A couple of weeks ago I worked as a camera assistant/swing on a behind-the-scenes shoot for a Virginia lottery commercial. The commercial, which centered around a dog wrapping lottery tickets as gifts for his owners, was shot in Richmond, VA. While the commercial itself was shot on the RED, the behind the scenes crew was shooting with a Canon 7D – an odd choice for documentary work, I thought, but it ended up working out. If you pay attention to the beginning of the video, that’s me slating, and that grumbling off-screen voice during interviews is yours truly as well :P Video after the jump…
Doing behind the scenes work was fun and I have to say I found it much more relaxing than working on actual shoots. There were many jokes had at craft services about how all the food we were eating was making up for all those times we weren’t able to escape back there. And it’s true – I’m used to being on sets where the only times I walk away from camera are lunch and wrap and this is the first behind the scenes shoot I’ve legitimately done.
But while it may have been a more relaxing pace, that didn’t mean we sat around all day. In fact, the toughest part about it was keeping an open eye and ear to stuff that needed to be shot or knowing which inserts to grab. Luckily the DP/Director was especially good at knowing what was needed and popping it off. We were also supported by some talented producers in Jordan Rodericks and Melanie Cox that made the shoot go easy, despite their pulling double duty on the actual commercial as well.
I also want to thank Jesse the dog, Heather his owner and Cristina his trainer, for being especially good sports with us and always willing to show off and do interviews. Jesse impressed me, and I think much of the crew, by his patience and abilities as a pooch. Some of the tricks he could do were amazing and if you get a chance, check out the video Heather made of Jesse’s Useful Dog Tricks.
Shooting with the Canon 7D cinema verite style presented its own unique challenges, all of which were easily overcome however. Perhaps the most important piece of equipment when shooting DSLR, in terms of mobility, is to get a suitable handheld rig. I was lucky enough to have worked with this same camera, rig and DP on previous shoots and so together we had all but settled on the most comfortable and practical configuration of the Red Rock rods, grips, weights, etc. I also would throw on my homemade hoodman that I custom made, if needed.
Perhaps the most different aspect of this shoot was not being able to pull focus. I sort of felt naked not having to follow focus, but it would’ve been near impossible to do without a monitor and with lenses that throw a subject out of focus with only a few millimeters of play on the lens barrel. The DP, instead, would pull his own focus since he could see the LCD. While many people go to the 7D because of it’s shallow depth-of-field, in documentary work, it is slightly less than desirable. Following focus with unpredictable subjects in shallow depth-of-field is a challenge on any shot, let alone all of your shots.
But while the camera posed a few problems, it was incredibly useful with its ability to shoot in low-light. As you will see in the video, and the commercial at the end, much of the lighting was Christmas lights and other mood lighting that did not give way to be shooting stopped down. In fact, the DP spent much of the time shooting on our 50mm that could open up to a T1.8 because of the low light.
I’m pleased with how everything turned out and though I still believe the 7D would not be the best choice for a long-form documentary, I think what makes the camera great – its depth-of-field and low light shooting – really helped add to the finished product. It looks better than it probably would’ve in Barbie-cam.