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Old May 27th, 2007, 12:44 AM   #1
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Aspiring film maker needs a pro's help

Hello everyone. I am absolutely new to film making. I have been reading this forum for about 5 months and have gathered alot of great information. But, as I am completely new to film, I do not understand some of the concepts and terms, so please keep in mind that I may not understand some common terms. If this occurs, I will ask for a definition. Below, I will give a description of my dilemma with hopes that it will attract the interests of avid film makers.

As any consumer, I would like to start with the basics in film management. So the most essential question would be what camera is best for my film? First lets start with my goal.

For years I have always wanted to have the equipment capable of capturing and editing pro-quality film. I grew up as a skateboarder inspired by skate videos. Today, I am a cultural anthropologist who’s current interests lies with the prehistoric Chiefdoms of Eastern North America. I am currently working with a site in Evansville Indiana known as Angel Mounds. My goal is to reconstruct, as accurately as possible, the houses that these people once lived in, using the archaeological data from this year's field school excavations. During this project, I wish to begin filming a documentary/cinematic representation of what these people's daily lives may have been like.

What I am looking for are breath taking shots of natural environment. Emotional interpretations of burial rituals, represented by actors. Beautifully reconstructed daily life of the common people at Angel mounds. Intertwined with Inspiring footage of archaeologists uncovering the mysteries and answering the questions of Angel Mounds in a documentary fashion.

The camera I believe to be capable and affordable is the Canon XH A1. But is this generally the best camera for what I am trying to do? My environment will be quite sunny with temperatures reaching the upper 90's. Will this have an affect? and what equipment (for instance: a matte box, lens filters) will I need? I also hope to catch a variety of weather such as heavy rain, and snow. I know I will need a rain cover, but are there other things I am not aware of?

Low light capability - Does the XH A1 have good low light capability? Say if I want to shoot a night scene with a camp fire, will the XH A1 have any problems capturing quality film? If so, what camera would be the better choice?

In terms of Wide angle shots, how good does the XH A1 stand against other cameras in its price range?

Equipment - Shot gun mics, boom poles, cranes and dolly tracks. What would I need all this stuff for?

Please forgive my extremely long and disoriented aray of questions. I hope I did not confuse anyone.

If you can help, thank you.
-Terry Lee.
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Old May 27th, 2007, 02:10 AM   #2
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I'm sorry, Terry, but you're asking the impossible.

You see the camera is a tool. Just like a paintbrush is a tool. Or a musical insturment is a tool. The ONLY thing capable of getting the kind of results you're describing is an experienced and talented camera OPERATOR.

Accompanying a magazine article, I once saw some etchings Picasso did with a pen knife and a piece of overexposed 35mm still camera film. In 15 minutes, he created a series of impressions of Don Quxiote and Sancho Panza by scratching away the black emulsion to let the light through.

Do you think what made him an artist was the kind of paint brushes he used? Silly idea, huh?

Well, so is thinking that buying a particular camera will alone enable you to shoot spectacular video.

I'm always surprised that people instinctively understand that buying a great piano is a separate thing from learning to be a great piano PLAYER.

But lots of people seem to think that buying the camera with particular "specs" will somehow magically confer on them the ability to make better videos.

If you want to grow into a videographer capable of getting the kind of results you imagine - by all means go for it. But don't expect whatever camera you select to make much difference.

The only path to "breath taking shots of the natural environment" is to spend YEARS developing the technical craft and the aesthetic skills necessary for judging the thousand variables that result in consistently capturing something like that.

As you clearly are beginning, the ONLY way to achieve the kind of results you're discussing is to HIRE people who understand why you might (or might not) need the equipment you mention.

If you're buying your camera now - you're taking your first baby steps.

Lots of us will attest to the fact that it can be a wonderful and tremendously fulfilling trip - it just in NO WAY is a short one.

Good luck.
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Old May 27th, 2007, 02:56 AM   #3
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Yes, without a crew, it's definately something you have to learn...you can learn lots of it in under a year through diligent practice though. make little short docs on things that are around you...perhaps make a documentary on how to learn to use a camera.

Travelling, smaller will be better...and as an anthropology student, I would think that unobtrusive would be important as well if you do interviews with indiginous folks at all...so I would go so far as to recommend either one of the smaller Canon HD cams (A1, G1) or the Panasonic HVX. The XLH1 is large and you'll need to keep that in mind for travel arrangements, it travels in a case (soft or hard, it's your repair money).

I do agree with lots of the things stated above, but not as discouragingly. www.digitaljuice.com/djtv and izzyvideo.com have how to stuff from beginning to intermediate. You could technically shoot a doc on this topic in your back yard with no help whatsoever tomorrow...it won't look as good as you are aiming for, so start analyzing shots you like, look at the world around you, explore your surroundings visually. Get a little point and shoot digital camera, experiment with framing, light, composition and texture.

Watch tons of documentaries that you want to emulate...emulate them www.sequentialpictures.com have done this alot. attack this forum and devour the info here...tons of footage from various cams too to compare and people to access to ask how they got the footage.

Don't let anyone tell you this is too hard, if you have the passion and the drive fot it, just do it. The same passion that drives you to recreate past culture in a traditional manner and document it for future generations will drive you to get this done quickly.

Never be afraid to fail!
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Old May 27th, 2007, 03:02 AM   #4
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Bill - Thank you for your comment. I understand that it is going to take the artist to create the film and not the equipment. I asked about the camera specifically so that I could get an idea from the pros as to what camera is best capable of doing so. I am able to obtain the knowledge of a good cinematographer. That tool I already poses (the ability to obtain that is). However, the camera is the problem. So I suppose my most basic question is, what camera is the best to buy for my situation? I have worked with consumer cameras before and was able to create some home movies and all that - the essential first steps to filming. Now I am wanting to make something on a larger scale. With a consumer model camera, I will not be able to create the film I am looking for of corse.

So, for this beginner to begin with professional grade equipment - What equipment will I need to learn the tools of the trade?

Think of it as a starter kit. What would a good starter kit contain?

Thank you for your time.
-Terry
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Old May 27th, 2007, 03:31 AM   #5
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Yes! Thank you so much for the encouraging information Cole. I do appreciate the time you took to reply and the links you have added.

Short docs are a great idea, especially on the camera itself.

I certainly have the passion and I won't give up until I have reached my goal. But to reach that goal, I need a tool. More importantly, once I get the tool, how/where to learn all its features so that I can properly use it. I am pretty convinced that the XH A1 is the camera for me, but I am always open to suggestions. As I stated above, what are the good and bad qualities of the XH A1? (Low light/Weather resistivity).

As I stated in a reply to Bill, What is would be in a good starter kit? To specify, what camera, equipment (if needed), and what editing software will I need to get started?

Thank you.
-Terry.
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Old May 27th, 2007, 04:03 AM   #6
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Starter kit:

Decent camera - that Canon is just fine.

Extra battery

Tripod - Bogen 501 head and legs that have a quick-leveling feature.

Tapes

Once you start getting the skill to get images that you like, get a decent microphone. Some filters like polarizers and ND filters would be next assuming you already have the editing software and a fast computer.

I think you will also find that lighting equipment is just as important as a good camera. I recommend getting one big soft light that is daylight balanced and a couple of fresnel lights to get started. Reflectors are cheaper if you know you will be shooting with the sun. At night, it is not the sensitivity of the camera that is most important, it is the quality of your lighting setup.
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Old May 27th, 2007, 04:20 AM   #7
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Terry, strangely enough i have a job coming up that involves an archaelogical reconstruction of some ancient dwellings in caithness scotland and the guy wants a doco filmed. When he asked me to put forward a budget for the production i drew up a series of senarios

at the basic level which is my own equipment the only bit of kit i asked for here was extra batteries and it came to around £900

to the far extreme of my full wish list which included dolly's cranes with remote pan tilt heads, a second camera and operator and a few other toys. with all this extra stuff it came to £15,000 (not including expenses and my time or the second operators time and expenses)

with 4 intermediate budgets I let him choose

I told him that how much you want to spend dictates the quality of the production. I could quite easily make an adequit production using my own gear and a bit of ingenuity but obviously the quality of the shots are greatly increased if you have for example a crane on a dolly with a remote pan tilt head to get those beautifull tracking crane shots ( http://www.ibc.org/cms/dailynewspics/fri_32b.jpg ). All these great toys are nice and produce great images but you can still produce a beautifull doco without them if you choose your shots well.

my kit consists:
Camera JVC HD100e( the right camera is the one you like the feel of, within their price range they are all the same )
Tripod a manfrotto 501 head on the 525MVB legs
boom mic senheisser me66 and a couple of lapel mics also senheisser
Tascam DA-P1 DAT recorder (audio)
Glidecam v8 (steadicam)
set of 3 ianiro red heads (lights)
raincover
IDX battery kit and charger
2x home made jibs one 12 foot one 4 foot
i also have a cable rig i built ( with a bit of ingenuity you can build a lot of stuff yourself)

with that kit you can film anything and make it look good.

Hope this helps

Andy.
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Old May 27th, 2007, 08:18 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Terry Lee View Post
...
As I stated in a reply to Bill, What is would be in a good starter kit? To specify, what camera, equipment (if needed), and what editing software will I need to get started?

Thank you.
-Terry.
Before deciding on the camera, you first need to decide on the release venue(s) you're aiming for. Will you be pitching this film to PBS or Discovery Channel, hoping to convert to 35mm film for independent theatrical release a la 'March of the Penguins', using it as classroom material for education, use it as a visitor's centre presentation at the Angel Mounds site or sell it on DVD at the gift shop or through Amazon? If your hope is to get it to broadcast television, you're going to need to look higher in the camera pecking order than a middle to high end consumer or prosumer HDV camcorder. For example, while it's true that Discovery will accept programs containing material shot in HDV such as with the Canons you mention, they limit it to no more than 15% of the total footage in the program and the rest needs to be on HD, HDCAM, or XDCAM HD. So now you're looking at having to shoot the majority of your program with cameras whose prices start up around about 20 kilobucks and climb rapidly from there or else they simply won't give your program consideration. And while I don't have the details at my fingertips, I understand PBS's requirements are even more stringent. If your budget won't sustain that high a purchase, it might be more feasible to rent the camera for the length of the shoot instead of buying it. $5000 in rental for a 2 or 3 week shooting schedule gets you far more camera than does a $5000 retail purchase.

Quote:
Equipment - Shot gun mics, boom poles, cranes and dolly tracks. What would I need all this stuff for?
Your question begs a certain lack of appreciation for the critical importance of sound to the production or the amount of technique required to record it properly. An on-camera mic is almost always going to be inadequate for capturing production sound regardless of whether you use the manufacturer-supplied mic or replace it with something better - it has its uses but production sound and dialog ain't among them. Shotguns for outdoors, hypercardioid mics for dialog recording both indoors and out, a boom with shockmount and wind protection to hold them both close enough to the actors, perhaps wireless laveliers for micing performers in wide shots where a boom isn't possible, a good sound mixer and/or recorder, a smartslate and associated timecode capabilities if you elect to record double system sound are all going to be required. If you're going to record to a separate recorder, that will influence your choice of camera as well since you need to have some way of getting the timecode OUT of the camera in order to sync the recorder to it - the XH A1 won't do that and so right there it's eliminated from the running and now we're looking at the XH G1 or XL H1 as the minimum camera you should consider since with those you get genlock input and timecode I/O, critical for proper sync to external recorders, while the A1 doesn't have those features.
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Old May 27th, 2007, 09:53 AM   #9
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I agree with everything written above, but I would just like to reiterate that sound is probably going to cause 70% of worries for your project. A1 is a good camera but the on camera mic will give endless headaches and make your project sound cheap.

I recommend a book called "Video Shooter" by Barry Braverman. I make all the interns at work read it. It's the best primer or intro to making videos I've ever read.
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Old May 27th, 2007, 10:14 AM   #10
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Marcus - Thank you for your information. It is well appreciated.
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Old May 27th, 2007, 01:08 PM   #11
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Andy -what a coincidence! I simply love Scotland! I would be interested in knowing more about what you will be doing there.

I too have built a crane with a 12" arm. Luckily I have a friend who loves to fabricate things. It looks very professional and I can't tell the difference between it and a factory built one.

I have a few questions regarding your equipment and the reasons for why you have chosen those items. Keep in mind that I am absolutely new to film making so please excuse me if I do not understand some things.

For starters - Why the HD100? I assume that the HD stands for High definition correct? But why this camera over say, the Canon XH A1?

The senheisser me66 and the lapel mics will connect directly to the Tascam DA-P1 DAT and record separately, the audio correct? Afterwards, in post production, I can add the sound? or does something else happen..? I guess what I am asking is what is the importance of the Tascam?

On site a couple weeks ago, a crew from Indiana University was filming our excavation. The sound man had what I assume to be a Tascam portable recorder with a boom mic attached to it. I saw a cord from his boom mic to the recorder, and another cord attached to the camera (which btw looked like the HD100, only bigger). If you have time, could you explain the process?

Thank you so much for your input on my situation. This post has been a BIG help.

-Terry.
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Old May 27th, 2007, 01:34 PM   #12
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Steve - Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention. The film will be viewed in the visitor's center. I would like the film to be something similar to any National Geographic video. A perfect example of this would be Jarred Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steal" video done by National Geographic. The film shows actor representations along with documentary style footage of Diamond himself. This is exactly the type of film I am trying to make.

As for audio - I see your point. Everyone has highlighted this issue. So, a separate recorder is practically essential? like a Tascam portable recorder with a boom mic and laveliers? What cameras should I look at for with this type of capability?

Thank you.
Terry.
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Old May 27th, 2007, 02:26 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Terry Lee View Post
Steve - Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention. The film will be viewed in the visitor's center. I would like the film to be something similar to any National Geographic video. A perfect example of this would be Jarred Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steal" video done by National Geographic. The film shows actor representations along with documentary style footage of Diamond himself. This is exactly the type of film I am trying to make.

As for audio - I see your point. Everyone has highlighted this issue. So, a separate recorder is practically essential? like a Tascam portable recorder with a boom mic and laveliers? What cameras should I look at for with this type of capability?

Thank you.
Terry.
IMHO, the Tascam is the entry level for recorders with this capability. Others to consider would be the Sound Devices 702T or 744T. These recorders all accept timecode from an external source but the ability to use that depends, of course, on a source of timecode to be had. That means the camera has to have timecode outputs which the H1 and G1 do but the A1 doesn't. Now what that gets is the same timecode sync'ed to the frame on both the camera and the recorder but it still doesn't guarantee sync won't drift over longer shots. The Tascam can sync its sample clock to incoming timecode or to video. The Sound Devices don't sync their sample clock to either one but on the other thand they are very stable to begin with so they don't drift out as soon as other recorders might. If the A1 otherwise appeals to you and the fact it is HDV doesn't present a problem, the flexibility you get with the advanced "jackpack" on the G1 is worth the price difference I think.

Another way cameras, including multiple cameras, and recorders get sync'ed so they stay in sync is through the use of external sync generators such as the Ambient Lockit box - a box on each camera supplying genlock and on the recorder supplying wordclock and all the boxes tuned to each other and everything stays in sync to as tight no more than a single frame drift per day. But that technique requires a genlock input on the camera, something the A1 doesn't have but the G1 and H1 do. That may be overkill for you - the boxes are about a kilobuck each, but it still would be worth having a camera with the ability to work with them to allow for future growth.

Before you make a decision do take a look at the Sony XDCAM HD line. Considerably more expensive but if you think broadcast or theatrical distribution may be in the cards you ought to consider it.
http://bssc.sel.sony.com/Broadcastan...cam_hd_systems
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Old May 27th, 2007, 02:40 PM   #14
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Steve - Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention. The film will be viewed in the visitor's center. I would like the film to be something similar to any National Geographic video. A perfect example of this would be Jarred Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steal" video done by National Geographic. The film shows actor representations along with documentary style footage of Diamond himself. This is exactly the type of film I am trying to make.

As for audio - I see your point. Everyone has highlighted this issue. So, a separate recorder is practically essential? like a Tascam portable recorder with a boom mic and laveliers? What cameras should I look at for with this type of capability?

Thank you.
Terry.


Terry,

Well, if GD&S is what you're truely aiming for, then it's instructive to study how Nat. Geographic was able to achieve THEIR results. On iMDB, they list a supervising crew of about 50 people - plus likely a couple of hundred people working on the show under those credits at a level where their contracts don't specify credit inclusion. (e.g. someone has to FEED everyone on location, etc.)

The list at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0475043/fullcredits#cast includes FIVE cinematographers, six individuals in the Sound Department and three separate location managers, in addition to FIVE producer types and much more.

THAT is precisely what it takes the get the results you admire.

Again, don't get me wrong. I absolutely admire a spirit of "I want to do that too!" and every single one of the people on that crew list, started PRECISELY where you are now - with a burning desire to work making films/videos.

All I'm saying is that you need to understand that if there was a SIMPLER way to do this - National Geographic (and every OTHER production company in the world) would JUMP at the chance to do that.

The bottom line is that great videomaking is complex, difficult, often arduous and that obtaining great results requires a lot of technical expertise ALONG WITH the tools.

The great thing about today is that even the simplest tools are AMAZING in their capacity to help you learn. Literally, a $400 camcorder from Best Buy can help you learn the craft of camerawork PERFECTLY WELL. You don't NEED a better camera until you become a better camera operator.

Same for audio, lighting, etc. etc. IT's the skills, NOT the gear that drive results.

And typically a better camera in the hands of an unskilled operator achieves only marginally better results than a lesser camera in those same hands. (the picture might be of better quality, but what about the FRAMING? the COMPOSITION? the quality of the camera moves? The positioning of the camera relative to the sun? The balance of light, dark and grey scale elements within the frame? There is all this and much, MUCH more that a quality shooter instinctively understands and considers in order to turn out the kind of shots you admire.

Embrace who you are and the stage of development you currently enjoy. Embrace learning. Embrace trial and failure and improvement.

If you can't afford "Camera A" don't sweat it. Use whatever you CAN get your hands on and GO MAKE VIDEO.

That's what I was trying to get across - albiet poorly.
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Old May 27th, 2007, 03:04 PM   #15
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100% right on, Bill
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