Wednesday, October 11, 2006

HVX200 Shoot: My First Cinematography Assignment

I try to make any links some kind of informative and independent review.

Armed with a shotgun mic, Panasonic AG-HVX200 and Lumix DMC-FZ30 cameras, I drove 75 miles due east, heading for the town of Denton, MD, to shoot some footage of the 70 mile commute of a woman and her 2 children. The first stop was the local auto parts store, because I needed to get a portable light. At the Pep Boys store, only AC current lamps were for sale, so I picked a fluorescent lamp, which seemed daylight balanced and burned cool.

Stopped at a barbecue place beside U.S.50 to get some ribs (don't order the dry rub kind, they are dry inside as well!) and drove over the Bay Bridge, getting to Denton around 10pm. After grabbing some snacks at a grocery store, I hunkered down for the night at a local hotel.

But I couldn't sleep.

Almost all night, I was wound up, a bit nervous about my first shoot. Would the sound be okay? The color retention and quality work? The angles of the clips? I decided to go to the truck and pack all my video gear, so I grabbed the FZ-30 to shoot what's called "B-roll," which is cutaway footage with a different camera. After charging the batteries and checking online for the exact address of the subject, I packed my gear into my bag and fanny pack while watching some [adult swim] on Cartoon Network.

Finally, at 230am, I was exhausted enough. So I set the alarm for 445am and asked the front desk to give me a wakeup call for 430am (so I could have an alarm backup, in case I passed out).

Up & at 'em at 5, I started on MD-404, driving past a water tower with "Welcome to Denton" adorning the exterior. I chose to return after finding the family's home, which was nestled in a quiet part of town, just at the fringe of Denton's border. Twilight blue mixed with the tungsten lamps of the block, which were shot with the HVX200, which was apparently built on the platform of the AJ-HDC27 VariCam.

A couple joggers worked out on the other side of the main road, running along a snake rail fence, so I took my B-roll camera and mounted it on a monopod to shoot some quiet street scenes. As a car drove up the road, I squeezed against the wood fence, but the angle wasn't quite right. Lifting the monopod above the fence, I set it down just inside the fence.

Moving it close to the wood, I started framing a shot, but felt a light jolt in my fingers. After a moment, another jolt popped my hand. Doh! My monopod started rubbing against a charged cow fence! I abandoned shooting any more of the fence, and returned to capture a shot of the water tower to give placement of where things would start.

Returning to the home, I knocked on the door, and the husband welcomed me, inviting me to head upstairs as the mother got her daughter ready for the trek. After putting on clothes and brushing their teeth, they were all ready to go. I exited first, and framed a shot of the door knob, and shortly after, the family left their home and packed into 2 vehicles -- Mom belted the children in the back of her Expedition, while Dad got in his Honda "commuter vehicle" (a higher-gas mileage car). I stuck my B-roll beneath the Ford, starting the REC button, and moved aside so the Ford could back out, over the camera (I remember that from a scene in The Bodyguard).

Running to the end of the block to catch up to the Expedition, I rode with Mom and the kids, who watched a cartoon in the back seat. I tried shooting as much as I could, including a grab shot of the front wheel, the Bay Bridge (with the hood of the truck), and a quick grab of fisherman on the bay. As we got to her folks' home in Severn, I shot some of the goodbyes, but had only one minute left before my P2 cards maxxed out! Doh! Too little time to download, I grab the B-roll and shot a little goodbye kiss, and we left for her job in Annapolis.

I zoomed in tight on her odometer, which read 12,000 miles. "That's how much I've driven this year," she said, adding that the truck was newly bought just several months ago. Let's see, how many MPG's? About 16 or so, and at $3 per gallon? Asking her if she had considered a minivan, she scoffed: I'm too young to drive a minivan! I don't want to be a minivan mom!"

As we arrived, I clamped a head on the child seat and aimed my B-roll out the rear door window and ran up the small hill to frame the truck as Mom exited. I held shot, pulling out to the whole SUV as she walked into work.

The shoot was perhaps a little under-exposed. I still don't quite know Final Cut Pro, and I may have messed up a bit, because I shot everything in "480p 30," which is the lowest rez you can use on the HVX200. And I only did that because I could shoot 32 minutes with 8 gigs of P2 cards -- shooting high-rez would only give me 8 minutes or less to shoot with!

But the shots looked like friggin film! Not one frame resembled video, and Dudley watched some of the clips, completely amazed at the quality for something shot in a low-rez format. I hope I can yank some contrast while retaining color, without blowing too much out.

So I thumbed through Google, finding a tip on how to expose shots with the Panny. As I told Dudley, the only way you learn is sometimes by mistake. And you're only an idiot if you don't learn anything from a screw-up.

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