Shooting a Documentary on a Boat in a couple of weeks (3 replies and 4 comments)
I will be shooting a documentary on a cargo vessel (approx. 60') this summer over a period of three months.
I have a number of questions relating to gear recommendations and could really use some advice from those who are familiar with the struggles of shooting at sea.
I have to plan on having extremely limited access to replacement parts if anything goes wrong with the equipment.
With this in mind, I'm looking for advice related to:
- Camera choice (durable, reliable, agile enough for documentary work.) I have thought it probably wise to bring an additional contingency B-camera along, assuming the worst.
- Weatherproofing and water-proofing gear: How do you recommend I go about protecting my gear from the elements? The weather and the sea will be unpredictable. I would like to create set-up that is fit to shoot in of the conditions that we find ourselves in (and certainly one that can withstand months of a beating from being on board).
- Stabilization. Is a shoulder rig, with handheld stabilization the way to go here (+ a tripod)? Or would you recommend looking for some kind of gimbal?
For stabilization recommendations, I plan on using this set-up for:
- shots where the subject is on the boat.
- shots taken from the boat, of the surrounding landscape.
- formal, locked-off interviews.
Ideally, this whole set-up could be transported if needed by a small production crew of two people, with the boat itself used as a base-camp.
These are most of the situations that I can think of that I am trying to plan for.
Thank you in advance for your advice. I am inexperienced with shooting in these kinds of conditions and am eager to hear from anyone whose experience I could learn from.
I think you should research how they shoot 'Deadliest Catch'. That series is really brilliantly done. Last time I shot a documentary on a boat I was using an Eclair NPR film camera! Things are a little different now.
Thank you for the recommendation! I've been really impressed with how they've managed to pull off the coverage they get in those situations. Following your recommendation to do some research, I found out they keep what might be considered as a small arsenal of cameras on each boat as a good number are inevitably lost to the sea.
Do you remember what it was like trying to film the crew in such close proximity to you when you made "Round the World with Ridgway?" It looks like I'm going to be finding myself in a very similar position.
Have worked on a few doc's out at sea delivering to streaming services (12-bit 444 min req).
Will attach my notes -
Cameras used - Venice (two weeks) - too heavy and hard to manoeuvre with external RAW recorder.
ALEXA Mini LF (three weeks) - expensive however, lighter (IF BUILT CORRECTLY) and beautiful image.
FX6 (three weeks) - XAVCI internal; external recorder ProRes RAW. ProRes RAW is an annoying codec as the whole Atomos / BlackMagic feud.
FX3 (week) - External recorder; interesting image was good c cam.
Canon C500 MkII - brilliant image and superior to the C300 (larger sensor) in the same form factor
Canon C300 MkIII? - Alright
Canon C70 - C300 but smaller.
All the cameras above never failed. They all where put in precarious environments and received an interesting dose of salt.
Weatherproofing - you're not going to create a solution that works in all conditions. As that's a completely sealed rig that then makes spontaneity and nimble action near impossible. We used wet bags (disposable and non-disposable) and had underwater housing for the FX6 (also had underwater cameras RED Heliums, Dragons, Epics etc).
Our main issue was salt spray and lived with the fact we're shortening cameras lives.
Stabilisation - we didn't use a tripod on a boat. We had one once and it was a great waste of space. Easyrigs (in non precarious sink-to-the-bottom-of-the-ocean scenarios) was the way to go, shoulder and overall light rigs.
For the Mini LF we ran the side V-lock plate (for size) top handle (no cage) rods and the nucleus m handles (we didn't go with the master grips - due to expense). We also had a scratch mic going into an a-box.
Our data-rate was approximately about 700gb/hour so I had large RAIDs on ship (note if its a small ship bring a UPS as diesel generators give off-frequency which fries controllers). I also brought IPA, distilled water and a bath ready to go for a camera and/or lens. I only ever had to take one camera a part and give it a clean.
If you're shooting a doc' and your priority is the story over the quality of image get a ton of disposable cameras - GoPro's, BMPCC's, A7sIII's etc.
Also, always put anything you value on the floor - I learnt that the hard way.
Thank you so much for your advice. Your experience being able to testify to the strengths and weaknesses of the different cameras in these conditions is really helpful.
I've heard that distilled water-damp towel trick before. What do you mean by IPA?
I'm curious: how large was the boat you were shooting on? What was the scenario?
Were you working with a crew?
I filmed a documentary for the BBC in 1992 aboard the 67 foot yacht ‘Nuclear Electric’, it was a around the world yacht race. My job was to fake on board life of a sailor so we only sailed in the English Channel for a few days, it was a shake down for the crew to try the boat out really. One thing I noticed was the lack of refinement, on board conditions were rather basic, one toilet, one very basic galley where you could not ‘swing a cat’ let alone a camera. The hammocks had to be shared as the crew were 4 hours on, 4 hours off round the clock. There was one electrical charging point, 12 volt and 240 Volt and everybody was using it, you had to pick your times when to use it. Secondly, there’s was lots of condensation, coming up from the cabin quickly to the open deck, the lens misted over immediately. You had to wait a good ten minutes for the lens to acclimatise to the cold air and many times I missed the shot, I was too late! We were using an Arri SR 16mm and Nagra 4.2, the Nagra was picking transmissions from France and at one time ‘Radio Moscow’. We shortened the Mic cable and this seemed to do the trick. One Arri mag had a rumbling bearing which the mic picked up so we were down one mag, we had four in total. I loaded the mags with fresh film in the toilet there was no where else to go, crew were sleeping round the clock so had to be quiet. I also wrapped the camera with ‘cling film’ to make it water proof but sea spray still managed to seep through somehow. The on board air cooled BMW motor cycle generator up front made a humming noise which was picked up by the Nagra so we switched to a Sennheiser super cardioid which improved things but it was too long and cumbersome for the job.
The other thing was the smell of diesel and food cooking, this made you nauseous all the time and it was hard to concentrate, sea sick pills did not work for me. Banging your head on a cupboard or rigging did not help either. I do wish you luck though.
Sounds like you had a rough one...
Did you ever find out a trick to resolving that condensation problem?
Yes, my handkerchief! I also kept a bag of silica gel inside the camera case and mag box to reduce moisture levels. There was a trick I learned once in Australia, that is to rub a sliced potato over the lens, water runs off the lens very quickly but does leave slight marks on the glass but that sometimes adds to the drama especially when smashing through the waves. I would normally have used a Betacam but is twice the weight of an Arri SR and is bulky to manoeuvre in tight spaces. To get good shots you need the cooperation of the crew as some shots had to be reset just for the camera but by then the original energy was lost but a good crew recognised your problem and gave it their all. Working with professionals makes your life much easier.