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Short film with HDSLR

Rep: 91
Peter Huoppi Oct. 4, 2011, 6:12 p.m. permalink

Eric asked over on another thread about my experiences making a short film with the Nikon D7000. Here's the film: and my blog post about making it.
The film was shot for the Whaling City Film Project, in which we were given a basic assignment and four days to produce a 4-7 minute film. It was my time working with an HDSLR. We had a team of four people, but was responsible for all the shooting and editing. The other three were more on the writing and acting side.
We were somewhat fortunate to randomly select mockumentary as our genre, so the format would be similar to the work I do at the paper. We had decided going in to try to work to our strengths - visuals, editing - and to stay away from anything that would rely on lots of dialogue or camera moves.
I had hoped to have a full script and storyboard, but due to the time constraints, we ended up winging it. The shooting process was pretty similar to a newspaper video, except the interviews were partially scripted, and all of the b-roll was set up. I found myself thinking: how would I like this to look if this were a documentary situation? But then I could tweak the scene to be perfect, and do it over if necessary. The final falling scene took three takes to get just right.
I had read enough to know the limitations of the HDSLR even though I hadn't used one before. You'll notice that 90% of it is on a tripod. I only hand held when space wouldn't allow, and one following shot was done with a home-made stabilizer built onto my monopod. The only time I changed focus while shooting was the final fall scene to get his face in focus at the end.
Audio was a challenge. The interviews were recorded into a Zoom via lav mic. Important sounds were either recorded at the same time with the Zoom, or re-recorded later with the Zoom. I shot with a Rode Videomic on the camera, but without monitoring it wasn't very useful.
Because I would be responsible for all technical aspects, we tried to keep it as simple as possible. Mostly natural light, three-way conversations were shot one person at a time.
I think my newspaper experience was great preparation for a project like this. Shooting in sequence, varying focal lengths, letting the subject tell the story, natural sound breaks: all were useful techniques. Doing it all myself gave me a good appreciation for why real films have big specialized crews, but I still like having control over executing my own vision. It was my first attempt at fiction, but everyone enjoyed the process and we are all very proud of the finished product. It's going to be tough to fit in other projects outside of our day jobs, but we will probably do it again sometime.
I love the look of the HDSLR, but have a lot of trouble imagining it being an everyday camera for videojournalism. Certainly a great tool to have, and maybe with some more practice and a few new accessories I can find more uses if we get one at the paper.

Rep: 3
Bob Krist Oct. 8, 2011, 7:55 a.m. permalink

Peter: This is a terrific film....I can't believe it was your first DSLR experience.  You might want to look into doing some commercial work...  You certainly have the chops!  Congrats, Bob Krist

PS. Congrats to your actors and writers too...they were also excellent.

Rep: 444
Eric Seals Oct. 8, 2011, 1:32 p.m. permalink

You did a fantastic job and you winged it due to time contraints? WOW.
Looks like you had fun doing it and the creativity really showed that.
It was excellent on many levels.  I see why you won Best Film for the Whaling City Film Project.

Thanks for writing in detail about the experience now I want to try this for film festivals and projects we have in Michigan.  How many hours total do you think you and the crew put into this? 

I totally undertand when you write about "but I still like having control over executing my own vision. "
I really enjoyed watching it and loved the surprise at the end.  I was waiting for footage from the boxing ring and you had me hanging throughout the piece so your writing was great.

Loved the ending scene when the guy trips on the lawn sign and the focus was perfect.

Did you have a cameo in the film? Is that you that answers the blue door towards the end??

Loved the visuals and the actors.  The snooty, stuck up woman in the purple dress and secretary glasses was a perfect portrayal. Ruby Turner was great as well.  Love the accent and it's like she was out of central casting.

I to love the HDSLR look but like you said for everyday video storytelling it is hard to imaging as the everyday camera but I love using it in various situations.

I built my own DIY FigRig for $25 and it works great with my 5D's.  Here is a link for the DIY rig if you're interested.

I wish I had a monitor and a follow focus ring for it but then that 5D starts to turn into a FrankensteinCamera will all the accessories hanging off it.

Awesome job man!


Rep: 87
Michael Fagans Oct. 10, 2011, 10:01 p.m. permalink


Nice stuff.

In post production on a non-pj piece right now.

Thanks for sharing, will check out the blog.

Really liked it.


Rep: 91
Peter Huoppi Oct. 11, 2011, 9:10 a.m. permalink

Yes Eric, that was me in the green T shirt opening the door. It was less a cameo than, "crap we need someone to open the door who hasn't been on screen yet," and I was the only person left.

I may give the fig rig a try. For the one shot with a moving camera, i put three five-pound weights on the bottom of my monopod and attached a horizontal handle made of PVC pipe and a metal t-junction from a chain link fence.

Rep: 91
Peter Huoppi Oct. 11, 2011, 9:20 a.m. permalink

Oh, and my best estimate of the breakdown of the time:

3 hours - brainstorming
4 hours- writing
17 hours- shooting
18 hours- transcoding, editing, outputting

Keep in mind this was a Friday night through Tuesday night project, and all of us had to work at our day jobs on Monday and Tuesday.

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