My friend Michael Artsis (you've read about him before on planet5D and he was my co-host at NAB in the Teradek booth doing the planet5D daily wrapup show) has used the BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera to shoot a commercial with RAW video and has sent in his behind-the-scenes for your enjoyment
The BlackMagic PocketCam – “The Dream Begins Here”
By Michael Artsis:
At ArtsisMedia we are known for our very high end work. We have a great roster of high profile clients. We create top quality productions. So, how do we tell our client that we are going to use a camera the size of an iPhone that costs $1,000 on their big budget commercial? – A commercial they plan to run on National TV during the Olympics. A commercial that you imagined and created and that they had to hire an athlete, rent a mountain, and fly your crew to Utah to shoot. In this particular case, it was simple. The client had heard about shooting RAW video and insisted we shoot RAW video. Was I nervous about using the pocket cam? Hell yes!!! Did I think it was crazy? Without a doubt!!!
First, I will start by saying that we use all sorts of great cameras and gear. My personal favorite is the Nikon D800. I think it's a terrific camera and great for just about every job. We used it on this shoot as a back up and for the stills for the companion national magazine print ads and store posters. But, the pocket camera was still the main camera.
The client, a bedding company, asked us to shoot a 30 second iconic commercial with a US ski jumper within a very short time frame. We had worked for the client before and on tight timelines, but this was nuts. After talking with my team, we came up with the idea of putting the jumper at the base of the mountain, asleep in a bed, wrapped in the client’s sheets, and on their pillow. That would be the end of the commercial. The tag line, “The Dream Begins Here”, would accompany the scene and from there we worked backwards to develop the storyline. I sold it to the client and started to plan. Logistics were a nightmare on such a short leash.
The biggest issue, which I hadn't even thought of until the client signed on, was how would we light a ski mountain? Additionally, we faced a plethora of other challenges, including having only 8 hours to set-up and shoot all the scenes and having only 4 of those hours with our athlete Lindsey Van (Cool girl, great humanitarian, feminist, activist and athlete. Look up her story. It's remarkable. She has paved the way for women and I am proud of all her accomplishments and honored to have worked with her.). The client had a friend who said to shoot HD, then suggestedto shoot Ultra HD – I shot that down quickly (no delivery method, longer workflow, and no reason to archive the commercial- it wasn't going to play again in 10 years, etc.)Lastly, the client's friend recommended shooting RAW video. I liked the concept, but wasn't sure. Our workflow would increase and what camera would we use? On the other hand, this might really help us.
RAW had just been out about a week for the pocket cam (available through a firmware update) and we had 3 laying around. The only other options were:
Arri Alexa- Too expensive.
Red – Too finicky on a sub zero mountain for many hours. Too unpredictable but tempting.
C500 – We had no way to edit 4K from this cam at the time. No recorder available. A nightmare for this shoot.
C300 – Wasn't sure how I felt about c log and felt it was super expensive. We could do better for the price.
C100 – Affordable and we could shoot to our ATOMOS Ninja 2, but our backup would be AVCHD, which is a hideous format, especially for airing on TV. Not acceptable. Contingency plans and backups are a must. Redundancy is utterly important to me.
D800 – Love it. No concerns. Could handle the weather and everything. But it can't do RAW video. Afraid it wouldn't provide enough dynamic range.
BMCC- Nothing but issues with this camera. Terrified of it. Figured nothing would go right. Also, hate the battery situation and the form factor.
Hacked 5D mark III – This was super tempting. I think it's a good camera. The images coming out after being hacked looked good. But, I don't hack. I don't think it's smart, especially on a big job. It's just asking for trouble.
1DC – I like it. Shoots nice. Maybe.
It came down to two factors. We had three pocket cams and one 1DC, but if anything went wrong on the mountain with the 1DC we would be screwed. The second issue was that we shot some tests with the pocket camera and compared it to a lot of these cams; Not only could we achieve the dark dreamy look we were going for but it looked good. Really good. We had a ton of control over the image without making it look grainy or muddy.
We spent days figuring out a workflow. That was not easy. I contacted my friends Joel and Chad at Rosco. They helped me immensely with lighting solutions, as did the guys in the lighting department of Adorama. We had to light for video and stills at the same time because we had no time to reset. We had 45 minutes to pull off each shot with stills and video for each scene. Not 45 minutes each, but 45 minutes combined for each scene, and we couldn't light the whole mountain. In the final shot, “The Money Shot”, the bed on the mountain needed to be perfect and we would only get one chance.This was our biggest challenge. We settled on a 2×2 light pad as well as a Chimera Chinese lantern as a contingency. We wound up using both for the main shot. We rigged the lantern over the bed with pipes we bought at Home Depot and light stands we rented in Utah in order to save on freight fees. The idea was to use the 2×2 for every shot and use the lantern for the bed scene, but only if we needed it. We did. It was pitch black on the mountain except for some emergency lights on the slope; Not even a single star.
Before we headed to Utah we did a lot of tests and I was extremely worried about using the pocket camera. I kept saying to myself,”If this project goes sideways, this decision will be the one that hurt us.” I kept asking myself,”Could the camera and image hold up?, Will the issues of the camera hurt us?” Terrible screen. No real audio. Awful battery life. No indication or warning that the memory card was about to be full (Wow, did that one scare me!) I worried that during filming, recording would stop because of a full card, leading to 20 minutes of footage that wouldn't have been recorded. The cards only hold 20 minutes of RAW footage each. I just couldn't imagine that the camera could look good and do the job because of its price and small sensor size, Blackmagic has only been making cameras for 2 years. In this time, they've released 2 cameras and this was their second. Additionally, who knew how it would perform in cold weather, really cold weather. Ultimately, it was the price and sensor size that had me the most concerned. I was panicked. I never let the team know though. I made sure we had two D800s with us as backups, in addition to a D800 and D4 for stills.
Upon landing in Utah, we had 36 hours until the shoot. We had a lot to do before the actual shoot: Buy a bed, buy a mattress, pick up the rental gear, set everything up in the hotel and testit, review the shoot and plan, prepare and prepare more. The client also kept us busy by having us shoot models for more print ads and having us find, cast, shop, cloth and style the models with a days notice. Then, they wanted to add a bouncy castle shoot. The client also never sent their products to us so we had to run around buying everything. Therefore, I was scrambling, as was the rest of the crew with preparing and hustling. It was intense. But, it took my mind off the pocket camera.
The night before the shoot, the client arrived in Utah and would be on set. I told the client our camera choice and said don't be scared that it looks like my iPhone. It's state of the art and just came out. It's amazing technology. That was that. Never heard so much as a peep. They were happy. Using the iPhone as a reference was a good idea because it shoots great video.
So, we shot with the pocket cam. We hooked up a Ninja 2 as back up, which came in handy because one of the cards ran out and we didn't notice for about 3 minutes, as predicted. Luckily we didn't lose any great footage and gave ourselves piece of mind and a great backup that was good enough to be our main footage. Although, it wouldn't have been RAW, which would have hampered us a little. But, the Ninja 2 also gave us something we desperately needed- a good monitor. We used the Switronix battery box which worked great and kept us powered all night, as well as the fastest and of course most expensive San disk extreme pro 95MPBS SD Cards. We also had 10 pocket cam batteries and the Xtender arms to support everything. We shot everything without issue. It all looked great. The client was thrilled. The footage color corrected perfectly and easily. The pocket camera proved to be the right camera for the job.
While I wouldn't go as far as to say I would regularly use the pocket cam, I do think if I did the job again I would probably use the same exact setup. However, the camera has a long way to go and needs a lot of improvements. But for the price, you should own or rent one for specific jobs that need it. It's certainly the cheapest for shooting RAW (Though don't be completely fooled, you need a ton of support equipment to make it work so it's not as cheap as it seems (See list below)). RAW video gave us the great ability to have amazing dynamic range and that's what we needed. It was like editing a RAW photo. All in all, this was a great shoot and I was happy with the results. In the next few months, say by fall I would probably choose a completely different camera for the job; Maybe the GH4, which is pretty awesome and also cheap and shoots 4K on board which is compressed but still looks amazing or through an optional breakout box for uncompressed (I have tested it both ways). However, it doesn't do RAW so I might eliminate that. But, the Black Magic 4K might be an option and if I had to guess, I would say that BlackMagic will announce either sweeping improvements to the pocket camera at NAB 2014 in a week or a brand new 4K pocket camera for under $2,000. But today, I would have chosen the pocket camera for that shoot again and again.
Below, is our workflow and the gear we used on this shoot. You can see the behind the scenes video of the commercial above and my pocket cam review here:
See the main Print Ad:
Tweet me with questions @artsismedia or @ifilmmaking
I'd like to thank:
Chad Tiller and Joel Svendsen of Rosco – I love Rosco. They make the best most in locative lights. They are affordable, durable, and travel well.
Utah Olympic Park
The Crew (amazingly small):
Producer, Editor, and color correction – Peter Poon
Director of Photography – Adam Holz
Producer, Still Photographer, print ad creative director, casting and styling – Bill Smithuysen
Grip, lighting, set builder, quad copter pilot, and all around helpful guy- David Kleinstein
Score – Brad Laina (Black Rapid Media)
I was the Executive Producer, Director, Creative Mind (Creative Director), as well as a casting agent, stylist, camera operator, and gopher
PA – Catherine, who was awesome.
Make-up – Laurie
The turnaround time was pushed up and these guys all worked tirelessly and amazingly through a lot. They worked night and day and throughThanksgiving and never complained. They were amazing and without them it never would have been so successful.
Lindsey Van was also a champ. She was terrific!
One note -Anything shot handheld with the pocket camera was a disaster and without any lighting the camera is terrible in low light. ISO can't really go above 800 or images look terrible.
We shot to memory cards and the Ninja 2. The Ninja 2 records to hard drives. We put those in watertight pelican boxes. The memory cards from the cameras were copied to external g tech hard drives in the hotel. The cards were put in their own pelican case. Three different people hand carried the media back.
On set, we monitored the footage wirelessly with a Teradek Cube on an iPad. We tested the cards and looked at the footage on a Mac Book Air laptop onset. We tried to copy the cards to hard drives on the mountain but it was too cold the hard drives wouldn't work. It was 5 below zero Fahrenheit!
When we got back to New York, the pelican cases with the Ninja drives were put in a safe place and them locked up. The hard drives with the memory card backups were locked up separately. The cards were dumped to our amazing small tree titanium z server, put back in their pelican, and sent home with Peter Poon.
We brought the files from the cards into Davinci resolve (all the footage is now on the small tree server and we are editing off that). We put a LUT on the footage and made pro res proxy versions of the footage. Then,we exported an XML file which we imported into Premier, along with the proxy files. Next, we edited the video in Premier, sent it to the client, got approval, and exported an XML from Premier, which we opened in Davinci. We then reconnected the original footage and turned off the LUTs. We color corrected and got approval again. Then we exported a Pro Res HQ export and imported that into Premier. We put graphics on in Premier and added effects. Then exported again and delivered it. We completed this process several times, as the client wanted 4 alternate versions of the commercial and a15 second spot. This was all planned, shot, and edited within 2.5 weeks.
Rosco 2×2 lite pad
Rosco light loop
2x Rosco 1×1 lite pad
Chimera Chinese lantern
2x ATOMOS Njnja 2
2x BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera
Aviator Travel Jib
Cinevate slider (rented) – wanted to take edelkrone but it didn't arrive in time. A shame because it's awesome and would have performed better
2 Gitzo traveler tripods
Manfrotto tripod for slider
3 legged thing tripod for stills
10 x San Disk extreme pro 95MBPS SD cards
Teradek cube for onset monitoring
Lots of hand Warmers!
GoPro Hero 3 Black Series
3x Nikon D800
Lens -NIKKOR 24-70 2.8
Lens- NIKKOR 50 1.4
Lens -NIKKOR 70-200 2.8
Neumann TLM 103 for voice overs
Xtender plates and arms and rails
Lens -Vioglander 25 .95
Lens -SLR Magic 12 1.2
Lens- Panasonic 20 1.7
C stands from Mathews
Small Tree Titanium Z server and storage array in one (Combined)
Think Tank Bags
Black Rapid Straps
More iPhones, iPads, and computers that I can list. Just go to the Apple store and select 2 of everything!
Rigging from Home Depot
Mattress from Target
Bed from Ikea
Clothes for all models from Target, Walmart and Dicks
Backdrop Skyline Genesis (trade show company)
We knew we would be up against crazy odds of pulling this off due to all the variables beyond our control. Things can tend to go wrong on every shoot but being able to roll with the punches is vital. On this shoot, we overcame all the issues, which never seem to stop arising. But,in the end, we pulled it off because of all the hard work and effort of our amazing team.
(cover photo credit: snap from ArtsisMedia)