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Old April 16th, 2008, 01:16 PM   #1
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Choosing cameras for inexperienced users for a documentary project in Alaska.

So I have a new documentary project coming up. The basic plan is training a bunch of mid-life crisis guys on camera equipment and giving them a crash course in video so they can make a "Long Way Round" style documentary of their motorcycle trip through Alaska.

I'm now at the point of trying to figure out what kind of equipment to hand these guys. Should we steer them toward hdd-based HD cam or HDV? My thoughts were to maybe go for a few Canon HV20s, although my concern is getting the tape back and finding a bunch of dropped frames, timecode issues, and other things resulting in unusable footage. Not sure how sturdy HDV tape is, but they will be shooting in alaska and the temperature issues among other things have me worried. With the low temperatures we'll load them up with extra batteries as well since lithium ion life tends to drop significantly in colder weather.

We'll also need a decent audio solution. I think we can get away with a decent mini-boom on the camera's hot shoe.

Any suggestions/thoughts would be helpful. Any tips on training these guys with the cameras so that the footage will be shot successfully would be great as well.
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Old April 17th, 2008, 03:47 PM   #2
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Low temperatures? What time of year are these guys going to be rolling through? Also, what parts of Alaska will they be visiting? Towns along the southeast coastline tend to be milder and wetter, but things get more arid and dry in the interior. Gosh, it can even be really dry here in Anchorage. You can never have enough extra batteries, but unless you're going to be coming up here during winter, I wouldn't worry about low temperatures.

Since these guys are riding motorcycles, I think having something small and compact would be very important. I don't have much experience with HDV, but unless you send them packing with a laptop or two, your HDD cameras will run out of storage relatively quickly. Also, handing any kind of video camera to someone that doesn't know how to shoot video seems to be quite the risk. I can't tell you how many clients I've dealt with that go out, shoot their own video, and then hand me a tape telling me to make something "professional" out of it. I consider myself lucky when I get 10 minutes of usable footage out of one hour of tape.

I think the second best way to get the best footage would be to spend the time and effort teaching 1 person who wants to do all the shooting and have him do it all. That way, it will be easier to deal with in the editing room.

The best way though, if it's even possible, would be to have someone that knows how to shoot follow these guys in a car or minivan so he can be out of the elements while on the road and still be able to shoot comfortably. Otherwise, I fear you'll be sifting through dozens of tapes, seeing mostly super-shaky footage.
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Old April 17th, 2008, 04:03 PM   #3
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What Shawn said. I wouldn't worry about extreme cold unless you plan to be here in the winter, and if you do, I kind of wonder about the health of the guys riding on the motorcycles! I wouldn't want to do that in the winter. But we actually have nice summers up here....think looooooong hours of sunlight and almost no dark.

I will also echo Shawn in what he said about giving 'a bunch of guys cameras and giving them a crash course in video'. In my opinion, that is a surefire road to disaster. Get someone who knows what they are doing and have them shoot it!!! I too have had my share of video 'handed' to me and asked to make something 'professional' out of it. Sorry but I can't make prime rib out of cow pies!!! Last project I did that for someone who wanted to 'save money' instead of having me shoot....they had some regular guys shoot and gave me the footage to edit. I had about 15 tapes and had a hard time coming up with 30 seconds of usable video for a TV spot. Oh yeah....it cost them about 4 times as much as it would have to just hire me to shoot it!! I can't stress it enough, it will save a ton of time and money in post production if you have someone who actually UNDERSTANDS how TV is put together and KNOWS what kind of things to do when shooting. Handing cameras to people and having them shoot it themselves....YIKES!
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Old April 21st, 2008, 02:28 PM   #4
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What Gabe said - "Ditto!" Also, a shotgun mic on the hotshoe will NOT give you decent audio when the motorcycles are running or the wind is blowing by at 60 mph. Save yourself some money and hire a pro.
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Old April 21st, 2008, 02:59 PM   #5
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Thank you for the thoughts everyone. I agree with the sentiment of having a professional going along for the shoot. Unfortunately neither myself or my director will be able to join them on their trip but we'll see if they're open to hiring someone.

Shawn - I don't have the exact details but I believe they're doing the trip during June/July. I can't tell you WHERE as of yet since we're still waiting on their itinerary. From your description though it sounds like conditions will be a lot more favorable than I was imagining.

Again, thanks for the responses. I'll keep you updated as things unfold. Also, just for the record, this is more of a client project than an ACTUAL documentary project. I initially thought this was going to be documentary project that we would spearhead but it turns out it's more of a docu-venture piece for a client (the guys on motorcycles).
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Old April 21st, 2008, 03:27 PM   #6
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June and July definitely offer the best summer weather, along with the longest days of the year. Also, since there really aren't that many roads up here, I'll assume your guys will be making a "loop" through the state. The few highways we have up here basically make the shape of a capital "A". In places along the coast like Seward, Valdez, or Whittier, count on the weather being cloudy or drizzly and cool. Temps can be anywhere from the mid 50's to the lower 70's. Once you get into the interior around places like Tok, Fairbanks, Healy, and Denali, temperatures will rise and the air will become drier. I've been in Fairbanks when temps have hit the upper 80's and low 90's!

Overall, I think tape will be your best medium for these guys to shoot on. If they run out of tape, they have excellent chances of finding more at stores in the larger towns, especially Anchorage and Fairbanks.

These guys might know already, but tell them to pick up a copy of this year's Milepost Magazine. It's full of great stuff geared for people driving up here from outside. Good luck!
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Old April 21st, 2008, 07:10 PM   #7
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try finding a copy of the movie MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, this was 2 or 3 people riding motorcycles around part of the world, extreme conditions in remote parts. in the credits it should mention what camera they used. VERY good documentry, try motorcycling in siberia in the of season, through mud, rain and such

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Old April 27th, 2008, 10:22 AM   #8
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MOTORCYCLE DIARIES was shot in super 16mm.

Ron
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Old April 27th, 2008, 10:25 AM   #9
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Ops, maybe I`m confused. I was thinking in Walter Salles feature film.

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Old May 3rd, 2008, 04:53 PM   #10
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There was a really good motorcycle documentary back in 2004 staring the actor Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. It was called “The Long Way Around”. It’s is a documentary television series, DVD set and book documenting the 19,000 miles (31,000 km) journey of from London to New York on motorcycles. They traveled eastwards through Europe and Asia, flew to Alaska and continued by road from there to New York. The two main guys were the stars and they hired a camera man to ride with them. I remember they go into great detail about the decision to bring the third rider/video camera operator along instead of them shooting the video themselves. Anyway it really put together well. It might give you some ideas.
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Old May 3rd, 2008, 05:14 PM   #11
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Sorry I just realised, thats the Doc you were talking about in the inital post....I just zoned out on that one....great film though!
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Old May 4th, 2008, 08:36 AM   #12
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If they do end up shooting it themselves I'd suggest a sturdy monopod as part of the gear for each shooter. I do a lot of shooting on monopods and prefer the results to most hand-held shots, especially with small cameras.
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Old May 4th, 2008, 03:04 PM   #13
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Arthur - Thanks, I have the whole series on DVD right now at my place and I'm going through them for research. It's very well done and should provide some good inspiration.

Kevin - Thanks for the monopod suggestion. We were just going to set them up with tripods but a monopod might not be a bad idea either.

I'll keep you all updated once I start to get itineraries and gear lists sorted out.
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Old December 30th, 2008, 02:13 AM   #14
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Project Update

As promised here's the latest update:

Project didn't end up happening due to a lack of the client to provide a budget and also lack of respect to the crew in treating us as professionals. On the budget end we got an answer of "Well.. here's our budget for the trip. Whatever is leftover we can use to pay you."

*sigh* You win some and lose some. Thank you everybody who responded with helpful comments and suggestions.
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Old December 30th, 2008, 07:22 AM   #15
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Probably good that it didn't happen.
It saves you from going through 80 hours of badly shot amateur footage.
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