Six months ago I took the plunge and put a deposit on a RED Raven. I was finally going to enter the RED eco system. Back in 2008 I was an Assistant Camera on a music video with the RED ONE, the first real digital cinema camera. I was enamored by the design and the imagery to come from the camera. But as anyone who was using the One back then you well know all the issues it was plagued with. In between takes I would run the camera which was already covered in hand warmers and gaff tape into a coffee shop to prevent it from freezing up and dropping frames. We were shooting in Detroit in the early spring and the camera did not like to be frozen, much like myself.
In the 8 years since then, RED has come a very long way in stream lining their products and solidifying their codec, hardware and software. Very cool to see a small group of people revolutionize and industry with killer tech for artists. Tech + artistry is probably my favorite part of Cinematography. Using incredible tools to create beautiful imagery. I believe a camera is a tool, every camera is a tool. Some allow you to do more, some less. A fancy expensive new camera will not make you a better shooter. Only dedication, practice, and an understanding that you will never be finished learning will.
Often people come to me with grandiose ideas about getting into the industry and buying cameras that cost thousands of dollars, 4k, etc... My answer is always the same. Buy a cheaper camera body and spend some money on a good lens. Start simple. Heck, your phone can probably shoot 4k AND super low motion. Why haven't you been shooting with it? If you won't make it work with less now, you probably won't stick around with more. Gear is EXCITING. The hard work, years of ramen noodles, burned bridges, ended relationships is not. Build on the basics, so when you finally get that camera you've always wanted, your images will look as amazing as you've wanted them to.
In 2010 I purchased the first camera I would actually own myself. Canon Rebel T2i. It was not the best by a long shot. It was actually the cheapest camera you could get into yielding fairly good results at the time. That camera got me through 3 years of work. I then purchased a GH2, then onto a Black Magic Pocket, then to an A7s + Pix-E5. And now after 6 years, a proper camera, the RED Raven. You see, I didn't jump the gun and buy the best right away, I worked my way up using the budget cameras. This allowed me to be creative and really use my skills to make it about the art, not the tech. There is something to be said about struggle before success.
On another note... you can have the best camera in the world, but if you slap a crappy lens on it. What happens? Exactly as you would expect, a mediocre image. I would argue that an amazing lens on a crappy camera would look nearly better than a crappy lens on an amazing camera. There is a reason a set of great glass costs as much or more than a camera body. Don't neglect the lens!
I would also like to explain that I am not a RED fan boy. Over the years I have had quite a few complaints with RED cameras. Namely reliability, pricing, proprietary accessories and their costs. But RED has taken all these years of tech, innovation, infrastructure and knowledge to create the new DSCM2 line. Raven, Scarlet-W, and Weapon. A perfect lineup for a range of shooters and budgets. For me, my style, and business the Raven made the most sense. I will not be shooting PL mount glass, I will not be changing OLPFs, and I can work around a slightly smaller sensor with the right glass. I also do a fair amount of hand held and gimbal work, so a smaller body is beneficial for me. Also having the right accompanying gear for the camera and lenses to me, is worth more than the next jump up to a Scarlet-W. Also, at 4.5k-5k the images from the Scarlet, Weapon, and Raven will all be nearly identical besides field of view. Pretty impressive!
So why RED? I will name some benefits that I think are worth the investment.
Compressed raw recording. I really enjoy the R3D file structure, RED has made shooting raw quite a simple process. You deal with one file, not thousands of images that need to be ingested as a video file. RED also allows you to choose your compression ratio, this is great for saving file space where you can.
Slow motion. 4.5k at 120fps. Amazing. Also the ability to shoot 48fps. I adore 48fps slow motion, it's so elegant, not too fast, not too slow. The camera can also shoot 300fps at 2k. Now keep in mind, the 2k crop is significant, an 18mm which is already more like a 24mm on the Raven is now closer to a 60mm. Also at 2k 300fps the compression is significant. To say the 300fps feature is unusable is going too far, but you need to be aware it will not look as amazing as 4.5k 120fps.
Less rolling shutter. The RED cameras are power houses. Sensor read out is much faster than other cameras keeping the rolling shutter to a minimum.
Proven ecosystem. RED has proprietary accessories which can be a pain. The benefit is that everything always works together. You are not doing guess work on what will and will not work. There are also 3rd party manufacturers that make some amazing tools for rigging out your camera.
Impeccable design and build quality. I think RED has nailed the design. It's a beautiful camera and the size is great. When you feel the camera you know that it's built to last. Nearly every component on the camera is made from metal. There is also always the stigma that if a RED is on set, it's a "big deal".
Image quality. Obviously the biggest deciding factor here. I love the richness of the camera. True blacks, high dynamic range, rich colors, lovely skin tones. Even when you have a higher ISO image the grain is more filmic than digital.
Talk about timing.
I had scheduled 3 music videos to shoot during a 6 day span of time in September. Six days before day 1 I got an email saying my camera would be arriving that weekend. What an absolutely perfect time to put the camera through its paces! Shooting consecutive days in all kinds of environments under different lighting set ups and sources is the best way to learn your gear through and through.
From well lit interiors to natural light exteriors we ran the gamut of locations and lighting scenarios. Now let's cut to the chase, how did the camera perform?
Let me share with you my thoughts.
Cropped sensor: This wasn't as big of a deal as I was expecting. Most of my videos are shot in a "cinema" aspect ratio of widescreen or 2:35. When shooting 4.5k WS the width of the frame is nearly the same as Super 35. Perfect. I shot on Zeiss 18, 35, 50, and 85mm.
Low light: Not the best, especially coming from an A7s. But I quickly adjusted my thinking and we had ample lighting. The camera goes up to 3200 ISO. I wouldn't suggest shooting that high, but even if you have to the grain doesn't look horrible. Ideally keep it at 800 ISO and shoot with fast lenses. My 18 is a 3.5 so that was challenging at points.
Slow Motion: I am in love with the options this camera allows. I shot a lot of the story sequences in 48fps on these videos. The 120fps looks amazing in 4.5k. Really clean and impressive looking. I shot some sequences at 300fps for fun. Definitely some grain and artifacts present but its quite cool to see action in super low motion.
Black Shading: This was something I wasn't super familiar with and it's very important. In a nut shell, the cameras temperature and the shutter speed affect your black shade. If your black shade is way off you will not have the cleanest image you can. Let's say you go from an air conditioned house out to 100 degree heat. You may have to redo your black shading right then, which will take up to 30 minutes. You can alternatively create black shade profiles for the situations you will be in, but that is hard to make as many as you may need with situations being hard to plan for ahead of time.
4.7 inch RED monitor: Soffffft. So soft. This monitor is exceedingly difficult to judge correct focus on. You need to have focus peaking on at all times just to really make sure you are in focus. The problem here is that the peaking makes almost anything look in focus. For whatever reason there is no option for colored edge peaking. Quite frustrating. At times we used a SmallHD 701/501 and for whatever reason the image on them was at least 1-2 stops darker than the RED monitor which was accurate with the images in premiere. Also note that the monitor does not swivel. You only have the option of tilting up and down.
Build Quality: Super solid camera. The placement of the inputs/outputs was great and easily assessable. The size of the camera is great for going hand held and for gimbal work. Lens mount is very solid with no wobbling on focus pulls.
Top Handle. Not a fan. You can only fit about 3 fingers on it and it's so small that I feel like I may lose grip on the camera at any moment. I am used to a full top handle where you can really handle the camera and feel safe about it. I will be purchasing the Wooden Camera top handle.
What you should know when shooting RED.
If you are flaring the lens with direct light such as a backlight or the sun, if you stop down on the lens you will get sensor pixel flare in the image. Looks like a bunch of pink circles. To avoid this, use ND and keep your lens fairly wide open.
Create Black Shade profiles for the settings you think you will be using on set. This way when you are in a new environment or shooting high shutter / high frame rate you will already be set to go.
Have enough MiniMags. When shooting 4.5k especially at high speeds you will run through a lot of storage.
Bring enough batteries! a 91 watt hour battery will give you about 1 hour 20 minutes of use.
If you are shooting lower light scenes, bring fast lenses f2 and lower.
Internal audio sucks. The new cameras have scratch mics which is awesome but even at max they are at about -20db.
That about wraps up my thoughts on the camera! I am extremely pleased with the results and the experience of shooting with the Raven. It is definitely not a DSLR and it will take more time to shoot with but it's well worth it. Also, the body of the camera is about 7k... But to be shooting you will be in at least 16k. Then add 4-15k in lenses and you will be set up quite nicely.
Most of my kit is pretty simple and meant to move fast. For outdoor locations I use an 1800 watt putt putt for power. Accompanying that is a 485 watt LED fresnel, 20 watt fresnel, 2 1000 LED panels and a 4x4 Kino. The LEDs can be run off gold mount batteries to be able to swing around quickly or take load off the generator.
I don't use any kind of shoulder rig because I like to shoot low from the stomach/hips. I am 6' so when shoulder mounted I am almost always looking down at things, one of my least favorite angles. Also shooting from the hip allows me to be more mobile and move the camera according to the action. I am a very guerrilla style director/shooter. The Raven is a perfect size for this. The top handle that comes with the Raven is basically worthless, I will be purchasing a top handle from Wooden Camera.
I didn't yet have time to perfect the Raven on the Ronin but throwing it on fully built worked great. I had 2 occasions where the camera was tilted down too far and the motors gave out. In the future I will be purchasing more Ronin batteries and powering the Raven directly from the gimbal to reduce weight.
Below are some raw screenshots right off the camera from the shoots. Shannon Taylor was incredible and a joy to work with. I shot all these videos with my Zeiss ZF.2s, 18mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm.
In a bustling, cold airport waiting to catch a flight, a story was born. This is a two fold story. The story of two filmmakers drive and uncompromising attitudes, and the story of Frank and Bobby.
We begin with the filmmakers. I met Scott through various connections on social media. We immediately hit it off as kindred spirits and children in adult bodies. After a few weeks ranting, scheming, and day dreaming we decided we should make a short film. We didn't have a plan, we just wanted to create something we knew we were capable of.
It's quite easy to talk about films, good films, bad films, making films, etc... Now actually making something you are proud of from start to finish is another story all together. After kicking around a few ideas, the nucleus of a story began to form. I whipped up a detailed outline and shot it over to Scott as I boarded my flight. Once I landed he had a script snapped up. We went through a couple revisions and we knew we had something special…
Now let me fill you in on a little secret. We wrote the film around a very cool location, and actors that we had secondhand relationships with through colleagues – but had no idea whether or not we could actually confirm them for these roles. We took a risk crafting something so specifically geared for these actors– and knew that if they said no to the project, it would be dead in the water. But that only forced us to write something that would be so good, that we’d have to bet they couldn't say no after reading it.
Cobra Arcade Bar. How we love you. The sheer awesomeness of this place is only eclipsed by the incredible spirit of the owners and staff. The atmosphere combined with incredible nostalgic arcade cabinets is enough to make a grown man shed a single tear. After our first pitch meeting Nico, Topher, and Ari (the Cobra Arcade Ownership/Management team) were pretty stoked on the idea and they were on board to make this happen. As they said “They’re artists and like to support other artists who are doing crazy stuff.”
Marty and Jesse Kove. Legendary duo. Martin Kove, aka John Kreese from Karate Kid, is one of the hardest working and most badass actors we have had the pleasure of working with. To top it off, his son Jesse Kove is also a knock out actor with a perpetually positive attitude that will make anyone on set smile. Once we got the script into their hands they absolutely loved the idea of acting on screen together in this crazy short film of ours.
Little known fact: In the original draft our "Grambo" character was a 9 year old girl with pig tails. Upon securing the bar location we had to change that character to a "loony toons" type grandmother. Barbara McBain absolutely nailed this character!
Hollywood talent? Check.
Once we had our actors and locations locked down we reached out to some of the best local filmmakers we knew who wanted to rally up with us and have a great time. We were incredibly blessed to have such a great crew who dedicated their talent, time and energy and worked very hard on set to make something special with us.
A-List Crew? Check.
Now as much as we boot strapped on this thing there are still some very real costs associated with making a great short film. We had some of the most amazing Executive Producers who really believe in us and saw our vision early on. We can't thank them enough for their generosity to make this film and the experience a reality. Selling someone on the idea of investing in a film that is geared for commercial distribution is hard enough – convincing a team that you’re short film for artistic sake is worth backing can be even harder. It’s up to you to craft a film proposal that is so fun, important, meaningful and just plain cool – that it will attract people who support local arts and see the vision. Most importantly – make it fun for them by offering some cool experiences and incentives and be sure you can deliver on what you promise.
Let's make this thing already! We had one full day in the desert to get all of our game world shots. Unfortunately it was extremely windy that day, so we had to be very careful with our light modifiers. Essentially, our flags and diffusers were 10-foot wind sails staked on the dusty Arizona desert flats, and we risked them flying off and hitting cast and crew at any moment if not sandbagged and tied down. Safety first. This slowed us down and limited us a bit. But after a long 14 hour day we wrapped to get some rest. We had the next day to recoup and prepare for a long night. Cobra operates as a functioning bar, so they don’t close until 2am each night. By the time we got set up we were rolling our first shot, it was already 4am. Sun was set to come up at 6:30am. We had to move fast and loose in the arcade to make our day but by the end of it we knew we got everything we needed and knew it would be great.
Let's get technical! We shot on the RED Epic, with Zeiss CP2 lenses. Huge shout out to Dragon Fly Picture Studios for the camera package. I like to keep my lighting set ups minimal and fast moving. Outside we used shiny boards, silks, and an ultra bounce. Inside the arcade we used 650 fresnels and 4x4 Kinos, all courtesy of Thunder Grip and Electric.
The following week after production, Scott and I sat down to put together our rough cut. Once we got things tightened up we sent off an export for Tyler Parkinson of Captiv3 Media (one of our producers) to do the score and SFX pass. We also sent off a cut to Dan Fusselman of BitCrush FX for our key VFX passes, which he executed and then tag-teamed final VFX with Scott. The film was cut on Premiere CC and VFX were creating in After Effects.
We still had a missing piece though... The Game God, aka the floating hologram head in the sky, and literally the voice of the Show No Mercy game. We considered a number of Hollywood actors but none seemed to satisfy what the character called for…an epic voice that could bring the sardonic deity to life. Scott had the wild idea to contact local legend and world-class DJ, John Holmberg from 98KUPD, the biggest and best rock station in Phoenix. John has been doing the morning show over there for 16 years and is an amazing voice talent. Sure enough, John loved the idea and a week later he was in my living room in front of a green screen making everyone laugh and bringing the character to life.
Looking back it's quite heart warming seeing all the amazing people who came together with us to take this journey and make this film. It was a wonderful time proving to ourselves we could accomplish something special. There is such fulfillment in having an idea and seeing it all the way through to the end without compromising on your vision. We boldly pushed through with some really big ideas and through a lot of hard work and good faith from our team they all came together. I couldn't ask for more than that. Watching amazing actors speak the lines you write on paper, and then seeing an audience watch that is quite the special experience.
My advice to leave you with? Get out there and make your dreams come true! It may not happen in a day, week, or month. But if you keep sight of that end goal and you work hard you will absolutely get somewhere great. Dream big, think positive, execute often.
For more information and behind the scenes visit www.facebook.com/shownomercymovie
In the back woods of swampy Louisiana we made a music video. We laughed, we cried, we sung, we ate... lots of spicy food.
Today I will break down my methods and kit I used to shoot the new music video for Grant Meredith. I was approached by Nashville producer Matt Geroux for this project. We decided to shoot in Luisiana where the band had a connection with a local guy who had a large property and a bar in his backyard. Talk about Southern Hospitality, Adam Monk (the property owner) was a straight up legend. We shot the video over two days so we could be shooting around sundown each day. We wanted a real summer vibe in the video, since it's about partying all night and having a good time.
I decided to shoot this video on the A7s in S-Log so I could have the most dynamic range when shooting against the setting sun. I also wanted a lower contrast feel to the video. Being a country song I wanted a lot of low wide angle sweeping shots. To accomplish this I used the DJI Ronin and used a 24mm lens. The key light in all the outdoor performance is from a reflector on the silver side to match the sunset. Again with the theme of little gear for big results!
I decided to use the trucks in the background to give some depth and make the background a little more interesting. The rain was very hit or miss so we were trekking through mud the whole weekend. Luckily we had a really nice break with some beautiful clouds in the background!
My kit was pretty light on this project. Everything I used flew on a plane with me.
The combination of the Ronin, Inspire, and using a slider created a really nice feel for all the shots, cutting from movement to movement really helps move along with the song. The lighting that I used inside was a kit of LEDs from Ikan.
For the fire scenes the A7s just killed it. This is the low light beast on the market. I used the fire and then the tiki torches as my key light. I think I shot these scenes around 5000 iso.
The scenes inside the bar I used the 1000 LEDs, one up high to get a backlight and one off to the front side for a key. This stage was really compact so lighting it was a challenge. Even though there was no one partying in the background this shot cuts nicely with the night party stuff.
I wanted to give the bar scene some hype and make it feel like you were in the crowd so I had all our extras get really close to the stage and jump around. Shooting through all of their movement really helps add excitement.
The humidity was unreal, every time I took the camera outside the lens fogged up immediately, I just couldn't keep the lens dry. I decided to roll with it, it actually created some pretty cool flares. For this shot, I wanted Grant and his lady to be in the shot as a firework went off overhead. I basically was laying on the ground at 24mm to grab this shot.
For most of the days of summer shots I used the Ronin and ran through all kind s of bugs and mud to get some lovely movement as the guys flew down their hillbilly water slide.
The District Attorney of the city was there hanging out with us so we got him to call in some officers to do a mock arrest for the end of the video! (Only in Louisiana!)
When i edit music videos I line up all the video tracks with the master track which is the song. I go through and use the first really audible beat and use that for lining them up. Starting with wide shots to close ups, then the next scene and so on I stack them up. Performance on the bottom, story on the top then speciality clips. I then go through dragging clips back and forth to find the right shots for the next cut. It's kind of like having a huge ice block and carving that down to make your artwork. This process reminds me of the quote by Michelangelo "It is easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.".
It was a joy to work with Grant and the band. We all had such a great chill time, my kind of shoot! When everyone has fun and makes a great video I consider that a success. Let this video be an inspiration to you that you can make great things happen with a small amount of gear and just you!
With over 8 years of experience in the film industry one of my biggest passions is giving back to the community. Visit, learn, share, love.