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Old February 9th, 2009, 03:05 PM   #1
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Equipment List for Documentary Film

So I just started work on a new documentary project with a real, actual budget which means - EQUIPMENT! Equipment budget is fluctuating at the moment while people figure out funding but it will probably be around $6,000-7,000, possibly more. Final output will be to DVD (standard-def) and the web.

The film follows 2 vegan bodybuilders on their road to a natural bodybuilding competition in April as they train with each other and compete against each other for the title. Most of the filming will occur in gyms, their houses, grocery stores (to show how they eat), Seattle VegFest (convention), and some occasional outdoor shots.

We're already 2 weeks into filming and I have been getting by using my GL2 w/ onboard mic on top of some sticks I use for still photography. The resulting footage has been so-so. This is a one-man project (me) and I'm trying to get set up as best I can for a one-man production. Although the person funding this doc wants dual-camera coverage of the competition so I suppose I'll have to find someone to sit behind on of the cameras. :\

Here's what we've come up with so far:

Canon XH-A1 (plus HDV tapes and extra batteries)
Libec LS-38 or LS-22 tripod
Sanken CS3 or CS1 microphone
Sennheiser G2 100 series wireless lav
Wide angle lens for XH-A1

Any feedback on the microphones or tripod? I'm sticking with Canon for cameras because it is what I am most familiar with. Is there anything I'm missing or should add?
Thanks!
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Old February 9th, 2009, 06:03 PM   #2
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Some kind of light kit, even if just to supplement or control contrast on your available light...can be as simple as a couple of photo floods and umbrellas, small stands, daylight gels.....Sanken is real fine kit but if it's a tossup, personally, I would buy a Sennheiser shotgun and put some bucks into a light kit. The Libec 22 is a so-so tripod, it will hold the XHA1 ok but you might want something a little sturdier and smoother...ours came with a floor spreader which is a pita on uneven ground, see if you can get a mid-speader....unfortunately real good sticks are much more expensive...if you have someone to work it, a mike boom might be helpful....some highly opinionated two-cents, feel free to disagree.../Battle Vaughan/miamiherald.com video team
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Old February 9th, 2009, 07:37 PM   #3
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Brian,

2 cents from another solo-mode guy:
- Libec LS-22 if you have to fly (cheap & lightweight!); Libec LS-38 if you can just throw it in your car (more stable); I second Battle's opinion on the mid-speader
- lights: Lowel ProLight (B&H sells a kit of two ProLights w/ barndoors & umbrellas for slightly more than $400: small, lightweight, focusable; again: buy the kit if you can dump it in your car, one ProLight will do if you have to schlepp your equipment on a plane)
- sound: that's where your one-man-band limitations really set in; I'd go for a camera-mounted Rode NTG-3; the Sennheiser wireless are fine; add two good wired lavs for interviews + cable; maybe an extra sound recorder (Edirol R09?; the new Zoom H4n?...: you pick);
- if money gets short (it usually does) you can drop the wide angle adapter: the A1 opens up pretty well; but...
- I would add: a Spiderbrace shoulder support ($70 well spent) outfitted with a cheap LANC control such as the Libec ZC-3DV ($170) - you'll get surprisingly steady shots in handheld mode!

All of the above (incl. the Edirol R09, but minus the NTG-3 'cause the money is short...) field-tested by yours truly

Best

Vasco
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Old February 10th, 2009, 03:45 AM   #4
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Thanks for the input thus far!

Vasco - Thank you for mentioning the SpiderBrace, I had it on a rough general equipment "wish-list" and forgot to bring it over to the first drafts of the "to-buy" list. Also, as far as additional sound recorders, I do own a Zoom H2. How do people usually utilize these portable mics in combination with traditional lav/shotgun situations?

We will be flying from Oregon to Arizona for the final competition and possibly to Seattle and California as well if they decide to enter other competitions. So we will be (or I will be) schlepping equipment around on a plane. Still, I'm willing to deal with the better quality of the LS-38 even if it is a bit heaver.

I definitely like the idea of the mid-spreader on the tripod. Moving each of the legs on my current tripod in and out individually any time I want to move location is getting to be a real pain. :( (I'm currently using a Slik 700DX that I normally use for still photography.)

For sound - If I put the shotgun up on a mic stand do I need wired lavs for an interview situation? If wired lavs are a must, any recommendations?

I spent the night listening to sound clips of both Sanken mics up against some other models (unfortunately no Sennheiser 416 samples). I like the CS-1 in that it introduces a little more ambient noise, but for this project I think the greater off-axis rejection of the CS-3e will lend itself better to loud gym/convention/show situations.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 08:09 AM   #5
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Hi Brian
I've got some of the gear on your list so here's my feedback.

Although I've got one I don't think that you need the wide angle adaptor as the XH A1 is already quite wide. I would buy it if you have got the money to spare but it would be some way down my list of priorities.

As suggested by Vasco I second the lanc controller. You will find that you get a lot more usable footage with one of these. I use the Bebob Zoe and love it. Apparently some people don't (mainly wildlife film makers I think, who have particular requirements).

A G2 wireless kit or something similar would be very useful (I don't think there is anything similar for the price, everyone seems to use them).

I use two DPA 4061 microphones. For static interviews I prefer to use these on xlr leads ie wired, not wireless. The sound is much better than the G2.

The Sanken CS-3e is a fantastic microphone. I have never been sorry that I sprang the money for it. However if you are working singlehanded you are going to need some way of rigging it up. I use a lightwave carbon telescopic boompole with a lighting stand and a boom buddy. You want to place the microphone where a sound man would place it ie normally over the subject pointing down. If you have it on a mic stand it is going to be in-shot (most of the time if you get it as close the subject as it should be) and picking up an ambient crap that is coming from behind the subject.

For static interviews I often use the CS-3e and the DPAs (I use both if I am interviewing two people together) and choose the one that sounds the best according to the room acoustics eg the CS-3e has more rejection in an echoey room.

If you aren't going to be doing any static interviews then I would forget about the DPAs and use two G2 sets ie one for each body builder (if you are filming them together).

The other thing that I would say about the CS-3e is that I have found it too directional for capturing ambient sound. Here again I would use the DPAs but you can probably get away with using the onboard mic on the camera for ambience. Or perhaps buy something like a Rode Stereomic which should be better quality (I have got both but have not compared them yet).

I think you will definitely need lights. I've got a Lowell kit that serves me well. Am looking at buying Richard W's Cool Lights LEDs.

I like to use a SD 302 mixer too. You can get by without it but you are going to get better levels and less stress if you do use it. Actually I use a Fostex FR2 LE recorder as well quite often but that's mainly for music or if I think I may have to do some post-production work on the sound ie you start off with a much great bit depth and therefore have more latitude to work with. You probably don't need that.

Some Lastolite reflectors with stands can be useful too.

You will need some kind of protection for the camera too if you are shooting outdoors eg Portabrace cover.

And a bag or something for the camera. I bought a Pelican case which gives great peace of mind ie very little chance of damaging the camera.

As you have discovered. A fluid head tripod is a must. It wants to be really quick to move around and set up and level for documentary work or you are going to miss shots.

I have a Spiderbrace. I prefer using my Fig Rig but not with my XH A1 as the lack of push autofocus via lanc renders the Fig Rig unusable (you need two hands for the Fig Rig, you can get by with one on the Spiderbrace whilst you focus). Thanks to some idiot in the engineering department at Canon (the XL1 had it, for instance).

BTW I bought a Zoom H4 but sold it to buy the FR2 LE. The controls and menu are very fiddly on the Zoom and I think that the sound is better on the FR2 LE.
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Last edited by Richard Gooderick; February 10th, 2009 at 05:38 PM.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 12:49 PM   #6
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Brian,

OMG!, I'm so sorry, I forgot to mention two VITAL pieces of gear:
windshield (a.k.a. "softie") & headphones!
Never, ever, think of recording an interview w/out checking your audio.
Always wear your headphones. Always!
(Did I clearly say "ALWAYS"?)

(FYI, I use a Sony MDR 7506:
Sony | MDR-7506 Headphone | MDR-7506 | B&H Photo Video)

And keep that windshield on your shotgun. Always.
(and don't stick your shotgun directly in the camera mic holder,
but have it on a shockmount;
this will do: Azden | SMH-1 Shock Mount for Shotgun Mics | SMH-1 | B&H Photo)

For static interviews: wired lavs. You get cleaner audio, period.
You can always add some "room effect" in post.
(FYI, I have a phantom-powered Countryman and a self-powered PSC Millimic,
both bought used on Ebay, both very good).
Wireless lavs are prone to interference: you use them when you really need them,
but NEVER on static interviews.
Shotgun for static interviews? Mmmmh, in a pinch...,
but try to avoid it.

You see, Brian, my one-man-band experiments showed me
that working in solo mode is all about mastering the fine art of making compromises,
which translates into "minimizing the likelihood of badly screwing things up". Really.

Now, if you want to (and since you appear to be willing to
schlepp around a pair of Hardigg Stormcases, just to name a brand...)
you might add a mixer - as suggested by Richard.
I sometimes do use a SignVideo ENG-44 (good quality for the buck -
you'll have less floor noise, you can double-record your audio on camera & on your digital recorder), but only when time allows me to do some extra
head-scratching, and I feel that I still have everything under control.
Why? Because you'll end up having way too many cables & connections around you...

Re: digital recorder.
I mentioned the new Zoom H4n (not available yet, unfortunately)
because it features 2 handy XLR inputs...

As you can see, the real PITA is audio, not video - so much so
when you work solo.
My suggestion? Drop the wide-angle adapter, and CYA on the audio portion.

Sorry for my shaky English - and good luck!

Best

Vasco
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Old February 10th, 2009, 05:41 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vasco Dones View Post
Shotgun for static interviews? Mmmmh, in a pinch...,
but try to avoid it.
Vasco
If you get an opportunity try the CS-3E on a boom for static interviews. For me it's not a case of in a pinch, it often gives the best result - as long as your subject doesn't move around too much :-)
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Old February 10th, 2009, 06:10 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Gooderick View Post
Vasco
If you get an opportunity try the CS-3E on a boom for static interviews. For me it's not a case of in a pinch, it often gives the best result - as long as your subject doesn't move around too much :-)
Hey Richard,

I believe you!
But - as you said - it has to be on a boom,
operated by somebody who knows what he's doing
(not an option in solo mode!)
Ok, ok, it can be mounted on a well-positioned mic stand... -
but that means more weight to be schlepped (the mic stand)
and probably more work to set up the thing...
(I never forget the one-man-band limitation)
Well, I don't know...: I usually go with the lavs,
just feel more comfortable.
But I guess you may be right...

Wait a minute: how much for the toy?
$1400?
As in "fourteenhundred"?
Not kidding me?
Well, looks like I'm not gonna try it soon...
(But you stiil may be right)

Vasco
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Old February 10th, 2009, 06:19 PM   #9
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If you are going to solo it, you do want to get the shotgun as close as possible to the subject for interviews. If its a static interview, you've got the wired lav in one channel, and the shotgun in the other.

I don't know what you consider a small kit. I shot my documentary "American Jouster" solo - and hauled quite a bit of gear with me. If you are flying, you figure the tripod is in a case. If you put it in a hardshell 'golf' style case - you've got room for one or two light stands. You can put a boom mic on a micstand, with the right head. Make the stand do double/triple duty p - hold a light, or a bounce card, or a boom mic. Don't forget to take a small 'table top' stand as well. This can hold boom mic on a desktop, or gear box, out of frame 'below' the shot. Be creative.
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Old February 11th, 2009, 04:39 AM   #10
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Vasco
I think the CS-3e with pole etc is overkill for this project.
I held my breath two years ago. Got the credit card out and bought the mic. I've never regretted it.
Buried in my emails above is the configuration I use:
A lighting stand
A boom buddy (BOOM-BUDDY)
A lightwave boom pole (Welcome to Lightwave Audio Systems - Microphone Windscreens, Shock Mounts and Boom Poles)
With this rig you extend the lighting stand to head height of the interviewee plus a couple of feet and then use the pole extended horizontally from the mic stand via the boom buddy to place the mic a foot or so above the interviewee's head pointing down ie where a sound man would put it.

This cuts out a lot of ambient noise and gives a very nice sound. However it doesn't work if the subject moves around. Then you need a sound man or you use the lavaliere.

To be honest I only use this set up when I'm being 'posh'. If it's a run-of-the-mill production I normally just use a lav. But if its special I will do this even though it is a lot of hassle because the result can be worth it.
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Old February 11th, 2009, 12:44 PM   #11
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You see, Brian, my one-man-band experiments showed me
that working in solo mode is all about mastering the fine art of making compromises,
which translates into "minimizing the likelihood of badly screwing things up". Really.

Vasco----ROLF, nobody has ever said it better! With your permission I am going to copy this and post it on our editing room wall for my colleagues to enjoy....../Battle Vaughan/miamiherald.com video team
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Old February 11th, 2009, 01:58 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Battle Vaughan View Post
You see, Brian, my one-man-band experiments showed me
that working in solo mode is all about mastering the fine art of making compromises,
which translates into "minimizing the likelihood of badly screwing things up". Really.

Vasco----ROLF, nobody has ever said it better! With your permission I am going to copy this and post it on our editing room wall for my colleagues to enjoy....../Battle Vaughan/miamiherald.com video team
What?
My hard-earned nugget of wisdom
on the editing room wall
of the venerable Miami Herald?
You gotta be kidding, Battle!
Geee, I'm seriously flattered: permission given :-)

Vasco
(who's still looking for the audio&video equivalent
of the Swiss Army knife)
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Old February 12th, 2009, 05:45 AM   #13
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Vasco's words are excellent advice because it's only too easy to become overloaded with detail in the heat of the moment.
On the back of my XH A1 is a strip of camera tape with a list of settings etc to check prior to filming. That helps too. A bit like a preflight check in an aeroplane.
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Old February 12th, 2009, 11:42 AM   #14
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That's an interesting topic for a documentary. Do you guys have a website?
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Old February 13th, 2009, 01:57 PM   #15
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Wow! Awesome feedback everyone! We're buying equipment in chunks as funding comes in. Just purchased proper tripod, shoulder mount + lanc, Sanken cos11x wired lav, and cs3e shotgun. Camera will be purchased at the end of the month along with any other necessities. I'm hoping the XH-A1 footage will intercut well with the GL2 stuff we're already capturing and that the sudden bump in audio quality form mics won't be too jarring in the edit. That's the problem with last-minute documentaries with last-minute funding I guess . :\

Last bits - Where do you find short xlr cables for connecting the camera-mounted shotgun to the camera. Are these things usually included? Also, does the Cs3e need any special mounts/holders for the XH-A1?

Richard -
Awesome idea for a camera settings checklist. Pretty genius, I'm definitely going to utilize that.

Dan -
No website yet. Unfortunately that's also part of my duties and I haven't gotten around it to it besides registering domains. Plus we're keeping it rather hush-hush until maybe May/April and then we'll start releasing short teasers and things like that. I'll let you know when the site is up but for now you can check out Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness to get an idea of the people involved. Or if you have a vimeo account and want to add me as a contact I'll probably be
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