Ethics statement: Kessler are my main site sponsor and great friends. They also make my signature slider so any reference to their gear being the best take this statement into account. Mind you even if I wasn’t sponsored by them they would still be the best! 🙂
There is going to be Kessler gear mentioned in the below post but also LOTS of useful shooting information I hope.
Eric Kessler asked me to make a film about his company Kessler Crane. “I said sure, what do you want?” He wasn’t sure…so I said the key to a corporate documentary for me is to make it fascinating enough and entertaining enough to be watched by anyone regardless of whether they have heard of Kessler Crane or even have any interest in grip gear!
So I made a rough plan of what I wanted and thought would work. A documentary of around 20-30 minutes that could easily be updated as and when needed. Something that wouldn’t date too much and something that looked of course looked great. It needed to tell the story of the company through Eric. As the main protaganist who built the company from nothing his story is key. He is the effectively the main narrator. To add to this I needed to do a number of interviews with key people within the company and users of Kessler gear around the world. The documentary would have no narration, completely told through the interviews. This of course is much harder and requires you to make sure you have exactly the right sound bites. Without them you have narrative holes.
The first question of course is what to shoot on. With a number of cameras at my disposal including the RED Epic, my F3 that I own with Eric, the AF100 and of course all the DSLRs what is the right cameras. Initially my thought was every interview on the F3 with the KiPro mini. The F3 is a fantastic camera. Superb picture, superb features and with the AJA KiPro mini an incredibly powerful camera. The only downside is the 720p slow motion. I have S-log on the camera too which helps enormously.
Kessler have a number of cameras in their studio including DSLR, an AF100 and an Epic. They also had the lights I needed. Litepanel 1x1s, Kino Flo Diva and a Dedo. All I need for an interview setup.
With all this in mind I set off for Indiana for the 5 day shoot. I took with me the F3. My Zeiss and Nikon Lenses for the F3 and to work with the Epic. Eric had a beta Canon mount for the Epic which would take his EF lenses and my Nikon mount lenses with an additional adaptor. He also had a number of CP.2 lenses with PL mount, in additional I brought my Duqclos modified Tokina 11-16.
Sound wise I was going to record in camera, I also brought my Tascam DR100 for any off speed recording when the camera goes mute. I also brought with a Rode NTG-2 for recording shotgun with the Tascam as it does not drain the device and an NTG-3 for use with the camcorder as it’s phantom powered.
Lav mic wise, two Sony UWP mics and 2 Sanken COS-11 wired Lav miss which are superb sound. I rarely do sit down interview with wireless mics. Wired are so much better and safer!
The key thing when shooting a doc is do the interviews first. This gives you a shot list. As Eric was the main talker he was more or less the first thing I shot. Lighting wise I used two point lighting for all of the interviews. The dedo 150 as a backlight and the litepanel bi-clour 1X1 as the key. It’s a very simple lighting setup and easily replicated. I need other shooters to do some of the interviews around the world so I wanted a simple set up. I also chose to use a black background, again nice and simple and very uniform for all the interviews. Eric wanted some gear in the background, I said best not to. It would make the shot cleaner and more importantly not date the interview if a piece of gear was changed or replaced.
I shot all the interviews on the Epic in the end in 5k. Why? Well the camera can record sound in the camera just fine and by shooting 5k and editing in Premiere Pro with a timeline set to HD I could edit with the native files (I also have just got a Red Rocket for real time playback and transcoding) and simply zoom in for a reframe when I need to without any loss of quality. Perfect to butt join two grabs together and to vary the framing. All the interviews were shot on an 85mm Zeiss ZF F1.4 at around F2.8 to keep the depth of field shallow/ deep enough for the interviewee to move slightly without going in and out of focus.
I did a number of high speed shots too with Epic, mostly 96-120FPS but some at 2K 300 FPS. The high speed stuff is trickier due to light. I got some nice stuff at 300FPS using daylight but had huge issues with the welding slow motion as it’s electricity based and I had TERRIBLE strobing at anything over 1/120th of a second. I did a number of machine shots at 300FPS. We lit it with an old studio 2K light that solved our flicker issue.
Crew wise it was very small. Basically myself with my assistant Preston Kanak as operator and 1st. I also had Sarah Estela who helped operate the RED whilst I was conducting the interviews. Joel Graves from Kessler was there to shoot some BTS on the 5DmkII.
Preston shot a lot of beauty shots using AF100 of Indiana. Why that camera? Well I was using the RED for the interviews and the F3 I had as backup in case I changed my mind or things went wrong! The stuff he got was lovely as you can see from the below AF100 frame grabs.
He used the 3 foot Cineslider and the Pocket jib on his own. There are only still shots here but trust me he made them brilliant with the moves! That guy works like a dog!
We also used the AF100 for all the handheld work? Why? Well because the handheld work was actuality following people around so a good zoom lens was needed with nice range. I didn’t have one for the F3 or the Epic so we used the AF100 as Kessler have the rather lovely Olympus 14-35 F2 lens. Perfect for handheld work. Using a Zacuto rig at first then a new Shape rig which I was just sent to try out Preston shot the actuality stuff beautifully with this camera.
Naturally as we were doing a doc on Kessler we needed to use their gear! So we used the Cineslider, the pocket jib and the shuttle pod. Below are some photos of those bits of gear in action. Eric and I set up a 24 foot shuttle pod shot which Preston documented. A nice walk and chat. Very natural.
This was my first time with the Shuttledpod. I was surprised how a 24 foot motion control system took to set up. About 20 minutes. Nuts!
The tripod we used were Miller Tripods. A 75mm bowl version which is mine. The Compass 20 with Solo 3 stage carbon fibre legs and Eric’s 100mm Compass 25 version for the Epic.
One of my favourite sequences was an evening around a fire at Eric’s house where we filmed Eric and his neighbour Jack chatting over some beers for a couple of hours. Jack helped Eric make the first Cranes many years ago in his garage and still works for him. A lovely guy with some great stories. I captured this with the F3 and the AF100. This was just lit with the fire so very dark. The F3 did the best here easily. The AF100 did OK with the Abel Cine low noise profile and the amazing Voigtlander 25mm F0.95. The Epic struggled to see much to be honest. It needed more light. So I just used it for some off speed pretty shots of the fire which looked lovely!
The documentary has a few more bits that need shooting, of course the edit will be huge. Hopefully I should have it online soon!!
Easily the best looking footage was from the Epic as you can see above. Everything just looked lovely. The F3 footage looked the second best and it’s low light performance is incredible. The AF100 stuff look good too. Highlights were an issue as always but I have no doubt I can grade them all to match just fine!
By Preston Kanak
This past week I spent with Philip Bloom, Eric Kessler & Sarah Estela in Plymouth, Indiana, working on the Kessler Crane Documentary. I can safely say that Eric, Philip & Sarah are the three nicest people on earth. Seriously.
For the documentary, we shot on the RED Epic, Sony F3, Panasonic AF100, Canon 5D Mark II, and GoPro HD. It was a pleasure to work with each of these cameras, especially the Sony F3. I have included my initial thoughts on each of the cameras at the bottom of the page, outside of the 5D Mark II & GoPro HD.
Note: I only spent a few days/hours with these cameras so they are only my initial reactions. By no means am I an expert — these are just my initial reactions.
We arrived in Plymouth, Indiana on Sunday, following a weekend in Cedar Point for a meet-up that was arranged by Philip and Eric. It was great to meet everyone that was there, including Tom Guilmette, Cristina Maria Valdivieso, Jon Conner, Karen Abad, Chris Beller, and many more!
Below is a timelapse I shot Sunday night at the cabin that I was staying at. It was shot on a Canon 5D Mark II with the Canon 14mm F2.8. Thanks for the amazing view, Eric!
Lake of the Woods Timelapse
I spent the majority of Monday shooting B-ROLL footage of Plymouth and the surrounding area on the AF100 while Philip Shot Eric on the EPIC. Philip has included stills from each of these shoots above.
I spent a majority of Tuesday assisting Philip as he shot two suppliers on the EPIC. His attention to detail was impeccable — capturing the beauty of each location. Following the shoot, we headed back to Eric’s house to film a fire-side chat with his neighbour Jack — who helped Eric when they were building cranes out of their garage.
The main focus for Wednesday was to capture B-ROLL of the shop as well as interviews in the studio at Kessler HQ. Philip shot the interviews on the EPIC while I shot the B-ROLL on the F3. I spent about four hours on the F3 and fell in love!
At the fireside chat, Jack mentioned his commitment to the success of Kessler Cranes. Every morning he stated that he was in by 6am to get the shop ready for the day. Philip asked if I wanted to create a sequence of this so I showed up to the shop at the crack of dawn. Following this we headed out to set up a 24 ft sunset shot using the Shuttlepod system.
Philip’s vision for the project was very clear. He kept everyone on the same page at all times — which made the shooting days a breeze. The focus for Friday was shooting the interviews as well as following Eric around the shop, interacting with staff members. The interviews were again filmed on the Epic and the shots throughout the shop were shot on the AF100 as we needed a camera that had zoom lenses. In order to capture this sequence, we used the Composite Friction Rig from Shape, a company based out of Quebec, Canada. Philip was sent two rigs to test out and I want one!
Once we were done following Eric through the shop, we headed back to shoot another 24ft timelapse — replicating the move during the day as well as the night. This was shot on the 5D Mark II with 16-35mm 2.8 on the Kessler Shuttlepod.
The last day of shooting was officially Friday but Philip wanted me to take the RED Epic for a test drive to get to know it better. I have shot on the RED One before I have yet to play around with R3D files using REDCineX. Shooting RAW is much different as your only real concern is setting shutter speed and aperture. Instead of having to expose your image at the time of filming, you simply have to monitor whether or not your highlights and darks are clipping — and adjust exposure when processing.
Camera Comparison – Initial Reactions
I own an HVX200 so getting used to the layout of the AF100 was not too difficult. Unlike the HVX200, the menu’s were easy to navigate (Not as easy as either the F3 or RED Epic — but a major improvement over the HVX200).
Shooting with the AF100
One of the major downfalls of the AF100 is that is does not have expanded focus. Panasonic has implemented an EVF Detail option that helps with focus but I feel an external monitor is essential when shooting with this camera. One feature I did love however, was the ability to easily change frame rates by pressing one button on the back of the camera — with the ability to capture 60fps at 1080p.
One thing I noticed when doing the walk and talk is the exposure change on the Olympus 14-35mm lens when re-framing. Although the lens is supposed to be f2 all the way through, I definitely noticed a change of exposure when re-framing.
The AF100 shoots with a 24 Mbit AVCHD Codec and is very easy to prepare in FCP 7 — simply select log and transfer and find the directory of your footage.
Plymouth, Indiana Shot on AF100
Below is some of the footage I shot on Monday on the Af100.
My initial reactions when shooting with this camera were great. I have shot almost exclusively on the 5D Mark II for the past year and the form factor of the F3 was fantastic. It was very refreshing shooting with a traditional video camera.
Shooting with S-Log
As mentioned above, shooting with the f3 is an absolute pleasure. The expanded focus while recording is probably my favorite feature of the camera. However, one thing I didn’t like is that you are unable to change your white balance when shooting S-Log. This is supposed to be resolved with a future update but for now, it is a huge inconvenience as everything is locked at 5600K.
One of the major differences between cameras is the way in which the data is prepared for editing. In order to work with files from the F3 in FCP 7, you need to download the Sony XDCam Transfer plug-in. Once you install it, in FCP, go to the File — Import menu and choose XDcam. It will launch XDCam transfer and will put the clips in your project. The import is super fast too! As for Premiere, I was able to simply drag and drop the footage into the timeline.
Shooting with the Birger Canon Mount
Out of all the cameras, the RED Epic was the most frustrating — simply because of the Beta Birger Canon mount. When shooting with this mount, I was unable to reach infinity on the lens. Super frustrating! As for the camera itself, I fell in love with the touchscreen monitor as you are able to easily access the camera settings. I shot most of the footage at 5K 2.4:1 at 120fps.
Note: I only spent about two hours with the camera so these are simply my initial impressions.
In order to work with RED Epic footage, you need to download and install REDCINE X. One of the major downfalls when shooting with this camera is the time it takes to process the footage. To convert a 1 minute clip (shot at 5K 2.4:1 with 12:1 compression) to 1080p on a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, it took 40 minutes!
Although I didn’t spend a lot of time with these cameras, each are fantastic cameras to shoot with. I would have to say at this point that the most practical camera for my style of shooting would be the F3 — simply because of workflow and the dynamic range of the camera.
As for the shoot itself, thanks Philip & Eric for the opportunity to work with you guys! It was an absolute pleasure!!!