Muse Storytelling: Ninja Filmmaking – Commentary with my own hardware & software recommendations

https://www.ninjafilmmaking.com/minicourse

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.

Commentary

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.

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The camera that accidentally changed everything. Canon EOS 5D Mark II with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0 L IS USM kit zoom lens. Image courtesy of Canon.

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

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

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.

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Approved by Netflix for top quality broadcasting production. Panasonic Lumix DC-S1H rigged with Zacuto moviemaking accessories. Image courtesy of Zacuto.

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.

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Meike T2.2 Series 6x Cine lens Kit for MFT + Cine Lens Case, containing Meike cinema prime lenses for Micro Four Thirds cameras.

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.”

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PolarPro Variable Neutral Density Filter, Peter McKinnon Edition., Combo Set comprising 2 to 5 stops and 6 to 9 stops filters.

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.

Other Links

  • 3 Legged Thing – “The most technologically advanced tripod system in the world.”
  • Apple – Final Cut Pro X
  • Blackmagic DesignDaVinci 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 StorytellingNinja Filmmaking
  • OlympusM.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

Noam Kroll: Battle Of The 4K Mirrorless Cinema Cameras – Blackmagic Pocket Camera 4K, Canon EOS R, Fuji XT3

http://noamkroll.com/battle-of-the-4k-mirrorless-cinema-cameras-blackmagic-pocket-camera-4k-canon-eos-r-fuji-xt3/

“Several new mirrorless cameras were released or announced in recent weeks, including Blackmagic’s new Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, Canon’s EOS R, and Fuji’s XT3. All three cameras are clearly of interest to many filmmakers right now, so I wanted to share my two cents on them below.

… I have however, done some tests with Blackmagic’s new RAW codec, and will be sharing the results here on the blog this week.

But with regards to the new releases from BMD, Canon, and Fuji, what I’m going to outline below are simply my first impressions. I’ll aim to do follow up articles on each camera in more depth in the future, so if that’s something you would like to see, please let me know!…”

Commentary

Noam Kroll is one of the most-trusted sources for good, hard, reliable facts, insights and opinions on independent feature film moviemaking.

I am very much looking forward to reading his coming hands-on articles about the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, Canon EOS R and Fujifilm X-T3 mirrorless hybrid stills/video cameras for use in movie production.

Links

Help support ‘Untitled’

Clicking on these affiliate links and purchasing through them helps us continue our work for ‘Untitled’.

  • Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4KB&H
  • Canon EOS R Mirrorless Digital CameraB&H
  • Fujifilm X-T3 Mirrorless Digital CameraB&H

The Beat: How ProRes RAW Is Going to Change the Way You Work

https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/prores-raw-change-your-work/

“If things pan out the way they seem set to, ProRes RAW could change the way independent film and video professionals work for a long time.

In this article, we’ll briefly cover the basics of RAW, how Apple is attempting to streamline this with their new ProRes, and what that means for you as a filmmaker….

… The lightweight nature of the codecs also opens up possibilities for future minimization and streamlining of cinema cameras — similar to what previous ProRes codecs have done. Adopting a more open licensing policy with ProRes RAW could herald another new wave of cinema cameras, shattering price floors….”

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Atomos Shogun Inferno monitor/recorder, image courtesy of Atomos. The Shogun Inferno is one of the first devices to support ProRes RAW.

Links

Help support ‘Untitled’

Clicking on these affiliate links and purchasing through them helps us continue our work for ‘Untitled: Stories of Creativity, Innovation, Success’.

  • Atomos Shogun Inferno 7″ 4K HDMI/Quad 3G-SDI/12G-SDI Recording MonitorB&H
  • Atomos Sumo 19″ HDR/High Brightness Monitor RecorderB&H
  • DJI DL & DL-S Lens Set for Zenmuse X7 Camera (4 Pieces)B&H
  • DJI Inspire 2 Quadcopter with CinemaDNG and Apple ProRes LicensesB&H
  • DJI Zenmuse X7 Camera and 3-Axis GimbalB&H
  • DJI Zenmuse X7 DJI DL/DL-S Lens Set Carrying BoxB&H
  • Freewell IR ND Filters for DJI Zenmuse X5/X5R/X5S/X7 (5-Pack)B&H
  • PolarPro DJI Inspire 2 X7 / X5S / X5R / X5 Filter 6-PackB&H

Noam Kroll: My Review Of The Fuji X-T2: The Ultimate 4K Mirrorless For Narrative Filmmakers

http://noamkroll.com/my-review-of-the-fuji-x-t2-the-ultimate-4k-mirrorless-for-narrative-filmmakers/

“I had been keeping my eye on the market for a while, and knew that ultimately my decision would come down to the Lumix GH5 and the Fuji X-T2. Both are excellent cameras, and while the GH5 is likely a better option for many filmmakers, based on my unique needs I chose to go with the X-T2. …”

…With regards to resolution, clarity, and motion cadence, the X-T2 is absolutely superb. It delivers detailed images that are clear and crisp without being overly sharp, and it handles panning shots and other motion very well, with less motion judder/artifacts in 24p than what I have come to expect from many other cameras.

Great News! Director/Cinematographer Mike Figgis Has Redesigned The Legendary, Innovative Fig Rig Video Camera Rig

Just as I was wondering if we would ever see the likes again of movie director Mike Figgis’ innovative, legendary Fig Rig, welcome news arrives of the Fig Rig’s redesign for more contemporary video camcorders and hybrid cameras courtesy of The Guardian newspaper’s culture webchat with the creator of the Fig Rig himself, Mr Mike Figgis

First version of the Mike Figgis-designed Fig Rig, made for the HD and SD camcorders of the pre-4K DSLR and DSLM digital moviemaking era.

Here is the relevant extract from the webchat:

artmod asks: Do you still use your Fig Rig?

Mike Figgis, 19 June 2017 1:17pm: Good question. I use it all the time. And have spent the last two months redesigning and updating it, based on using a 15-mm bar system, combining it with bits of equipment acquired cheaply from the internet. And it has been a revelation.

I’m using it with a Canon C300 and the new Nikon D5, adding follow focus and a 7-inch monitor and it is working beautifully.
I’m talking to Manfrotto about relaunching it and if not them, would love to find a small British company and stay local.

Great news indeed and I hope that Mr Figgis finds a good new manufacturing and marketing partner for Fig Rig version 3 – Manfrotto made and marketed Fig Rig in its first and second, Sympla, versions – or hashes out a great deal with Manfrotto ensuring that Fig Rig 3 will be affordably priced, well distributed and better marketed than its predecessors.

Although I have not had the pleasure of seeing and trying out a Fig Rig, and one was not available for purchase when I was searching, the short movie above showing Mr Figgis using a Fig Rig version 1 reveals its uniqueness as a camera-supporting solution, one based on the human body and natural human movement in a way foreign to better-known movie camera stabilization solutions such as shoulder-mounts, gimbals, Steadicam and the like.

Mr Figgis shared that he has been using Canon’s Cinema EOS C300 camcorder and Nikon’s D5 DSLR lately and so has based his Fig Rig redesign around them.

It is likely that Fig Rig 3 will function equally well with other mid-sized camcorders and cinema cameras such as Panasonic’s AU-EVA1 Super 35 Handheld Cinema Camera and smaller DSLM cameras such as Panasonic’s Lumix DC-GH5 Super 16 hybrid with or without camera cages, battery grips, audio or video recorders and the like.

If so, colour me very excited indeed.

Links:

Image Credits:

Header image concept and hack by Carmel D. Morris.

With the Unique Manfrotto Fig Rig Long Dead, What Will Replace It? – UPDATE

NOTE: Since writing this article, I came across a comment from Mike Figgis about the Fig Rig Mark III that I have written about in this article:


The technology world is littered with unique, brilliant inventions that solved a common set of problems perfectly but that were badly marketed, poorly distributed, set at the wrong price point, or failed to find a manufacturer in the first place.

One such product failed by the system was the Fig Rig, invented by movie director Mike Figgis and manufactured in two versions with accessories by Manfrotto.

I wish I had been able to buy a Fig Rig when they were available for too brief a time.

With the Fig Rig now dead, is there anything that can take its place?

The Manfrotto Sympla version of the Fig Rig, adding bells, whistles, expense and the opposite of simple?

I suspect the answer is no, and the video industry is all the poorer for it. Although one could try the plastic pipe DIY option, there are alternatives to the Fig Rig, similar rigs in smaller circular or semi-circular shapes, but neither of the makers of HaloRig nor the Steadywheel have the financial might or global distribution partners of a holding company like Manfrotto’s owner, the Vitec Group plc.

Vitec’s press relations people have not responded to enquiries about the Fig Rig’s fate so we can only speculate and lament the truncated life of a product that had a purity of intention and design, loads of potential, needed to be downsized and updated for modern hybrid cameras, and deserved a marketing effort it that apparently failed to receive.

Manfrotto’s now discontinued Fig Rig video steadying device

The only images of the Fig Rig that I could find on the Web and in a PDF document are low resolution so I have tried to enlarge them a little here.

Mike Figgis made a short video showing off the Fig Rig in action during a walk through the streets of London. The director did his own camerawork.

What I love about the Fig Rig is that it is body-centred, gestural, in the way that my stills cameras are when I am in the middle of the action making documentary photographs and, in order to get the exact framing I want of people near and far, left and right of frame, bend my knees, lean and swivel. I want the same range of movements when shooting documentary video.

Shoulder rigs don’t do it for me though they certainly have their uses, likewise steadicams, stabilizers, gimbals and all their many and various variations.

Of all the images in the gallery above, for me the key is the one at left on the second line down, showing how the Fig Rig allows an operator to pitch, roll and yaw the camera in the same way that an aeroplane does.

And what happened to Manfrotto’s other great white hope, the Lino Apparel Collection?

The Manfrotto Lino Pro range of photographers’ clothing for women and men appears to have suffered the same fate as the Fig Rig. Again, I did not have the pleasure of seeing any of the items in a camera store so have no idea of their design and manufacturing quality and fit but judging by two videos and the tiny photographs below, they look like a brilliant solution to a common problem.

It seems that the Lino Pro range was initially made for only men but a women’s line was added later, according to Manfrotto’s press release at PR Newswire.

I gave up being fashionable long ago; in fact I never have been given photography and moviemaking have played such a large role in my life from teenagerdom onwards. I have pursued style and functionality though, and that has not easy here at any time.

Finding functional, stylish clothing has become less difficult lately with the arrival of UniQlo in Australia, enabling me to wear a basic black layered core all year round by relying on the company’s Airism and Heattech undergarment ranges.

Now all I need is a set of functional, stylish overgarments I can pop on when going out or shooting in my home studio, and that support the special needs of photographers and moviemakers. Manfrotto’s Lino Apparel Collection would have been the bee’s knees had they not been killed off almost as soon as they were born, or so it seems.

Links:

Image Credits:

Header image concept and hack by Carmel D. Morris.

Panasonic: 5.7K Super 35 Handheld Cinema Camera | AU-EVA1

http://business.panasonic.com/AU-EVA1.html#sc_sp=business-category_featuresAd_products-professionalvideo-cinemacameras_AU-EVA1&start=1&cgid=products-professionalvideo-cinemacameras-aueva1

LumaForge: LumaForge NAB 2017 Recap Video Playlist