to attach to UAVs – aka drones! Only a few years ago aerial photography was too expensive a venture for most businesses; drones are obviously much more cost effective than helicopters!

If you have an interest in tech then you might like this article on how to choose the right camera.

It’s not just the camera: lighting & sound are important too.

One of the cons of this technology becoming affordable is that suddenly everybody considers themselves a Video Producer. Some think they can just buy an HD camera and become a professional without considering other areas of video production. What contributes immensely to creating a high value production or the ‘TV look’ is lighting and sound and at flyCreative we respect that. Just because you may be considering a less expensive option that doesn’t mean your product should be cheap!

A little bit more on lighting:

Only fairly recently have many cameras started to become good in low light conditions. However despite this, even big TV programmes today still require the use of lighting rigs. Next time you are watching X Factor take a look at the background of the wide shots. You’ll often see a large film light of some sort. Apart from being able to see the subjects, lighting is used to make people look good! Don’t you want your business to look good?

With an untrained eye it can be easy to accept a TV image as ‘real life’. Trust us though, you’ll notice the lighting when it’s gone. Or if it’s bad!

Music to the ears: 

The other half of achieving the TV look is through getting good sound. When it’s not good you’ll notice it and will wish that you’d hired a professional. To maintain TV production values on an online budget we also take our sound very seriously, using broadcast quality microphones and recorders to ensure clarity and noiseless recordings. Some projects require their own sound recordist, just as in TV.

As online productions are usually smaller in scale than big TV shows, there is less of a requirement for large lighting rigs, mixing desks and huge teams of personnel which can add substantially to the cost of a production. Portable lighting kits, solo sound engineers and self shooting producers are more widely used than ever before. The number of crew required will depend on your individual requirements, but generally speaking the crews are small for online content.

Through planning and creativity, except you are in control.

Creating content for broadcast can sometimes be a little restricting. All of the major broadcasters such as ITV and SKY have strict broadcast guidelines regarding what can be considered ‘fit for broadcast’. Whilst legal issues such as libel, defamation and copyright breaches aren’t exactly blown under the carpet when it comes to producing online, the truth is by not having so many restrictions and guidelines to meet you can effectively have a lot more freedom when it comes to the kind of content you want to produce, how long that content should be and when you want to release it. With broadcast advertising you may also be competing with many other organisations, all after the same airtime. This can once again hike up the cost. Obviously, to get the most engagement from online distribution you should have a well informed social media and marketing strategy in place.

The beauty of having freedom to create whatever you want (within reason!) means that it’s easier to innovate and choose an idea that hasn’t been done before. This can increase the likelihood of your content being shared and for some, can even mean going viral. Remember, it has been accessibility to content on social media that has helped many adverts (that were originally made for broadcast) go viral. Do you think the Old Spice adverts would have had as much success if they weren’t shared on social media?

Need some inspiration? Take a look at this promo for Virgin Holidays where we got a bit creative. Cinematic slow motion cameras were used to capture members of Cirque du Soleil performing acrobatics on the streets of London.

https://mustard.film/portfolio/virgin-holidays/

The finishing touches to the TV look: post production.

To get the TV look it’s not just about the shoot itself but what we do to the footage afterwards. Colour grading, as part of the editing process, is used to enhance the images so that they help evoke a certain emotion from the audience. This can make your brand stand out from the crowd. Once this is done titles, text, motion graphics and animation can be added to further enhance the production.

The video below is a good example of how a project was really brought to life through post production. Not only did we shoot a range of material to promote London in the summer through the use of steadicams, drones and slow motion filming, but we added warm flashes of colour throughout to give off a summer flavour and produced some small animations along with the text. There’s a lot going on here and it certainly looks fit for TV.

https://mustard.film/portfolio/visit-london-summer-in-the-city/

Don’t forget..optimise your content for your chosen demographic!

Just because you’ve got your content looking like it should be on the telly you must not forget one of the key reasons for choosing to advertise online in the first place. Your creative freedom and a flexible online budget can allow you to customise your content for particular audiences; from simply adjusting the title cards for each audience to creating specific ads for each demographic. Once again, timing of release is crucial here too. What time of day are your customers most likely to be online? With so many options available, it’s down to you to decide what you would like and we will help you realise your vision.

And another thing..

The recurring theme here and the key difference between producing content for TV and online is the scale. Whilst there are many technological savings to be made and in ways a lot more freedom to produce the content you want for online, you will still have to consider the scale of your production. Hiring 50 extras to star in the background of a promo in London Victoria Station is still going to cost a fortune, regardless of whether it is for web or TV. If you are prepared to think big but balance it with realism then there is no reason why you can’t make substantial savings and still walk away with an incredible advert for your business.

To find out how we can achieve the TV look in your online production come on by and say hello!

 

A beginners guide to lighting gels

Gels are used by cinematographers and videographers to balance the colour of light sources, adjust contrast and control shadows. It is the use of these gels that helps to create certain moods and looks to productions, whether that be low key drama or high key corporate video.

If you don’t know your ND from your CTB then read on as I introduce some of the most popular lighting gels and demonstrate how they may be used in your productions for creative effect.

CTB

CTB (not to be confused with CBT!) stands for colour temperature blue and is often referred to simply as ‘daylight’. It is used to convert tungsten balanced light sources such as traditional household bulbs and fresnels from 3200K to 5600K. It’s a common gel for balancing artificial light sources to daylight when the sun is acting as the key light in a scene.

With our camera balanced to daylight and using a tungsten light source, our professional model looks like he should be in TOWIE..

5200K_FULL_DAYLIGHT_GEL

..so by applying FULL CTB the skin tone looks a bit more natural now.

5200K_HALF_DAYLIGHT_GEL

If your subject has a lighter skin tone or if your camera’s auto white balance reads around the 4500K mark (for some fluorescent lighting), you may want something in the middle between tungsten and daylight and HALF CTB may be your answer, converting tungsten sources to 4300K. In this shot the camera is still balanced to daylight.

  • CTO

Another popular colour correction gel is CTO which stands for colour temperature orange and is often simply referred to as ‘Tungsten’. It is used to convert daylight 5600K sources to 3200K, in line with the colour temperature of most traditional household lamps.

3200K_NO_TUNGSTEN_GEL

Using a daylight balanced LED light and with the camera balanced to tungsten, our image is looking a bit cold. But there is a use for this though; it is a popular method of simulating moonlight as well as shooting ‘day for night’.

3200K_FULL_CTO_GEL

But if moonlight isn’t what you’re after, FULL CTO will return the skin tone back to a more natural colour.

3200K_HALF_CTO_GEL

HALF CTO converts 5200K to 3800K, so a little cooler than FULL CTO but not too far off. With the light I’m using (dedolight ledzilla) and the model’s skin tone in this case HALF CTO actually looks a little nicer.

Both CTB and CTO also come in other strengths including QUARTER and EIGHTH, for those more subtle differences, but FULL and HALF are the most widely used.

  • ND

ND stands for neutral density and is used to reduce the amount of light without altering the colour. ND is often used on the camera in filter form but for lighting it can be invaluable in helping to control exposure and contrast. Using ND to reduce powerful light sources that do not have dimmers (or if you don’t want to change the colour temperature of the source through dimming) or stopping natural light from washing a scene out through covering windows with these gels, it is an incredibly useful tool.

NO ND

Oh no, you can see that I forgot to iron my backdrop..so in this shot as you can see our model is looking a bit ghostly. Time to crack out the ND.

1 STOP ND

ND.3 reduces the light by 1 stop.

ND.6 reduces the light by 2 stops.

ND.6 reduces the light by 2 stops.

And ND.9 reduces the light by 3 stops.

And ND.9 reduces the light by 3 stops.

Wise words a gaffer once said to me, “you can never have enough ND!”

  • Diffusion

Diffusion is used to control the softness of shadows and the softer the source the less prominent the shadows will be. As hard lights have typically much higher output than soft lights, diffusion is key to softening these sources whilst utilising a strong beam.

There are so many different types of diffusion available and it can be difficult to know where to start so here are a few examples to give you an idea of the range available. At the end of the day it’s down to you to experiment with various types and find what you like.

NO_DIFF

Our professional hand model is currently being lit with a hard LED source (Dedolight Ledzilla) and no diffusion.

HAMPSHIRE_FROST

This diffusion used here is HAMPSHIRE FROST. Notice a subtle softening of the shadow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HEAVY_DIFF

HEAVY DIFFUSION is being used here (and it’s easy to see why it got this name)

CLOTH1

I don’t actually know what this diffusion is called but it somehow found its way into my kit. A thicker, rougher sheet that is a little closer to greaseproof paper. As you can see it has a lovely texture to it and can add a bit of spice to a background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s important to note too that the further a piece of diffusion is away from a light source, the softer the shadows will be, as will be a slight reduction in overall output of the light. See the example below:

HALF DIFFUSION attached to the light..

HALF DIFFUSION attached to the light..

HALF_DIFF_FURTHER_AWAY

..and the HALF DIFFUSION moved away from the light source (closer to the subject). Notice how much softer the shadow is now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • “Party” gels

Not necessarily an official term but in this case I shall refer to most other coloured gels as ‘party gels’. Whilst these may not be as important for most shoots as the colour correction and other gels mentioned above, they can be used to create certain moods for your scenes whether they are used as key lights, backlights or kickers. There are an almost endless number of these gels to choose from but here are a couple of examples.

3200K_STEEL_GREEN

STEEL GREEN with the camera balanced to tungsten. Sci fi!

STEEL GREEN but with the camera balanced to daylight.

STEEL GREEN but with the camera balanced to daylight. Lord of the Rings or Matrix?

 

 

 

 

 

 

3200K_STRAW

More subtle than the above, a STRAW lighting gel with the camera balanced to tungsten. A nice morning light look.

5600K_STRAW

A STRAW gel but with the camera balanced to daylight. I’m getting a CSI Miami vibe here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, which gels should you buy?

It all starts with the light source(s) that you’ll be using most. Their colour temperature, power, whether they are dimmable and how hard or soft they are will all determine the gels you need. Aspiring DOPs will probably accumulate gels over time as their portfolio grows, but a good place to start is with the simple colour correction gels (CTO and/or CTB) and some diffusion which are the bare bones for lighting anything professionally. Another thing, don’t always rely on kit hire companies to stock a wide range of gels!

Big D Jonny boy

Experimenting is key to finding lighting styles that will grab your audience’s attention.

Use of softbox fill Liquiproof

Part of the fun and the craft of being a DOP is finding lighting styles that fit your productions and consequently help you to create your own signature style. Experiment with gels and see which colour combinations work and which don’t. Get creative!

Whether you are new to lighting or not, the LEE filter comparison tool here is a fantastic resource to see the range of lighting gels available and help you make decisions on what to buy. LEE filters are widely considered the number one name for gels; heat proof, colour accurate and with a huge choice available, they are an essential investment if you’re an aspiring DOP.

Happy shooting!

 

P.S. This post would not have been possible without my trusty light meter. Here are a few reasons why every aspiring DOP simply must have one.

7 DIY lighting essentials for low budget filmmakers

So you’ve raised the finance for your project, chosen your camera, cast your actors..and you suddenly find that your budget has disappeared in a flash. Where did it all go? Film making can be a seriously expensive affair and sadly certain departments sometimes get neglected as a result. Lighting is one of these departments.

No matter how low your budget is, lighting should never be neglected if you want to create cinematic visuals to be remembered. In fact, here are a list of reasons why good lighting is so important. In this article however I’m going to identify 7 lighting essentials that don’t cost the earth but every low budget camera operator or DOP should be armed with. Sometimes you need to spend good money on kit and sometimes you don’t, but if you’re keen to increase production value economically then read on.

  • Gaffer Tape

gaffer tapeA ridiculously obvious one but gaffer tape is something that should go with you on every shoot no matter how big or small your budget! It can save your life (in a creative emergency, I have yet to prove this medically!), whether it’s used to rig lights or modifiers onto unusually shaped objects or into areas that are inaccessible for light stands, gaffer tape really is essential. It can also be used to make DIY french flags to avoid lens flare and teamed up with some trusty cinefoil/blackwrap makes a perfectly functioning LCD cover for operating in bright sunlight. Trust me, don’t leave this behind!

And the award for best DIY rig goes to..

And the award for best DIY rigging solution goes to..

One item you can't afford to be without is cinefoil. This, along with your gels is worth spending good money on.

Gaffer and cinefoil = budget french flag. Cinefoil is one item you can’t afford to be without on set. This, along with your gels is worth spending good money on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Halogen work light

Revealing an indHalogen worklightustry secret here. Or maybe not. This item is ridiculously obvious and cheap but the likelihood is that most of us low budget filmmakers probably don’t use them..or at least not yet. If you pop down to your local B&Q you’ll find these useful halogen work lights. At about £10 each these little lights give out a fair amount of light considering their size and use tungsten balanced bulbs which means their colour temperature matches the expensive Arri equivalent. If you have the right colour correction gels then armed with a few of these you could in theory light your whole film.

Of course being cheap means that these little fixtures do have their drawbacks; short power leads, a lack of any way to control the spread of the light and the fact that they won’t attach to normal light stands are the main ones (because obviously film making isn’t what they were designed for) but, if you purchase one of these, and I recommend you get several, you could potentially fill decent sized spaces for little money. What’s more, their handles allow for easier rigging at height than some lights. With a bit of problem solving, and lets face it – that’s what film making mostly is, you’ll be able to find ways to rig, hide and control the output of these lights.

  • Polyboard & foamcore
bounce board on roof

Polyboard is common even on the biggest of film sets

While you’re down at the DIY shop why don’t you pick up some of this too? Polyboard is a perfect and cheap way to bounce light in order to create flattering soft light and fill in shadows on your subject. It often comes in fairly large sizes and in various thicknesses and can be easily cut to size to meet your needs, or at least to fit in your car! What’s more, if you have any black paint lying around then paint one side and bob’s your uncle: you now have a large, lightweight flag to use for cutting light and creating negative fill. Two for the price of one (almost!).

foamcore flagIn addition to this your local craft shop will probably stock black and white foam core; both of which can be useful for smaller, more portable bounce boards and flags. Once again this is inexpensive, easy to cut to size and easy to rig. The only downside is any thin layers of card on these boards will be flammable, so be careful using them near hot light sources.

 

 

 

  • Spring clamps
spring clamps

Top tip: buying multi packs on sites such as eBay can make these accessories even cheaper for you.

Cheap and cheerful, but where would I be without them? These large spring clamps are cheap, lightweight and a must have for anyone doing any sort of lighting. Use them to attach reflectors or boards to stands, flags and tarpaulins to backdrops and for making green screens taut. Do yourself a favour and get some now.

Diffuser reflector spring clamps

A quick way to hold up your reflector

spring clamp reflector

 

 

 

 

 

  • China ball lantern
china ball

A beautiful quality of light for certain applications.

China ball lanterns can create beautiful soft light for use in close ups and as practicals. Inexpensive and by using regular household bulbs, china lanterns are a cost effective option over the dearer branded soft fixtures and combinations offered by the likes of Arri and Chimera. They do have a specific use however, their main drawback being that regular 60W or similar household bulbs don’t give out huge amounts of light, at least not for cinema use. To the naked eye their light output is fine but on camera the lanterns reduce a bulb’s output a fair amount. Adding to this, their size and the fact that they’re made out of paper means significant fire hazards are present if too powerful bulbs are used, so you need to stick to the recommended wattage. For larger areas of soft light an Arri/Chimera combination is a much more suitable option which understandably you will need to pay for.

Despite their drawbacks if you’re able to find use for them still china ball lanterns can provide wonderful results. Rig them off C stands or mic stands, ensure you have long enough extension leads and you’re good to go. Watch out for that colour temperature though; some bulbs rate lower than 3200K (tungsten) so will appear warmer than you may like. Once again it pays to have a good selection of colour correction gels!

  • Tin foil & baking paper
tin foil

Tin foil: cheap as chips!

Who’d have thought that every day items around the home could help you in lighting your cinematic masterpieces? The highly reflective surface of tin foil can be used in the same way that the silver side of a reflector is used; to fill in shadows when a white surface isn’t cutting it or to create a bit of ‘pop’ to the image through introducing highlights. Attaching sheets of tin foil to your foam core boards (see above) or even just a sheet of plywood can give you another way of applying contrast quickly, cheaply and without having to hire anything!

No product placement here..

No product placement here..

Baking/parchment paper is a good option for when you need to diffuse hard light sources to soften their shadows and reduce the contrast. It’s designed to withstand heat so is ideal for using with hot light sources without risk of burning. So if you’ve run out of diffusing gels and need a quick softening solution, go have a look in the kitchen cupboard or run to the shop!

 

  • Tarpaulin
tarpaulin night shoot

Protecting a 2K arri fresnel from the rain.

There are many uses for a tarpaulin, many of which may appear to have nothing to do with filming, however the long days on location and the unpredictability of the weather (especially in glorious England) mean that a tarpaulin lends itself to being pretty useful in general on set. For DOPs a tarpaulin can provide suitable protection to lights (and camera) from the rain and from dusty or wet terrain. More importantly, they can also be setup and rigged to act as huge flags, with a host of uses. From blocking out large windows in order to control interior lighting to providing a huge source of negative fill on location, tarpaulins are inexpensive, reusable and portable. If you decide to rig one up on location then make sure you remember your spring clamps! (see above)

tarpaulin over windscreen

Flagging the windscreen of a car to eliminate reflections and any changes to ambient light levels.

These are just some of the useful lighting accessories that can be used in low budget film making. However, as you climb the ladder in your film career, you may find yourself using some of these items on the bigger budget productions too!

Remember that there are certain items you’ll need regardless of your budget; lighting gels and cinefoil are the big ones here. Don’t cut corners on your gels, buy the real thing (I recommend Lee filters) so you know you have high quality, accurate colours and so you can avoid setting anything alight. If your budget can stretch a little or if your professional image concerns you then get yourself a few 5 in 1 reflectors; you won’t regret it.

Hopefully you’ve found this helpful and if you have any suggestions of your own for DIY lighting do tell us in the comments!

 

Why we use external recorders to record video

It’s rare to be able to just turn up on set, take a camera out of it’s bag and start shooting straight away. With such a vast range of accessories available to shooters for all manner of shooting situations it’s hard to keep up with, let alone afford all the technology available to us. However, one tool that appears to be cropping up more than most are external recorders. In fact, they’ve been around for a little while now yet they continue to be growing in popularity. For those who may have wondered what the point of these devices is, read on.

What is the point in recording video externally?

1. Edit friendly codecs

Do you know which codec you should be editing in?

Do you know which codec you should be editing in?

This is the primary reason why anyone would record externally. Many consumer and prosumer cameras, notably DSLRs (except for a few exceptions), compress footage using codecs that are good for keeping file sizes down and easy playback but aren’t so good for editing and colour grading.

The Canon 5D mkiii for example records internally with the H.264 codec and it’s files can be opened easily on any computer. However, editing using this codec can prove troublesome, often resulting in glitchy or delayed playback. When colour grading the limitation of this codec results in a relatively small dynamic range, meaning that pushing or pulling the image a great deal will result in substantial noise and lack of ability to recover the highlights and shadows. Even with the likes of non linear editing applications such as Adobe Premiere allowing you to conform almost any type of video file to the editing timeline, the limitations of the original codec do not go away. Edit friendly codecs, most notably Apple Pro res 422 (and the numerous variants of it) are a good solution to improving workflow for those who often find themselves batch converting lots of files, being particularly useful for projects with a tight turnaround. These codecs can be found on all good external recorders.

ninja blade conference

Atomos Ninja blade mounted to Canon 5D mkiii for a conference. Extending the record time to over 30 minutes, using mains power and recording to Pro Res LT made the filming and editing infinitely easier.

2.Higher bit rates

The bit rate required for video footage can vary greatly, depending on what it is that you’re shooting. Live event filming may require lower bit rates for storage whereas commercials would need broadcast quality. Many lower end cameras however are limited in the bit rates that they offer, often not qualifying as ‘broadcast quality’ because their bit rate is too low (by broadcast quality, I’m referring to the minimum bit rate required for HD footage broadcast on the BBC which is 100Mbits/sec). External recorders allow cameras to deliver higher bit rates by using codecs such as pro res 422, as mentioned above. Without compressing and uncompressing footage, digital artifacts that can plague footage for broadcast can be eliminated.

External recorders can also help for those going through an offline and online editing process. Although you’ll need more storage space for footage shot with higher bit rates, shooting directly with them still allows you to use proxies (lower quality versions) so editors who are cutting large projects with substantial amounts of information can edit using lower quality files and then reconnect them with the higher quality files at a later date for colour grading and delivery. This is much more efficient and less processor intensive than editing with colossal amounts of high quality data from the outset. Although you still need to downscale to the proxy, you have one less job to do and the amount of time saved by not having to batch convert masses of data to a high quality codec can be better spent editing.

For more information on the pro res codec and the variants of it, including their effective bit rates, check out this useful article on the matter.

3. Monitoring solutions

No need to record externally with the Amira, however the PIX-E5 by Video Devices made a useful monitor. It c

No need to record externally with the Amira which records ProRes internally, however the Sound Devices PIX-E5 made a useful monitor for me. It could have also been used for low res recording for quick assembly edits.

Excluding the Atomos Ninja Star, most external recorders include a screen for monitoring purposes. Most of these are in fact larger than the inbuilt LCD screens on most cameras which make them incredibly useful even if you aren’t recording to them! For those situations when you can’t reach the viewfinder or see the screen, or another person needs to see the screen such as an assistant or client, having an extra screen can speed up the filming process.

Now, whether recorders are a suitable replacement for professional, colour accurate monitors or not is another topic entirely, however for the purposes of most shoots the extra screen is rarely going to be a hindrance. What’s more, inbuilt tools and scopes for exposure (waveforms, false colour and zebras.) and achieving critical focus (peaking and magnification) are usually offered in addition to the screen. Even if some of these features are included on the camera, the chances are there will be more on the recorder (and they will be much easier to use!).

4. Cost efficient & reliable media

Most external recorders store files on readily available HDDs and SSDs*. The former is more cost effective per gigabyte whereas the latter is often faster and more reliable with no moving parts. Either way, both these methods of storage are easy to find, purchase and change, unlike some storage media that can be extremely expensive (e.g. red mag SSDs and SxS cards). If you’re going to be recording hours of footage at high bit rates, affordable and reliable storage should be at the top of your list of priorities.

*The Atomos Ninja star is an exception, using ultra fast and reliable C Fast cards. This ultimately comes at a premium.

5. Compatible powering solutions

Dual batteries on the PIX-E5

Dual batteries can be a godsend

Not a primary reason for using but models offered by Atomos and Video Devices in particular are well noted for their compatibility when it comes to power and in some instances can out last the camera (5D shooters, take note!). The Atomos Ninja Blade for example can be powered by Sony NPF, Canon and Nikon batteries, as well as with an AC unit. Adding to this, dual battery slots are a common feature in most recorders and allow for continuous use on location.

 

 

 

 

Do we need external recorders for every shoot?

conference and ninja blade

A quality recorder can be a useful asset as well as a costly, glamorous add on. The question is, do you need one or want one?

The answer to this, as I would say about any other bit of equipment is no; there is always a time and a place. Sometimes it is simply easier to turn up with your camera and shoot. News gathering, weddings and sports are just some examples where it might just be easier to shoot in camera, especially if it means the difference between getting the shot or not. However, this is all relative to the camera you’re using in the first place (if you need some help choosing a camera it may be worth checking out an earlier article on how to choose the right camera for the job).

External recorders have been designed to get an extra lease of life out of cameras old and new and to make content producers’ lives that little bit easier. However despite this, we shouldn’t forget that every extra gadget needed to get our desired results is another item that needs to be powered, mounted, connected, protected in transit and supported with compatible media; all of which usually come at extra cost. Ultimately it’s down to you and what you shoot to determine whether a recorder is a suitable investment for you or something to hire on occasion.

In the case of the Sony A7S mark i, an external recorder was a solution to a camera that couldn't record 4K internally

In the case of the Sony A7S mark i, an external recorder was a solution to a camera that could record 4K video but not internally

 

Prices for external recorders can range from a few hundred to several thousand pounds, depending on the features, connections, maximum resolution and frame rates offered. Below are some of the popular manufacturers:

Atomos

Black Magic Design

Convergent Design

Video Devices

 

 

Why, when and how to use a clapperboard

“Lights, camera..action!”

This is probably the most well known phrase associated with Hollywood and film making.

If you’ve ever watched those little behind the scenes extras on DVDs you’ll have probably seen at some point a crew member using a clapperboard. Standing in front of the camera before it rolls, shouting out some random numbers and letters before hitting the sticks together and preceding to hurry out of shot immediately afterwards. Have you ever wondered what the point of this little device is? If so, then look no further.

Clapperboards are pretty fun things and they make fantastic decorations (especially if a production or director’s name has been inscribed on it!) but they are actually very important tools in the film making process. Understanding why we use them, when to use them and how you should be using them can not only help you act professionally, but potentially save you time and money, depending on your production

clapperboard close up

Clapperboards give the editor lots of information about the production which can assist in navigating large amounts of footage.

Why do we use them?

Lets turn back the clock to an age where 35mm and 16mm film were the standards for most people making movies. When the first ‘talkies’ were released way back in the 1920s, that is films that featured synchronized picture and sound, the sound was not recorded onto the film but separately (using a sound on disc system, recording to wax records). Early film cameras were also very noisy which contributed to the difficulty of recording live sound. Fast forward to the present day and in the 21st century on movie sets the sound is still recorded separately, albeit to designated sound recorders, rather than straight into camera. The primary purpose of the clapper board back in the early days and in the present is the same; to help sync up the visuals and the sound in the cutting room.

When do we use them?   

You may be thinking that in this day and age, why are we still recording sound and visuals separately? Isn’t the technology good enough to record both in one? There are actually many reasons why we still record separately. Firstly, being able to separate the camera operator and the boom operator means that the camera isn’t restricted and is free to move however the director wishes. The sound recordist and sound mixer are also free to record from multiple sources; using radio mics on each of the actors and/or condenser mics for room ambience for example. Furthermore, designated sound recorders are manufactured to record the cleanest sounding audio possible, whereas most cameras aren’t designed with this in mind.

So, we use clapper boards whenever the highest quality audio is required and when the situation allows.

using clapperboard

Tip: If clapping close to an actor it is good etiquette to do a quiet clap for the sake of their eardrums!

How do we use them?

On feature films, the 2nd Assistant Camera is responsible for the clapperboard. On a smaller production a camera assistant or even a runner could be responsible for this.

Every single scene, slate (another word for shot), take and roll is written onto the board to signify the part of the production that is being captured. Sometimes audio clip information might be included too. The production company, director and cinematographer is also written on the board along with other important information such as the date, the frame rate of the camera for that particular shot, the shutter speed or angle, scene information (whether it is day or night, interior or exterior) and finally, whether sound is being recorded and synced or if there’s no sound (mos).

Slating scenes accurately is crucial so syncing up the footage with the sound in post is a smooth process. Added to this, having visual logs for every shot allows the editor to sift through rushes quickly, knowing exactly which point of the film he or she is at, rather than having to watch or listen to every take in full. For most scenes a loud clap is required to create a noticeable spike in the audio levels, making syncing a breeze.

What kinds of clapperboards are available?

Make no mistake, there is such a thing as a professional clapperboard. Although you can find cheap ones in fancy dress shops or on eBay, these are not built to withstand the daily rigors of set life. From inexpensive chalk boards to fully digital acrylic boards with inbuilt timecode, there are many options available. Boards with timecode allow both the camera and sound departments to be perfectly synced all the way through production. You can even sync footage using an iPad with this handy app (but it’s not quite the same in my opinion!).

If you are looking to purchase a clapper board in the UK then I recommend these guys who offer a wide range of boards to suit various budgets. It’s where I got my first one and she’s still going strong!

Sometimes it's good to have options

Sometimes you have to record straight into camera, and that’s OK (although some cameras are better than others for this)

As with all tools, there is a time and a place.

Make no mistake, there are certain situations where a clapperboard is not essential. Sometimes you have no choice but to record sound directly into camera (events, video journalism, documentaries etc.) due to time, budget & personnel restraints. In some situations the effort required to record sound separately and sync it up afterwards actually gives you more work with little noticeable gain, costing you time and money. Decide carefully if a board is for you and how often you may use it.

 

An example of  a typical slating process on set when sound is being recorded:

1st Assistant Director: OK, silence please. We’re going for a take. Turnover.

Sound mixer: Sound is rolling!

Camera operator: Camera speed!

2nd AC: Scene 41, slate 6A, take 1, mark.

[2nd AC claps then leaves shot]

Camera operator: Set.

1st Assistant Director/Director: Background action! And..action!

Slating shots that have no sound

For shots without sound the 2nd AC would highlight ‘mos’ (motor only sync) on the clapperboard and when slating would put their hand in between the sticks, hold it in shot and not clap.

Syncing at the end of a take (end boarding)

For those moments when syncing at the start of the take isn’t possible then the 2nd AC will clap at the end of the take, turn the board upside down and add ‘on the end’ after they’ve marked it.

 

So there you have it. Hopefully you’ve found this information useful so that when you’re next armed with a clapperboard you’ll know exactly what to do. Now as you return to creating great work, you might just find yourself being a little more efficient. Happy shooting!

 

Tips for improving the audio in your video

The first tell tale sign of a video amateur is bad audio. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your images are, how long your steadicam shot is or how interesting your talent is; if your audience is struggling to hear the content they probably won’t give you the time of day. As sound is half of the picture it is crucial that video producers get their audio knowledge up to scratch.

So, what are some of the common causes of bad sound and how could we solve these issues?

Poor location choice

Can you rely on the natural light alone?

A thorough reccie will allow you to (somewhat) find out if you’ll be disturbed during filming

Background noise is probably the biggest problem when it comes to clean sound recording. Where ever we go, whether that be in the city or the countryside, some sort of background noise will try to interfere with our recordings. This could include traffic noise, chatter, sirens, aircraft, footsteps, air conditioning..and the list goes on.

 

 

 

Solution: If you are fortunate enough to do a location reccie, consider the audio elements as well as the visual. Filming under flight paths, by main roads, next to the staff room etc. should all be avoided where possible. If your location looks great but you’re going to be interrupted every 2 minutes, is it really the best place to film? Consider what time of day may be best to do the recording; if the office empties out at lunch time, why not film then? Also, turn off any appliances and equipment that you’re allowed to if they emit unwanted noise. It all goes back to a little foresight and planning before your shoot.

Poor acoustics

Recording in wide open rooms with hard floors and few furnishings can make your recordings sound reverberated. While it is easy to add reverb in post, it is much harder to remove it from a recording. Acoustically treated rooms sound much better to the listener, particularly if recording voice overs.

Solution: Where possible try to shoot in rooms with soft furnishings. Consider using old carpet to reduce the reverb somewhat and this will also reduce any sounds of footsteps. If recording voice overs, either use a studio that has been sound proofed, or set up carpet and pop shields close to the artiste to treat their voice as much as possible.

Unsuitable microphone choice & placement

Sometimes it's good to have options

Sometimes it’s good to have options

You can still record good sound if there is some background noise, but how manageable that noise is all falls down to your choice of microphone. Using the inbuilt mic on your camera is rarely the best option. These mics are often of lower quality, have poor bass response and aren’t usually that directional. High quality shotgun mics may be good alternatives but even those with the most directional pickup patterns can’t completely eliminate some background noise. Lapel mics can also be a good choice but if your subject moves a lot expect to hear a lot of rustling. You also might have trouble attaching a lapel on certain outfits!

Solution: Only ever use your camera’s inbuilt mic for reference so that you can get rid of that tinny sound and reduce the likelihood of any handling noise. Shotgun mics can be great on location, but consider whether having one attached to your camera is going to get the clearest recording or if you need to get it in closer to the subject and purchase a ‘deadcat’ or ‘fluffie’ to eliminate wind noise if you are on location. If using a radio mic, attach stickies and under/over covers to eliminate wind and clothing noise. If possible, find somewhere to attach your mic where there is less chance of your audio becoming muffled  – under a tie or a shirt collar for example. If you have the luxury of both a shotgun and radio mic, record using both into separate channels so you have options! Lastly, if your camera has AGC (automatic gain control), for Pete’s sake turn it off!

Imperfect recording technique

There are numerous ways that your recording technique can affect the quality (or lack of) in your recordings. Turning your microphone’s gain up so high that there is distortion and choosing a mic input when you should be using line are both suitable examples.

Solution: Different equipment manufacturers and sound recordists will have their own opinions on what is a safe level to record at. Some may recommend your maximum recording level hit -18db as it peaks, but some may prefer it to be closer to -12db or even -6db (which is a little dangerous for my liking). It’s important to remember that once a microphone distorts it is pretty much impossible to recover, whereas sound that is recorded slightly too quietly can always be amplified. However, recording as close to your devices’ nominal level is best as too low a level will result in amplification of hiss. This page from the Final Cut Pro user guide explains it well but basically you’ll want to use microphone and recorder combinations with the lowest signal to noise ratio possible. Before you buy any audio equipment do your homework first and look out for comments made by other users regarding this.

One way I found to get a cleaner radio mic recording into my C100 was to select line input in and turn up the output of the receiver quite high

One way I found to get a cleaner radio mic recording into my C100 was to use a line input in and turn up the output of the receiver

One thing to remember is that recording into a designated audio recorder rather than a camera will in most cases give you the cleanest audio as some cameras have quite noisy preamps. On location this might not always be practical but in an acoustically treated studio this is definitely the best method. Either way it is always good to test and get to know your equipment before you go out on a shoot to see how you can get the cleanest recordings possible.

 

 

Insufficient mixing & EQ

audio waveformIs the music drowning out the dialogue? Does your subject become lost amongst the layers of foley? Recording good sound at the outset is important but mixing and equalizing that sound appropriately is just as important in order to produce a product that people want to listen to.

 

 

Solution: Check your levels using the audio meters in your editing program on both your speakers and through a set of headphones. You may notice things through your headphones that you didn’t notice otherwise.  Experiment with EQ and see if you can make any improvements, continually referring back to the original audio. Maybe you’ll discover something, maybe you won’t, but there’s no harm in trying things out. Use fade ins and fade outs where possible so that no source jars when it starts or stops. Find out more about EQ here.

Too much noise reduction

Ever watched a video that sounds like it was made underwater? If so, one cause of this is too much or inappropriately applied noise reduction in post. It sounds bad; worse than most cases of background noise!

Solution: Get it right at the recording stage – do what you can to reduce the background noise. If this isn’t entirely possible, utilize noise reduction and other plugins such as high pass filters to eliminate certain frequencies. The latter cuts off all frequencies below a certain level, allowing the higher frequencies to pass through which can be good for consistent low level noise from an appliance for example. With this and any audio filter be prepared to spend time tinkering if you want the best chances of reducing the unwanted frequency without affecting the voice.

Not listening!

 filming headphones

Despite what anyone may tell you I am a good listener!

Pretty self explanatory, really!

Solution: Always wear a decent pair of headphones and be prepared to playback takes if you can to ensure you’re recording the cleanest sound possible. Other things to listen out for include unsuitable gaps between questions and answers in an interview (you need room to cut), spikes in the audio from background noise (the consistent sound of traffic may be OK but a siren will stand out) and interference.

If you have even the slightest doubt about your recording, go for another take if you can. You will thank yourself in the edit.

 

These tips are just the beginning and should only be the start of your research into sound recording. However, by taking these points on board and applying them to your productions you should start to see a noticeable improvement in your audio. Plan as much as you realistically can, be prepared for the unexpected and when scheduling allow for interviews and pieces to camera to take a bit longer so you can get it right the first time.

How to choose the right lens for the job

Following on from my earlier article about how to choose the right camera for the job it made sense to follow up with one on how to choose the right lens, a major factor that will help you with your choice of camera. The two go hand in hand and your decision on which camera to choose could actually be dependent on the lenses you plan to use.

My stance on choosing lenses is very much the same as cameras:

No lens is perfect. But, for each job there is a perfect lens (or lenses).

Even then, it is subjective.

You see, just like cameras, lenses have their own quirks and variants that make them ideal in certain situations and a nightmare in others. It would be easy to assume that cost alone would be the main consideration but just spending more on a piece of glass doesn’t necessarily make it perfect for your project.

Consider your situation. Do you have a short term brief to meet or a long term investment to consider? If you are stuck choosing a lens for your camera, here are some factors to consider before your investment becomes a money losing opportunity:

Video Production Brighton

mmm, such choice!

Price

First and foremost. What’s your budget? Typically, lenses become more expensive the better they are in low light, the less they breathe when focusing and the sharper they are. Image stabilization, build quality and brand can also affect the cost of the glass considerably.

Return on investment

Are you shooting a one off job or a series of projects? Knowing exactly what you need, rather than what you would like will narrow your choice down and then it’s a matter of working out how likely you would be able to make a return on your investment with the options left to you. Is a £3K cine prime really your best choice to buy when you mostly shoot talking heads? On the contrary, is spending a little bit more going to mean that your lens will outlive your next 2 cameras?

 

Mount type    EF mount

This is a big one. Different lens mounts have varying choices that go along with them and this will of course affect your choice of camera. Here are just some of the options available to you:

 

 

EF (Canon) – Popular mount choice for Canon cameras and some third party cameras such as the Black Magic Production Camera.

F – (Nikon) – Another popular choice of mount with a huge range of lenses available to choose from and numerous adapters to adapt them for other systems.

A & E (Sony) – Both A and E mount lenses are rising in popularity due to the likes of Sony cameras such as the A7S and FS7, although some would argue that there is less choice here than some of the other mounts.

PL (Arri) – Geared towards cinema, originally designed for 16mm and 35mm film cameras. Extremely high quality but out of reach for most who are looking to buy.

IMG_9025

Is your 24 really a 24?

Angle of view and crop factor

There are countless combinations available to you when it comes to choosing lenses and cameras so it’s important to understand field of view and crop factor before you accidentally make the wrong purchase.

Crop factor refers to how much a lens magnifies the image when a camera’s sensor is smaller than a full frame sensor or an equivalent 35mm film camera. Most lenses are designed using full frame as a reference, however it’s the sensor size that determines what your actual angle of view would be.

For example, a 24mm lens on a Canon 5D, which has a full frame sensor, will give us an angle of view equivalent to 24mm (73.7 degrees to be exact). However, on a smaller sensor camera such as the Canon 600D (APS-C sensor) there is a crop factor of 1.6 meaning 24mm is magnified by 1.6. Our 24mm now gives an angle of view equivalent to about 38mm on a full frame sensor (or 51.9 degrees). This is quite a jump when you think about it, so making sure you know what angle of view you need before you decide is crucial.

70-200 devils dyke

Could you do with a little extra reach?

Crop factors can be a disadvantage when you need wide angles, such as in this example, but on longer lenses they can give you much greater range which could work for you. It’s also good to know that there are lenses designed specifically for crop sensor cameras, so wide angles aren’t limited to full frame users alone.

To learn more about crop factor check out this excellent field of view calculator from Abelcine.

 

Type of production

What do you currently shoot or plan to shoot? This will determine which lenses will fit your needs best. Consider the following:

  • What size screen your project will show on – any optical imperfections will naturally be magnified in a cinema
  • Sharpness required – you’ll get more sharpness for your money when choosing primes over zooms
  • The size of the camera crew – do you have someone to help you change lenses safely?
  • Project turnaround – do you have time to change lenses for every shot?
  • The location & portability – do you like to travel light?
  • If you need to zoom – how unpredictable is your subject or location?
  • Your lighting conditions – are you shooting a lot in low light?
  • Screw in filters or mattebox – what kind of ND, polarisers and other filters will you be using?
  • The grip you have available – will you always have a rig or is image stabilization essential?
  • Follow focus – to attach or not and if so, how?
  • Aesthetics & personal preferences – is beautiful bokeh (background blur) or minimal distortion a priority? What about the way a particular lens handles contrast and saturation?

With answers to these questions you should get a clearer idea of whether you need primes, zooms or perhaps a bit of both.

Examples

As you can see there is a lot to consider when making a lens choice. In fact, you may just be a little more stuck than you were before. However, have no fear as here are a couple of practical examples of lens/camera combinations I’ve used and the pros and cons of these choices.

WWTW

The 24-70. Good for close ups..

Walking with the Wounded: Cumbrian Challenge

The brief: 3 minute highlights video of fundraising event. Positive and engaging.

Location: The Lake district

Camera: Canon C100 with Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L & Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS L

 

Screenshot 2016-01-28 11.07.55

..and for GVs.

The C100 has a crop factor of 1.3 so my 24mm became a 31.2mm and my 200mm became a whopping 260mm. Being in the great outdoors having zooms covering this range was excellent and being able to get shots of the walkers from a great distance was essential. The widest angle was still wide enough to get establishing shots; anything much wider probably would have weighed me down unnecessarily.

 

Screenshot 2016-01-28 11.08.28

The 70-200 was good for flexibility on the mountainside..

In fact, talking of weight, the telephoto lens was a beast. As it opened up to f2.8 it was quite heavy but being in the great outdoors during the day meant that I never needed this extra stop of light. In this case, the 70-200 f4 IS would have been more suitable as it is smaller and lighter (as well as cheaper). Image stabilization for me was a must on the telephoto though as it wasn’t always easy to use a tripod and it was quite windy up on that mountain.

 

Screenshot 2016-01-28 11.28.28

..which resulted in a good variety of coverage

Other suitable lenses:

Canon 24-105 f4 IS L – This would have given my 24-70 greater range and image stabilization at the expense of 1 stop of light and some sharpness.

Canon 28-135 f3.5-5.6 IS – If I only wanted to take one lens this may have been the best option. Incredible range and image stabilization at the expense of aperture and sharpness.

 

Noose

Brief: Short horror film. Moody and suspenseful.

Location: Hotel interior

Camera: Canon 5D mkii with Zeiss ZF primes and EF adapter

A short film I did a few years ago. Full frame was the choice for this project because low light ability, shallow depth of field and a wide angle of view were essential to getting a cinematic look whilst showing the space within the rooms. The Zeiss set hired included an 18, 25, 35, 50, 85 and 100mm so were a fantastic range for drama and being primes, were very good in low light. What’s more, their sharpness and very aesthetically pleasing bokeh (background blur) made them an exceptional choice for the project.

Screenshot 2016-01-28 11.54.47

The 18mm showed the space of the hotel perfectly without distorting the edges

Screenshot 2016-01-28 11.50.02

The Zeiss lenses have exceptional bokeh

On the flip side changing lenses slowed us down on what was already an incredibly tight schedule plus there were no focus gears on the lenses themselves (we had some complicated camera moves) so we had to apply and reapply focus rings quite often. What’s more, being Nikon mount we had to also attach and reattach EF adapters which once again, slowed us down. Of course, we could have chosen to use a zoom lens to speed things up but our maximum aperture would have been lower and there would be a greater chance of distortion in the corners of the image.

At the end of the day image quality really mattered here and by looking at the stills you can see why I would choose Zeiss primes again in a heartbeat.

Other suitable lenses:

Canon EF cine primes – Incredibly sharp and optimized for cinema with manual iris, focus rings and no ‘breathing’ when focusing, these lenses would have been an excellent choice. The EF mount would have made them quick to change too, however, all of this would have come at a much higher price.

Canon L series primes – These would be around the same price to hire as the Zeiss but with the Canon mount for convenience. No focus rings again and aesthetics that are in my opinion not as pleasing (this is just personal preference) but they are certainly a good economical choice, especially for sharpness.

 

These are just a few examples to get you thinking and of course these are just my own opinions, but as you can see it’s a bit of a minefield out there. There are so many factors to consider and what one person needs in their lenses may be unnecessary for another so ultimately it’s down to you to decide what your priority is. It also doesn’t help that new lenses are being introduced regularly, although fortunately nowhere near as much as new cameras are.

One thing to remember though is that old lenses aren’t necessarily bad lenses! If they are free of mould and scratches and the like, they could be perfectly usable. In fact, newer lenses with electronically controlled apertures (Canon are particularly guilty here) limit your choice of format unless you’re prepared to buy expensive powered adapters such as Metabones. However, older manual lenses such as the Nikon M42 variety can be used on many modern cameras (with adapters if necessary) usually at a much lower cost but sometimes rivaling the quality in areas. In fact many vintage lenses have characteristics that make them rare and unique (this deserves an article in itself) hence their appeal to collectors and photography lovers.

At the end of the day do your research and only get what you need. By concentrating on producing high quality work and making sensible choices you’ll realise it’s not just about the camera or the lens, but the person behind it.

Video Production London

10 things they don’t tell you about working in video production

Universities, film schools, specialist courses – all can be a great place to start if you want to equip yourself with useful skills for a job working in video or film production. However, there are some things that just can’t be learned in an educational environment. Only by talking to those already working in the industry and gaining experience yourself will you learn some things that no book or lecture could ever prepare you for. So listen up, we’ve got a few industry insights here. Some are positive and some are not, but if you want to work in this industry you had better listen to the pros first before you dive in at the deep end.

Video Production Company Brighton

Fatboy Slim appreciated the gig!

1. Every new job you land, no matter how big or small, becomes a huge personal victory.

This is especially true to start ups and freelancers. It is much harder to get new clients than it is to get repeat business from an existing one. Even landing little jobs that only last a few hours can give you that warm feeling inside that something is working because people want to hire YOU. This in turn will help you stay driven and motivated. Enjoy it!

 

2. How tremendously adaptable you sometimes have to be.

To get where you want to be in your career you may find yourself sooner or later doing something that you don’t really want to do (well, that’s life!) but you’ll realise that it’s a necessity to making any sort of progress. Whether it be learning a new skill in an area you’re not confident in or taking on work in a completely different industry just so you can survive until your next video job comes in, if you really want to succeed you’ll do what it takes. You may just find it character building too.

3. Marketing is so incredibly, ridiculously important.

Whether you freelance or run your own business, you simply can’t avoid the subject of marketing or you will fail. Word of mouth is often described as one of the best ways of getting work in an industry as small as this, and this is true, but first impressions count and knowing who it is you are trying to work for and how to target them is key to starting new working relationships. Included in this is the ability to sell yourself, plus with growing demand for online video content the marketeers out there should be your best friends!

4. GAS.

Not the poisonous kind, unless you let it get the better of you. GAS stands for gear acquisition syndrome. It is actually a thing. In the western world we are suckers for consumerism and just love to own stuff but this is especially true in video production for cameras are sexy, lenses are bokehlicious and a DJI octocopter – well, who wouldn’t want one of those?

Video Production Brighton

I’ll take them all please

It’s very tempting to spend lots of money and think your career will instantly bloom but if you’re not careful you could get stuck in a never ending process of continually needing to buy stuff and never make any money as a result. For some of us of course it is important that you buy the right tools for the job but perhaps consider whether you really do need that new flashy gizmo or if hiring would be a more sensible option. And don’t forget, your talent counts for something too.

There’s some brilliant advice on the matter in this filmmaker magazine article by DOP Sean Porter including one bit that really stuck with me:

“We have to be very cognizant about the impact, however minute, we make when we mix our creative responsibilities with enterprise. Your gear is a powerful influence on your work, both good and bad. I think stepping up means knowing which is which, even if it’s not the answer you want to hear.”

Wise words.

5. How to balance multiple jobs.

This for me, and I’m sure many others, is probably one of the hardest things about starting off in this industry that’s on this list. I’m not just talking multiple film or video jobs; I’m referring to balancing the self employed work with the employed. The paid with the unpaid. The desirable with the reliable. The big question that nobody seems to have the answer to is:

How can you get experience without a job when you can’t get the job without experience?

You have to start somewhere. Maybe you’ll be working part time so many days a week so you can focus on the video work on your days off – if you can afford to live off part time wages. But then, what if your perfect job comes up while you’re at work and you could be potentially missing out on your big break? If you keep trying to get time off from your reliable work are you likely to keep that job for long? On the contrary if you always keep your diary open, how do you know that you’re definitely going to land more video work to pay the bills? Juggling the reliable and the desirable work can be an absolute nightmare and it’s one thing that no educational institution can ever prepare you for.

My advice is to keep your options open and explore the different possibilities available to you until you find something that works. Everybody needs to earn somehow but what ends up working for one person may not work for someone else. I recently wrote about how my non video job helped me learn new transferable skills but the most important thing to understand is you have to be prepared to work your socks off, whichever path you decide to tread.

Oh, and one more thing. Dealing with a clash of job offers never gets any easier.

6. When to say no.

I must refer again to the article mentioned earlier by DOP Sean Porter, who deals with this point in great detail. Knowing when to say no can be another one of the hardest things to deal with in this industry. Taking on too much work could leave your clients unsatisfied or affect your personal life and relationships in a negative way. It’s another thing that can only be learned through experience and through applying a good level of judgment every time an opportunity arises. We’ve all accepted those jobs we’d wished we’d declined but it’s all about learning from these mistakes so that our future selves won’t curse our present selves into oblivion!

money

Budgeting can be hard when your income fluctuates

7. Steady sources of income can disappear suddenly and you may not know why.

A client may go on sick leave or change premises, marketing budgets may be slashed or a competitor may offer your clients better value. In fact, there are a whole host of reasons why you might lose a steady client and it can be very hard and frustrating when this happens, especially if you don’t know why.

The answer? Don’t take it personally, avoid complacency and learn to be like a gecko – adapt! Don’t stress and remember that factors which are beyond your control can be a blessing as well as a curse in your work life. It also pays during busy times to save for a rainy day.

8. How to manage your taxes.

Tax returns, accounting, filing..yawn. It may be boring but unfortunately it’s something that none of us can avoid doing, whether we freelance or run a business. Not to suck the fun completely out of the creative industry at hand but the more you learn about tax returns and the like the earlier on in your career the easier it will be for you to stay on top of your money and make sensible decisions throughout. You wouldn’t want any nasty surprises now!

The first place to look for information on all things tax is the HMRC website.

9. Your competition may also be your friends.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Working in such a small industry means we often bump into familiar faces and that includes the competition. The beauty of this, unlike most industries, is your competition could not only help to keep you on your toes but they could potentially be a reliable stand in for you when you need a helping hand or could loan you equipment and vice versa. There’s also a thing called referral fees for the business minded among us!

Video Production Brighton

Time to take a break?

10. How to switch off and relax.

Last, but certainly not least. You spend so much of your time and energy hacking away at your career that no matter where you are on the ladder, it can be nigh on impossible to switch off from work when you’re worried about things like where your next pay cheque is, if your clients will like your work and what your competitors are up to. Whether running a business or working for yourself and with dangerous cross overs between work and play on your social media accounts, switching off from the world of work can be very difficult indeed. It could be viewed as a good thing as we are just that determined to succeed, but don’t let it consume you. Allow yourself some ‘me time’ and enjoy those rare opportunities to turn off your phone. Your other half will appreciate it!

There is no real single secret to a successful career in any of the creative industries, but hopefully these insights will help you make the right decisions early on. If you make mistakes along the way however, that’s OK, it is part of your professional development no matter what career you decide to embark on (except for the tax issues – we wouldn’t want you getting in trouble!).

Light meters – do we need them for video?

It was my birthday earlier this week and one of the presents I received from my family was a light meter – a Sekonic Flashmate L-308s to be exact. This little gizmo is hardly the most glamorous gadget in the arsenal of video gear and probably nowhere near the top of most camera peoples’ wishlists, but nevertheless I decided that it was time to get one. Now I shoot quite a lot of video and you may be wondering why I would ever need a light meter when most video cameras have histograms, wave forms, zebras and other exposure aids built in. It’s perfectly valid to question why anyone would want to spend more money on an item that is, in theory, debatable as to whether it is really needed in these modern times.

In this digital age and with the rapid advancement of technology has the light meter become more of a relic from a bygone era rather than an essential video making tool? Do photographers even need to use them anymore now that most shoot digital? Do we really need light meters for video?

The short answer is yes. But it’s not as simple as that. Depending on what you shoot, the answer may actually be no. To decide if you do need a light meter or not it’s worth considering the reasons why one might have one in their kit bag. You may be surprised at how many reasons there are:

sekonic light meter

Sekonic – a widely adopted brand of light meters

1. To get the most accurate exposure:

First and foremost and the most obvious reason for owning one. I’m not discounting inbuilt light meters in digital cameras but the truth is a quality light meter will always be the most accurate way to measure exposure because that is their primary purpose. Inbuilt light meters usually feature modes that rely on averaging the exposure by taking several readings across the frame. Using an averaging mode can sometimes result in the camera been tricked into the wrong exposure because it averages the whole scene rather than taking a reading of the subject you are focusing on, meaning your subject could end up over or under exposed. Using a light meter here can allow you to expose the correct area of the frame first time round.

To control the highlight in this image a flag was held partially in front of the light source so it didn't wrap around the face too much.

The back light here was deliberately over exposed so that it was unrecoverable in post but if I wanted to I could have measured it so it was specifically 1 or 2 stops over the rest of his face.

2. It is easier to control your contrast:

Once you have established optimum exposure of your subject, a light meter can be used to balance the other areas of the frame to help create the look your production desires. For instance, you may want everything to be flat and even for a corporate video or high contrast and moody for drama. You could always judge by eye but knowing exactly how many stops over or under areas of your image are you can have confidence knowing that you’re being accurate. What’s more, if you know the dynamic range of your camera you can expose your images in a way that lets you have a greater degree of flexibility during colour grading if you want it.

Can you rely on the natural light alone?

3. You can have a more efficient location recce:

When you visit a location how do you know what equipment to bring if you don’t know how good the natural light really is? Our eyes can be deceiving and lead us into thinking the natural light can do all the work but really the only way to be fully prepared is to measure that light and then make the decision.

 

talent and lighting

Metering will improve your efficiency in setting up.

4. You can light a scene before the talent arrives (and quicker):

This is a very important point. If we could only light when the talent (or a stand in) was in shot we would never get anything done. Of course, once the talent is in the frame you may want to make some small adjustments but being able to set the exposure beforehand will help save you and everybody else’s time and money. Adding to this, if you have to run back and forth between adjusting a light and viewing the histogram or waveform this can be quite time consuming.

 

which camera?

It doesn’t matter which camera you decide to use, a light meter could assist you with exposure for any model that lets you set exposure manually

5. Video & photography skills often overlap. Embrace this:

For the DSLR video shooters out there, you’ve probably learned a thing or two about photography whilst you’ve been at it. You may have tried out long exposure and timelapse photography out of curiosity, the latter of which can certainly add an interesting element to your videos. Much of this may be a result of simple trial and error until you get pleasing results (this is certainly how I used to do it), however using a light meter can help you to reduce this method and once again save you time. What’s more, you could go further down the photography route later on and so having a greater understanding of exposure and light now could actually make you more employable in the future.

 

 

dog 35mm film

This photo of the old family dog ‘Dolly’ was taken on my old pentax 35mm film camera. Although it’s a lovely photo, if I had taken a reading off of her fur rather than relying on the inbuilt meter to average it out then it wouldn’t have appeared slightly over exposed, as being a golden lab her fur was actually a shade darker.

6. You open up the possibility of shooting on film:

Ever had that burning desire to go old school? We all have. With Kodak’s recent announcement of a new (yes, new!) Super 8 film camera you may just get tempted further into experimenting with film.

Now, many 35mm stills cameras have inbuilt spot meters, as do super 8 cameras, however, once again they may not always be the best option for you, especially if these meters calculate an exposure based on averages. Of course with digital cameras you can readjust your exposure and snap again but with rolls of film this can be an expensive thing to do so you have to be much more conservative with your shots. Taking proper exposure readings will eliminate the need for guess work and ensure you become comfortable with the format.

And finally..

7. You look like you know what you’re doing:

In other words, you look like a pro. That’s a good thing, right? Oh, and you can give accurate orders to an assistant (this is invaluable)!

So, taking these points into consideration, what kind of video shooters could benefit from using a light meter?

I believe the answer is anyone who wants or needs to light their productions to a high standard. This includes those who work in (but is certainly not limited to) commercials, drama, green screen and stills photography. Aspiring DOPs certainly need one, hence why I got one. For conferences, weddings, run and gun documentaries and corporate videos, you probably won’t need one. In these instances you can simply rely on your camera’s exposure aids and you won’t have to fork out for an expensive item that may just end up gathering dust.

At the end of the day the decision of whether you need a light meter or not is down to you and it all depends on what you shoot and/or what you want to shoot. Light meters aren’t the cheapest tools out there so, as with everything else, only get one if you really need it. If you decide that you do need one however, it could be one of the most important investments you’ll ever make in your video career.

If you would like to find out more about lighting check out this article on why good lighting can sometimes be more important than the camera and how a cheap reflector could be your most important lighting accessory (after the light meter of course!) .