When I went into production with my second feature film, "Splitting Bethany", it was difficult for me to choose a camera. In contrast to my previous feature film "Footsteps", which was shot on RED MX, I did not have a dedicated cameraman in this film and decided to shoot the film myself. This was an amazing experience as I was able to work with the actors and the scene in a way that was very organic and uninterrupted. Nevertheless, there were definitely some problems with the production, how to take on the role as DP and direct at the same time. Ultimately, I felt that the answer to finding the right balance between director and camera would be to choose the right camera.
During the development of the film, I initially decided to use the Blackmagic camera. It made the most sense as the picture quality is amazing, the price was right, and the size and usability seemed perfect for a bare bones setup. As the months passed and my BMCC never arrived, I had to think about other options. I had only decided on the camera about a week or two before our first day of shooting. At the time of pre-production and production, I had a colleague's RED MX package in my closet. In fact, it was the same camera that I used to shoot my first feature. An amazing camera, but massive and difficult to use without a first and a second alternating current. I was very tempted to only use the RED MX and deal with all the production headaches associated with trying to use this camera with a minimal camera team. As tempting as it was, I quickly realized that the end result of the film would suffer even if I could do it. Sure, I would have a feature shot in 4.5K, but it would mean missing a lot of shots, longer days, fewer settings, and a longer post-processing process.
So I was back in first place and had no camera in mind yet. After a long back and forth – when I was thinking about rental options or buying other cameras (like an FS100), I realized that the answer was always in front of me. The GH2. I used it for so many projects, films, commercials, etc. on a really low budget that I didn't even think about it at first. I almost had a stigma on the camera and thought I should only use it for small jobs with fast processing. But at some point a light bulb went out and I told myself that I had to commit to taking pictures with this camera. This would mean more money for other aspects of production that are more important than additional resolution lines, and it would also mean a simplified post workflow.
In the end it was the right choice. I managed to get on with the GH2 and try to get as many details out of the sensor as possible. I knew there were limitations and strengths in the shot, and that helped me a lot, as I planned a lot of shots around the camera to make sure I didn't press too hard or too much in low light complicated pans / slides.
During the filming I was mainly on sticks and used a Sachtler ACE tripod. I would estimate that about 70% of the film is on the tripod. This is a really great tripod and a fluid head for the price. The legs are not amazing, but I could live with it – it just meant putting some weight on the floor with certain punches. But the fluid head worked wonders for me. It really helped to get some nice camera movements relatively easily. On the last day of production, one of the legs of the tripod just fell off (apparently there is a kind of adhesive there that does not hold up well in cold weather). But it was fixed for me the next day and has worked wonderfully since then.
For the recordings that were not on the tripod, I would either use a small shoulder rig (from jag35) or have it on my Cinevate Slider. Both products worked perfectly for the shoot. The jag35 shoulder rig is actually pretty well built considering the price / size, but I wished I had bought the extra counterweight for the rig as it was often quite front-heavy, especially with a large lens. I usually attached the rig directly to the tripod so I can easily remove it and use it on my shoulder if necessary. The Cinevate slider was incredible. I wrote about it in previous blog posts, but it was really a workhorse and possibly the best equipment I used for the shoot. I didn't do any steadicam or dolly shots because I knew our budget / crew couldn't fit in the production, so I blocked the scenes so that I didn't need this kind of support.
My girlfriend with the camera:
I used a fairly large mix of lenses during the shoot. I have my own kit (which is very versatile at first), but I also rented a few Zeiss EF mount lenses throughout the shoot, which were used for about half of the scenes. I found the GH2 to work wonderfully with almost every lens I threw at it. Although they all have their own unique characteristics, of course, the GH2 makes a great contribution to making everything feel very consistent. At the moment I am in the DI / Color Grading phase of the Post and find it child's play to compare shots from scenes, even if I used three completely different lenses.
When choosing the lenses to rent or use from my own kit, the most important element was that they were very quick. I think the slowest lens I used was maybe a 2.8, but almost everything was a 1.4, 1.2 or 1.8. This was because I wanted to move quickly and minimize the need for a lot of light. I shot the entire film with a small Lowell lighting set. The kit consists of 4 lights from 250 W to 750 W. I also used a porcelain ball on some shots (which worked wonderfully), but for the most part I mainly wanted to use natural light and only use the minimum amount of light required to highlight the existing lighting conditions. This way we were able to stay light-footed, which was one of my main goals in production. I could literally install all of our production equipment in the trunk of my car and I have a 2-door.
After shooting the camera continuously for a few weeks under all possible conditions – interiors, exteriors, dim light, freezing cold, under water, etc. – I could really understand how powerful this camera really is. All in all, one of the greatest professionals using this camera was the fact that I could be extremely spontaneous while taking pictures. That was really important to me when I went into production because I wanted to do a lot of montages and we shot guerrilla style in many places without permission. So it was important that we could move quickly. The cost of this was another big advantage, since recording with this camera is practically free, because the camera itself is so inexpensive, and the memory cards it records on are also very inexpensive. Another big plus was that our DMT had it really easy. The entire film fits on a small 2 terabyte drive currently on my desk, and that's a pleasure after editing several external elements from my last film shot on RED.
There were a few drawbacks to taking pictures with this camera, as you can imagine. Perhaps the biggest negative was unfortunately the perception of the camera by the cast and crew. Although at no point did anyone question the camera and everyone seemed to be impressed by the footage, there was a noticeable difference in the feeling on the set between this and my last feature. And I attribute a lot of it to the camera. If you have a skeleton crew and a small cast with little or no camera experience, they can look like a very amateurish tool to them. That shouldn't really matter and I don't care, but the reality is that people who see a 30-pound RED camera in front of them suddenly feel like they're on a film set, wherever there is one SLR smaller than what her parents are likely to own gives some cast members / crews cause for concern. Again, this is a point that shouldn't matter, but unfortunately, those who don't understand cameras often don't know what is possible with a camera if you know how to work with it. The only other major drawback to the camera is the fact that there isn't much space to rate the footage in the post. The GH3 is quite superior to the GH2 in this regard. The GH2 takes a great picture that looks phenomenal out of the camera, and while you can tweak the colors in the post by a certain amount, you really can't push it that far or it starts to fall apart. If I hadn't been spoiled by shooting / sorting a lot of RED and Alexa footage in the past year, I would have been more careful with my white balance as there are some scenes that were taken warm and are now a little difficult to cool down and search for how I want it. In this regard, the GH2 can extend your time on the set and in the mail because you may want to take more time on the set to fix the look, and in the post you have to work extra hard to correct it.
Here are a few stills from the film:
No camera is perfect and every camera has its advantages and disadvantages, but if I had to go back, I would have chosen the GH2 again. Most people who have seen my two films do not notice any difference in quality between this and my last film made on RED. The trained eye can of course see the differences, but the audience is concerned with the story about the dissolution. It really shows that it is not the camera, but what is in front and behind it. And sometimes working with a camera like the GH2 is a great exercise because you are forced to make important, detailed, and conscious decisions about what you do. And when you switch to RED or Blackmagic for another shoot, it suddenly seems unnaturally easy to achieve the look you want – especially in the post.
Here is the teaser trailer that was released last month:
UPDATE: If you're in the market for DSLR options for your movie, check out my last post on my top 5 DSLRs for video. And if you're torn between GH2 and GH3, here is my current comparison between GH2 and GH3.
Noam Kroll is an award-winning filmmaker from Los Angeles and founder of the boutique production house Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television and in various publications around the world. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!