A few weeks ago my local producer presented me with a challenge. His project was an upcoming ad selling professional cycling vacations to shoot in the south of France. "Cool," I thought. The client was also affiliated with a brand of high end German automobiles. "Even cooler". Now the challenge : the cyclists we'd be shooting would be holidaymakers and were not to be disturbed while on their ride. On top of that our budget was limited. As it turned out, very limited.
Essentially we'd have to shoot a documentary and make it look like an ad, which is more than a slight contradiction in terms. We'd need to be efficient, fast, lightweight and cheap. It looked tricky, butas challenges go, it was a good one.
I split the technical challenge into two parts : 1) finding a suitably light and flexible camera package ; 2) finding the right way to shoot a moving vehicle on open roads .
For the camera we settled on two Alexa Mini’s for their combination of their weight and form factor as well as the sensor’s dynamic range which was critical in our uncontrollable environment. The camera’s internal ND’s were also a great help. For lensing, we’d initially discussed using anamorphic primes but these turned out to be to too cumbersome as we dug into the realities of such an unpredictable shooting environment. We turned our sights to finding appropriate zoom lenses. After testing the Angenieux Optimo 45-120mm we finally decided we needed shorter focal lengths and opted for the Canon CN 17-120mm zoom. In the end it turned out to be the right compromise between a long cine style zoom and the documentary form factor that made shooting practical.
In parallel I also began consulting with Key Grip Cyril Muscat, a veteran of the French feature film and television world, who also has experience hais experienced in with using motion control and remote heads to find the right rig for our driving shots.
Along with my friends Davy Bauret and Matthieu Bancourt at MARNY, we devised a unique camera rig that attached to the roof of a VW Caravelle and allowed us to shoot mount the camera to from the front or back of the vehicle, requiring less than half an hour to pass between the two positions.
A quick word on MARNY. They make gyro-stabilised gimblesthat go from GoPro sized rigs with the ability to pan and tilt to a handheld rig about the size of a Movi M15, but with stronger motors. The They all the way up to the rig we used which was initially built to be rigged to a paraglider. They have ’ve found the meeting point between lightweight drone technology and the practicalities of cinematic shooting and they’re are building crazy stuff. Check out their facebook page here (https://www.facebook.com/marny.fr/)
With our kit set, it was time to put the pieces together and hit the road.
The rig essentially consisted of a superstructure which attached to the vehicle and provided speedrail attachment points :, a three axis vibration isolator – in this case the FlowCine Black Arm Complete on it’s 28kg setting, – and our MARNY ULM head which itself is gyro-stabilised on three axes. Our Alexa mini was motorised with three motors so we could control the stop, zoom and focus from inside the vehicle. My assistant, Teddy Ajolet, could also control other parts of the camera setup using his ARRI WCU-4 remote. The head was powered from inside the car using a lead block battery (n Note : i It is ’s very important to ensure a steady stream of 24V current to the head or there will be cuts in the stability stability of the system). Teddy was in the back seat looking back and adjusting focus, iris and zoom as needed. I sat in the middle row operating the joysticks and surveying a 7’ monitor. Cyril guided our improvised camera car along the over more than 150km of winding mountain roads we’d cover in 2 two days.
The key to getting the right shot was our ability to be flexible and maintain control as conditions changed and the roads and subjects shifted along our route. There was constant communication between myself, me, director Alvaro Ramirez (see his work at instantproductions.com) and, Teddy and Cyril to coordinate shot values, movements and exposures. Given that our window for shooting was limited by our access to the riders – no second passes - it was up to us to be in the right place at the right time when the riders happened to be in position – we had to make the most of every opportunity to get a shot. Luckily this system provided such a stable base that we were able to concentrate on of extracting a maximum amount of content from our shooting window. In a single climb, which lasted all of 15minutes, we were able to shoot over five minutes of top end, usable footage, complete with dynamic shifts, zooms and shifts in focus, all the while controlling for exposure as needed.
Overall it was a great experience with a new setup that I’d highly recommend for anyone in this kind of high quality, low profile shooting scenario.
You can see the result here or on my mainpage.
Special thanks to
Agency : FCB Inferno
Production (FR) : Kastell Productions
Director : Alvaro Ramirez
1st AC : Teddy Ajolet
Key Grip : Cyril Muscat
Stabilised Head : MARNY
Camera : Next Shot