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Old December 5th, 2013, 09:42 PM   #1
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Location: Hamilton, New Zealand
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Shoots gone wrong

I'm sure all of us dread equipment failure, especially one man crews. I had one of those shoots today where equipment failure made life very difficult.

I was tasked to shoot some short interviews for a corporate video. I had an hour to setup and shoot 7 interview subjects, which is pushing it even at the best of times.

So I get set up, test audio and video, everything is ok. The HDMI cable for my 7" monitor comes out of my bag broken, but that's no big deal, the camera monitors will suffice.

I mic up the first subject, and suddenly I've got no audio (Sennheiser EW-112). It was fine when I tested it earlier, so I do all the usual troubleshooting with no luck. It's obviously something to do with the mic, receiver or transmitter (rather than the camera) but I don't have the time to sit down and figure it out.

So I go to my backup, a Rode NTG3. Not perfect for indoors but it's my best option.

And then my fill light dies. I fiddle around with that but a faint burning smell tells me I'm up for a new LED panel. So I'm left with 1 key light to light an interview in front of a black screen.

Thankfully the rest of the shoot went smoothly. The end result has a few shadows which I'm not overly happy with but it's acceptable. The experience got me to thinking; as a one man crew, how much extra gear do you take as a backup? My budget just doesn't allow for two of everything (especially wireless mics), so I rely on good quality equipment to get me through.

Anyone got any stories of shoots gone wrong?
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Old December 6th, 2013, 12:14 AM   #2
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Re: Shoots gone wrong

Hi Jody

I was doing a pro bono shoot for a friend recently. It was the ordination of her husband into the Lutheran Church. The shoot was 600+ km away in Kalgoorlie. The day before the shoot I had my final university exam for the year, so I had to travel on the day. The service was at 5:00 p.m. luckily though.

I have heavy budget restriction like you, and cannot afford wireless mics even. In preparation, I decided to ask for the make and model of the sound desk so I could connect to it. It was an antique Yamaha EM-150 from the mid seventies. The manual I could download was a bad photocopy and I could not make out the port type for the outputs clearly. They looked like 6.5mm phono, so I prepared for that.

We arrived in Kalgoorlie with about two hours to wind down before then going and setting up. With a bad headache I went to the church and found the outputs were RCA plugs. Do you know how many times I looked at that bag of leads and thought, "I won't need those"?

Out came the Rode Video Mic, two ten metre leads and lots of gaffer tape. I have had the mic for five years or so, but this was the first time I was actually relying on it in a pitch. It performed beautifully.

If that wash't bad enough, when I put a Sandisk Ultra card in the camera, it refused to recognise it. The same with the next one and finally the last one. I tried formatting with the camera and in the end one of the cards decided to work, by this time I was pretty rattled. I had a Panasonic FT-3 as back up, but it was not going to be good as an "A" camera. Finally I had only one card to shoot the service, about 85 minutes for a two hour service. Some bits were omitted, but all the "money" shots were in the can!

Product delivered and clients ecstatic. Their son had a uni exam on Saturday and could not get to the service at all.
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Old December 6th, 2013, 09:51 PM   #3
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Re: Shoots gone wrong

One of the things that separate the pros from the hobbyists is the fact that a pro will have a plan b (and often a plan c). Yes, there will always be things beyond our control and sometimes even the best backup plans won't be enough. My philosophy is "better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it". Unless I need to travel super light, I like taking extra lights, mics and cameras with me as a minimum. When it comes to interviews, I find that having a cabled lav mic is a nearly bulletproof option. I have one with a 30' cord that fits into a pouch small enough for eyeglasses. It's a no-brainer to bring one in addition to a wireless. If you can run the cable, you'll find that the sound quality will likely be better (and no worries about interference or dead batteries).
With lighting, I always carry a 5 in 1 reflector. In a pinch, even if I only have one working light in my kit, I can use a silver bounce to control the contrast.
Having said all that, I've still had nightmare shoots (almost always during live events). I had one light go out right as the action began. It was in a cave-like room, but I had no way to interrupt the proceedings to see what the issue was. Thankfully, I keep a camera-mounted LED as a fill light. I cranked it to max, bumped up my gain and got the photons I needed.
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Old December 9th, 2013, 11:50 PM   #4
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Re: Shoots gone wrong

I think I'll just get out of this thread. No good can come of it! :)

I've got a couple of years to go before I hit 30, but far too many white hairs for my liking - and I'm pretty certain all of them due to nightmare shoots. I've (touch wood) not had too many equipment failure issues, but poor scheduling, inexperienced (or non-existent) crew members and ambitions that extend well beyond the reality of the crews and budgets I've been given all do their part!

That said, those rare occasions when I've been on a well-scheduled, properly equipped, properly crewed shoots have been some of the happiest and most rewarding times of my life - so the memory of those (and the hope for more of them) does help you to keep going.
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Old December 11th, 2013, 08:12 AM   #5
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Re: Shoots gone wrong

I guess like anyone I'd sum it up with I now bring more rather than less. Bring lights if I don't think I'll need them, buy & bring extra bulbs if I think I'll use lighting kit, and bring my charger even if I have 3 7 hour batteries fully charged.

Some that come to mind are one of my first weddings I didn't realize how simple to lose the lav clip ons are (and at $40 for 4 how expensive the Sony ones are, they don't sell imitation ones either that I could find). Anyway, I begin to pull out my mic, and sure enough the clip isn't there?! Fortunately it was fairly early still, so I ran to a deli a few doors away and looked around. Luckily they sold clip on ID badges, so I bought one, asked to borrow a pair of scissors and proceeded to cut off the entire plastic piece to hold the badge, and just kept the metal clip on part. Worked like a charm, or, good enough in a pinch I suppose.

Another comes to mind is about 3-4 years ago we had a few really bad snowstorms of 10+ inches or so. During one of them, I had a deposition scheduled at 8am that morning at a hotel room down by the airport. So I'm hoping its going to cancel beforehand, but the day before I get a confirmation email saying it's still on. Well this sucks, cause the lawyers were from out of town, and probably staying in the airport hotels, so all they had to do was walk down a hallway while the court reporter & I likely had to drive in from home in this mess. I did consider staying in a hotel too, but the cost would've likely wiped out most of my pay, and secondly I was afraid I'd leave, and forget something like tapes or mics or something. Then I'd be stuck without them & SOL. So I goto bed, and couldn't sleep. Sometimes when I can't sleep I tend to turn on the radio & most times listen to sports radio, just cause it's talk radio, not cause I'm a sports junkie, and the overnight guy brings up subjects not related to sports as well. So he's on the air after midnight, saying how the snow started on his way in, and it looked bad. The roads were bad, Salt trucks were already trying to keep up, listeners on their way or at work were telling their stories about it, ugggh. I was up till probably 4am and set my alarm for 5 in order to shovel, drive and get their by 7am to setup. So I wake up, dress & go. Shovel my car out of about 6 inches of snow currrently & it's still coming down. Luckily a truck passed by & laid down some nice tire tracks on the street for me to follow. So I pull out & follow along at about 10mph. Then, some idiot who barely shoveled, didn't sweep the snow off their car just tried to drive out of their spot pulls in front of me and gets stuck!! Sonofa.... So I get out, and start helping them, shoveling them, pushing them etc, and another guy joins in. We get them moving & off, so I try moving along, but now my cars stuck too, so I shovel & he helps push me, finally I get rolling too. He hollers out "Hey, your shovel!!" I just said keep it as I drove along. I make it down the one little travelled scary hill I needed to take to escape my neighborhood, and then I was onto bigger and better roads. Should be all smooth sailing from here, and it was. Drove slow, but got their, didn't get in until about 7:40, but hey, I was still early so their better be something good to say about that. Well I show up, and the court reporter sees me and says "Oh hey. I think it's gonna be a while. The deponent lives in Delaware and isn't going to leave until they can plow their driveway.". Needless to say I took my time setting up, and every now & then the attorneys would stop in & chat a bit. Turns out the deponent didn't arrive until about 12:30. Certainly tho I started billing at 8am and if anyone disputed it I was going to fight that one to the fullest, but sure enough no one did, pretty good day & I was proud of myself for busting my rear to get there. Funny ending, that summer I was out front talking to a neighbor and a car sped by and stopped, reversed back?! I looked at him. He pointed over and said "Is that your car?" motioning to mine, I said yeah, he gets out, opens his trunk, and pulls out my crappy old snowshovel. We had a laugh and I told him I was in such a rush & couldn't stop in my tracks once I had momentum going.
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