Right now I'm sitting at my desk in front of a radiating monitor making the summer heat more unbearable than it already is. I have just finished dropping off all the rentals from my last shoot. This shoot was a week-long documentary at a classical music camp in Lanaudière, Québec. The project was quite interesting because the director had a clear aesthetic in mind. He was inspired by La marche à suivre, a feature length documentary about troubled high school youth in Northern Quebec, directed by Jean François Caissy and lensed by Nicolas Canniccioni.
This film inspired the director to utilize static framing and let the subjects move inside the frame. After discussing this idea together, we settled on using a static camera whilst the campers practiced and at a bird’s eye view when our subjects moved around in-between various organized activities. This very calm approach would then be contrasted by a frenetic handheld camera as campers un-winded during camp games and free time. A floating camera on a gimbal was added near the end of prep to link both of these aesthetics together. The gimbal created a very controlled floating frame whilst moving thus bridging the static camera and the handheld camera aesthetics.
In terms of gear I decided to go light weight and use a Panasonic GH4 paired with a Sigma 18-35 f 1.8 with the help of a Metabones Speedbooster ‘’S’’ giving me an extra stop of light and reducing the 2x M43 crop factor to a more reasonable x1.7. The camera’s rig was made up of RedrockMicro shoulder rig, a Small Rig Versa cage and a Shape Follow Focus. My dream lens for the project would have been an 18mm Zeiss super speed, but because of the heavy M43 crop factor and that this was a very budget conscious shoot I had to improvise. I decided on the Sigma because of its wide FOV, fast aperture, sharpness and zoom capabilities. We almost exclusively shot at 18mm at F4 and opened up only at night and during intimate conversations between campers. It was my first time using a Sigma Art Series lens, and I have to say I’m impressed. I don’t believe any other EF mount lens could have fulfilled my wide angle needs. In order to tweak the look and give it a blooming super speed Mustang 2015 feel, I screwed on a 77mm ¼ Tiffen Black Pro Mist witch stayed on the lens throughout the entire shoot behind a Tiffen variable ND.
This filtration helped me give the highlights a smooth roll off making the GH4’s digital image a little more filmic and quickly control incoming light. Support wise, we rented a 12 ft. ladder on which we ratchet strapped a 75mm hi-hat for the static bird’s eye view shots of the campers walking around. A DJI Ronin-M paired with a Lenz Hound Follow Focus and thumb controller was used for the moving shots. This combo worked really well with our light weight camera setup. It enabled me as an operator to easily pull focus with my left thumb whilst my right thumb made frame adjustments through DJI thumb controller.
All in all, the 7-day documentary shoot was a great experience. Working as a 3-man crew made for a hectic but entertaining week at camp. As much as the two-hour drive back home in the city felt great, I believe we could have shot for another couple of weeks as the images we were capturing were only getting better and better.
Here are some screen grabs from the shoot.