So this is a bit of a different blog post. Together with Andrew Dean (grip / gaffer www.hillbillygriptruck.com) I have outlined the tips & tricks we have used in making a music video for New Zealand band Nightchoir.
The Nightchoir video was a simple shoot that was finished in 5 and a half hours. I feel a similar video could be achieved by anyone with a cheap DSLR, 50mm lens and some of the lighting gear outlined below.
Hopefully you can find some of this info useful if you’re looking at producing a music video.
The below storyboards are a combination of hand drawn ones and cartoon ones put together in an online application called ‘BitStrips‘.
The easiest, cheapest and fastest way to light a scene is to use natural light. Using a bounce / reflector gives you more control over the light on your subject. I love using the sun as a hair light, placing it back over the shoulder. Having the sun behind the subject means we get no harsh shadows on the face. It’s also easier for the talent to not have to look directly into the sun.
Most of the daylight shots in our video were lit only with a reflector – below are 3 options for reflecting light:
I did some work with renowned photographer Sue Bryce and she’s a big advocate of natural light shooting – and her results are extraordinary. She uses giant (2.4 x 1.2 metre) polystyrene sheets to bounce sunlight onto her subjects.
The problem for us is polystyrene is useless outside in the wind – we actually used 1 on an outdoor shoot once and it came home in parts. But for $20 – $40 a sheet it can’t be beaten for price – most large hardware stores stock them. They are perfect for indoor use.
If you’ve ever used a traditional collapsible reflector (often called “flickies”) then you know how floppy they become in the wind, especially if you use the hard reflection side. A gentle breeze causes the light to ripple and flicker, and a strong wind make them fold into a potato chip shape. After an insanely windy shoot where i was trying to use my whole body to keep the reflector from folding up, I vowed to buy “the best reflector money can buy.”
I don’t know if the california sunbounces are the best, but they are very good (and very expensive). There have been shoots where two of us have to put basically our entire body weight into keeping the 6×4 sunbounce stabilized, but we’ve been able to pull off a stable silver bounce in severe gusts. Despite being fiercely stable, the sunbounce frames are made out of some crazy “space age metal” and are incredibly light. You can easily hold the 6×4′ with one hand ( if there isn’t wind). Before I had the sunbounces, we still made good with what we had, but having the sunbounces has enabled us to keep filling long after we would have given up with anything else.
HALOGEN WORK LIGHTS
When it comes down to it, light is light. If you can get a nice rendering of light where you want it, the viewer will never know what source you used or how much it cost. A popular student/guerilla solution is to use cheap “work lights” from a hardware store. They are crazy hot and gulp the power, but if you work them carefully (bouncing is a great idea as it bounces the light, not the heat) then you can get incredible results. Recently, the price gap between “ghetto” and “indy” has narrowed with Chinese tungsten fresnels. For not much more money, you can look a lot more “legit” on set.
When it comes to price and the quality of light, it is hard to beat a tungsten fixture. They are inexpensive compared to other sources and unlike pretty much every other lighting technology, they produce every hue of visible light without gaps. Tungsten lights are heavy around 3200k, which is quite orange/warm and you’ll lose up to half the light output when gelling to match daylight. They require care to not overload circuits and can also be extremely hot and cause sweating and visible discomfort to the people you are filming. If you can work around this, they cannot be beat for the money.
For long throws and hard light, I love HMIs. They don’t put any heat on the talent and the light they produce is daylight colored, so they match with ambient and spilling sunlight without any gelling. As another bonus, they use 1/5th the power of a tungsten fixture. This means I can run 5x the lights on a generator and for indoor shoots I rarely have to worry about overloading a power socket. The downside is price, but I feel that is well compensated with the heat, color and power efficiency. On an indy budget, the Cool Lights CDM 150w are an incredible value. I use the heck out of mine.
SEVEN JIB COMPACT XL
Logan called to put my seven jib (I LOVE my 7, it’s SO fast to setup) on the back of a truck, which is a safety concern and generally a bad idea for vibrations. I bolted a short Matthews bazooka through the truck bed and kept a hand on the base to try to dampen jiggles (and let me know if the rig started to fail). We used an image stabilized lens, which helped quite a bit, but couldn’t catch all the vibrations. On set, I was unhappy with the remaining jiggle, but some warp stabilization really knocked it back and left a rather stunning shot. The road was a dead end with no traffic and everyone was safety briefed and alert. Even still, you should use extreme caution if you attempt something like this.
MATTHEWS MASTER MOUNT
I try to anticipate the director, so when we rigged up the jib, I threw my Matthews Master Mount car rig into the back of the truck. The suction cup mount requires a stable surface to mount to, but the wee car had really flimsy and loose panels. The Master Mount comes with multiple suction cups to triangulate with, but my experience is that they don’t work well with DSLRs (whose lens mount and shoe are notoriously “floppy”). As time was precious, we popped a head onto the mount, vacuumed the mount to the car and sent it down the road to test. I was, as I expected, unhappy with the vibrations, but Logan felt he could stabilize it, so maybe 5 minutes from unpacking the mount, we had the two shots he wanted.
The steadicam is a dark art. People assume you can pick one up and get professional results, but it not only requires you control the motion of your body in unusual ways, but you have to learn how to gently “guide” the camera, which is a bit counterintuitive. People train for years to be dedicated operators (which i’m not). For short shots, I usually use a handheld Steadicam “Merlin” with nice results (and sore arms). 4 weeks before this video, I bought a cheap chinese “Wieldy” stabilizer and lost 30lbs practicing with it. (I was pretty fat to start). On the day there were terrible gusts of wind (the bane of steadicams) and Logan ended up preferring the look from his longer lens, so after all that we didn’t use any “Wieldy” shots.
Having a loud playback setup on set is crucial for a good performance from the band or artist. Having the music loud helps them get more into their performance and they become less self-conscious about playing along in front of the camera and crew. I often just use one of the band members guitar amps. You’ll need a guitar cable with a converter down to a 3.5mm mini jack for an mp3 player.
Any MP3 player will work in this setup. Using your phone is not always convenient - especially if you’ve got people ringing. But for this video I used my shitty old iPhone plugged into a guitar amp. For the piano performance I was even able to use the phones built in speakers – as the sun was going down and the amp wasn’t setup yet. Luckily the piano is fake and makes no noise. See the clip below.
One of hardest things to get right in the playback department is to get the drummer to be able to hear the song over the sound of his cymbals. It’s becoming more common today for drummers to have a good set of ‘in ear monitors’ or professional ear buds. A simple cable splitter can be used to send a feed to the guitar amp and the drummers ear buds. Another solution is to reverse your wireless lapel receivers (if you have them) and send the audio wirelessly to the drummer.
The advantage the mk3 has over cheaper cameras is the low light capabilities and full frame look. I was able to shoot right up until the sun disappeared without any extra light.
I usually shoot on the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 but I dropped it a few days before the shoot. Luckily I was able to borrow a Nikon f1.4 which has a beautiful shllow depth of field and I shot most of the footage wide open to take advantage of that.
It does however take a bit to get used to the reverse rotation of the focus ring. About 85% of the video was shot on this lens.
It’s essentialy a pair of sunglasses for your camera.
a LITTLE SISTER FILMS production | Production Manager BELINDA PFLAUM | Production Assistants NICK JACKSON & LISA CUSHING | Behind the Scenes Footage BEN SPINK | Accounts KATIE O’BRIEN | Makeup CLARA WELLS | Grip / Gaffer ANDREW DEAN | Director / DOP / Editor LOGAN McMILLAN