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Old May 16th, 2011, 03:23 AM   #1
Join Date: May 2011
Location: San Diego, CA
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Planning/Equipment Acquisitoin for Student Documentary in Brazil


I hope I put this in the right section. It's in most part an acquisition question...but I'm asking for some other advice as well...

Recently I was lucky enough to have my school award me some funding (ballpark $6,000) to shoot a documentary on capoeira in Brazil over the summer (July-August). That's theoretically my entire budget for flight/accommodation/etc, but I am more than willing to try and raise a bit more cash over the summer and work myself, and can forsee myself probably raising another $2,000 without too, too much effort. I'm not quite sure if I can scrounge together more. I was notified recently and have some serious planning to do before I leave. I have limited experience (I took a number of production classes throughout high school and was in a "video/film" production program that run on a somewhat tight production schedule) and am not quite sure where to start. I threw up a thread at Ars Technica (a site I normally read) and was pointed in this direction. I've come to ask for, if you could please give it, for advice on what would be the best equipment to get for my budget and on traveling in general. First, let me clarify my situation.

What I've Got

I currently have a Zoom H4n. I'm planning on doing all my audio on that and perhaps with a mic or two. I have a Canon hv20 and a tripod that I nicked from my father that I've been pretty happy using. That's about all I've got at present. I'm used to shooting on HVXs (all my work on highschool was done on them), but apart from that have little experience and see why one might not be ideal for this circumstance.

I'm planning on heading down with myself and a friend of mine who speaks the language. Depending on things, I might end up there alone, but I'm hoping to have someone to help out. That'd be ideal.

Particular Concerns with Equipment:

I'm devoting two months of life to this, so I'd really like to make a quality doc. At the same time, I realize I'm a pretty tight budget. I know I'm probably going to have to compromise on a few things. That said I'm looking for something that's somewhat versatile (I'm going to need decent low-light performance) and that's small and easy to carry. I'm an obviously American student that doesn't speak a much Portuguese. I'm already a target. I don't need to be lugging bags of stuff to make me more of one. I'm also going to be moving around a good deal. Both things are really important.

As secondary concerns I'd like something that can handle wide angles just due to the nature of how capoeira is. I'd like to have some money aside for a second camera to cover under the bateria/outward shots (not what I'd primarily be using, but really useful to cut to. Most successful capoeira footage I see does this). A GoPro may prove useful here (as well as for some first person capoeira footage of notable people. I don't know if I could get them agree to it, but play a game from relatively famous so and so's point of view would be really cool).

Sound is pretty important. I'm mostly going to be recording things that either A) interviews or B) live music being performed as part of the roda or practice of capoeira.

Backup and Storage

I am probably not going to have easy access to the internet. I'm in a place where it is both humid and the physical safety of my equipment is at risk due to the mere fact I'm travelling. What are some good back up options? I was thinking about using primarily flash based equipment and taking a bunch of cards. I'd also back stuff onto an external HDD and on my netbook.

Is there much benefit to getting a ruggedized HDD? Is there a good way to back things up if my netbook fields? I'm kind of worried about this.

Personal Safety

I've really never been abroad without my entire family being with me. I've never really been and never been anywhere I don't speak the language fluently. What's the best way to deal with these things?

What I'm Thinking:

I, as is fashionable, initially wanted to look into bringing down an HDLSR, but realize that something like the 5D MK II is towards the upper end of my price-point fully equipped and that I'd have to find and put a good deal of money into this project. I'd look at the Canon 7D or T2i if not the fact that they both seem to have overheating problems. That could be problematic. The thing is, they're just so cinematic and pretty. Are the issues as bad as people say they are?

People have recommended the Panasonic GH1/2. Don't know much about them. Still worried about the same issues as other HDSLRs. I'm also a bit worried by a lack of autofocus (there's a lot of movement in capoiera. I tend not to use it much, but it could be useful) and by delving into the whole issue of lenses. A doc might need longer takes (changing cards mid interview might a pain.)HDSLRs are somewhat hard to shoot on. But they're too danged pretty.

Then again, I'm not sure of what else is portable, inexpensive, and good. This isn't an area of expertise for me. At the moment I'm looking toward the Canon XA10 HD supposedly has good low light performance. It's light. It's portable. But, I've had trouble finding information it. I'd also prefer it had more frame-rate options at 1080P. That alongside the Canon XF100 and Sony HXR-NX5U seem like the real things in contention. Then again, this isn't an area of my expertise, and I'd like maybe both recommendations of a specific camera, what too look for, and what direction to look in.

I think something like a GoPro would be a cheap side/back up camera. Not sure if the footage will mesh or look good with whatever else I'm shooting on though. I need to do some research on sound equipment. I need to practice on whatever I get.

So That's Where I'm at

I'd be grateful for any help you could provide!
Daniel Lipson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 18th, 2011, 08:10 PM   #2
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Re: Planning/Equipment Acquisitoin for Student Documentary in Brazil

Hi, Daniel..............

I'm not even going to attempt to answer all your questions, because I see a serious flaw (or five) in all this.

It's now the 19th of May. You're talking of spending July & August in Brazil. That's one heck of a tight schedule for a well experienced and practiced team, let alone someone in your circumstances.

How much of that budget is going on air fares? Internal travel/ transport in Brazil? Accomodation for two months? Food? Incidental expenses?

What does that leave you for equipment and consumables?

Assuming there's anything left over for a new camera with that lot above deducted, how are you going to have the time to get enough practice with it to ensure the entire trip isn't wasted by seriously bad camera operation?

How good are you with that HV20? Can you make a 5 minute video that both tells a story and is watchable?

If you can, get another one s/h and a wide angle adaptor and forget another new cam, camera's don't make videos, videographers do, and getting two HV20's ripped off on your second day there isn't exactly going to break the bank.

If you can't make a decent 5 minute video with it, as someone famously put it: Houston, we have a problem.

If we can get decent answers for the above question marks, maybe there's hope yet.

Chris Soucy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 19th, 2011, 11:51 AM   #3
Join Date: May 2011
Location: San Diego, CA
Posts: 3
Re: Planning/Equipment Acquisitoin for Student Documentary in Brazil

For some reason I'm reading the above post as rather aggressive/annoyed. I hope I didn't cause any offense by posting here. If so, the moderators are free to delete my original message.

1. My budget exceeds what I was given. I have $3,500 dollars budgeted toward airfare, travel, and internal expenses. That is $33 a day after lodging and airfare.

2. I am not shooting something that is feature length. That may be the source of confusion. I am going to be shooting a documentary on a specific group in a specific area, and that documentary is going to run probably around forty-five minutes, but failing that I'll shoot for the half an hour mark. The logistics of it are not insane because of its length and focus. I've also found someone to head down with me. Should help wit things.

3. I have a few thousand dollars to spend on equipment if need be. I can put the $2,500 left over and probably another $2,000. Some of that is out of pocket, but I'm never against getting a bit more capital. It's something I know I'm going to use. I already get a lot of use out of my HV20. Any money I can save, however, can be spent on other things. So I'm looking for the best equipment situation I can have for the least amount of money. Sounds more reasonable than it is I guess.

4. I have the summer clear until the trip begins. I plan to spend the entire time working on Portuguese and filming a lot of stuff and workshoping it with a few friends/mentors. I should be able to have the basics down for whatever I do if I'm working with it every day. I hope.

5. I think I'm alright with it. As I mentioned I have past experience. I shot mostly on HVXs before, but the HV20 I picked up recently works pretty well. I think the guy that made the page posted some stuff on IMDB if you want to take a look (I'm the only Daniel Lipson up there). I don't know who last edited Tantalus Dinner's page but they kind of messed up. I need to fix the credits and take it out of post. I'll do that soon as well.

6. A wide angle adaptor is actually a really good idea. I think I'll do that. A big part of the reason for me wanting to drop the HV20 is that I'm not so stoked on having to be working with miniDV tapes and that there are problems in humidity. Makes be a bit worried. All that capture might make back up a pain as well. Means I'll have to take down a computer I can capture on. For some reason my net-book can't handle that (it can't handle much).

I guess that's an answer to your questions. I'm not hoping to make something I can pawn off to a television station. I'm not really hoping to make something that's going to get any kind of mass distribution. I'm really looking forward to using this as a learning experiecne and getting something cool for my reel. I want it to be seen, but this is primarily being made for people interested in capoeira and Brazilian culture. It's something with niche appeal in an area where there isn't too much competition, especially in the States. I want to strive for as high quality as I can get with the understanding that I may fall short. Either way it's going to be a great learning experience.
Daniel Lipson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 23rd, 2011, 02:41 AM   #4
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Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: London UK
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Re: Planning/Equipment Acquisitoin for Student Documentary in Brazil

Have you considered the forthcoming Sony NX70? It's waterproof (or at least water resistant) and dust proof, so should handle the humidity and the occasional shower. Also has a fairly compact form so shouldn't be excessively obvious, and no need for a wide angle converter. Shoots onto SDHC cards and also has built-in memory. There is a thread on it on this forum. Many UK students going to foreign parts on a 'gap year' attend a personal safety and security training session lasting two or three days. You would probably have to pay to do one of those but it could be of great benefit to you and help you safeguard your equipment, and protect your physical well-being. I would certainly recommend one given the nature of your project. Best of luck with it.
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