This past summer of 2015, I, along with Callie, produced and shot the short film “Reach”. It’s about a group of students that traveled to Uganda to meet and understand a life-destroying condition known as “obstetric fistula”. We traveled with these students and shared the experience of hearing devastating stories and meeting women who have survived the disease. However, I’m not here to talk about the film itself. I’m here to talk about how we lost the majority of our equipment and continued to produce a film.reach-animationOur stay comprised of about 2 weeks in the country. We were greeted with the most open arms and to extremely gracious hosts. We were welcomed to their homes as they cooked, cleaned and did everything to make our group feel comfortable. And beside a bit more humidity and heat than I’d prefer, we felt safe. I tell you this because our hosts became our friends and they played such an important role after we discovered our equipment vanished.

It’s taken a while for me to come to terms to the fact that our equipment was stolen. Personally, it was hard to know that it happened under my watch but without going into too much detail into why and how, the fact of the matter still remained: Everything was gone.

Gone were the thoughts of “What does my next shoot look like? Who do I interview next? How many timelapses can I get tonight?” Immediately, I sprung into action and started listing out exactly what was missing. Our hosts, being as helpful and beyond appalled as to what happened, helped us file a police report. The police then brought dogs, to see if they could sniff anything out, to no avail.

It wasn’t until noon when I sat down, it all started to sink in. I realized that we were 1 week into our 2 week trip. Callie told me that not all was lost. She kept the hard drives and a camera with her that night to work on. We still had something to shoot on! Gears started turning and I began to think what we needed to continue our production.

    • This is what we had: A camera, lens, one battery, two chargers, one memory card and two hard drives. Those two hard drives were a miracle, as they had everything we’d shot backed up.
    • This is what we needed: an acceptable microphone and a tripod.

I thought I was fair in thinking we only needed two things. I was also confident to think that in Uganda, those two things could be found somewhere. Our hosts arranged a ride for me to take me into the market to find a camera store. Any camera store.

thumb_IMG_1183_1024
This is me proudly displaying my craftsmanship in taping back the headphones for our new lav mic.

It must have been 6+ hours until we got back from the city. We probably checked five different places, made multiple calls and came home with one of those two things: a tripod. During dinner, I sat there and felt defeated. We had a camera that could record ambient audio, but not interview audio. Maybe we could use our phone as a recorder, that would have worked better than in-camera audio.

Then, a moment of brilliance. I asked our group, “Does anyone have iPhone headphones?” All of them turned to me and several started to speak and said they do. Bingo.

The microphone on the headphones, it was crazy but it just might work. After testing it, we concluded: it worked surprisingly well.

So for the next week, production moved forward using a Ugandan tripod and makeshift iPhone headphones lavalier mic.

For the first time that day, I felt pretty good about myself.

alice.00_51_08_03.Still001
A still from one of our interviews using the our new “mic”

Reach: Partnering With the Forgotten Women of Uganda will be released within the next month and preliminary viewers swear they wouldn’t have noticed that all our gear was stolen during production. Also, a special thanks to our friends at Terrewode who without their help and understanding, we would be looking at terribly shaky interviews and barely audible anything. 

 

-Darryl

Interactive Communications has the important task of being a multimedia production team on the Oregon State University campus, which includes the production of video content ranging from short documentary to the university’s institutional commercial. We often get questions from our university partners from all corners of campus. Can you make a video for us? Is it possible to get such and such footage from such and such project? Can you teach our student worker how to use a camera? And the age old question…

What camera should I get?

Camera-question-mark

Last week, our discussion on camera equipment led to three key principles in building a camera package for use in the higher education environment. With this in mind, I’ve spec’d out three different packages. A low-cost package that aims to get quality without breaking the bank, a package that emphasizes future-proofing and finally a package centered around getting the best images within a higher-ed setting.

What we didn’t talk about last week was what kind of image quality and control we are looking for. Naturally for us, we want the best possible image, which typically translates to bigger sensors, thus leaving out handheld camcorders (dubbed “handycams”) cell phones and GoPro’s as cameras. Why not handycams, cell phones and GoPros? Short answer: Lack of control. Long answer: Another blog post.

I don’t want to knock these amazing devices in any way but if we want to ensure control in the work we do, the best possible solution will be a dedicated camera for the job. I also purposefully chose cameras that double as great photo cameras as well as having impressive video capabilities.

In these packages, I’ll list out a specific camera and additional accessories to consider with a general budget in which the package should typically run. However, I won’t be too specific, I feel like it’s important to do research and read about what makes a good tripod or a good camera bag.

 

Entry option

1402579763000_IMG_396968sony_dsc_rx10_mark_2_digital_1159880

In this package, the cameras suggested are both excellent cameras but also share the feature of having a dedicated lens attached. This means spending less money on lenses, which can be a huge expense. This does, however, limit the longevity of the camera, whereas an interchangaable lens camera (ILC) would be more versatile.

  • Panasonic FZ1000 or Sony RX10ii ($800 – $1300)
  • Tripod + tripod head ($200 – $300)
    • I’ll say it once and say it again, do not skimp on your tripod. It might be tempting to buy the $35 special, but you’ll regret it the moment you try to get a steady shot, or a panning shot (you know, what a tripod is used for…). The more you spend on a quality tripod, the better.
  • SD cards ($100)
    • These cards are getting cheaper by the day and with bigger capacity. Look for 32GB and above, but don’t skimp on the speed class, U1 or U3 is what you want to look for.
  • Batteries ($100)
    • The question of generic or OEM always comes up here. If it’s a question, just get OEM.
  • Zoom H1 or Tascam equivalent ($100)
    • These portable audio recorders are great to connect microphones with and also to record using their built-in mic. They use microSD cards, so if it doesn’t come with one, make sure to get one. In this case, speed doesn’t matter as much.
  • Lavalier microphone ($50)
    • A lav mic is just for interview situations. Almost a must for higher-ed.
  • Camera bag/backpack ($150)
    • A good quality bag will survive the test of time, keep your gear safe and make sure your gear has a place to live. Comfort is also key!
  • Total: $1,350 – $2,050

 

Forward-looking

Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-G7FRA w EF-S 18-135mm IS STM_WEB IMAGE_pack_tcm13-1064826

This package offers a couple cameras that are capable of swapping out lenses, which provides the ability to get better images and range of shots. This comes at the cost of complexity and cost.

  • Panasonic G7 or Canon 70D ($800 – $1100)
    • The price here includes a kit lens.
  • Lenses (0 – $1000)
    • Spend nothing or spend it all on lenses. Like tripods, what you pay is what you get, so spend more money on good lenses, they will last a long time.  
  • Tripod + tripod head ($200 – $300)
    • I’ll say it once and say it again, do not skimp on your tripod. It might be tempting to buy the $35 special, but you’ll regret it the moment you try to get a steady shot, or a panning shot (you know, what a tripod is used for…). The more you spend on a quality tripod, the better.
  • SD cards ($100)
    • These cards are getting cheaper by the day and with bigger capacity. Look for 32GB and above, but don’t skimp on the speed class, U1 or U3 is what you want to look for.
  • Batteries ($100)
    • The question of generic or OEM always comes up here. If it’s a question, just get OEM.
  • Rode Wireless lav kit ($400)
    • A wireless system will greatly improve versatility and workflow during shoots.
  • Zoom H1 or Tascam equivalent ($100)
    • While the lav kit will work seamlessly with the camera, a portable audio recorder
  • Camera bag/backpack ($150)
    • A good quality bag will survive the test of time, keep your gear safe and make sure your gear has a place to live. Comfort is also key!
  • Total: $1,850 – $3,250

 

An ideal

panasonic_dmc_gh4kbody_lumix_dmc_gh4_mirrorless_micro_1028453

If your university has emphasized its support behind video storytelling, then this is the package for you. It combines the best functionality in technology today and longevity of use for years to come.

  • Panasonic GH4 ($1500 + $1000 for lens)
    • I’d recommend the Panasonic 12-35mm F2.8 lens, it’s pretty much the best lens that Panasonic offers for this camera system, thus a great image and lens that will work for many years to come.
  • Tripod + fluid head ($500)
    • A quality fluid head ensures smooth pan/tilt movements without jitter.
  • SD cards ($100)
    • These cards are getting cheaper by the day and with bigger capacity. Look for 32GB and above, but don’t skimp on the speed class, U1 or U3 is what you want to look for.
  • Batteries ($100)
    • The question of generic or OEM always comes up here. If it’s a question, just get OEM.
  • Sennheiser ew100 ($630)
    • More versatile than the Rode wireless lav kit, the Sennheiser kit is a bit more expensive while being a mainstay in the industry.
  • Zoom H4n or Tascam equivalent ($200)
    • The difference here is the ability to use equipment that connects via XLR connector in addition to 3.5mm, which is an industry standard. This uses an SD card, so don’t forget to buy one.
  • Rode Videomic ($150)
    • An on camera shotgun microphone will be extremely useful when you don’t have time to setup a wireless lav. Not only that, this mic will pick up some excellent ambient sounds that will really help in editing.
  • Camera bag/backpack ($150)
    • A good quality bag will survive the test of time, keep your gear safe and make sure your gear has a place to live. Comfort is also key!
  • Total: $4,330

A camera is just a tool

The real key here is to get people thinking, and to give a general idea of what kind of investment it takes for a certain level of production. I tried to make these suggestions with campus communicators in mind, emphasizing a practical, timely and holistic approach. While these cameras are easy-to-learn, the art of storytelling is a lifelong pursuit in itself. Today, we discussed the tools to make that possible and I certainly hope that I’ve helped in starting a conversation on what tools are needed for your level of storytelling.

Let us know if you have anything to add or if you have questions on anything. And if your department has specific needs, we’re more than happy to talk. Thanks for reading!

-Darryl

Interactive Communications has the important task of being a multimedia production team on the Oregon State University campus, which includes the production of video content ranging from short documentary to the university’s institutional commercial. We often get questions from our university partners from all corners of campus. Can you make a video for us? Is it possible to get such and such footage from such and such project? Can you teach our student worker how to use a camera? And the age old question…

What camera should I get?

Sure. You can go to Google, type in the same question and you’ll get an immense amount of information with a tremendous amount of varied opinions. The question our office can answer quite knowledgeably is what camera will work for higher education. Our office has been producing video content in-house for the university for over five years and we’ve learned a bit about bringing creative in-house to higher ed. Some of our work is award-winning, some ambitious and some just plain silly. All-in-all, we have a good idea of what campus communicators need and more importantly, what does and doesn’t work.

When a department approaches us with this question, their needs are simple: A camera that can shoot video, but also take photos. The good news is that pretty much every camera produced today can do this. The bad news is that every camera produced today can do this. To narrow the field, we often ask ourselves: Is it practical? Is it timely? Is it holistic?

  • Practical: The camera has to be something people will actually use and practical to use
    • Our campus communicators are already tasked to be multimedia multi-tools, we don’t need to send them to film school. However, nor should we neglect the basics.
    • No one should need to lug around a 50lb camera bag, plus tripod. Our campus communicators aren’t film crews and neither are we. If it doesn’t fit in the workflow, then it’s not practical.
  • Timely: There must be bandwidth to dedicate time, energy and passion to producing content.
    • This is a huge barrier to many departments on campus because of the multitude of tasks that are required of our campus communicators. Again, it has to be practical.
  • Holistic: We need more than “just a camera”. Additional gear that will support the sustainability and practical use of the camera are imperative.
    • Tripod, microphone, memory cards, batteries, lenses and anything else that might be necessary depending on application.

The bulk of this discussion has been very much a gear/equipment-centric discussion. However, we cannot stress enough how the camera is not indicative of the end result. Rather, the team behind the camera has everything to do with the caliber and quality of the produced video or photos. It’s extremely important to recognize how the camera will be used and to what means.

Justin and Darryl on location in Brazil

Next week, we’ll look at a couple different camera packages that will follow these guidelines and hopefully help those in higher ed to find the best solution for a camera package. Thanks for reading, and feel free to send a message or leave a comment.

 

-Darryl

Here at Interactive Communications, we like to experiment. We’ve built DIY camera rigs and try the nightly builds of Magic Lantern firmware on our Canon cameras. Heck, I even built my own timelapse camera slider, going so far as to write my own program to set the move speeds. We do it because we want to tell the best story and have different tools to use to do that.

So in 2012, when we saw the short video that Vincent LaForet did with the Movi, our jaws dropped. Fast-forward just under a year and now the do-it-yourself crowd has built a community around these gyro-stabilized camera gimbals, blossoming out of the RC hobby.

A couple of us in the office are in to the RC hobby. Flying helicopters and quadcopters kind of got us thinking; we could build one of those! And so we decided, when the right project came to our attention, we jumped on the opportunity to build one.

The finished gimbal during its debut shoot
The gimbal at its first real video shoot

Before I get too much further, I want to make this clear: This is NOT a how-to. Realistically, if you are toying with the idea of making your own camera gimbal, then you have to be able to tinker or pay up for the out-of-the-box solutions. However, I’d like to give some tips that would have helped us from the start.

Our parts list (all from HobbyKing):

  • Turnigy PRO Steady-Hand Gimbal 3 Axis KIT
  • Quanum AlexMos Brushless Gimbal Controller 3-Axis Kit Basecam
  • Turnigy HD 5208 Brushless Gimbal Motor (BLDC)
  • Lithium Polymer Charge Pack 18x22cm Sack
  • TL-262 Thread Locker & Sealant High Strength
  • Hobbyking 2-8S Cell Checker with Low Voltage Alarm
  • Cable Ties 160 x 2.5mm White (100pcs)
  • 5.6mm x 13mm M3 Nylon Threaded Spacer (10pc)
  • EC3 plugs (10pairs/set) (USA warehouse)
  • Turnigy 420 Balancer/Charger 2S~4S
  • Wire Mesh Guard Black 3,6, and 8mm (1mtr)
  • HobbyKing Power Supply 100~240v 5A
  • Turnigy 2200mAh 3S 20C Lipo Pack

Totaled out to be around $600 shipped vs the Movi equivalent at just under $5,000.

Additional parts were bought from Quadframe.us who we were able to provide IMU and AlexMos board cases. We also took several trip to our local hardware shop, where we got our nylon screws, nuts and spacers for mounting the board. Here’s a short video that includes some shots with the gimbal:

Some notes and tips (specific to this build)

  • The Hobby King frame is not easily adjustable and thereby very frustrating to balance. Be prepared to tighten and untighten the screws about a thousand times.
  • The hardware provided with the frame was not quite adequate, it was missing motor mounting screws and it was not in the motor box. Some screws broke threads or just didn’t work. Have some additional screws on hand!
  • Another suggestion to Hobbyking: Please include a stand for the gimbal, it would save people so much time and frustration. What we did was use two light stands to hold up the gimbal, which worked great but if there was an option to buy a simple stand, we would have definitely done that.
  • Get yourself a halfway decent set of hex drivers, they will save your fingers and sanity.
  • Providing a case for the IMU and the AlexMos board would be really helpful in protecting the electronics, especially if people are going to fly this on a camera ship and if it is intended on being used on a production shoot.
  • A longer IMU cable would have been tremendous; we tore ours off so many times, eventually creating a longer one.
  • Header pins for the IMU would have been nice so we wouldn’t have to keep resoldering the wires.
  • BE SURE to check all axes for friction-less motion, it is super important and gave us too many headaches.
  • BALANCE is essential to the success of this, we followed the basics from the Movi online manual on Vimeo and found it very helpful.

So the big question is, was it worth it?

Yes and no. We saved a ton of money by doing it ourselves and we sure as hell paid for it in the time we spent tinkering and adjusting the thing. In the end, I can build one of these things with a bit more confidence and the experience we gained is new territory in the world of cinematography. So to answer the question, it was mostly worth it minus the times we wanted to throw the gimbal through the window.

-Darryl

Jordan making final edits to her video project
Jordan making final edits to her video project

Jordan Nelson is an all-star. In high school she’s spending most of her time in college classes and she’s got a pretty clear idea of what she wants to do. She also loves movies, and watches all the behind-the-scenes featurettes. When she approached me by way of Teresa Hall, she wanted to conduct a job shadow to fulfill her requirements to graduate high school and get an idea of what the “real-world” was kind of like. So starting in September of 2013, we had a Philomath High School senior in our office sporadically over the next several months.

At first we decided to have her shadow the Interactive Communications office, seeing how projects go from start to finish. She sat in on meetings, video shoots and the wonders of the editing room. Basically, we brought her in to anything and everything a normal staff person would go to. Eventually, we felt like it’d be a great idea for her to get hands-on with video production because we knew the best way to experience something is to do it.

So we encouraged her to create her own video project, use our project management software and brainstorm with us of an idea. We gave her the tools and she took an idea all the way to production and to the editing process and without having had prior experience in any of it. She came up with the questions and was there for every video shoot she could. She sat down in our office and edited the entire thing on her own with a little guidance and a whole lot of determination. Needless to say, we’re pretty impressed at the results:

I have a couple of takeaways from this experience.

  • First, it’s that I am and always will be impressed with what people can do when they actually want to do it. Of course, then there’s the fact that she’s a HIGH SCHOOLER.

  • If we can learn anything from Jordan its that age means nothing and that being flexible to technology is a huge boon to your skill set. Working in the creative area, technology is what’s going to lift storytelling to the next level and being keen to technology, much like how younger people are accustomed to, is only going to help in the future.

  • It is possible to be a Beaver fan and still go to the University of Oregon with a conscious heart. Jordan is set to study pre-law at UO but she’s grown up to love the Beavs so much that nothing in this world will break that bond. NOTHING.

Having Jordan in the office was an extremely positive experience for all of us at Interactive Communications. For us to have the opportunity to share what we love to do was a refreshing experience and for that we thank Jordan for her work, we wish her nothing but the best in her future.

-Darryl

My first blog post comes in the form of our brand new 30-second institutional spot. This is the commercial that will be played during sports broadcasts and ad buys for the Beavers. The team contributed to production of the commercial with collaboration from the OSU Marketing team.

I want to offer some of my favorite things about it, coming from a behind the scenes perspective.

  1. This was produced in-house. Everything minus the color and audio mastering was shot by us, coordinated by us and directed by us. We are super proud of that.
  2. This is not your typical university commercial. When we say institutional spot, we definitely don’t let that get us down. We set out with a specific vision to be more than the epic voiceover, crane shot kind of university commercial.
  3. Our version of “epic voiceover” comes in the form of Dr. Cheldelin in 1965 where he reads part of the Oregon State creed to a new incoming class during his convocation speech.
  4. And our version of the crane shot comes in the form of the hyperlapse. Those timelapses of Reser, the Memorial Union and Weatherford are kind of like a timelapse that move far distances.
  5. Every single shot has a story. For example, Kegan and I spent an entire day on a research vessel out 5 miles from the coast to get a single shot that shows up at about 0:23 in the commercial that holds for less than a second. Needless to say, we did not get seasick but we did have delicious fish and chips.
  6. Slow motion is awesome. We included several of our favorite slow-mo shots in this commercial. The Korean Dancers or the pouring hops are probably my favorite.
  7. We leveraged existing footage. I would say a good portion (30-40%) was footage that we already had and could use. Our philosophy going in was to ask ourselves, “Can we get a better shot?” If the answer was “yes”, then we arranged a shoot. That said, we were able to essentially recycle what we had and that saved us a whole lot of time.
  8. Distribution is a whole other ballgame. I thought when we were done, I’d just send the files over and magically the commercial would play on TV. Not that easy. TV networks are vast and distributing to broadcast systems is not just a copy paste operation.
  9. We like to include people we work with in our work. At 0:24, we had an intern hop on a bike for us and at 0:27, you can barely make out Colin’s dad, who is a vet at the university.
  10. We worked hard on this. Overall, I’d say we went through over 10 revisions and just as many different music choices. From conception to finish, we probably spent 3-4 months on this project while juggling dozens of other projects. Everyone put in so much to these 30 seconds; I can’t help but be proud of the work that we were able to produce and happy when I see it on TV.

If you liked our 30-second spot, I’d encourage you to check out the Beaver Nation website where you can view our 1 minute spot, which is completely different in feel with new voiceover and great animated elements.

-Darryl