I’ve been pretty lucky this fall that I’ve stayed busy with a lot of shooting, but haven’t had too much travel beyond the Northeast. I do enjoy, in theory (and usually in practice) the idea of traveling for work, but I often hate the hassle of airport travel with lots of gear, connecting flights, etc. I also like to come home at night and see my family. But still there is an adventure in business travel, and it’s part of the job, so I don’t generally turn it down when it comes my way.
This past week was pretty hectic with 2 jobs in 2 states, requiring 6 flights over 6 days. The crazy thing was that 2 weeks ago I had a clear schedule for this past week with nothing booked. Then one job came up, and a week later another came up. I do find that’s often the case; I’ll start a month thinking it looks pretty light, then all of a sudden it will completely fill up. Destination 1 was to Las Vegas. Now, I’ll rarely turn down an opportunity to go to Vegas. To me it’s one of the best (read: dangerous) business destinations. You’ve got gambling, great food, great shows, and you’re getting paid to be there. Oh, I guess there was work too, but that didn’t get in the way of fun. The job was for FanDuel, a UK-based fantasy sports website, that was holding their 2nd annual Fantasy Football Championships. They wanted to produce a video to highlight the competition and use it to promote FanDuel and their competition for next year. Now I am HARDLY a football fan, but I don’t think this put me at a disadvantage. The gig consisted of 2 days of shooting, 1 was interviews with all 11 finalists and then the next day was filming during the competition itself. We setup interviews in a suite in the Palazzo, and shot 2 cameras (Sony F3 and Canon 7D) with the same setup for each interview. Fortunately we had a pretty large room to work with (for a hotel room), to setup a nice looking shot. We very much wanted to give the whole piece an ESPN vibe, and hopefully that will come across in the edit.
Then second day was more event-style shooting in Lagasse Stadium, the largest sports book in Vegas. FanDuel had a decent size private room with about 50 people watching the games. This was probably the first time in my life I spent an entire day around people watching football. The finalists were playing in a 1-day fantasy tournament, vying for $75K for 1st place (out of a $150K prize pool) so there was definitely a lot on the line. I still am not sure I totally get the allure of watching football for an entire day, but I like the idea of winning $75K, so it made it exciting to watch the standings shift throughout the day. The room was pretty dim, so we shot with on-camera Litepanel Micros, and cranked the ISO a fair amount (which is VERY clean on the F3), and basically filmed….people watching tv. There were some dramatic moments throughout the day, though, and I think in the end we’ll cut this to look like a fun, exciting event.
Next up was Missoula, Montana. This was my first time in Montana, and I knew it would be beautiful. The job was to shoot a segment for the Today Show about a 29-year old unemployed firefighter, who was recently diagnosed with cancer, and is using IndieGoGo to raise money to cover the costs of his treatment. I met the producer in Missoula, and we shot for a day and a half, interviewing the man and his sister (who was heading up the fundraising campaign), and filming them in their daily lives. We even went ice fishing early one morning, which was a first for me. Missoula was a pretty epic place to film, with gorgeous scenery, and frankly since I spend probably 80% of my time shooting in doors, it was just so nice to be shooting outside (even on a cold, frozen lake). I think we got some great stuff, and I am excited to see how it comes together. (It’s slated to air on December 22nd, if you want to check it out).
What I Brought
The biggest hassle of travel is figuring out what to bring. I am completely envious of many business travelers who walk on the place with a small roll-on case and that’s ALL THEY NEED. That would be freeing, but instead I have to go through expensive bag checks, lugging heavy bags throughout the airport. Frankly, I think I pack on the lighter side compared with many people I know who travel for video production. I had 5 bags in total, 3 checked and 2 carry-on (Kata HB 207 backpack with the cameras and lenses, etc, and a laptop bag). My big checked bag is a Kata OC-88 which I can fit lights, stands, and other gear in (and my clothes). The second was the Pelican 1510, which I usually use as an audio case, but I rearranged the dividers to use it for audio, some lenses, and the KiPro Mini and batteries. Third, I had a tripod case with a tripod, boom pole and another light stand. The biggest issue I find is getting my Kata bag to stay under 50lbs. It’s VERY easy to load it too much, and I’m always rearranging stuff to try to keep it below 50, otherwise they’ll gouge you with additional fees. I was meeting my assistant Mike in Vegas (he was flying from NYC), so I brought only 2 lights and stands (an Arri 1k w/ Chimera, and an Arri 300) and he brought 2 stands and his 2 Litepanel MicroPros. This helped in keeping the bags light enough (although my Kata was 52lbs, but they let it slide). We used all 4 lights in Vegas for the interviews, but in Montana Mike (who wasn’t joining me) and I swapped lights and I took the Litepanels and he took the Arris home with him. The producer for Today said he wanted to use as much available light as possible, and we ended up not lighting anything. I think for next year I want to build a small all LED light kit with very small stands especially for flying, because it is hard to keep the weight down.
This trip was also my maiden voyage for my new Sony F3. I’m not going to go into a lengthy review of this camera (which has been out for a year and reviewed extensively) but I was THRILLED with the results. I had dialed it in at home, using picture profile settings that I got from Abel Cine Tech, and those worked great. The camera has a fantastic image and is definitely a step up from my AF100 (which has been a great camera, but the F3 was the one I really wanted last year). I was using this with the KiPro Mini, which worked great and allows me to deliver ProRes files to NBC, which makes their life easier (and soon will be able to do DNxHD which will be even better).
Here’s just a short list of the standout features of this camera for me:
-It works like my EX-1, so the menus and buttons were very familiar. That’s great.
-I got new lenses for this setup, using Nikon lenses (my Olympus lenses for the AF100 won’t work with the larger setup). The 17-35 f2.8 and 28-70 f2.8 zooms are pretty compact and have aperture rings (which I really hadn’t realized was such a huge deal). I pretty much used these 2 lenses the entire time, other than an old 85mm f1.4 that we used for interviews in Vegas. I think these zooms (while not parafocal) are very good as variable primes for video use. Very sharp too.
-The KiPro worked great. I was worried about only having 2 Anton Bauer TrimPac batteries, but I never ran out during the day of shooting. The whole rig, which is rather heavy, is actually very balanced on the shoulder. I wasn’t using my DP4 EVF, but even so I could just use the LCD pretty well off the shoulder.
-One of the biggest PIA of the AF100 was no expanded focus on the LCD. I loved the EX-1 LCD, and the F3 is (I think) the same monitor, with phenomenal peaking and expanded focus. I always felt the need to use my SmallHD with the AF100 for focus, but that wasn’t an issue with the F3 screen. This makes the rig much smaller (especially in Vegas, where I was shooting handheld without the KiPro most of the time).
-The low noise at high ISOs is amazing. I shot a lot during the FanDuel tournament at +12 and +18 (3200/6400) and sure there is some noise, but it’s totally fine and probably looks like +3 or +6 on the EX-1, and was way cleaner than the 7D we were also using.
-The image quality is just amazing. It’s very sharp and detailed (which I like, although some like a smoother look). It seems to have a wide latitude and I found it handled the higher end of exposure better than the AF100. I always found I really had to avoid bright highlights or pushing skin tones too hot, but the F3 seems to handle this much better. There is definitely more picture control too in the profile settings. I am not using the sLog update, which many rave about. Personally it’s not totally ideal for me as I often hand off footage to other production companies and editors who wouldn’t want to deal with sLog footage, and want more of a baked in look. I know that many poo-poo the notion of shooting this way, but I think it works out quite well for many projects and saves time in the back end without doing heavy grading. I’ll probably get the update next year, but since I just spent a small fortune this month I figured I’d wait.
So that was my week. I am writing this from my last flight (of 6) of the week. I am looking forward to going home and seeing my family before having a shoot in Boston tomorrow and one in NYC this weekend. Whew.