The current state of the world has posed challenges for all of us. As filmmakers, our challenges have been extra unique. Budgets are reduced, crews need to be smaller, and we are generally expected to work with less resources. That’s why we created the free Ninja Filmmaking mini-course: to show you how to create big results by outthinking your challenges. We’ll break down exactly how to plan out your story and be a far more proactive, stealth and intentional filmmaker.
The Muse Storytelling folks have launched a free online short course under the title Ninja Filmmaking that is aimed at helping moviemakers cope and survive if not thrive in this pandemic-affected world.
If things were difficult enough for independent self-funded documentary moviemakers before the arrival of COVID-19, they are even more challenging now with personal income and resources radically reduced and yet even more need for us to produce compelling visual storytelling to production standards that are constantly growing higher and higher.
Luckily, we are in the post-DSLR filmmaking revolution era, the now well-established mirrorless hybrid era with high quality, affordable cameras that can record excellent stills as well as video footage to current UHD broadcast and cinema projection standards.
Moviemaking remains, however, a predominantly white, middle-class occupation except in places where those of us locked out of the system have banded together in cooperatives with the support of donors and mentors to equip and teach ourselves to tell our own stories.
The last such organization located in Sydney’s inner-city suburb of Paddington shut its doors several years ago after charging high fees for equipment rental and training during its later years.
Any free or affordable training by well-qualified moviemakers is welcome and I am for grateful Muse Storytelling’s ‘Ninja Filmmaking’ online course and advice on what for current production standards by one-person bands.
Moviemaking remains costly here
As Drew Turney of Filmism.net shared in a recent newsletter:
We all know moviemaking is an inherently expensive exercise. Even the amount of money we’d consider low (or no) budget filmmaking would be enough to get the average middle class family out of debt for the rest of their lives.
Drew bounces between Perth in Western Australia and Los Angeles, and is doubtless aware that moviemaking is an even more costly exercise in Australia than it is in the USA, with our exchange rates, lack of importer and retailer competition and local unavailability of many key items as well as non-representation of a number of useful, even essential, brands.
Nonetheless the equipment list shared by the Muse/Ninja folks is a good one based on the currently most affordable and versatile feature-quality Super 35 hybrid camera, the Fujifilm X-T4, supported by microphones from Australia’s own world-famous audio equipment maker, Røde Microphones, along with other currently popular lighting and grip products.
Production hardware recommended by Ninja Filmmaking
- B&H – Countryman B3 Omni Lavalier Mic, Standard Sens, with TA5F Connector for Lectrosonics Wireless Transmitters
- B&H – DJI Mavic Mini
- B&H – DJI Ronin-SC Gimbal Stabilizer
- B&H – FUJIFILM X-T4 Mirrorless Digital Camera
- B&H – FUJIFILM XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR Lens
- B&H – FUJIFILM XF 35mm f/1.4 R Lens – known by Fujifilm as the “God Lens” for its quirky but lush rendering, though my personal preference for documentary video work is Fujifilm’s Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 R moderate wide-angle lens.
- B&H – GNARBOX 2.0 SSD 1TB Rugged Backup Device
- B&H – Lowepro Whistler Backpack 450 AW II
- B&H – Peak Design Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod
- B&H – Rode VideoMic NTG Hybrid Analog/USB Camera-Mount Shotgun Microphone
- B&H – Rode Wireless GO Compact Digital Wireless Microphone System
- B&H – Roland R-07 Portable Audio Recorder
- B&H – Rycote Undercover, Lavalier Wind Cover and Adhesive Mount
- B&H – SmallRig 2164 Multifunctional Crab Clamp with 3.5″ Ball Head Arm
- B&H – SmallRig Cold Shoe Mount Top Handle
- B&H – Westcott 6×6′ Scrim Jim Cine Kit
- B&H – Westcott Bi-Color Flex Lights
The list is a useful starting point though I would recommend considering alternatives from brands like 3 Legged Thing, Olympus, Panasonic, Rotolight and many others.
Some alternatives and extras to the above
- B&H – 3 Legged Thing tripods
- B&H – Atomos Ninja V 5″ 4K HDMI Recording Monitor
- B&H – Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
- B&H – Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K
- B&H – Meike cinema lenses
- B&H – Miller Air Carbon Fiber Tripod System
- B&H – Olympus M.Zuiko Pro lenses for Micro Four Thirds cameras
- B&H – Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 50-200mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. POWER O.I.S. Lens
- B&H – Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm f/1.7 ASPH. Lens
- B&H – Panasonic Lumix DC-G100 Mirrorless Digital Camera with 12-32mm Lens and Tripod Grip Kit
- B&H – Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera
- B&H – Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera
- B&H – Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera
- B&H – Panasonic Lumix DC-S5 Mirrorless Digital Camera with 20-60mm Lens
- B&H – Rotolight LED lighting for video and stills photography
- B&H – Sachtler Flowtech 75 tripods
- B&H – Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens for Canon EF
- B&H – Sigma fp mirrorless digital camera
The Muse Storytelling team’s Ninja Filmmaking gear list is a good one and in the best of all possible worlds would be affordable and findable at local retailers, had COVID-19 not arrived to disrupt supply chains and global air freight not to mention Australian and US postal reliability, or rather, the lack thereof.
As underlined by the Ninja Filmmaking list’s reliance on Røde Microphone’s products for audio recording, Australian brands such as Atomos, Blackmagic Design and Miller Tripods are highly regarded in video production around the world for their affordability and durability under challenging conditions.
While Fujifilm’s X-T4 Super 35 hybrid camera is an impressive performer and the company’s Fujinon prime and zoom lenses are justly respected by cinematographers, there are other approaches to video production.
Panasonic has been making strides in its S-Series 35mm sensor hybrid cameras with the Netflix-approved Lumix S1H while the recently announced S5 looks like a respectable and affordable lower-specced alternative A or B camera.
Panasonic’s G-Series Micro Four Thirds hybrid cameras like the Lumix GH5, GH5S and even the G9 have impressive video capabilities, excellent IBIS and a documentary-style Super 16 4K look and feel, though many moviemakers regret the company’s reliance on DFD contrast-detection autofocus when autofocus rather than traditional manual focus-pulling is becoming increasingly important for one-person bands.
While Westcott’s Flex Lights are impressively versatile in combination with the company’s Scrim Jim bounce and diffusion system, I have long relied on industry-leading Rotolight’s LED lights for stills and video.
Sachtler’s Flowtech tripods are reportedly fast and efficient to use on location by solo moviemakers while Miller’s solo user tripods are solid performers and prove great investments, lasting for many years in the trenches.
Independent stills and now video tripod maker 3 Legged Thing continues to expand its range with constant innovation in a field where innovation was sluggish for years.
Olympus’ M.Zuiko Pro manual clutch focus cum fly-by-wire autofocus professional lenses are benchmarks of lens design in any sensor format whereas Meike’s expanding collections of affordable geared cinema lenses show real promise in independent production compared to the exorbitant prices usually charged for cinema primes.
The question is, then, what look and feel, what visual and operating style suits you, your personality and your personal circumstances best?
Hardware and software Ninja Filmmaking forgot
The Muse Storytelling folks have assembled a great core list of hardware recommendations but they left out some essential items of hardware and software for the “proactive, stealth and intentional filmmaker.”
To date no hybrid camera other than Fujifilm’s X100 series comes with built-in neutral density filters so one must invest in sets of fixed value neutral density filters or the variable neutral density filters that are most appropriate for one person run-and-gun moviemakers.
Quite a few documentary and video journalism cinematographers have matching variable NDs permanently attached to each lens in their kit to avoid exchanging filters on the spot.
Brands to look out for include Aurora-Aperture, Breakthrough Photography, Formatt-Hitech Firecrest, PolarPro, SLR Magic and many others.
If you are collecting filters with industry-standard diameters of 77mm or 82mm then you need step-up rings to attach them to lenses with smaller filter diameters.
Brands I use and recommend include Breakthrough Photography, Heliopan, PolarPro and Sensei, but I lean towards hardened aluminium or better yet brass, and look for knurled step-up rings for ease of use, and fast removal and attachment in the field.
Lastly, whatever camera you are using, you cannot go wrong with Paul Leeming’s Leeming LUT Pro system for creating perfect colorimetry and colours indistinguishable from what your eye sees.
Expose your footage using Mr Leeming’s recommended ETTR aka expose to the right method, demonstrated on the Leeming LUT Pro web page, and your footage will be eminently gradable to feature film standards in editing and grading software like Final Cut Pro and DaVinci Resolve.
- 3 Legged Thing – “The most technologically advanced tripod system in the world.”
- Apple – Final Cut Pro X
- Blackmagic Design – DaVinci Resolve – “DaVinci Resolve 16 is the world’s only solution that combines professional 8K editing, color correction, visual effects and audio post production all in one software tool!”
- Fujifilm-X Global
- Leeming LUT Pro – “Leeming LUT Pro™ is the world’s first unified, corrective Look Up Table (LUT) system for supported cameras, designed to maximise dynamic range, fix skin tones, remove unwanted colour casts and provide an accurate Rec709 starting point for further creative colour grading. The Pro II LUTs are designed for perfect Rec709 colorimetry and have a linear luma curve, with an average measured dE(2000) of less than 1, meaning they are visually indistinguishable from reality to the human eye.”
- Muse Storytelling – Ninja Filmmaking
- Olympus – M.Zuiko Pro – “With no compromises made, M.Zuiko PRO lenses are amazing in every aspect.”
- Panasonic Lumix Global
- Peak Design – “Our products must be innovative, beautifully crafted, and quite literally the best in their category. “
- Røde Microphones
- Rotolight – “From the very first LEDs to offer the shoot what you see benefits of continuous lighting and High Speed Sync flash all-in-one, to the brightest 2×1 soft light ever made, Rotolight LEDs streamline the workflows of imagemakers across the world.”
- Sachtler – Flowtech 75 MS