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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.