Blog

Sprinter Power: Updated!

A lot has been done since we last talked about our mobile headquarters. Once upon a time, our 16 foot trailer was the company’s mobile HQ. Succeeded by that was the Sprinter, and now we’ve come full circle back to working with both the Sprinter and the Trailer in the most beautiful way.

The Sprinter serves as our camera truck and video village on location, while the trailer is the home for all of our grip and electric gear, equivalent to a 1 ton package, but personalized to our needs. We’ve streamlined everything about the build, ensuring every piece of gear has a secure and defined home, making sure we have enough wheels to roll up to set as quickly and efficiently as possible from the van. Our load ins and outs have gotten exponentially quicker, and that’s thanks to an organized and well thought out layout.

Sprinter:

  • Added partition to cut down on road noise

  • New layout and condensed cases for camera, batteries, cases, etc

  • New battery charging case

  • New lighting, including dimmable under-shelf lights

  • Walkies, monitor, and bluetooth speakers mounted to table

  • Water to go plastic bottle free

  • Wheel well covers and lips for more storage

  • Bracket for goal zero

  • Coffin for camera on road trips

Trailer:

  • Demoed everything, pulled everything out and started with a box

  • E-Track and accessories

  • Two new carts - head cart and duz-all

    • Grip cart - combos, c-stands, draws for misc grip and frame ears, 4x4s

    • Head cart - all electrical gear and cases that don’t fit elsewhere

  • Magliner w/ shelves for camera cart

  • Wheels for everything - carts, magliner, rock n roller

  • Clothes hanger e-track for gels, duve, umbrellas

  • Hook for easyrig and tripod

  • Overhead pipe system w/ squarestock

  • Trailer valet

Check out the video above to see all of it in action!

A Filmmaker’s Guide to the Rental House

*We want to thank Rule Boston Camera for providing insight into their process and collaborating on this post with us.

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Rental houses can be intimidating to someone who hasn’t used one before (they were for me, at least). It may seem easier to purchase your own gear and continue onward acquiring more and more until you’re your own self-contained rental house. Although that works for some people, many can’t afford that luxury. This is where a rental house comes in. The items that cost too much to justify purchasing on their own can still be obtained by building the rental cost into the budget with your client, even if that client is yourself. Rental houses provide an important service to filmmakers and the relationships that you establish with them in your time as a professional can be crucial to making the productions you work on run more smoothly and efficiently. 

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*Note: The model that I’ll be discussing throughout this post will refer and apply primarily to the traditional rental house.

For those that are unaware, a traditional rental house is a company that owns/consigns and quality controls all of their equipment and hires rental agents that make direct contact with Producers, DPs, Gaffers, etc. They will typically work one-on-one with you to ensure all gear required for the shoot is covered, and have a set protocol that most rental houses have followed for many years. Over the last couple of years, however, online box stores and equipment sharing websites have made an impact in how filmmakers are able to rent. Websites like KitSplit and ShareGrid have opened up the market to allow users to post their personal gear online for rent while the service ensures people renting the gear will have proper insurance/damage coverage. Online box stores allow users to select what they want to rent from a website and create a shopping cart of the gear they’re looking for to simply check out to have shipped to them or pick up when scheduled. It puts most of leg work online and both of these models have their own set of advantages and disadvantages that we won’t be getting into here.

Building a relationship

Rental companies are a service industry. To stay competitive, these businesses are inclined to be your friend - they thrive on providing good gear and customer service to survive. As a young filmmaker, or someone that’s new to town, these guys want your business. Many rental companies will invest early on in a filmmaker and help them get gear at a discounted rate to fund their passion projects. They’re willing to check out gear that may not be going out that weekend on the cheap because they’re investing in the relationship. Hopefully, you’ll return the favor and bring your business to them with big jobs in the future, and you can thank them for being there when you needed gear starting out.

Although it may be daunting, going in to introduce yourself to some of the sales reps and explaining what you’re up to could lead to a great relationship down the road. Pick a day that’s slow for them (I’d say Wednesday’s are usually a good bet) and go make some introductions! These guys and gals have reason to be invested in the community they serve, so go say hi!

 

Gear Gurus

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Building that relationship will also bring you closer to the sales and equipment teams, which in any good rental house, will have incredible insight into all of their gear. And if they don’t, there is a high probability that they can direct you to someone that does. This comes especially in handy when your project requires a special tool, or maybe you’ve been eyeing a piece of gear but haven’t gotten the opportunity to use it.

Example: I was looking into the serene arm extension for the Easy Rig and felt like it would be a great tool for an upcoming job, so I called a sales rep at Rule and asked if it was possible to test it out. They said it was around for the week, so I scheduled a time, brought a camera, and they supplied the gear at no charge for me to walk around the building and get some test shots to see how it felt. These people will typically answer all the questions you have, give you advice on what tools to use for a specific setup, and can just be a great resource for discovering more about the industry and how everything fits together on set.

Rental houses will also be your best friend in the event a piece of gear goes down on set. When gear is rented through the rental house, there is a high likelihood that it has gone through their own quality control to ensure it’s going out to you in tip top shape, and if anything were to happen on set, they often have backups or extra options to ship out to you as soon as they can. This is a huge benefit over using gear that is owner/operated or sourced from a single person. A set with any semblance of a budget is losing money and content for every second of downtime that hasn’t been planned, and if that is something you could have controlled as the cinematographer, camera assistant, gaffer, etc., people will be looking at you to blame. Having the safety net of a rental house in these situations can be your saving grace in the event of a catastrophe. 

Gear mishaps are also less likely to happen under a traditional rental house, as agents will typically urge anyone renting to take advantage of the free checkout day provided to do their own quality control. Even on a one day shoot, the renter will pay for one day’s worth of gear, but will get a free day to test and build it in a space provided by the rental house to ensure it’s all working properly, and until late morning the day after the shoot to double check everything is packed away and in working order. This is especially helpful too, as you get a free day to get any technical help needed from experienced and qualified people, and you might even find alternative gear to rent to make your package more usable if you find any issues that may arise during your build.

             

How to rent

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In my personal experience, working with rental houses seemed confusing when I was starting out. I didn’t have much of a guide when it came to telling me how to interact with what seemed like an established system with norms and guidelines I wasn’t familiar with. Going there for the first time, though, I realized it was much less intimidating than I thought it would be (I’m obviously speaking from my own experience with the rental houses I use on a consistent basis, so mileage can vary depending on your local rental house). Setting up a rental is as easy as calling or emailing a sales representative, giving them a list of what you’re looking for, pickup and return dates, and that’s about it. You will most likely need to set up a profile with your name, address, insurance, etc., with them on your first rental, but it is generally a very straightforward process. 

The one thing that I believe deters young filmmakers from rental houses is insurance. Most rentals require you to have some form of insurance to provide, but lower cost rentals often allow an insurance waiver where you will pay a deductible for any gear that is damaged/lost up to a certain designated amount, at which point production insurance will be required. Obtaining insurance will be covered in another post soon, but it is not as difficult to obtain as you may expect, and is a good idea as a freelancer to have it. A while back, I shot a project where I rented a set of Lomo Anamorphics that required insurance, and at the time I was not covered. I had two options – one was to speak with an insurance agency and set up a yearly coverage plan for myself to cover any and all rentals, or go through an online insurance agency that specializes in one time production costs for the duration of the filming period. Ultimately, we decided on the latter, and having no prior experience in dealing with insurance, had a Certificate of Insurance (COI) in hand the next day for a reasonable cost. Insurance seems daunting, but with the right guidance and understanding, is a fairly simple process that will save you in the event of an accident and make it easier to rent gear with less anxiety.  

Once you become familiar with the sales reps at your rental house over time, they should come to know your preferences and habits of renting fairly quickly, so making friends with them is a great way to expedite the process of taking gear out. You can add to your rental request up to the day you pick up (make sure to double check if your rental house has any restrictions on last minute rentals first), but note that the longer you wait to request a piece of gear, the less likely it will be there when you need it. Gear cancellations can be tricky and something to watch out for – some rental houses require you to pay in full within 24 hours of pickup and half if it’s within 48 hours if an order is cancelled, and others will only charge if they lose a rental to another client, so be sure to check with them if your production schedule seems to be shifty. Most places are understanding, and will give you a heads up if there’s a conflict or somebody else looking for the gear. Soft holds are also an important tool to utilize, as it lets the rental house know that you’re looking for gear, but are unsure if the production will be for that particular set of days, or at all. They can put a note in their system and will keep you updated if the gear is being asked for, which is helpful for all parties involved.

If you are a camera assistant or DP who is looking to rent a camera package, it is always a great idea to build the package as far as you can with the gear that you’ve rented to ensure every single piece works properly and nothing is missing. Same goes for if you’re renting lighting equipment – even if there is great quality control at your rental house, it’s a good habit to get into to test (or at least check) your gear before you take it out to ensure there’s no discrepancies between you and the rental house. People make mistakes and miss things, so it’s better you find out there than when you’re far away on set and can’t do anything about the problem.

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Make sure to remember where everything goes in each case that you take gear out of. This both helps save time at wrap so that you’re not fumbling around trying to figure out which piece goes where and saves the quality control staff a lot of headache when the gear comes back neat and organized. If you want to make your rental house friends happy, always return gear the way it was given to you. Coil cables properly, put gear into the foam where they belong, don’t mix and match cables and other small items in different cases than the ones they came from. Speaking from experience, every person that has to rearrange cables and take time away from more important work during a busy day will dislike you a little bit more for every extra second it takes for them to clean up your mess. 

One last tip is to make a habit of checking your inventory list before you leave checkout and before you return the gear. You’ll be less likely to miss anything on both ends and it will save a lot of trouble. Double checking everything is never a bad habit to get into and it will make you less prone to making several trips back to the rental house to grab/return things on your personal time, or anyone else’s.

Consignment

There are countless routes you can take as a freelance filmmaker or production house with acquiring and renting gear, and the choice is entirely dependent on your situation. Many people enjoy being owner/operators of their own gear. Being able to build a usable kit on the kind of sets you work on and charge a rental for it is great – especially when the gear is paid off after long enough, which will result in a net profit any time you rent/kit it out after that. A great option for being an owner op of something expensive that doesn’t always leave the gear closet for rentals is consignment. Rental houses surely need to own some gear to ensure stability in inventory, but support from outside filmmakers helps to expand that inventory to offer an even wider range of products at a lesser risk to them. For example, let’s say a rental house owns an Alexa Mini that goes out often and is in high demand, but either wants to allocate funds to build or maintain another section of their inventory instead of purchasing a second, very expensive Mini package. A local DP buys an Alexa Mini that they know is going to be working for them, but wants to make their money back as fast as possible. Being able to benefit from one another, the DP’s Mini can sit on the rental house’s shelf to go out after the house owned Mini, and when it does, the DP will receive a certain specified percentage for each day of rental. This drives more people in to the rental house knowing that the gear that they want will be there when they need it, and helps the filmmaker that wants to own a piece of gear but needs help fronting the costs of it. Not all rental houses consign gear, but many do.

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There are tall tales floating around Boston of a DP who purchased a Dana Dolly when it was first released and consigned it at a rental house to be the first one in line for rentals. His $1,200 purchase then amounted to a ~$20,000 investment because it was used so frequently. This is a strategy for many other filmmakers as well – invest in gear that the rental house needs and let it rent out. The money will eventually be made back, and as long as it remains in style, it will continue to make you money. Silly things that you might not often consider like batteries are often a need of the rental house and easy to make money back on. Main point – if you’re interested in consigning gear, having a good working relationship with your rental house can get you more on your consignment, you can start a conversation about which products are in demand that they have a need for, and it also helps to build a partnership by having some of your personal gear live in their building. 

Final Thoughts

Whatever your situation may be, introducing yourself to your local rental house(s) is never a bad idea, even if you don’t plan on renting from them at that moment. They will often have special events that bring the community together like lens, camera, and lighting demos, workshops, panels, etc., which is a great place to learn and network by meeting other filmmakers that share your passion. They will generally be a great hub and resource to utilize as a growing cinematographer, camera assistant, etc. There is a high chance you will utilize the resources of a rental house at some point in your career, so understanding the ins and outs early on will help to make that time seamless for your production when it arises.

-Colby

Photo Credit: Sam Lucca

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What’s In Our Toolkit

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There’s quite a few odds and ends that make set life a little bit easier if you have them in your kit that travels everywhere with you. I’ve gone through several variations of my toolbox, starting from a couple of things that helped me get by, building all the way to pretty much all the bits and pieces that you would ever need in most situations. This toolkit has come on every production I could fit it on and has totally been the ace up my sleeve on many occasions - it has everything from camera, to G&E, to personals. People you work with will love you, it will make the day that much easier, and you’ll take comfort in knowing that you don’t have to rely on anybody else to bring that damn right angle BNC that you need to make your camera build work. 

My aim here is to explain the most important bits that I use day in and day out, but if you want a full list of all of the trinkets I have in my kit and links to each, scroll to the bottom of this post to check it out. I could go on forever about each bit, but I’ll do my best to keep it at least somewhat readable.

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I started out with one toolbox. I put everything in there, and it showed - it was overflowing and impossible to find anything. I decided to add a second husky open-top toolbox that I was using for all of my camera assistant needs, and would keep my toolbox to G&E and personals. Carrying two toolboxes around became cumbersome after a very short amount of time, and some friends had just purchased the rolling Connect Toolbox that husky also makes (husky kills it and I love their products for inexpensive tools for the broke filmmaker). So I’ve finally settled on this wonderful rolling cart that stacks several of my boxes on top of one another and carries all of my essentials. My kit is divided into a few different categories - I have camera assisting bits, G&E, and personals. No matter what I’m doing on set, I’m ready for whatever comes up with the bare essentials.

The Toolbelt 

I keep a tool pouch packed and ready to go inside of my kit. These are the things that I have readily available to throw on my belt and can pull whenever I need them. 

The Leatherman // Multitool

This is arguably one of the most important tools that I pack, and one of the best investments that I’ve made when starting my kit. I own the Leatherman Wave and it has been faithful to me for years (which is surprising because I lose almost everything I own after the first month or two). This thing is on my belt in the handy pouch it came in and is ready to go any second I need it on every production. A flathead screwdriver to screw down a baseplate, a precision phillips screwdriver for the tiny screws, a knife to cut through anything, scissors, a saw, pliers - you name it, it’s in this guy. You shouldn’t walk onto a big set without this tool somewhere on your person.

The Tool Pouch

I found early on that it’s super handy to have some of the key things that you know you’ll need accessible directly from your hip. Whether you’re an AC, a grip or an electrician, you can surely find something that you always need to run back to the truck for that comes up way too often. As a G&E swing on smaller sets, I used to carry around:

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  • One or two cube taps

  • Circuit tester 

  • Sharpie and a pen 

  • Tape measure

  • Head lamp 

  • Hex Key

As a camera assistant, I generally carry around: 

  • Expo marker with eraser top

  • Sharpie & Pen

  • Hand-made T-Marks

  • Mini-maglite 

  • Laser tape measure (or standard tape measure, job depending)

  • Hex Key

  • Head lamp

I also generally have both a roll of 2” black Gaff tape, and if I’m assisting, then I’ll add a few different colored rolls of 1/2” spike tape for marks. 

Gloves

Gloves are more a utility of the G&E team, but I carry them around for any situation. You never know when you’ll need a pair and it’s great to have them when you do. My personal favorites you’ll find at Home Depot are called Gorilla Grips. They’re thin enough that you can tie knots comfortably, but insulated enough to strike that still-way-too-hot 1K from set when you need to. If you’re looking for a thicker pair, before the Gorilla Grips, I swore by these Husky (no surprise here) gloves, also purchased at Home Depot. 

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Camera

The things that every camera assistant should have in their kit at some point or another you could come across here. Pancro, lens tissue, rocket blasters, BNC couplers, right angle BNC, a stubby flathead screwdriver, 1/4”-20 and 3/8”-16 screws, etc., are all in here. I’ve accumulated four different sets of keys, including metric and imperial hex keys and two torx keys that start a bit smaller and end a bit bigger. These often end up double dipping into G&E when you need to pull out the handy 3/16” to tighten down a frame ear or a loose combo riser, but that’s what this kit is for. Anything you need - you’ve got it. You make a lot of friends this way. Since we’re on the topic, I would recommend this dedicated 3/16” ratchet, which makes life so much easier when dealing with frames. 

Another one that has been incredibly handy on set is a label maker. Having the ability to quickly print some informational tidbit to stick anywhere in seconds is amazing. Everything from putting focal lengths on front and back lens caps to labeling your water bottle is now something you can do with a label maker (not sponsored). Primarily, I’ve used it as temporary labeling for where things go in the truck, labeling cases and caps, and making sure my personals have my name on them. Things get mixed up quickly when there’s gear coming from multiple places, so it helps to always have this handy. 

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I also carry fresh batteries on me when I can. AA and AAA primarily, but if I know that I have anything else that needs powering with a 9V or watch battery then I try to carry extras of those too, but AA batteries especially are a huge lifesaver when that issue inevitably pops up - obviously always when it’s least convenient for everyone. Again, if you’re the guy that saved the set half an hour for having a couple extra AA batteries, those are some new friends and you’ll most likely receive a callback on their next project. Don’t underestimate the power of small gestures - when you’re starting out especially, those little moments help you stand out from the rest of the crowd you’re competing for jobs against.

Mainly, consider the little things that might be forgotten from a rental or even your own kit. It’s the small expendables that become the biggest issues when they aren’t on set. Using a Movi Pro often? Spend an extra couple of bucks to get a set of camera screws from Freefly to have on hand. Working with Red? Make sure you’ve got a Torx key, and maybe even a backup in case you lose one during the day. The toolbox can be a wide assortment of bits and pieces, so tailor it to your specific needs first and then start branching out to wider general purpose items.

G&E

In my G&E section of the toolkit, I keep as much basic expendables and tools as I can fit. 2” Black Gaff and paper tape, Cinefoil, safety chains, dulling spray, cheaters, etc. I acquired most of this when I was working on small crews that I would swing on. It was handy because I could compliment what tended to be the Gaffer’s kit that fit neatly in his Jeep. If he didn’t have something then I did. 

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I would even come to use some of this on the features that I’ve been on. Occasionally my kit was closer than the Grip or Electric truck, so we just pulled what we needed and were set up without another trip to the truck. Amazing.

I make sure to carry an assortment of ratchet straps as well. These are a must have. They have so many uses, from strapping down gear in the truck, to car rigging, to anything you can imagine doing with an adjustable strap that can hold an absurd amount of weight. I have both hook and hookless straps for any need. The hookless straps are extra useful for car rigs where having that extra point of contact with the hooks isn’t ideal. They’re much easier to work with in my opinion when wrapping around things. 

Another often overlooked but important item is the spring clamp. I buy a ton of these and keep them on a shoelace leash. #2 spring clamps are my go to, as they’re generally a good size for most things you need them for (doesn’t hurt to have some #1&#3s handy). It’s always helpful to have these around. Along with #2s, I have a ton of .5s that live in a little bag that has two compartments, one for clothespins and one for .5s. I still use clothespins for gels on tungsten heads, and the .5s are a bit stronger, so I’ll throw those on things that need a little extra strength like the barn doors of a kinoflo tegra.

Having tools like crescent wrenches, pliers, precision screw drivers, socket wrenches, etc. are also good things to keep in the kit. Being able to pull out any tool at any time to fix virtually any problem that arises cannot be understated on a fast moving set. The literal definition of the toolkit applies here.

I’ll also keep my gaffer’s glass and a light meter in my kit with me. Never know when I’ll be gaffing or if the gaffer/DP will need one of these, so they’re around for anyone to use.

Personals

Being on a film set for 10 to 16 hours a day is tough, especially if the production is on a tight budget. I’ve been on a lot of sets with a few snacks and some bread lying out on a table, and I’ve been on some with a beautifully laid out crafty buffet catering to anything you could ask for - including some essentials that I now try to keep with me. I realize that not all sets I’m on are going to have a lot of money to throw at crafty or utilities, so having a constant is especially nice when you’re on a piece of bread and slice of turkey kind of shoot.

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These personals are anything that helps to make it through the day in the wildly diverse environments we filmmakers are often subject to. I’ve got bug spray for the late summer night excursions in the woods, heavy SPF sunscreen for the shade-less days in the 90 degree heat, deodorant so I’m not driving home smelling like I just worked a 16 hour day running around tossing lights and stands all over the place, Ibuprofen for the headache you’ll be getting from the AD by the end of the day (just kidding!), Tums, WD-40, an external battery charger, and whatever else you may think of that helps get you through the day. These are in my toolbox and comes with me everywhere I go, and I’ve never regretted having an extra stick of deodorant with me, or another bottle of sunscreen or bug spray when production runs out. It’s just a good way to take care of yourself on set. Also, if you’ve ever been on an overstaffed crew, you’ll quickly come to realize an extra phone battery charger is a must have

A Well Rounded Kit

I tend to bring some other things along with me as well, just to have in the car or truck in case anything ever comes up. Things like tennis balls with a slit cut in them for stand feet, a gel roll that has cuts big enough for the heads that I use, a crate of duvatine when we need to black out windows, and my arri 650 kit (not everyone needs this one though). 

Many variations of the filmmakers’ toolkit exists out there. These are all versions of daily necessities that each person takes around with them from shoot to shoot. It’s important that each toolkit is unique to the person that uses it, because not all of the things that I personally carry around will apply to others. My toolkit has evolved with me and will keep evolving as I continue to work in this field. The more specialized I get, the more specialized my toolkit will become, and it may not make quite as much sense for me to carry around G&E equipment because I’ve decided to move elsewhere in the crew hierarchy. That’s why while these posts are helpful to see what other people carry around with them, it should all be taken with a grain of salt. Make sure that the gear you bring around with you is working for you, and you’ll be very happy when you surprise someone with your wonderful forethought.

-Colby

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cmotion cPRO Review

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The cPRO is the new kid on the block in terms of reliable follow focuses that camera assistants can depend on day in and day out. It’s a wild looking, asymmetrical hand unit packaged alongside a simple and elegant looking motor that’s priced to compete alongside the best of the best in terms of wireless focus systems. We tend to place bets on the new guys around here, so we bought one. 

This system was exciting enough for us to go all in on it for a few reasons. For us, the cPro is the solution to a problem we wanted to solve. The Venice doesn’t have native compatibility with the Arri WCU-4, so if we wanted to use the WCU-4 paired with the cForce mini motors, a wireless motor controller somewhere on the camera was necessary. This fairly large accessory with several cables extruding from it takes away from the “perfect build” mentality that we tend to have when building a camera and adds clutter to what is otherwise a fairly clean build that we have here in house. It’s also unruly to add on to our frequently used movi, easyrig, or handheld builds. The lighter, more compact, and clean we can make this camera for our operators and DPs, the better. It instills a bit of security and comfort in a DP when they can walk on set not having seen our build previously and stumble onto a clean camera not laden with spaghetti cables and oversized doodads. We aren’t fans of that look.

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Enter cPRO. The cPRO motor is based on the cForce mini (also built by cmotion), but has the added benefit of a wireless module built into the unit. Its surprisingly slim figure touts some seriously impressive stats including a wireless range of 2,296-3,280 feet in uninterrupted space, 14 channels of frequency and a total weight of just 211g (or ~.5lb) which is inclusive of the antenna, gear, and motor clamp. These are big numbers packed into a small package. And now our Sony Venice is able to sport a wireless follow focus without the need for a hefty MDR on top. What makes this even more exciting is that we can go from Sony to Red to Arri to Panavision etc. and still continue to have the tools that we know well that allow us to maintain a low profile but fully reliable camera build. Versatility and preparation for the unknown are qualities that we pride ourselves on with our package, so this tool allows us to be as lean as possible while maintaining a reliable and future-focused arsenal.

Hand Unit

The hand unit itself is a bit of a mixed bag. Getting used to the UI can be a bit of a learning curve. It has a circular, almost smartwatch style touch screen (think, Samsung Galaxy watch face) that can also be controlled by three user buttons underneath, along with the thumbwheel that rides along the bottom chin of the unit. The touch controls can be a little sloppy and difficult to use and the thin buttons aren’t particularly the most pleasing or efficient to use with the interface. The thumbwheel is good, but the only feedback you receive is a dinky vibration from a surprisingly loud and, in my opinion, substandard vibration motor (mind you, I’m accustomed to a good Apple haptic feedback in 2019). Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there’s any vibration intensity controls other than ‘on’ or ‘off.’ 

Scrolling through menus means either using the touch screen swiping one by one or using the thumbwheel to get where you want to be and then moving your finger up to hit the bottom button to select and repeat until you get to where you want to be. A little clumsy with some deep menu trees, but not the end of the world. There’s also quite a few little tricks that cmotion includes that aren’t obvious at first glance as well, like tap and hold, or two quick taps in certain menus but not others. It helps to read the manual on this one.

Build Quality

On the plus side, the unit feels great in the hand. The focus knob is a good size, much bigger both in diameter and in width than what I had previously been accustomed to with Teradek’s RT motion. It sports a soft touch material that gives it that feeling of quality that you would expect for this price. While we’re on the topic, the build quality in terms of the rest of the hardware is top notch. The four small buttons surrounding the touch screen could use some work in my opinion, but otherwise, everything feels pleasant to use, and while it’s got some weight to it (just shy of 2lbs), it isn’t terribly strenuous to hold for long periods of time because of the way it balances in your hand due to it’s unique design. That balance lies naturally on the left hand with a nice grippy rubber that gives you a solid hold on the unit so it most certainly will not slip away from you. Right above the left hand is where the third axis of the FIZ can be controlled by the joystick, which makes it feel a bit like a Bop-It, but provides pretty easy functionality of that axis. Assignable to focus, iris, or zoom, it has multiple sensitivity and speed options to get the feel just right, as the joystick itself is very stiff and doesn’t give much in the way of feedback, which can be slightly annoying when making minor adjustments (it does have an LED indicator to show you where you are in the rack, though). The optional monitor bracket screws in neatly on the left side of the unit and can balance even a 7” monitor fairly well. The screws are set in to the bracket pretty deep, so make sure you bring a long allen key along with you. 

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How the cPRO Stacks Up

The WCU-4, being the cPRO’s direct competitor, has some design features I quite like over the cPRO. Having big physical buttons that correspond to the menu selection that is on the screen similar to the Alexa menu system is much quicker and easier to navigate. Also, having a physical toggle switch to move up or down the menu one by one is a feature that will surely be missed on this unit. As much as I like the thumbwheel, navigating menus with it is not particularly the fastest or, again, most pleasing/elegant way to go about it, but it does get the job done. The torque adjustment knob for the focus wheel on the WCU-4 is also a unique feature that I wish made its way over to the cPRO in some way, but we can’t all get everything we want, I guess.

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But I enjoy the cPRO and cmotion for its forward thinking persona. This product shows that there is a lot that can, has, and will be done with wireless focus systems. The cPro has some great features packed into it; lens mapping (both uploaded via USB or manually inputted), a “panic button” that, when pushed, slides under the mechanical hard stops allowing you to easily override them in case focus changes beyond your pre-determined boundaries, compatibility with cForce mini motors as well as cPRO motors as a full FIZ by simply daisy chaining with one cable per motor (via LBUS), DoF calculator, multi-color status indicators all over the hand unit and motor, and much more. 

Already groundbreaking in its all-in-one motor design, the company has some very exciting propositions in their update roadmap. Most excitedly, cPro is reporting that it will be adding camera control integration, allowing us to wirelessly control the Sony Venice settings including internal NDs, frame rate, shutter angle, etc. They’re also bringing virtual markers, cinefade mode, a 4th axis control, and others. All current features and future roadmap can be found on cmotion’s blog page

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Final Thoughts

I have to concede that the WCU-4 feels like a better hand unit for ease of use and efficiency with its big screen, more comprehensive menu settings, and physical control utilization. However, the cPRO offers integration into our package that the WCU-4 system simply can’t. It provides a compact wireless solution that allows for quick setup time, ease of use, and full compatibility for not just one particular brand of camera, but any lens we choose to stick our cPRO motor onto. 

Our sets move fast. We’ve had days where we need to swing from a fully built interview camera setup to a stripped down build on the movi in half an hour. The less bits that I need to fiddle with to balance properly, the faster I can get the camera to the DP to get the shot while the light is still where we want it to be. A good AC should be consistently looking for new tools to make him/herself more efficient by creating a build that is as nimble and easy to rearrange and dismantle as possible. This is one more tool that can bring that kind of efficiency to your set.


-Colby

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Sony Venice - Review

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Small disclaimer: I am coming right off of owning a Red Weapon so a lot of my review through the lens of a former red owner/ operator. I don’t want to spend a bunch of time bashing on Red but they need some time to get their house back in order so we decided to move on from them, for now. Also I tend to use the Arri 435 as the benchmark by which all other cameras are judged. It isn’t super realistic and isn’t totally applicable but that camera is without a doubt one of the most useable and well thought out pieces of equipment in existence.

We very seriously toyed with the idea of getting an Alexa Mini and it made a lot of sense but there were a few things that pushed us towards the Sony Venice:

Pro’s

-       Skin tones

-       High light roll off

-       Build quality

-       Built in ND’s

-       XLRs with 48v phantom power

-       Sliding top handle

-       False color

-       Magnification while rolling.

-       Movi compatible

-       S709 LUT

-       6k down to 4k XAVC

-       4k is super35

-       Buttons (you don’t realize how much you need button until they are gone)

-       Shoulder balance

Con’s

-       V-mounts (for some people)

-       Firmware

-       Offspeed (for now)

-       SXS cards

-       Hirose connectors

 

Full frame. I personally find the depth of field and noise pattern from a full frame sensor very pleasing. I’m not sure this is going to take over the industry or make a huge difference on set but it gave us a chance to do something new. I also think the implementation of full frame at 6K and still having 4K in Super35 is the best implementation of this feature. You get the resolution options you want and can still use all the Super35 lenses that you want.

Cooke S4

Cooke S4

Kowa Anamorphic 100mm

Kowa Anamorphic 100mm

Dual ISO. We do a lot of doc work and being able to shoot at 2500 with very little noise is a dream for us. Two exposure ratings; 500 ISO and 2500 open up a lot of possibilities in terms of shooting situations The noise difference between the two is minimal. I will also the even in the base 500 ISO mode shooting at 1250 is very clean.

10,000 ISO

10,000 ISO - Lifted in Post

8-Stops of internal ND in 1 stop increments. Really small feature on the surface. Really easy to overlook but this is going to be the thing every other camera manufacturer steals from the Venice. I never carry 8 NDs on set. I am sure real feature and episodic people do but I don’t have 3 ACs so how could I ever use them. The speed and availability of these NDs is a real game changer on set. The pacing and flexibility of an operator on set can determine a lot about how the crew and talent work together to capture the right/ desired image. Every DP I have ever known has compromised on set cause the time it takes to swap from 1.2 to 1.5 ND wasn’t worth slowing down the set at that crucial moment. Getting that flexibility back is such a relief. Also just being able to shed a ND every 10 minutes during magic hour.

I can clearly go on forever about the internal NDs but I’ll shut up and move on to some of my other thoughts about this camera.

XLRs with phantom power. Again this is something most cameras have but coming from the Red DSMC2 line getting phantom working on that camera and recording to reasonably clean pre-amps was a real nightmare.

A quick note on highlight roll off. This seems like a huge improvement over all the other sony cameras and feels very “alexa-like”. We are all still chasing film here but we are getting closer.

S709 LUT/ overall image and tone. Sony spent a lot of time on the LUT. It is lower contrast than most of the SLog LUTs I have seen and the skin tones have been very strong out of the box.

EVF. Crazy expensive but actually useable. I seriously considered not getting it but have been really happy operating with it. For most things I have been running with just the EVF and no monitor. Having false color in the EVF and being able to do 2x or 4x magnification while rolling is a real lifesaver.

Alexa Mini /// Venice

Left - Sony Venice /// Right - Alexa Mini

A few things that bug me -

This camera was rushed to market to beat the Alexa LF and it shows. We happened to get ours at the same time as V2 firmware was released and that really changed everything. Full frame, dual iso, 60 fps, e-mount, and the 6K to 4K in XAVC all arrived in Version 2 firmware. 

Sony’s reputation. This is honestly probably the biggest issue with this camera right now. They have a lot to make up for after the F5/55. The Crown looks amazing and shows what is possible with that camera but for most people the F55 left a bad taste in their mouths and most DP's are just gonna go Alexa Mini out of habit at this point. We'll see if that starts to change over the next few months.

Now down into the super small complaint department. You need to hold down the menu button for 3 seconds to access the grownup menus. 3 seconds doesn’t sound like a long time but on set waiting to roll it can feel like a lifetime.

Hirose connectors. We are a D-Tap family. Not the end of the world but definitely not as common as 2 pin lemo or d-tap cables. Wooden camera is helping us out with a custom 4pin hirose to 4 female p-tap cable so that should solve it.

 

The best thing you can do is get your hands on this camera and try it yourself. See what the images do for you. Testing everything I have said and see if you see the same things I do. 

- Harvey

 

 

 

 

Affordable Cine Zoom Lens - Angenieux EZ 1

Angenieux EZ 1 - Detail

The Angenieux EZ 1 30-90mm T2 super35 zoom lens is one of a handful of lenses in the quickly expanding category of affordable cine-zooms. For a long time cinema zooms were always two things; heavy and expensive. In the past year or so we have seen manufacturers innovate and release a new group of lightweight cinema zooms. To name a few;  Zeiss 21-100mm, Sigma 18-35mm / 50-100mm, Fujinon 18-55mm, and Canon 18-80mm. As a documentary and commercial shooter, it has been great to see this huge increase in choices at a reasonable price. I find myself taking the Angeniuex on set because of its size, its flexibility, and its performance wide open.

            First and foremost, the size, weight, and handling of this lens are superb. It is well balanced and weighs in at just 4lbs. I shoot a lot of handle held work and gimbal work so weight is always a factor. Having built in focus, iris, and zoom gears is a big advantage in both keeping the lens streamlined and removing any extra weight from add on 3rd party focus gears. The EZ 1 also features rubberized grips along the lens for better control when not using a follow focus. This lens is built with the operator in mind.

            In the documentary world staying flexible on set is a must. The ability to quickly go from PL to EF to E mount on set with no tools is a big deal. Pairing lenses and sensors is a big part of cinematographers job these days both from an aesthetics standpoint and a function standpoint. This lens is equally at home on an A7S wedged inside a car as it is on 35mm Arri film camera on a dolly. In addition to the lens mount, you can also change the rear optical block to go from covering just super35 to cover full frame/ vistavision. The 30-90mm or 45-135mm FF range is a great middle ground. We just wrapped a shoot last week were it was the only lens we used over 2 days. We went from studio to location and it didn't disappoint in either. 

            There is a certain feeling imbued into lenses by each manufacturer. A subtle difference that doesn’t come across in technical specifications but is often talked about amongst cinematographers and is unique to that manufacturer. Angenieux’s reputation is amongst the best of the industry. The EZ 1 fits in easily amongst its family members and delivers the same consistent colors and pleasing sharpness that one should expect from Angenieux. It offers a sharpness that isn't clinical but is forgiving on faces and falls of nicely.     

Angenieux EZ 1 Red Shoulder rig
Tucker Macdonald Angenieux EZ RED weapon
angenieux ez 1 studio car

           

Why we believe in a mobile headquarters 

Economics on Four Wheels 

At our core, we are storytellers envious of anyone who is living a "Vanlife" or nomadic lifestyle. We have a dropbox folder dedicated for aspirational adventures, and gravitate toward stories that bring us out of our comfort zone physically and mentally. We’ve built a company that can have teams dispatched in less than 48 hours to cover an un-repeatable breaking story, and are able to maintain flexibility without losing quality on screen when a last minute location change comes up.

We can do this with the tool that we have built - the sprinter van

We believe in the sprinter model for three reasons. 

  1. It is often more economical for client
  2. We meet people and discover stories that we would have otherwise flown over
  3. We scratch the itch of being on the road in a van. 

You may be a client or a future collaborator, so lets go into reasons 1 & 2 for this blog post, starting with a case study based on a recent production in Iowa. Below you will find a cost and time comparison of one way travel from Boston --> Iowa. Note: Airfare may be more expensive because time between job confirmation and production was 3 days, and we are assuming flights were available. Want a summary? Scroll down.

Time & Cost Comparison 

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Alright so the napkin math shows the sprinter being more economical, but a large portion of that is paying accumulated time for a DP to pack / unpack when departing, returning, and over the course of the shoot. That is part of the joy of the sprinter! Everything has a home, is charging while on location or in transit, and is an arms-length away, especially if you're Harvey. 

You might be saying to yourself, "OK I can totally get on board with that, but driving to the Midwest is time consuming!" 

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You would be correct. But on the flip side, flying from Boston --> Burlington, IA would have taken about 10 hours, 4 of which I would estimate to be useful working time. Because the Sprinter is fully powered and is one giant hotspot, clients would never know we're on the road unless we tell them. Plus, our wifi is a hell of a lot more reliable than it is 35,000 feet up!

In Review

On average, we are able to save clients about 25% - 50% by taking the sprinter on location with us. Though we spend more time on the road for any given job, we are able to see the country and get B-roll along our travels to incorporate into the story or build our own content library for future projects. We are able to meet people who we wouldn't otherwise connect with and become aware of the ideals and values of people living in the Midwest and West. 

Keep in mind we have only compared immediate, foreseeable expenditures in time and money. We haven't accounted for lost luggage, dead batteries, damaged equipment, and time spent dealing with these things. We hope this post has been helpful for you, and if you would like to learn more about the sprinter, or want to do some traveling yourself please email us! 

Do Something, Part II: Strength in Diversity

Our life experiences, and resulting opinions and views, are pretty homogeneous. So while we strive to tell the stories of those who face systemic adversity, we often fall short in our ability to connect with them on a personal level. We'll do our best as journalists, listeners, interviewers, storytellers, but we won't pretend to have faced the same discrimination, insecurity, or injustices as many of the subjects of our stories.

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Movi API - Shaker/ Vibra Box

It is my belief that strong research must exist alongside the production of goods and services. Filmmakers, especially, know that behind the pomp and circumstance of any productive shoot is a well-developed itinerary, and behind a successful rough cut is a team of driven editors. No different is what is lies behind the technology producers use in the field and in the studio; here lie the engineers, those who are willing to explore the problems of the hour, and look for answers.

From June 5, 2017 until July 27, 2017, I joined the team at Windy Films as an intern, under the supervision of Harvey Burrell. I took up the role as a developer, tackling a very specific problem that the Windy team had experienced over the last few months of shooting: their footage was too steady. Among car chase shoots, their material felt slow and bogged down, hindered by smooth camera movement. What they wanted was something that made the chase scenes feel faster, by adding action to not what was in the frame, but to the frame itself. Of course, these motions needed to be deliberate. With machinery, we had the ability to pinpoint the frame motion we desired, eliminating the human element – and likely the associated error.

I was tasked to design something functional, easy to operate, and flexible for the needs of the project. What slowly took shape was a hardware and software prototype, implemented using a basic Arduino microcontroller connected to a Freefly MōVI Pro camera stabilizer. Through written code and Freefly’s public API, we were able to take control the MOVI Pro’s gimbal motors, constantly changing their rotational velocity. This resulted in jerky pan and tilt, and visually something along the lines of a shaking camera frame.

Throughout the entire process, I found myself caught up in what it meant to do research for a small company like Windy Films, working on the development side of their team. One of the biggest problems I faced was the feeling of being so peripheral. It is hard to feel connected to the team’s core when Windy is so focused on the day the day, the what do we need right now, and how are we going to get it done. All the phone calls, all the meetings, and all the coffee cups make you wonder how you feel about being so future-focused. There is an unwavering desire to ask the question, “Where is this going? For if not today, and not tomorrow, when will this mechanism be the present, integral Windy’s day to day?”

Through my time at the studio, I have realized the importance of mindfulness when in the vicinity of these thoughts. The truth is that with research comes much failure, and a successful mechanism may not come into existence within the span of two months. As I learn to converse with failure, it becomes clearer that the success of development is ingrained within the process itself: to learn more about a piece of hardware, a programming language, to be able to communicate my thoughts more clearly, to have the means to problem solve, think critically, be creative, and work passionately. These are all successes, small and large, independent of the project’s usability, when all is said and done.

Even if this shake mechanism doesn’t make it off the tables of Studio 16, even if it proves to be unusable, research must go on. Day in, day out, we must build and break: it is this continual act that eventually takes us one step further to being a more self-sustainable company.

We are still in pursuit of the three main goals we had for the shake mechanism back in June that revolve around function, use, and flexibility. There is no doubt that accomplishing these three will take help from others. Integrating this prototype into an existing environment is our next step, making the hardware easier to interact with, and the software more direct. We want to see this motion feature in the community around us, useful to many. With any interest in the the project, we hope that you find the following links useful and informative.

For a highlight video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiPTbAjHiWw&

For documentation: https://github.com/glassb/shake-mechanism




 

Creating Creativity

It's all too easy for creatives to get caught on the hamster wheel, saying "yes" to too much or for the wrong reasons. As we navigate this process, we look to our friends at Oat for a model on how to determine success by our own measurements. They've taught us that in the long run, the most meaningful and effective way of creating value is actually by creating creativity. Setting time aside to focus on what's honest to yourself, creatively fulfilling and meaningful, not just what's profitable, will actually pay off in the long run. 

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Canon 1DC - Two Years Later

First of all, to begin this post let me point out just how rare it is that any camera we buy makes it 2 years. This poor camera has stood up to more abuse and more car rigs, jib cranes, and underwater rigs than most cameras should be capable of enduring.

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The Sprinter

New Sprinter vans can come completely empty. Just a rattling tin can on wheels. To us, it was a blank canvas to create the perfect mobile HQ.

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My Internship at Windy Films

This summer I’ve been interning with Windy Films, a small Boston-based documentary film studio. In the mornings, I fittingly take the train to the Maverick station, heading towards Wonderland, and a slew of possibilities. That’s about where the day-to-day regularity ends; I never quite know what I’ll find when I walk into Studio 16.

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