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Old January 21st, 2005, 08:15 AM   #1
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Shooting Documentary: Equipment choice help

Hi everyone,
I know this is not specifically a Wedding / Event question, and for this I apologize - I couldn't find a more appropriate forum, as shooting a wedding is a little like shooting a documentary ;)

I'll be working on a micro documentary this summer about a traveling salesman. It will be fairly low budget, as in a budget somewhere around the $80,000 USD mark.

I plan on shooting on Pal HDV - One of Sony's cameras like the FX1 probably. The choice of PAL is for easier transfer to film.

I will not be using any lighting kit aside from a reflector or two, as the filming situations will not allow it.

There will be a camera/sound crew of ONE. This is where one of my main issues arise.

I'm thinking lapel microphones for the three main "characters" in the documentary, and some sort of wireless mic as well for interviewing people we meet. I don't know anything about wireless lapel mics - are there systems designed for this sort of setup?
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Old January 21st, 2005, 09:18 AM   #2
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You have an $80,000 budget and your on an online forum asking for advice. You'd be hard pressed to spend the $80,000 short of shooting soley on film.

My choice would be the same as my weddings...PD-170/VX2100. There are several documentaries that are shot on these cams. I feel the low light quality lend itself to run n' gun shooting where you don't always have control over your lighting.
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Old January 21st, 2005, 10:14 AM   #3
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I've owned a VX2100, and am looking for something with higher resolution for film output.

Regarding the budget, $80,000 is also going to need to pay for the food, gas, room, board, transportation, salaries, etc... . It's not very much at all for a proper documentary.
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Old January 21st, 2005, 11:31 PM   #4
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Yep, there are wireless lapel systems, but when you shop make sure you have capability to run 4 different channels at once. Many can only do one, some can do two. UHF can also have channel issues based on location of shoot. I would probably keep it four discrete channels during recording (into a four track deck of some sort), and be prepared for some work in post adjusting levels as conversation progresses. You might also want to consider a boom mic setup, which is more common and less intrusive in a documentary situation. Better save some budget for a good audio person. If I know more than you about this, you are in trouble. LOL
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Old January 22nd, 2005, 11:52 AM   #5
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I know, this was kind of thrown into my lap :)
I'm thinking of allocating around $10,000 for equipment, which really doesn't give me that much wiggle room. Good post person is a must, I've already accepted that ;) .

The problem with using a boom is there is no one to hold it on the shoot! :)
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Old January 22nd, 2005, 12:49 PM   #6
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I think that was the point.
If you have a decent budget you would be better off spending it on hiring a sound guy to help you. $10K on equipment won't get you nearly as much as a good sound person.
If this was dropped in your lap, and you don't really have enough experience to be comfortable with your budget, AND you are using a NEW format that virtually NO-ONE has transfered to film, you better do yourself a HUGE favor and hire someone else to help you. Almost any decent camera can give you a respectable image (XL2, DVX100a, PD-170). If you are looking for a better DV camera to buy, your cost will at least double or triple at the very least and jump past $10K in a hurry.
HDV may be a nice choice but I personally wouldn't even dream of it without first consulting with someone who HAS already done it AND they will be an integral part of the production process. There is too much that can go wrong in a hurry.

but... NONE of that matters if your audio is not carefully looked after!

Also consider renting equipment. You can usually rent much nicer equipment than you can buy the cheaper stuff.
With an $80K budget, if you blow it, your reputation is in severe jeopardy. It would be much better for you in the long run to make a little less money for yourself and hire out more specialized aspects to give your client a better product. Next time you will be better prepared to take on more yourself.

oops! I forgot to ask, does the $80K include the transfer to film?
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Old January 22nd, 2005, 01:05 PM   #7
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Let me expand on the story a little - its not a "client", its a friend. I'm not looking to make money off this, but rather am just trying to help him out and think it will be a good time.

My main concern is ensuring that the quality of the final product is good enough that it could potentially be released.

I don't feel there is a huge market for a movie like the one he wants to create (I've expressed this to him numerous times, and he still wants to do it), and that's why I'd also like to use as little of his budget as possible.

If a sound man is required to get sufficient sound quality, so be it. Just trying to do as much research as I can, trying to get as many opinions as possible.
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Old January 22nd, 2005, 01:27 PM   #8
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Oh, ok.

It would be tough, though not impossible, and not really fun, to do this by yourself. If you could find a sound guy that has some all around knowledge of video as well, your life and production would be greatly improved. (and more fun)

Keeping track of the audio on 3 main characters and the environment is enough work without having to worry about the image as well. I agree that a boom might suit you better than a bunch of wireless units but that will depend on the specific shooting environments and circumstances.

Good luck on this one, it sounds like you've still got a lot of variables to check out but at least it's not filming until summer.
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Old January 22nd, 2005, 01:52 PM   #9
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I'm just doing the preliminary research to see what would be required if he chooses to go through with it - development moreso than pre-production right now ;)

I agree it is going to be very difficult to manage the sound for three people and control video at the same time. Time to contact some local sound guys :)
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Old January 22nd, 2005, 11:27 PM   #10
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Rhett picked up the discussion nicely. You do not want to be fixing audio major blunders in post. It is better AND CHEAPER to just get it right the first time. If this means hiring a sound person AND a camera person, that will be the way to go. Lousy sound capture could cost you tens of thousands of dollars in post, and still be not as good as if you spent less money up front for a specialist and adequate equipment. Renting may indeed make more sense too. Let us know how it goes.
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Old February 6th, 2005, 12:01 PM   #11
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if you have 80K then you can can rent professional equipment and hire experienced help. This is the more reliable route if you want to go to distribution. Winging it does sometimes work out well.
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