“When the filming is going to be done in a studio, you know you’ll have plenty of space to lay out your gear without restrictions from the environment. But on run and gun, fast-paced shoots, you don’t have the personnel, transportation or space to bring tons of extra gear. So everything in your camera package has to be essential, and that all comes down to the planning.” - Kevin Kelleher, MoVI Op at Ironclad.
Some argue that prep day is the most important day of filming, because how you prep impacts every aspect of how your shoot unfolds. Prep day is an opportunity to meticulously choose, build and test every single piece of gear in your package. After all, if your gear isn’t properly working, what do you have to film with?
While we typically think of camera prep as just hand-picking the gear and building the setup, some productions require a much different approach. Our friends at Ironclad, a production company based in Virginia, specialize in run-and-gun cinematography where the entire team travels to locations (often remote) and is mobile through the entire shoot. Kevin Kelleher, a MoVI Op at Ironclad, shares how his team preps for productions on the road.
“It all comes down to the creative. Clients like Under Armour or Reebok come to us because they know we can craft a story and produce it from start to finish. Our team comes up with the story and how we want the scenes to be shot. Once the creative side is finished, we have to evaluate what kind of gear we need to achieve those shots.”
“For us, every single shoot we do is in a different environment, which means prepping can get really complicated. We start by discussing the plans in pre-production. How many days will we be out there filming? What’s the budget? How much can we afford to bring? By doing this we have a baseline for planning our gear like how many cameras we’ll bring and how many camera batteries we’ll need.”
“Then we look at how many people will be in the camera crew, and that just depends on the needs of the production, budget, and environment we’ll be in. If we have four people, we can afford to pack a little extra by divvying up the load between everyone. If we’re only sending two people, we have little to no space to bring anything but the essentials. Keep in mind that for most of our productions, we’re packing all of our gear on a plane. We have to abide by those limitations as well.”
“Then it comes time to choose the gear. Because our shoots are, for the most part, always outdoors and constantly moving, we need to pack lightly yet still have everything we need. We start with the staples first: RED cameras (Monstro and/or Dragon) outfitted with Teradek Bolts and SmallHD monitors. We always use Core SWX batteries and it’s just a matter of figuring out how many we can bring along. And of course we never travel without Pelican cases.”
“After the staples are packed, we have to decide what kind of extras to bring. We just wrapped up a 3-day shoot with Under Armour in Portland where the shoot required us to track athletes as they ran through the city. We knew this was going to be a fast-paced shoot, so we packed gear that could keep us mobile. 3 people each with a RED camera, 6 Core SWX batteries per person, and 2 terabytes of storage per person.”
“Monitoring was the difficult part. We wanted to give the Creative Director and client a way to see the feed from inside the van. So each camera was rigged with a Bolt 1000 transmitter, sending feeds to a 13” monitor in the van. A and B cams also sent video to a 703 Bolt that the Director kept on him. As the runners moved through the city, our camera team followed on foot or golf cart and the mobile video village (van) followed close behind.”
“We decided this build was necessary to get the right kind of footage. The fact that it was fast paced meant we wanted to maximize our time with camera capabilities. Shooting with 3 cameras simultaneously allowed us to cover everything on the shoot, and the Bolts helped us support our creative team with the proper monitoring solution.”
“On these shoots where we’re out all day long, we make sure to bring enough backups to cover all of our ground. Clients hire us to get the job done so we’re putting our reputation on the line. We always have backup cables, batteries, chargers, storage, antennas, velcro, gaff tape, etc. You don’t want to be the one holding up a production, or worse, missing a shot that won’t be repeated.”
Building the Rigs
“When you’re traveling, camera prep doesn’t always go as smoothly as a studio prep. Most of the time when we arrive at our destination, we have a day or less to get all the gear ready. This means building our rigs in the hotel or the back of a truck with access to only the gear that we brought.”
“There’s not a lot of time to do prep once we’re on location, so we do builds the day before. We mount the cameras to our MoVIs, pair our Teradeks, calibrate lenses, charge our batteries. If we have to, we’ll be up until 4AM prepping for a 8AM shoot. When it’s time to be on set with our clients, we’re completely up and ready to go.”
“We can’t stress enough how important it is to have gear that’s reliable. When we were on the road in remote locations like Haiti or Uganda, we didn’t have access to more gear in case anything broke down. You trust in the reliability and reputation of the brands you use, and it really pays to have quality equipment, especially when your production company is putting its business on the line.”