Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Prosumer gear

As well as the tablet kit for our project in Malawi, we brought a high-end set of gear to work with and to compare in how it's used. It was basically Rick Goldsmith's core film-making kit at the moment (built around a decent camcorder) and supplemented with some of my Open University gear.  It's just possible to film solo with this setup, but that's not really the point - it allows a crew to work together to capture high quality sound and video, with a lot of control over the recording settings.

The kit, consists of:
  • Panasonic AF101
  • Lenses (a decent zoom and some fast primes)
  • Monitor
  • Tripod
  • Shotgun Mic
  • Rode windshield suspension kit
  • Headphones
  • Boom pole.
  • Projection gear
  • Large reflector
  • LED light and stand
Mac laptop set up as an edit deck with 
  • Final Cut Pro 7
  • iMovie

Although our participants needed quite a lot of hands-on support to get going with this setup, it's not quite true that it's harder to use for newcomers to film-making.  Most people can pick up an ipad and start shooting and get something straight away. But once the idea that the idea of control over the camera to get an intentional shot is introduced then it's a less straight-forward comparison.  Having a large, robust rig with more physical controls provides a good opportunity to work with things like focus, exposure and white balance, which even if they're available on smaller devices are often hidden behind touchscreen menu options.  In a sense the equipment itself motivates a more considered approach to shooting and with enthusiasm and appropriate support it can work very well for a group.  It also encourages teamworking, with space for several people collaborate in getting a shot.

The advantages:
  • It's a large, robust setup that enables collaborative film-making.  It works well with groups up to 10 or so if some are being interviewed while others are crewing.
  • The video monitor and headphones help pick up recording issues on the shoot and correct for them, while high recording quality (ie definition and codecs) keep options open in the edit.  We felt this was important for a project which is producing advocacy material for international use.
  • Setting up shots gave our group a lot of time to discuss the content of interviews and coach on and negotiate about what was going to be said next.
  • Options like different lenses, reflectors and lighting and  
  • Several of the teachers we were working with took very naturally to working with this kit, and they could easily form the nucleus of a film-making team in the future.
Issues we've run into
  • The gear is expensive and we couldn't get it insured to be loaned out in the way that the ipad based kits were.
  • Weight - moving all this kit around locally and internationally is a serious undertaking.
  • Shots take time, which means that there needs to be a lot of time available, or that production planning needs to be tight.
  • The complexity of the options available for shooting means that it takes time to get used to using.  It can also be intimidating for participatns to get going.
Higher end kit can have a place in participatory film-making and opens doors for creativity and finer control of outcomes.  It forces more planning and thinking through how things are going to look, but this pays off in the edit. A nice progression was getting participants interested in thinking about film-making and expressing their own ideas with the tablet based kit, and then working together as a group using this gear.  In the end a lot comes out of the particular interests of the participants themselves.

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