I'm sure you are familiar with the situation when you are under pressure to nail a shoot in very little time... It's actually how 80% of shoots end up. There is never enough time on location and there are many obstacles that can potentially ruin your day and if you are not prepared, your shoot and reputation too....
So here are some insights from a shoot I did just last week with James Tonkin from Hangman Studios in Madrid, Spain. It happened to be featuring Cristiano Ronaldo who is rated as one of the Top 3 Football (Soccer) players in the world. (He has 53 Million fans on his Facebook page)
I have filmed with many A-List Celebrities and public figures in my Career and it's very rare that I get phased but it is vitally important to understand that when you are dealing with a celebrity regardless of what they do - you do need to approach the shoot with extra caution. More often than not they are nice people just doing a job, some people can be especially anxious and this generally includes their support team so you MUST tread very cautiously.
WORKING WITH CELEBRITIES
Remember, you are there to do your job and make the celebrity look as good as you can in the situation. It may surprise you to learn that even in agreed events like this one you still have very little time with the subject and you do not get a second chance if something goes wrong. Also if you want to make sure you get the right angles you also have to gain the trust of the management and support team. For any small footprint production, this is easy by following simple set of rules:
- Do not get familiar with the star, you are there to do your job, not be friends with them.
- Be polite and respectful, but most of all professional - you are there to do a job and so is the Celebrity.
- Be prepared! Get there well in advance and find out as much as you can about the plans for when the Celebrity arrives - but be mindful that once they come everything can change.
- Find out and meet all the key decision makers well in advance - make sure security, management and other key people are okay with your plans to shoot in certain places.
- Planning is everything, the more you know upfront the better.
Our brief was simple, shoot 5 films in total to document the winners of a competition to play football in a training session with Cristiano Ronaldo in Madrid.
This was not our first time working with Ronaldo. We shot a 60' viral ad last year.
This was another very tight schedule - we only had 60 minutes to nail this one (we did spend a full day setting the studio and lighting) I said planning and pre-production is key to every successful shoot.
**It's worth noting here that while YouTube may not be the platform of choice for you showing your work, this video has been seen by 823,953 people... so if you want your work to be seen by a large audience, don't disregard it completely.
PRE PRODUCTION - Choosing a Camera
With such a short amount of time on location we decided to strip the gear right back to the minimum.
The two format discussion James and I had were between the Black Magic Cinema Camera and the Sony FS-700.
Choosing the right camera and format for the gig is critical.
We have been shooting a great deal with the BMCC since August and as a tool for creating cinematic and very textured filmic images we both love it. But it is not without its short comings.
The main one is a lack of accurate metering for exposure since there is no waveform or histogram on the camera currently. You have to be able to accurately set exposure when working in these very fast turnaround shooting environments.
Under or overexposure is not an option and these films were being edited straight away so we had to work with a 'looks' camera since there simply was not time to grade.
Secondly you need to use an external pre amp to get decent audio from the camera and we did not really want to load the camera up with lots of accessories.
We decided that the BMCC would not be the right camera for this shoot. We chose the Sony NEX-FS700. Primary reason was audio. We had to radio mic Cristiano and his coach.
The second consideration was that my camera would be flown on the Camera Motion Research Blackbird and so I wanted to strip the camera right down to the bare essentials. (This is a hand held stabiliser that we wanted to use to add a high production value to the shoot.) The batteries I use on my FS700 are from Hawkwoods and I can get 3-4 hours shooting on one charge.
We would be shooting hand held on one camera and stabiliser on the other. James did have a lightweight tripod and small slider with him that he used on a couple of shots. But in essence this was a very 'mobile' and nimble shooting set up.
TRAVELLING WITH GEAR
We flew out to Madrid from London on Thursday night and arrived at our hotel just after Midnight.
James and I both use Think Tank Airport Take off roller cases.
Also when flying with BA you get 23kgs of hand luggage allowance which really helps because by the time you have added a camera, batteries and lenses your carry on can easily exceed 15kgs or more.
We never like to put our main shooting package in the hold for several reasons.
The first is security you don't really want your camera and lens to be thrown around by baggage handlers.
Secondly if your baggage gets delayed or worse does not show up you simply can't shoot. (I once had a tripod not show up on a 1 day shoot to Ireland and I was buggered - had to shoot the whole piece hand held and improvised)
Having camera, basic sound, media and power in hand luggage means in the worst case scenario at least you can still shoot!
At 7am we met for breakfast and headed to the training ground.
We arrived at 8am so we could set up a time-lapse of the sun coming up - James did this on an FS100 and a lightweight stills tripod I'd packed.
We then set up in a dressing room and decamped to rig our cameras. I need a table to clamp my Blackbird to in order to balance and I could not find one so ended up clamping it to a high shelf…. not ideal but you always need to improvise.
The first 2 hours from 8am-10am were spent meeting the organisers and getting briefed on what was going to happen. I then did some steadicam shots in the dressing room where the competition winners were receiving a bunch of gifts, shirts and football gear. While I was doing that James was meeting with the client to get an update on the brief. I also did some shots of the location and the games consoles.
At 9.30 James met with the management and client and I was introduced to Ronaldo's Manager again - we then discussed how we'd be filming Ronaldo as he arrived in his car.
At 10am I went out to the main entrance where the competition winners would be arriving by coach. I then filmed an arrival sequence as the got off the coach. You have to work very quickly here and look out for the 'wow' faces as they arrive and take pictures.
You really have to be thinking on your feet and capturing all those 'moments'. This is after all a once in a lifetime prize for the winners and we needed to capture that sense of excitement from them. You cannot 'fake' this afterwards - you get one chance and you have to nail it.
I shot this all on the Camera Motion Research - Blackbird. This is a hand held camera stabiliser that can take a payload of 8lbs or 3.6kgs so can handle the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and the Sony FS700 no problem.
I recorded the whole sequence in one shot. I find in these situations it's better to keep running in case someone says something that can be later used as a sound bite (always have a good quality shotgun mic mounted to the camera for this).
While I was shooting this, James was picking up detail shot in the dressing room and b-roll of the gaming area.
I followed the winners into the training facility and filmed everything as they went. I then grabbed a variety of shots of their reactions as they entered the gaming area. They then had a PES tournament so between us, JT and I covered a ton of b-roll, shooting a variety of angles and details.
I shot a mini sequence of each and every player so we could give the editor options on every one of the winners.
You always have to be thinking of the story and the edit. I have a process where I'm continually asking myself the questions… Have I got enough? Will this cut? How will this sequence transit too the next? etc etc, and this enables me to shoot enough material to give the client options in the edit. You don't just want to shoot exactly to brief, always give the client more than they ask for.
There was a period for about 30 mins where not much was happening so that gave JT and I a chance to grab a sandwich and a drink. We were expecting Ronaldo at 1.15pm.
At 12.30 the winners went into the dressing room to get changed. I got in ahead of them and grabbed their reactions as they entered and saw their swag for the first time. They each had a football shirt with their name on the back. I shot all of this in around 5 minutes then once they were changed followed them out towards the training pitch.
James then went out with them to grab some training b-roll and I headed out front to wait for Ronaldo's arrival.
The secret to this type of production is clearly understanding what is going to happen and when. James and I continually updated each other on what we were getting and what was happening next. The nature of live events like this is that things can change at a moments notice and all the plans made prior can be altered in seconds. You have to be ready to respond.
One such example was establishing exactly what entrance Ronaldo would enter from… So I went down and waited at the arrival area 15 minutes before he was due to arrive. I grabbed a quick shot of the Real Madrid sign and the fountains because I figured this would be a useful shot in the edit.
JT and I had planned a particular shot - as Ronaldo arrived into the building I would follow him looking over his right shoulder, then as I got half way down the corridor I would dip into a side dressing room and James would catch him on the slider. We had no chance to rehearse and so you just have to go with it. I think the shot worked well in the end even though you can see me briefly with the Blackbird.
Here's the resulting edit from that first sequence of filming…
It had been agreed that I would follow Ronaldo until he entered his dressing room, give him a chance to change then we'd walk together down to meet the winners. (you can see this shot in the next video)
Once he came out of his dressing room I stopped to place the radio mic on him. We then went out together to the playing field.
At this point he decided not to walk down the path and instead he went down a bank of small bushes… (this didn't end up making the cut) When this happens you just have too follow and go with it - these shots were critical as they set up the anticipation of the winners meting their hero.
Ronaldo was great, I was really close and he played well to camera, I got some great 'front on' footage where I was walking backwards trying to maintain him in shot. I used a Tokina 11-16mm f2.8lens and was shooting at f8 so I had a good deep depth of field. That meant I did not have to worry too much about focus.
For exposure I was continually checking the histogram but made a decision to let the highlights blow in some shots in favour of maintaining a good exposure on Ronaldo's face. We would not have time to grade each shot and so we took this decision to make sure he always looked well exposed, even if this meant losing some highlight detail in the sky.
Once Ronaldo had met everyone he got straight into training and despite the fact we'd been told he would not be running around, the first thing he did was grab a ball, and run down the field, through some poles and shoot. This was completely unplanned so I just ran with it.
You have to be prepared for the unexpected to happen at any time and be ready to shoot it and get the shot.
JT and I had decided that I would stick with CR on a wide and he would grab the Close ups. So for the next hour that's what I did. I recorded non stop and did not turn off at any point (I should add that just prior to CR arriving I changed battery to a fresh one. This meant I could shoot for 2-3 hours solid, with the confidence that I would not run out of power.)
The rest of the training session was more of the same, although when the guys began shooting I moved the FS100 to behind the goal so we could get the shot of any balls hitting the back of the net.
The final part of the day was some photos that the winners had taken with Ronaldo. Then James and I had to go into CR's dressing room to record the opening piece to camera (ptc) and closing PTC before CR left the ground.
The last thing I did was grab some reactions from the winners to ask them about their experience. We were looking for enthusiastic responses to convey the emotion of the day.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
So in total we were on location for 7 hours but the majority of the filming happened in only a 2 hour window. Being prepared is everything.
Make sure you have fully charged batteries and your media is pre-formatted.
Have a solid plan of what each of you (if filming with others) is going to shoot. There is no point in you both shooting on the same lens focal length and from the same position. Also with 2 shooters you can get more coverage.
Stay on your toes as everything you planned can change...
SMALL FOOTPRINT DOCUMENTARY PRODUCTION WORKSHOPS
We run regular workshops teaching how to master this type of production. They are 3 day classes where we cover filming, lighting, working with large formats, recording audio and using sliders and stabilisers to add production value. We also look at editing for fast turnaround production.
Our next classes are in: Burbank, California - February 6-8 http://training.abelcine.com/event/advanced-cinematic-documentary-shooting-den-lennie-los-angeles/ London , England - February 20-22 http://www.fstopacademy.com/home-slider/cinematic-documentary-workshop-london-feb-20-22-adv/