Behind the scenes on a new movie – shot on Canon EOS 5D Mark II

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by Ed Thomas for planet5D

Mark Dawson, an emerging talent in the British film industry, commissioned me to shoot a behind-the-scenes documentary for his new short Absolute – shot on the RED One. He was working with some of the best of UK film and TV crew, including DoP Stephen Murphy and producer Matthew Patnick. I wanted the behind-the-scenes film to somehow capture not just the energy of the filmmaking process, but the visual beauty of the film itself.

Training guide

The Canon 5D mk2 was my obvious choice. I used a manual focus Nikon 50mm f1.4, which I'd been using since ‘pre-firmware-update' days for manual aperture control – it's great to have a long throw manual focus ring, using AF lenses can be much too jittery for focusing. I also used the Canon 17-40mm f4 lens for the wide shots of the crew in action.

I've not yet tried the Zacuto gear, so for this shoot I used my normal setup with the naked 5D on a monopod. It lets me move around the set quickly, and provides just enough counterbalance to keep the shots steady. On a film shoot like this, with 22 crew, it was important that I remain unobtrusive. Not only would a larger camera have meant I'd be unable to capture some of the close shots of the action, in many cases it would've been impossible to physically position myself near the crew.

Absolute – Behind the scenes from Ed Thomas on Vimeo.

I used a Zoom H4n audio recorder alongside the 5D and the built-in mics. I usually left this recording on a table, somewhere near the crew, and then walked around with the 5D on it's own. The only issue I found with this setup was recording the interviews: the room I had was noisy, with loud A/C and crew setting up nearby. In retrospect, I'd have much preferred to plug a shotgun mic, or radio mic into the Zoom's XLR inputs.

In post, I first converted all the footage to ProRes for editing in Final Cut Pro. I then laid down the interviews and clips with audio as separate sequences, and used Singular Software's PluralEyes to automatically sync up the sound from the Zoom H4n. It synced everything perfectly, even in sequences where I'd recorded several video clips for a single audio clip.

I then selected the interview sections I wanted to feature, focusing on the roles and process of film-making, and subsequently intercut shots of the crew in action. I shot too much footage, but being able to talk to people like Stephen Murphy about how they work is a film school in itself.

Finally, I added titles, music and some subtle grading with the built-in Color Corrector or Magic Bullet. I chose not to add much color correction to the piece but to keep it quite raw – in most cases the shots from the 5D didn't need much attention. The final film was exported in ProRes, then converted to 25P in Compressor, and finally to H264 for online distribution and MPEG2 for DVD.

In addition to making the behind-the-scenes film, I also shot stills ( on the same camera. Technically, this was very straightforward, it's just a case of switching Live View on and off. Creatively, it's more of a challenge because the two require different disciplines and there's always the temptation when filming to want to shoot stills and vice versa.

Absolute is now in post – and I'm looking forward to watching the finished film.

Ed – thank you so much for putting this together!

(Photo credit: snap from the video)

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