Gear Details: How We Shot “Dasein: Art of Being” Documentary

NYC street doc setupHey friends.  Erik the video guy here. We’ve had a bunch of YOUR questions come in about what gear/process/technique we used to make the Dasein docu-short we posted a couple days ago so I thought I’d chime in with a quick gear- and technique-specific follow up on how this film was made. 

First, Chase was the director on the project but wanted to remain focused simply on the overall look and feel. Plus, since he was in front of the camera most of the time, he specifically did NOT want to get sucked into all the details to get the look he wanted, so that put me squarely in the Director of Photography (DP) role, in charge of all the details he wanted to avoid. This worked out great – we collaborate really well in this capacity.

Since I knew heading to New York that we’d be working at all hours, around Chase’s crazy schedule and with no permits, no location assistance, and (in the best way) no solid plan on when and where we would be shooting, I made the call that one of our main objectives was to stay light and quick with our gear selection.

Given that an important part of this short film is about time–creating time in your life for creativity–Chase wanted the film shot in a way that arrested time visually…that is, he wanted it shot in slow motion. This was a part of the initial treatment he’d written for the piece. And while we originally discussed shooting with a RED One or Epic, I ultimately thought this might not mesh well with the “light/fast” motto I’d already decreed above. I wanted everything, minus the tripod and dolly, to fit in one bag – something I could manage by myself — in this case, one of our fav bags, the Lowepro Classified 250 shoulder bag. And it’s small…

So here’s what I lugged around:

NYC street doc setup

Let’s start with the CAMERA/LENS SELECTION. Factoring that Chase wanted the high frame rate, that he’d not be shooting at all–only directing–, PLUS the limited budget he’d allocated to make this film happen (not enough to bring in a RED and a bunch of primes for a month), I made the call that I would simply use my own personal camera/lens gear. So I shot the piece with my Canon 7D. I’m good with a range of cameras, but the 7D made sense because it gave the film 60p slow motion that Chase required, plus it was small, very light, and since I own it personally, it was free. I also carried 3 of my own lenses; the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC, the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, and an old Nikon manual 85mm f/1.8 with a Nikon-EOS adapter.  They’re nothing fancy, but I was sure they’d do the job. The Tamron is a great all-purpose lens and the vibration compensation is fantastic for shooting handheld.  Most of the footage was captured with that lens.  I used the Tokina the least, but was great when Chase wanted a dramatically wide shot, and the Nikon 85mm was for when we needed that extra bit of focal length and space compression.

AUDIO.
  We captured Chase’s interviews with a Sennheiser Evolution G3 wireless lavalier set and a Zoom H4n Handy Recorder.  Pretty straight forward, not too exciting, so let’s move on to the really fun stuff…

CAMERA SUPPORT:  For this project we acquired two of my new favorite toys; the Zacuto EVF Pro and the Kessler Pocket Dolly.  These two products are brilliant on their own, but when their powers combine they create a silky smooth shooting experience.

Zacuto EVF and Kessler Pocket Dolly

The Zacuto EVF is an amazingly powerful LCD monitor packed into a compact and lightweight package.  It’s powered by the same battery that the Canon 5D/7D use and offers a plethora of helpful functions such as monochrome viewing (very helpful when you’re filming a documentary that will be black and white in the end), zebra stripes and false color for checking exposure, focus peaking assist (my personal favorite), frame lines, and a lot more.  The monitor works with or without a Z-Finder snapped onto it, and on the Pro and Flip models the Z-Finder mounting frame swings up to get out of your way when you don’t need it while keeping the Z-Finder close by so you can quickly snap it back into action.

Zacuto EVF Pro on Canon 7D

The ultra portable Kessler Pocket Dolly was great for getting some much needed movement into our shots.  We got ours with the optional outrigger feet for shooting low to the ground, and the feet are adjustable so you can maintain a level dolly move on uneven surfaces.  The dolly also has various screw threads on the base so you can quickly secure it to a tripod.  It becomes a bit of a beast when it’s setup like that, but it breaks down pretty quickly when you need to move.  I’m always amazed at what a difference a little camera movement makes in video shots, even with just a little more than three feet of track.  I highly highly recommend it.

Kessler Pocket Dolly and Zacuto EVF

Like I said earlier, these two products make a great combination.  All of us on the CJ crew consider a dolly or some sort of moving camera support mandatory for capturing dynamic footage, and the addition of the Zacuto monitor is a great way to keep from having to lay down on the ground to see what you’re shooting from your worm’s eye view camera angle.

We cut the piece together using Apple Final Cut Pro. And we did all the color (B+W) grading in FCP as well.

So there ya go.  That was my setup, front to back. Hope you can dig into this stuff in more detail this weekend. And hopefully this post has showed you how–with some good artistic vision–a fairly minimalist video kit can produce dynamic results like this:

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onebranch says:

Hi Erik,

Great work as always!
I see you are using the Tamron 17-50vc, can you comment why you chose this over the sigma 17-50? is it much better?
Also, can you comment on its quality compared to the much adored non-vc Tamron? They say the vc version has lower image quality or is it negligible?

Thanks!

Thanks for the post. We’re getting started with video now and it’s a totally different beast coming from the photography side. Nice to also confirm we’ve been making the right decisions.

Jason Miller says:

Amazing work. Who is the Musical artist in the video?

Dan Speicher says:

Hey Erik, I know you guys have heard this a ton, but here is one more time… Great movie…

Im just moving into DSLR video, when shooting with the zoom, where you going into the camera? Or were you using Plural Eyes to sync the video?

Thanks, any help on this would be great…

Erik Hecht says:

Plural Eyes all the way. It’s amazing and well worth the purchase.

Dan Speicher says:

thanks so much! It really does make a difference

jeremy says:

yeaht, that…that was a “film” :-) Nicely done Erik…very inspiring.

Kristijan says:

Have to say this at some point, somewhere, so better sooner then latter I guess. Set-up looks better then lunar module. Always enjoying to see great work by others and to drool over everything related :-) Loved video!

AJM says:

Nice blog and great video! I learned alot.

I have read all the replies and questions. I have few questions:

– Interviews were shot on 24p, what was the shutter speed while doing that?
– slow motion was shot on 60p, I guess the shutter speed will be 1/120, was it slowed down to 24p?
– I’m kind of experimenting with exporting options using FCP to upload on youtube, from your experience, what’s the best export options to upload a to the web? youtube in particular?

Thanks!

Erik Hecht says:

The shutter speed for the interview was 1/50th and you’re right, the slow motion stuff was shot at 1/120th. There were a few instances where I slowed the shutter speed down when we were shooting in really dark spaces. It’s not ideal, but I opted for a little more motion blur over a higher ISO and more grain. I think some of the shots on Williamsburg Bridge towards the end were shot this way and so were most of the shots on Wall Street around the 2:05 mark in the video.

As for YouTube upload settings.. I always export H.264. Automatic key frames, best quality compression, 8000 kbits/second data rate.

I love the gear post, super interesting to see what is used in one of your shoots.

What a coincidence… I was at the ACE that night also shooting on my 7D (filming my friend’s band that went on right before Reggie Watts) – Anyway, I must’ve seen you filming this because I looked up from my viewfinder and noticed another DSLR shooter with almost exactly the same kit! Had I know I would’ve loved to introduce myself.

I guess the lesson to this story is you never know who’s making amazing art right around you. Great job with the video!

Erik Hecht says:

That’s right! I remember that too now. Funny. That set from Reggie and the photo shoot we did with him afterwards was by far the highlight of the month for me. Is the video you shot up somewhere?

Thank you for sharing! I am always fascinated and inspired by seeing what other people are using. Amazing Video!

All I want to say is , HELL YEAH! To the video production and to the message!

Adam says:

Its great to see how you work, its amazing how simple it can be to produce such stunning results. It proves its not the equipment you use its the people using it.

michael says:

could you have done it with Nikon D7000? just curios.
thanks – great video !

Erik Hecht says:

We wouldn’t have been able to shoot slow motion 60P with the D7000, but we could have shot 30P for a slight slow motion look.

michael says:

…could you call up nikon to fix this? just joking…

arber says:

Hi Erik

Just wanted to ask wich picture style you used and what your regards are to the technicolor picture style (if you have any =) )

great movie btw!

best regards from Sweden

fas says:

That is some expensive piece of kit, really expensive piece!

Jon says:

Thank you Erick for the video. Enjoyed watching it the 2nd time through keeping in mind the equipment you were using.

Great piece Erik and Chase. Chase, you inspire us every day.

Uhh wow, using a Canon, now that’s a first :)

I know this is the least sexy piece of gear, but which tripod + head where you using? Looks like you have two heads – a fluid head on the sticks and a ball head on the slider.

Erik Hecht says:

The ball head for the slider is a Gitzo that came with the dolly and the tripod is this Manfrotto 501HDV kit: http://bit.ly/nGJeMz

Devin Schiro says:

I was blown away by how great this video was. I normally scrub through these sorts of things, but I watched this whole video start to finish.

QUESTION: The audio was so incredibly clean. Did you guys clean it up in post, or does the XOOM just record that clean from the source? If you did it in post, any quick tips on how we can get our audio sounding that good? It was flawless, IMO.

Erik Hecht says:

Thanks Devin! McKenzie Stubbert, the music composer for the piece, did some audio cleanup on it. The audio had a subtle hiss to it. Not sure if that was caused by the Zoom, the lavalier, or the room we recorded it in, but yeah, McKenzie worked his magic on it a little.

Devin Schiro says:

The mic I use always has that subtle hiss, and I’m trying to figure out how to get it out. My dream is to one day have an interview that sounds as clean as the one in this video. Thanks for the quick reply. One last thing….did you stabilize some of the floating shots in AE? Some of your handheld stuff looked downright amazing.

Derick says:

Hi Eric,

What monitoring headphones do you recommend for field work.

Thanks,
Derick

Kevin says:

You forgot to mention the lighting you used on Chase’s interview segments…

Erik Hecht says:

Ah yes…sorry about that. It was one 650W Lowel Tota light with an umbrella to diffuse it. That’s all.

andreas says:

hey was it shot with 50-60fps?

Erik Hecht says:

The interviews were shot 24p and most of the b-roll was 60p.

Jonas says:

What is this big camera chase is using to tale snapshot in the documentary ?

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