Thursday, 8 November 2012

A Big Blog for the Aspiring Film-Maker Part II!

One from the Liber Necris shoot

I'll start by apologising, aside from the thirty-two years prior to "From the Office to the Ocean," this five weeks or so has been the longest I've gone without a blog so sorry for that but I have just been so immensely busy I have literally not had the time to put aside to write one! I've been busy doing photo shoots for bands (nice, gritty and doomy stuff, see above), filming projects for Scarlet View Media, setting up the company in the legal sense, trying to drum up business, building the social media and website, building the new "From the Office..." website with Kris and trying to get through proposals for future projects, all the while soldiering on with "Of Shark and Man."

The long term goal for Scarlet View Media is for it to be the production company for creative, exciting and ethical shark film-making and programming but to do that, it needs to grow, to grow, it needs money so that's what I'm working on at the moment because life as a Film-Maker is tough, make no mistake about that! What I do feel proud about though is that people regularly contact me asking my advice on starting out in the independent film world. I am certainly not the oracle, I'm not even the best person to ask but I do my best and the reason people ask is because I am happy to help, using my own experience.

Henceforth, we pick up from where we left off with part II to the previous blog.

You have your camera, you have your sound recording gear and you have some great ideas and bundles of enthusiasm so get out there and shoot first and foremost. Before spunking all your money on expensive kit you need to get what you have in the field and get to grips with it and it's only when you do this, you appreciate the benefit of what's up next. Stabilisation and movement accessories.



A good, solid and smooth, fluid head video tripod needs to be very high up on your list for two reasons. Firstly, the ability to set up a rock solid shot with zero wobble gives you an edge over the casual amateur because unless it's a dramatic "in the moment" type shot that benefits from camera shake, a stable shot just looks so much better. Secondly, the capability to add camera movement whilst retaining that stability.

The fluid head on a proper video tripod will allow smooth, silky pans and tilts, getting rid of those horrible, jerky, awkward movements you get with non-video tripod heads. As with seemingly everything to do with video though, they're not cheap.

Some models are more expensive than others of course, the most common names you'll encounter will be Manfrotto and Velbon but there is a dizzying array on the market, some of which top the £1000 mark. Being on a budget, I chose to go with the Fancier 717 Pro and although not "cheap," it is still way below a lot of the other tripods in its class.

What's good about it? It's sturdy, lightweight, the handle extends to a really long length and the drag on it is really pretty damn good. The downsides are that the base plate could be a little smoother, the quick release lock switch cannot fully turn on a DSLR (although it is securely fastened) and the tightened drag on the tilt (up and down) isn't quite fully locked, those aside though, it's great value and I would recommend it highly to those on a budget. Extra advice for free...Get a spare quick release plate and a spare base plate adaptor.

Shoulder Rig Set Up

I use a tripod for probably 85% of what I shoot, what can I say, I like nice stable shots, but sometimes you want, need or are forced to go hand-held which can be a brilliant creative tool in itself and particularly if you have one of the DSLR model cameras or similar, modern devices like the Black Magic or C300, you'll need a shoulder support, the idea being the more points of contact with your body, the more stability and in my experience, hand holding a DSLR for sustained periods is uncomfortable and usually the footage requires stabilising in post.

If you haven't already looked around, these things are expensive, overly expensive in fact, the DSLR accessory market is one which sets its pricing in the upper scale so if you're willing to pay for a decent shoulder rig set up, shop around and take your time! I finally got my perfect set up a couple of weeks ago, two years after I started looking, more on that in a second though...

A cautionary tale...

If you have looked around for your own rig, you will undoubtedly have come across one of these rigs in the picture, I did, I bought one! £29, bargain! I shot Behind Blue Glass on it and used it for the first few days in Fiji but here in begins a cautionary tale...Yes they're cheap, they're cheap because they're made of plastic and plastic melts in the sun, which almost cost me an expensive camera on the second day of shooting in Fiji which would have been a catastrophe. Do they stabilise the camera? Yes...If you don't breathe when filming...Would I recommend you attach your expensive hard earned camera to one? No, no I wouldn't.

After almost losing my 7D to a six foot fall onto a hard stone floor I decided to give the cheap options a swerve and get a proper rig, that was in July of last year and I have only just got one I am happy with, I say happy, I mean delighted, I love it!

Finally sorted!

There is a huge range of 15mm rail based shoulder rigs for DSLRs out there nowadays, from the top end, ridiculously expensive but very good RedRock and Zacuto the cheaper but still not cheap Indisystem, Jag35 and Express35 who make decent, well made rigs for the serious amateur or prosumer and then you have the budget rigs from Habbycam and Opteka, a fair bit cheaper but then don't expect the same as you'd get with a Zacuto!

I've missed one name off that list, Lanparte, sourced via Cinegear Pro in London. I had flirted with Indisystem, Jag35 and Express35, even paying someone to fabricate one for me but Indisystem were out in front, flashing their affordability and seemingly pretty well made rigs at me and winking, I was that close to deciding on them until I stumbled across CinegearPro, a company I had not previously encountered and their Lanparte (ditto) rigs.


So I did a bit of research starting, as always, on Vimeo and Youtube for video reviews and found this dude reviewing his Lanparte rig. After a few months research and with the lovely surprise of HM Revenues and Tax giving me a tax rebate out of the blue (woohoo!!) and having been down to see Miguel at Cinegear Pro, I decided to take the plunge and kit myself out properly. I figured now was the right time, I needed a good set up so sod it, I'll take the hit now and go for it. The beauty of these types of set up is the flexibility so here are the components I went for, but before I do, I'm not telling you to buy these, I'm not saying it's the right answer and I did pay for them, this isn't in return for a freebie!
I then also blatantly copied this brilliant idea to avoid paying over a hundred quid for a counter weight and voila! A Shoulder Rig but is it any good?

The answer can really only be a resounding yes! Firstly, it wasn't cheap so it was a serious investment for me and there are cheaper options on the market but the quality of every aspect of each component is absolutely top class, super solid, rugged, ergonomic and really, really well made, when you screw any of this stuff in it locks completely and feels 100% secure. It's all as light as possible as well yet reassuringly weighty in the components to which you would attach your camera and it just feels "right."

The handles are amazing, articulating any which way you want and locking tight with zero wobble, the articulated monitor arm is the only thing I have used which solidly supports my Lilliput monitor and the shoulder mount, whilst hardly covered in the softest of cashmere is more than comfortable enough. The follow focus is brilliant, again, really well made and the care to make it so it folds down and out of the way when not in use is the kind of added touch I really like. Be aware though, on some Canon lenses with infinite focus rings (like my workhorse 15-85mm lens) the follow focus isn't effective if the focus limits are exceeded making those perfect focus pulls just too fiddly but on lenses without infinite focus, it works like a dream and the results look just stunning.

The rig packs down into each individual component taking about five minutes to set up and when broken down fits perfectly into the big one of these which incidentally is one of my favourite acquisitions in ages, less than £25 for three solid, light flight cases which have served me brilliantly, the big one for the rig, the medium one for sound equipment and monitor and the small one I am searching for a use for (I have two small ones now). They keep everything together, weatherproof, safe and neat and are very affordable.

Why all the detail on the shoulder rig...Simple really, it took me so long to find the right one and for a big investment I was becoming frustrated that everything seemed good but just not good enough, or perfect but well out of my price range. In this Lanparte gear I've found the best of both worlds, the perfect set up at a price which although isn't cheap, is still value for money. For me, these components and rigs are better than all the RedRock ones I have seen (and cheaper) and at least as good if not better than what I have seen from Zacuto as well, plus, for a little more money, you get a far higher elevation of quality over the mid-range stuff and it's all built to last. Also, I must point out the level of customer service I got from Miguel and Derek at CinegearPro was outstanding. Both are film-makers themselves (check out Derek's excellent film "Homeless, A Mile In Their Shoes") so understood my needs and helped me in assembling exactly the best components for my rig. I would recommend them extremely highly so if you're in the market for a rig or rig parts, get in touch with them.



One of the primary things which adds production value, that is, stuff which makes your video look high budget even if it wasn't, is smooth camera movement. Watch any major motion picture or big budget drama, all of them will have gorgeous sweeping camera movements which set the scene, build tension, introduce a character or establish motivation. A good example is the first shot after the credits in the film "Panic Room."

I really, really like "dolly" or "slider" shots and if you're not aware what that means, it is the movement of the camera towards a point of interest or into a scene, it's an incredibly flexible, stylish and cool way to elevate a scene above the ordinary and unusually for a factual "docu-film" I included a few in "Of Shark and Man" with great effect which you will see when it's finally finished! To give you an idea, here is a nice example of ways to use a cheap slider to get great results.


Konova Slider Montage Film from Dave Dugdale on Vimeo.

There are loads of slider options on the market nowadays, ranging from super cheap mini sliders to the expensive longer ones. Kessler and Cinevate make some fantastic sliders and dollies at the higher end of the financial scale with Indisystem, CinegearPro, Glidetrack and Cobra Crane also making some great sliders for those on a lower budget.

The slider I use is the 80cm Konova Slider which I got for about £320 if I remember right, last year. It's a great budget slider which I would definitely recommend with one caveat...You need to buy either another fluid tripod head or a solid ball head camera mount with a quick release so you can articulate your camera angles easily so budget for that.

Another brilliant option for impressive, cinematic camera moves is the DSLR Devices Mini Jib, I have used one but I don't have one, however I want one. Badly. I want one like I want the new GoPro and that's a lot.

This is a great review which showcases what this ingenious piece of kit can achieve and for £220 it's an absolute bargain, in fact, that £220 will add probably at least £500 to the value of your video each time you use it if you use it creatively and that's pretty good business in anyone's book.

So that's part II and once again, apologies for the delay, I know there is no need for me to apologise since I have been so ridiculously busy but it's just good form isn't it. Next up in part III will be smaller accessories and lighting!

I'll try not to keep it too long until the next blog I promise! If you're going to DEMA, go see Andrew at the Beqa Adventure Divers  stand and tell them I sent you :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.