We have been interviewing over 20 local community members over the past few weeks for a project called Rhythms of Life. The interviews are normally held inside at their home using up to three led lights (litepanels chromas). With each interview lasting between 45 minutes and an hour and a half and normally using two cameras, one with separate audio and maybe a gopro there is obviously a stack of footage.  The cameras are owned and operated by different people (Tim Maisey at TMCG Productions and Peter Keelan) with one person also acting as the interviewer.  Sometimes it is a one person shoot acting as camera operator, interviewer as well as lights and sound. The sound from the interviewer will not be used and the interviewer will not be in shot.

Tim uses a Canon 5D Mark II with magic lantern onto CF cards and Pete a professional camcorder onto tape.  The Canon can only record up to 12 minutes straight whereas the camcorder goes for hours. Sound is recorded onto both cameras separately. The camcorder used a Rode shotgun mic. A zoom digital recorder, using the on-board mics, is also used for the Canon camera.  The output was initially rerouted into the Canon, but later on separated and an on camera mic (Rode Videomic Pro) used as another level of safety.  With magic lantern, the audio is also picked up on a separate mono channel and the Canon camera mic used for one channel with the Rode used for the other.  Maybe too much...?  The cameras were locked onto tripods with some handheld footage and cutaways also filmed.  A slider and steadicam were  used for some of the interviews. Each interview will be edited to  3 minutes for use in a final live performance which will include live music, dance, poetry and projection mapping.

Lessons learned and tips:

- Trying to focus on the interview and the technical side is really difficult. Focus on the interview responses, listen and ask intelligent follow-ups rather than worrying too much about the camera work.

- Using a slate (DSLR slate or movie slate) or physical clap has limited uses due to the 12 minute cut off; synching sound without seems to work ok.

- Monitor the time left (magic lantern) and stop and restart the Canon when the interviewer is talking before the 12 minutes is reached.

- Make quick adjustments when questions are being asked, but be aware that the interviewee may start before the question has finished.  So if changing the ISO or aperture any clicks or camera movement may be captured.

- Having the digital audio recorder is great so that the audio can continue if there are camera problems.  This can by synched later on.

- Check the footage from the other camera early in the process.  The quality from the camcorder is very different from the DSLR and the format can be different (1080i 1440 x 1080) versus (1080p 1920 x 1080)

- Factor in the cost of hard disk storage and back ups.

- Explain to the interviewee not to worry about adjustments to equipment.

- Stick to a 50mm lens for the interviews. The nifty fifty cheap Canon lens may not look the part, but it is fast meaning that artificial lighting sometimes isn't required.  Watch out for depth of field though as if people move with the frame.

- Make it clear up front to the interviewee who is the interviewer and where they should look.

- Agree a system of when there is a technical issue how to raise this and wait until the end of the question to stop if it is a real problem.

- Attach a remote control for the digital audio recorder before the interview so that levels can be adjusted during the interview without affecting the sound quality.

- Try and talk to anyone else in the building about noise levels and that any noise will be picked up. If possible, turn the fridge off if filming in the kitchen as it will start when you least want it to

- Have spare CF card and battery in your pocket ready to swap over if necessary. Obviously make sure that the batteries have been fully recharged and memory cards formatted.

- Use a magnifying loupe and check focus before starting. Use magic lantern to check focus and exposure whilst shooting.

- If using natural light be aware that if the light is inconsistent then the shot will be over or under exposed depending on clouds/sun.  This is difficult to correct during an interview as the aperture changes will make a clicking noise. I normally shoot using Technicolor Cinestyle, but went for a Neutral picture style due to the time limitations and use with other cameras.

- Having a GoPro mounted on top of your DSLR gives another wide angle, but you have to be careful about not getting other equipment in the shot and also the GoPro is not so good in low light, so the footage may be unusable.

- If using the GoPro, use a skeleton-type case and link to an external battery. The storage capacity of the SD card should be fine, but the battery will probably give out.

- Check and monitor sound levels on all devices before starting using closed in headphones. 

- Watch for cables hitting the tripod causing  extra noise

- If using image stabilisation and an on-board microphone, the sound may be unusable as the image stabilisation sounds will be recorded

- Take footage off as soon as possible and store in three locations before formatting cards. Have a system for used cards and used batteries.

- Use the best quality batteries for all devices.  I used some cheaper batteries one day and they failed after about 1/2 an hour whereas the the best quality batteries lasted for days.

- I am considering getting a 50mm cinema lens to get around aperture issues and help with focus pulling.

- The best stories come after the cameras have stopped.  It is a good idea to have the audio recorder running as soon as you get there to just before you leave.

More to follow...

A typical setup for the interview

Multicam in Final Cut Pro X

MovieSlate will be great for traditional film work, but due to limitations with camera and documentary style, slating and logging shots is not really possible.