Shooting a Super Bowl Feature: There is No Spoon

By February 1, 2013Storytelling

Superdome Slider

 

We are practically living in New Orleans these days.

For the past couple months we’ve populated countless hotels (and Airbnb houses) as part of several features we’ve been involved with for Super Bowl game day.

Getting to tell stories that will be featured on Super Bowl sunday on CBS? You know we are all over that!

The largest project we are working on is a 44 minutes feature story set to air a few hours before the actual game itself.

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NOTE: Thanks to everyone who tuned in to watch this live. If / when we receive permission to share the recording, we’ll post it here on the blog. 

In the meantime, check out this emotional feature that also aired on Superbowl Sunday, which focuses on the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting.

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It’s a 44 minute show – that’s nearly half of A Game of Honor – and have shot this all in just a matter of months.

Shooting such a long feature with a limited number production days means we need to be really efficient.

Many people mistake efficiency for “not taking risks” or “being sure to stick to the script” or “doing what is expected.”

But that’s not the Stillmotion way.

Through the course of putting this piece together there’s been several times that we’ve done things in an unconventional way because it fits the story as opposed to what was right or what was expected or what’s been done before.

You know that scene in the Matrix, where Neo meets the boy that can bend the spoon?

Stay with me…

For Neo, he’s only ever known that a spoon is a spoon. This is how things are. This is how this process is done. This is the “right” way. You see a spoon – and it’s a spoon.

Done and done.

Well, maybe not.

Just like Neo’s similar realization in the Matrix – we feel like the more we shoot – the more we realize that the constraints of the “right way” or “standard process” to approach a shoot or a story are all… b.s.

There is no spoon.

Do what is right for your story.

Do it on your terms.

Our history is full of examples in times where we found a way to tell our story in a regional unique innovative fashion and we threw caution to the win without worrying about the standards and practices already put in place. Developing that ability can be one of the largest assets you can have.

So our feature for this years Super Bowl was no different. There were several times when we threw away the rules – and made choices that we knew put our story first.

Selecting The Camera For The Story…

Our first decision was what we are going to shoot this with.

It’s easy to just go with what is available or what is the “best,” but time and time again we find that putting story first serves us well. In the case of these features that will be aired on Superbowl Sunday on CBS we chose to shoot the majority of them on the Canon C100.

Wait. Stop it right there.

C100 for broadcast?! Blasphemy!

We shot these television features, you know… ones that are to be broadcasted on TV… on a camera that supposedly isn’t spec’d for broadcast. In the industry, that’s a huge no-no.

Let me share why…

First, let’s be real here. I’m not one to talk geek speak and codecs. Yes we work with ProRes, Canon XF, H.264, Avid DNx and AVCHD files on a regular basis, but frankly I cannot explain to you the technical differences or how 4:4:4 at 330Mbs differs from 4:2:2 50Mbs differs from 4:2:0 24Mbs.

Say what? You lost?

Yeah, most of us on the team are too.

Now don’t take this the wrong way. It’s not that codecs aren’t important but we aren’t putting bit rate and chroma subsampling above story.

Nothing comes before story. On our best days, we don’t waver from the commitment.

And that is exactly why we chose the C100 for this series of shoots. For the stories we are telling in Denver with the Gateway high school kids or right here in the heart of New Orleans, this is the ideal camera.

This project is a blend of documentary and fully produced filmmaking and the C100 bridges the gap perfectly for what we need in both worlds.

In a fully produced segment, we can and have gone all out with the Red Epic when the situation calls for it. This was the case when we did Steadicam telepromter lines down the streets of NOLA with Wynton Marsalis, the Grammy Award winning jazz musician who narrates the show.

prompter steadicam
In this case, we had very limited time with the talent and unfavorable weather conditions, not to mention new prompter software technology to sort out on location so we opted to go with a camera that would give us the most options in post. Red Epic was the best camera for this one shoot.

However, in fully documentary segments where we have little to no control of what we are shooting we opted for the Canon C100. This was the case for the majority of the shoots.

The extended dynamic range give us a lot more room to play with than a DSLR, especially when we don’t have the luxury to fully light our scenes. This came in handy for things like scenics throughout the month, countless parades through St. Charles and Royal Street on both cloudy and sunny days as well as capturing the everyday life of our many characters without having to bring in a full on grip truck.

Could you shoot these scenes with a DSLR? Absolutely, but it won’t be able to hold the same amount of highlights in the whites or retain as much detail in the blacks.

Not having to fully light every single scene also means our characters, many of whom are just regular everyday N’awlins folk (their own words), would be much more comfortable in front of the camera and really let them come through in the piece. The small footprint certainly helps as well but it has always been our approach, especially in working with non-actors, that fosters the intimacy and authenticity that helps us tell real, meaningful stories.

Oh, then couple that with the form factor to go handheld as needed, the substantial size savings from traditional ENG cameras, the extended battery life and the many built in functions like the ND filters, waveform, peaking and zebras…well, that’s halfway to attaining ninja status 🙂

Mardi Gras parade
But what about the networks?

Aren’t they up in arms about the footage since the C100’s AVCHD 4:2:0 codec is not “approved” for broadcast?

Nope. We’ve delivered terabytes of footage and not one editor, director or producer has mentioned a single word about codec.

Now this project does not involve heavy graphic work and we aren’t pushing the image in post, if it did we may have gone with something like the C300 that’ll handle it better, but that brings up another great question:

Why didn’t we just shoot this whole thing on C300s since it was going be “broadcast safe”?

Well there are a couple reasons. First, we find the size difference between the C100 and C300 to be substantial, much more than the advertised 15% savings in weight and size. When we strip the handle off the C100 and take into account the relocated LCD in the back of the camera we can move as fast as we do with a DSLR.

At the same time, it’s also very easy to mount it on a baseplate with rails and run the new cinema primes with a Zacuto Z-focus off our Manfrotto monopod. To us that’s unmatched versatility.

The other consideration would be budget. Given that the C100 is half the price of the C300, you can get two for the price of one. That’s a pretty good deal considering you’re getting the majority of the same features minus a different codec and real timecode.

We have cameras that range from a 7D to a Red Epic and for our event / documentary work we have essentially switched out from DSLR to C100. And we haven’t looked back.

This is the process we use on every project – and every shoot to choose the right camera for the story.

prompter setup

Creating Our Steadiprompter

On one of our shoots we had our host Wynton Marsalis, doing walk and talks to narrate the story. That means he’d be walking and reading a Teleprompter.

Now this would normally take a large crew.

You’d have a really big steadicam, you’d have somebody to manage the Teleprompter, and they would have several ACs just to help out with all the extra rig and cabling.

We only had a limited amount of time and we wanted to get quite a few set ups done. We felt the best use of our time would be to try make this set up as compact as possible well still giving us the ability to have a steadicam with the Teleprompter.

The right way would’ve been a rig that could’ve cost hundred thousand dollars as well as a crew of five people just to manage the camera and prompter. But what fit our story was a much smaller rig and a smaller crew so we could move faster, with less permits, and through more locations.

Getting a Teleprompter on a steadicam is not an easy task.

And then getting the ability to run the Teleprompter wirelessly is equally as a daunting.

We decided to try an Ikan Teleprompter set up. We hard mounted an iPad Teleprompter directly to the steadicam stage. This offered us a compact size with great rigidity.

In order to control the iPad we used an additional iPad itself. That in of itself is not that difficult.

The challenge came in getting the two iPads to communicate wherever we wanted to travel to in the city. The solution came in the form of using an iPhone as a personal hotspot that would be carried in the pocket of the person running both iPads.

Wherever he walked, the hotspot went. That meant that both iPads had Wi-Fi, allowing either one to communicate as a remote for the other.

Here we are with a small steadicam rig, a taken apart Teleprompter setup mounted directly to the top, and then a couple of iPads and a wireless hotspot being carried around in somebody’s pocket.

It wasn’t the most elegant setup, but it worked.

More importantly, it worked for our story. It let us get more setups, in less time, and the shots turned out beautifully.

Had we spent the time, energy, money, and resources to do things the conventional way – our story would have suffered. There would have been far less time, energy, money, and resources dedicated to the story.

icelight lombardi trophy

Lighting With No Time, On The Fly…

When it came to lighting, we often had very little time – as might be expected on these type of run-and-gun shoots.

What we needed were lights that could be ultraportable, quick to set up, and versatile enough to work in situations that we didn’t even know about yet!

The right way to approach this would be to shoot most of the scenes with natural light and just make the best of it, or to bring in the whole lighting kit, explode the lighting budget, and spend valuable time setting up and breaking down huge set-ups.

We didn’t have hours and hours… we often only had minutes.

We wanted to make the most of the situation, so we found a way to bring lights they could make a large impact in a little amount of time.

icelight mardi gras

 

One of the lights that made the largest impact for us was the Ice Light, a battery powered LED light that is daylight balanced and offers a very soft light.

We brought along a colored gel so that we can get to 4000 Kelvin or all the way down to 3200 Kelvin. We had the versatility of changing temperatures as needed.

Having a bright light that you can carry with one hand, that’s battery operated, and still offers a soft quality of light – is such a powerful tool.

What’s amazing is that the Ice Light was actually designed for photographers, because of that it may be missed as a solid cinema option. The Ice Light was perfect for our story.

We used it in the underbelly of the Superdome to light photos, we used it as a hair light for interviews, and we used it in nightclubs to light fans and reactions where there’s no way we could’ve gotten a light stand or power.

It was a very different way of lighting for us – yet, it was a very powerful way of lighting that we think gave us much better images in many scenarios.

dome photos C100 catwalk 2

Photos Don’t Have To Suck…

One of the pieces that we were working on was about the Superdome and it’s history.

Essentially, the primary materials we were given to tell that story were archival photos of the process of it being built.

When you get photos on a project like this, the “normal” process is to Ken Burns it up, scan them in, and show them either statically on screen or make a slow pan and apply a zoom.

We wanted to go deeper with what we could do with these images. We wanted them to really be tied into the look and feel of the show.

Sarah, the director, thought of printing the photos so that we could shoot them in real environments.

We then (playing off Sarah) suggested that we take the photos of the construction of the Superdome, place them inside the building itself, and put them environments that would be relevant to the construction and the content of the images.

We ended up taking a dozen photos and spending 3 to 4 hours in the underbelly of the Superdome. We found really neat locations, along pillars and under bleachers, where we could rest the photos and do slow slides where we see them being a real life relevant environment.

When you see the photos in the show, it’s amazing how well they blend in with everything else that was shot because they have the same movement, the same lenses, the same lighting – but it’s also amazing just how strong the shots themselves in the environment are.

The photos are now really compelling and Sarah even mentioned that they often struggled wanting to put more of them in! What a great problem that is (rather than the usual problem of wanting to limit scanned in photos).

Instead of doing what’s often done or what’s considered the right way to use photos, we tried to look at the problem a different way – even though it took far longer than the easy way.

The result is a really strong section of the feature that is totally unique.

dome photos kessler

Bringing all the choices together…

In the end, we ended up being a part of a really special 44 minute feature.

We shot it with a camera that is not recommended for broadcast, we put the camera in configurations that likely haven’t been done before and created solutions that many would not have recommended, we stole lighting gear and techniques from other industries, and we found a new way to shoot elements that are often looked at as boring.

We hope you can tune in and watch the show with us!

We’ll be out at our friend Chris’s here in New Orleans watching the show with everybody else!

THIS SUNDAY, February 3rd at Noon EST // 9am PST on CBS. (If you missed it, we’ll try and post the link as soon as we receive permission to share.) 

If you’re tuning in for an extended period of Super Bowl Sunday, we also have a couple other things you can watch out for.

Back in March, we spent a good week doing scenics which you’ll probably see in different bumpers, teases, and trailers. We were also very fortunate to be a part of a really special story of Gateway High School, a high school located right next to the theater shooting in Denver, Colorado.

It was a very emotional piece that was to be aired between 1 and 6 PM EST on CBS (we aren’t sure when).

A lot of people make this sort of thing possible:

  • Let the Good Times Roll – Produced and directed by Sarah Rinaldi, post by Skeeter, executive producers Pete Radovich and Steve Karasik, B-roll by Stillmotion, interviews by Davey Finch and Chris Serio.
  • Gateway Feature – Directed by Pete Radovich, executive producer Steve Karasik, field produced by Shelby Campbell, post by Anthony Cortese, Cinematography by Stillmotion with additional camera by Andrew Wright.

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We’re excited for you to see our hard work.

But more importantly, we want to keep pushing you to do what is right for YOUR stories.

There is no spoon.

It’s up to you to decide how to proceed from here.

Stillmotion

About Stillmotion

54 Comments

  • Wonderful story! Thanks for the breakdown, I love reading this kind of stuff that includes the tech with the justification. Can’t wait to see the full piece.

  • Logan says:

    Great post. The HBO show Treme is doing a good job of convincing me to spend some time in NOLA next winter.

  • Awesome, totally awesome! Will you be allowed to post this online after it airs? You know, for those of us Down Under who don’t get the broadcast 🙂

    Keep it up guys, you’re smashing it!

  • Bob Krist says:

    Great post, guys, and wonderful, real world advice on why you chose the camera you did. Can’t wait to see the results. Thanks for sharing.

  • I can’t wait to see what you guys cooked up but when I look at your BTS images I ask myself, is the steadycam shot or slider really adding to the story?

    I am also curious about the cinema lens choice. Being run and gun, after such a long focus throw makes it harder to work. I love my C100 and the peaking ability just makes it perfect to use photo lenses since you can rack focus easily and rapidly.

    • Anyone have any feedback on my original comment?

    • Patrick says:

      Hey Sebastien,

      Your question is rather vague and hard to address unless you have specific examples or points that you want to discuss. At the time you posted this, the show hadn’t aired, so it’s hard to really respond to.

      The Slider and Steadicam surely can add a ton to the story. They can be easily misused but we sure hope our use throughout this piece really pushed the story forward. Our Know Field Guide and DVD go in depth on camera movement and story if your interested in hearing more on this. If you got a chance to see the show and have any questions about tools used for certain aspects, and why, just let us know.

      As for the Cinema Primes, the option to have geared lenses for a follow focus on a monopod was very attractive. The manual aperture is great for broadcast work allowing for smooth exposure ramps. The similar sizes and weights is perfect for rigging – such as use on a Steadicam and quickly switching lenses

      P.

  • Great job guys… nice to see the “BROADCAST” barrier breaking down while still keeping the quality up there. I shoot commercial stuff http://www.dovedigitalmedia.com as well as wedding stuff http://www.dove-weddings.com and we just picked up a C100 and it is easy to see why not looking back is such a natural thing! I just shot a corporate thing today at a Golf course with the C100 and not messing with secondary audio was so nice. Then there is having a backup on second SD card, not to mention built in ND!!!! What a dream it was.

    Gear used today:
    C100 + 24-105mm F4
    Monopod
    Rode NTG1 – Ch1
    Wireless Handheld – Ch2
    Reflector on a stand for fill light

    Couldn’t be more simple!!!

  • Gretchen Schneider says:

    Makes me F E E L NawOrlans!! Really musical visually.

    • Joyce says:

      It really does. N’awlins has such rich culture in music and it’s so great to see it come through the piece. We just left the edit house and it’s really exciting seeing it all come together.

      Lil’j

  • Brian Steeves says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I really appreciate the “real world” approach you guys take when telling a story.

    You continue to amaze, entertain and enlighten in a world where only the story matters.

    Best regards,

    Brian

  • I love it! You guys are realists. As much as i wish I could be like Stanley Kubrick, most times I simply do not have the option of controlling what happens in front of the camera, and that is the truth. I shoot a lot of stuff, and keep maybe 5%……as in sculpture, sometimes making a film is more a matter of taking away, than adding to……your (wise) choices in gear reflect this. Thanks for sharing, and the great post. Keep ’em coming!

  • BenB says:

    Winter is the WORST time to visit NOLA. I was born and raised here, and the humidity makes winter cold miserable. Spring is the best, for fall. Summer heat will kill you.

  • Paul Gero says:

    Thanks for the look behind the scenes and the great detail. Congrats on the feature and looking forward to seeing it before the Game!

  • Tony says:

    Thank you So much for sharing. Can’t wait to see the documentary, your work speak volume, I’m like a kid in a candy store when you guys come out with a new project, Keep up the great work.

  • Ryan Koral says:

    love it, guys. seriously rad. can’t wait to see it!

  • Christian Studet says:

    Super stoked! You guys and girls are so inspiring! the work you do and how you think about everything is uhhh……amazing!

  • Freddie says:

    DVR is set! Looking forward to getting a glimpse of this. Man guys you are everywhere and anywhere…shooting up and down, walking and on the ground….please tell me your workout routine! Cause I know that’s gotta wear you out! Lol. Keep it up guys!

  • So here’s the deal. Most studios, independents, and free-lancers just throw their work up on blogs, do a little promotion and ask some people to share it around, but then you guys come into the mix and do what you love, do it well, but then empower and inspire others to do what they love and tell the stories they want to tell.

    Loved this backstage pass to the last few months of your lives and am joyful to see the place that you guys are at within your lifetime of story. Thanks for the encouraging word and continual reassurance that it’s not about following all the rules, moires, and common applied methodology — but that it’s about heart, it’s about truth, it’s about story. I am glad you guys didn’t sacrifice when the obvious hurdles and restrictions were presented. I am delighted to see what you guys came up with, and know stories like these are just the beginning for you guys. It’s exciting to know more of how you guys work, and it will be awesome to meet the team.

    Thanks for the effort you all put into each story, and even more-so your desire to share your process and get into the nitty grittys of each detail — ultimately not existing for yourselves but existing to love and help others.

    -cc in portland

    • Joyce says:

      Being a part of a community of inspired and passionate storytellers is really exciting stuff and if we can be a small part of helping that grow, we’re all for it 🙂

      Lil’j

  • oh man! i dont have PVR while I’m in NYC! Gonna missed it! can somebody record it and share it later?

  • Love hearing all the behind the scenes details! Looking forward to catching this segment tomorrow. Thanks for being super open about your processes (as always : ) Cheers -George

  • JJ says:

    Are you guys going to be able to post / show the entire video post broadcast, for the rest of us who’re not in the US?

  • Phil Side says:

    Just wondering if you’ve considered adding an RSS feed to this blog. In my case, it would make a regular rather than an occasional reader.

  • hi, i’m from venezuela and i whish see your Super Bowl Feature in cBS the February 3rd 9am PST . I Read always your blog and your vimeo channel is great!… I whish very soon buy your SMAPP book for the story teller. If you can send a link of video live stream to see your’s shoot in new orleans i will be very happy. Congratulations for your great job and be mi inspiration. Sorry if my english is not good, I hope you know what I mean

  • Bill says:

    This is great stuff. And it makes me, in a way, regret buying the XF300 instead of the C100. I would’ve if I’d figured out the Atomos option. Cheers.

  • malia says:

    For those of us who don’t have a television will the piece be posted online anywhere?

  • Clarke L. Smith says:

    Awesome sharing as usual, Stillmotion you rock!

  • Bruce Nelson says:

    Thanks! Love the still photo treatment. Look forward to seeing the piece.

  • Brian says:

    Sounds amazing. For those of us without cable TV I hope there will be another opportunity to view it.

  • Joel says:

    Just watched it. BEAUTIFUL! Yes it looked good, but you also told a fantastic story! My wife isn’t into football, but she sat and watched this with me and commented on how well done it was. Thanks for sharing and contributing to the creative community and putting out quality work like this piece. Well done!

  • WOW! We saw ya’ll at PPA and I was at a Stillmotion event in Austin this summer and I am so proud to have been inspired by ya’ll. Just watched the special on CBS and it was Stillmotion style all the way. I was informed, I SAW the story, I laughed and I cried and I SO want to go to New Orleans and be IN that story. So wonderful. The story just came alive and nothing in the story telling got in the way. Its as if the story just told itself. Magnificent. So proud. Way to go. I’m tearing up just writing this and I’m a guy, come ON, guys don’t do this.

  • F. Mike says:

    Fantastic work as usual! I’ve seen you all (Patrick and Amina this year) speak at IN[FOCUS] for the last three years and you are always inspiring. Thanks for giving back to the industry and continuing to inspire me and my team to produce better stories! I wish you all the success in 2013!

  • Ray Pryor says:

    Great job on the feature! I don’t have a TV so I had to run out to a local restaurant to catch the broadcast. It was certainly worth the trip. Great storytelling; very inspiring. I’m really proud that a studio who started in weddings has gone on to produce a well-done piece that was broadcast during one of the most popular TV events of the year. What tops it off is your generosity in sharing with us how it was done. This also reminds me of Infocus a couple of years ago; after your talk on how to do same day edits you gave everyone a DVD of the FCP sequences, raw files, and other resources. Today’s NFL feature was a great example of how great things happen to good people who do good work. Kudos!

    On a technical note, when the segment came back from commercials, it seemed to be at one size and then suddenly switch to another. Was that in the broadcast or was it just the TV I was watching?

  • David Lawrence says:

    Just watched the broadcast live and loved your storytelling. As a pro it’s great to hear the backstory of how you put it together, but your passion for the story and sharing it with us is what really comes through for me, and I very much appreciate it! Thanks!

  • Rob Janson says:

    It looked Amazing as always. The sound design and editing of the piece was brilliant as well. Great work. Thanks once again for sharing your creative and technical process with us.

  • Kevin M. says:

    Just saw your piece about the high school dealing with the shooting tragedy on the NFL pregame show and it was amazing. Congratulations! You’re absolutely right, it is all about the story and you told it very well. I need to go back to my DVR to watch it again to check out the visuals. I teach a media production class in middle school and I’m always critiquing things I see on TV. My students all tell me that after they learn about the various shots (w, m, cu, ecu) they don’t watch TV the same. They call out these shots to their parents and begin to critique them themselves. While that’s cool, I always tell them that above all of that is your story. If you can tell a good story then that’s what people will first focus on. The visuals become secondary. It’s when you go back to watch it again, that’s when you can truly appreciate how great the shots were. Congratulations on showing the world what great storytellers you all are.

  • You guys are amazing!

  • Alan says:

    Isn’t that ice light fabulous? We bought it to shoot a wedding in Costa Rica where we knew the lighting would be limited. It throws a nice soft light. PVR is set, and we’ll check it out when we’re back in the country.. There’s nothing like watching the game under a palm tree.

  • Alana says:

    Love the detailed approach…but I missed the show! Will it be somewhere online?

  • Ken says:

    I saw the Doc and was wondering what production tools were used. I’m glad I stumbled upon this story without even searching. Love the look of C100. This is what I always wanted from my Panasonic AF100.

    Fantastic piece!!!

  • Mike Collins says:

    The Roots of Music segment was easily my favorite. It felt the most like “Stillmotion” to me from shot selection to movement. Really loved it!

  • Patrick says:

    Thanks for all the support guys. We aren’t sure if it will ever make it online – it was created for game day so it is hard to say what CBS will do.

    If it airs, we’ll make sure to send it out to everybody

    P.

  • Scott Allman says:

    I loved the program. I hope you can post it somewhere. I’d really like to see it again. Keep up the great work!

  • Sébastien D'Amour says:

    @Patrick

    I have already attended your know tour in Montreal.
    I am simply curious to how you justify a follow focus, bigger size and more weight to your run amd gun setup?

    I understand the advantage of the declicked aperture but does it really add to your story to be able to ramp your exposure?

    I am just questionning like you guys showed me hahahaha

    thanx again for your time

    • Patrick says:

      No problem, we appreciate the thought and questions. It is just difficult to question something before you’ve seen it. I feel it would be much more constructive and we could help more if you saw the show, or another piece for that matter, and had specific questions about a certain element of it.

      If you use a Zacuto baseplate, you can get small rails and a follow focus on a monopod, so the size increase is marginal. A FF allows for some interesting things in run and gun work and allows us to push some of our ideas. There are situations where this isn’t practical, but for this show it certainly added a ton.

      In broadcast work, ramping the exposure definitely helps as we often work in wonky environments where things change rapidly and the network wants to use those moments (ie a football team exiting a gym to run outside)

      P.

  • Perrona says:

    very interesting!
    did u use the steadicam with the C100 as well or just with the red on the street of NOLA sequence??
    wish steadicam do u think is a good choice for the C100?

    • Patrick says:

      We often used the Glidecam and C100 for this shoot. They are an amazing pairing when you are getting started to really help learn the basics while being affordable at the same time. We didn’t use the full body mounted system, our Zephyr, for this shoot as we just didn’t have the time and space to get it there

      P.