When Less Gear is More. A Case Study in Namibia.

By January 22, 2014 Uncategorized 44 Comments

When you start talking on big filmmaking projects, travel is often an integral part of bringing it to life. Gear envy, and wanting to bring everything with us, is a problem we often suffer from whether we shoot locally or not.  Travel adds in the complexity of needing to transport the gear, baggage fees, plus we often have smaller crews. In this post and tutorial we’ll share some key ideas on how you can tell a stronger story while bringing less gear.

One of the scenes in #standwithme takes us to Africa, to the middle of the Kalahari Desert. To get there, we had to make 4 different connections, from plane to plane, to plane to Land Rover. And as if that wasn’t enough, we still had the harsh desert environment to deal with once we got there.

So here we are with the opportunity of a lifetime. We are following somebody who just won Humanitarian Photographer of the Year, we get to travel to the incredibly inspiring country of Namibia, and this will be a huge scene in our first feature length documentary. How do you not bring everything in your arsenal?

 

In this tutorial we’ll take you along for the ride as we travel to Namibia and share our approach to packing, where less is more.

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A film is made well before the cameras roll. You can always do more with less as long as you take the time to plan it out. By looking at what we were trying to say and seeing how it fits into the overall story we were able to break it down, scene by scene, shot by shot, to see what tools we needed to bring. Less gear means we could move quicker, save on luggage, and most importantly – always be present and focused on the story, instead of being overwhelmed with two many options.

Here’s how we travelled to Namibia with nothing more than carry-ons. Don’t believe us? Below is a rundown of what we brought, and how it worked for us (spoiler: it all worked out!)

Camera/Lenses

Camera Support

Audio

Light

 

We had one shoulder bag that held the cameras and lenses. Another shoulder bag for the Movi disassembled. Then our backpacks held the lighting, audio, and camera support (oh, and all of those personal items like clothes).

Next time you’re planning for a shoot, even if it’s local and you don’t have to travel far, don’t automatically throw everything in the car. By taking the time to think through it, it’ll force you to be more proactive as supposed to reactive, and really know what you’re going into.

 

Here are the big questions to ask yourself;

 

  • What do you want to say? What is this shoot actually about and what are you hoping to get out of it. Push yourself to know what would make a ‘perfect shoot’ and then use that to help determine the essentials of what you need.

  • For Example: We knew we’d want Lisa interacting with the Himba, we’d need an interview of her in the field, and we’d want to celebrate the challenge of travelling so far for her work. It all needed to be real, we needed to let her do her thing without stopping or slowing her down. These few points offer so much insight into all of our gear choices.

 

  • What scene are you coming in from? And what scene are you going out to? Often we do a shoot as part of a larger project. Push yourself to really know how this shoot or scene fits into the overall project so you can plan exactly what you need and start by making that happen.

  • For Example: We knew this scene would plan in the beginning of the movie. We’d hear the story of Eric & Alex seeing the image in the gallery that started all of this, and then we needed to setup Lisa as a character and everything that goes into bringing her images to life. We’d then go out to her on stage at TedX as she talks about the power of a photograph to inspire action. Knowing this gave us some strong ideas for shots to open and close with, as well as the added bonus of how to frame her interview.

 

  • What kind of environments will you be dealing with? Story first also means being practical and knowing your limits. Think about how much space, time, and crew you’ll have and make gear decisions that are realistic.

  • For Example: We’d have small Cessnas, 4×4’s, and be trekking through the Kalahari. These small, tight, and hot environments really narrow down what’s not possible to bring, and what gear choices could maximize their impact for the amount of space they take up (such as the reflector).

 

  • How do you want it to feel? Try to make gear choices that enable you to do just that instead of having the option to everything, just in case.

  • For Example: We wanted this to feel big, epic, and adventurous. Lisa has travelled to over 100 countries for her work, often for months at a time to the most remote places on earth. We needed this one scene to attempt to convey that to the audience. And these days, we spell epic with a M, O, V, and I.

 

It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a small crew and not a lot of gear. A film is made well before the cameras roll. That means pushing yourself to know what you’re trying to say and to focus on saying just that, but saying it in a really remarkable way.

We believe your approach to filmmaking is the most important thing you can develop as a storyteller. If you’ve enjoyed the ideas we’ve shared here, join us to discuss a day full of approaches on how to tell a remarkable story. In July 2015, we’ll be hosting a number of Storytelling with Heart workshops in Australia and New Zealand. Hope you’ll join us.

About Patrick Moreau

I love stories that challenge the way we see things.

44 Comments

  • Paul says:

    Thank you for sharing this info. Did you have a DSLR as a camera back up? I’m sure it was a tight squeeze as it was.

    Paul

  • Brian Hosan says:

    Do you pack any of your backup gear in other bags or put all of it in carry-ons? I always worry about getting hung in the field so I tend to overpack a little, but try hard to keep it light. If there is anything “extra,” what gets placed into your checked baggage?

    Brian

  • Jared says:

    What was the bags you use for carry on? What do you do when the monopod gets all dried out?

    • Patrick says:

      Hey Jared,

      We used a Lowepro Nova shoulder bag for this shoot, plus the other Kata bag, which was the perfect size for the Movi disassembled.

      We brought WD-40 just for this shoot, and used it daily after going in the Kalahari. There are some better options than WD-40 for long term solutions, but this worked well and is easy to source.

      P.

  • Alex says:

    Amazing as always what you can do with the right tools! How was the battery situation and how were you able to keep everything charged? A ton of batteries or a solar powered solution?

    Thanks,

    Alex

    • Patrick says:

      Alex – we actually looked in to solar solutions but didn’t end up needing them. The place we stayed at – which was entirely remote, had a large solar panel attached to each room, so it also had power. We charged overnight and we had enough battery power to go 2-3 days without needing a charge.

      P.

  • Shelly says:

    Thank you so much Patrick for this post. Can’t wait to see #standwithme in DC! What did you do for recharging batteries while in a place with limited/no energy source? Thank you.
    Shelly

  • Daniel Eggert says:

    Hey Stillmotion Team,
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful video!
    I personaly still would have packed quite differently for such a shoot.
    For example the Edelkrone Slider V2 is just perfect for such projects
    and I was wondering why you used no primes (because of their small size and the less distracting effect for the native people).
    Anyway huge greetings from italy 🙂
    Dan

    • Patrick says:

      Hey Dan,

      The story you’d tell would be different than the one we did, so I’d certainly hope you would pack differently.

      We didn’t bring a slider – it really wasn’t needed with the Movi, and it certainly wouldn’t have helped inside a chopper or on a 4×4.

      We did have primes. We used primes when we had time, the 24-70 when we didn’t, or when the environment called for it, and the 100-400 for some great long lens footage from more of an observer POV of several of the people and landscapes.

      P.

  • Nick says:

    Which Countryman B6 did you use? W4 or W5 model?

  • Paul says:

    Patrick, I’ve been shooting a doc on a C100 for over a year now and one of my biggest gripes is the color inaccuracy of the on-camera monitor. I just don’t trust it very well. How do you overcome this while shooting run and gun when you can’t have an external monitor attached? Additionally do you not worry about the AVCHD compression on camera? I’ve been using the Ninja for all my interviews as my intended target is theatre/broadcast and I worry that the AVCHD isn’t going to be good enough. It’s a pain to set up though.

    Thanks.

    • Patrick says:

      I’ve found the LCD to be a solid representation. Some of the team needs to get used to the levels and be careful not to make their image a 1/4 to a 1/ stop over, but other than that the color seems spot on.

      I would also add that the peaking often makes the image feel as though it has a tint. We used a strong blue peaking for a while and it often felt like we were running our white balance too low. Toggling the peaking on and off when you use the red or blue setting really shows how much it affects the feeling of the white balance.

      As for the compression, we focus on getting the image right in camera and it hasn’t been an issue. Expose two stops under and the AVCHD will certainly be tough. Excited to see the film in a theatre Feb 1st and see just how well it holds up

      P.

  • Owen says:

    For the interviews was the lav on the interviewer also used to record audio from the subject?

    • Patrick says:

      When Lisa was speaking to somebody there, we used either her lav or the on camera shotgun mic for their audio. The Himba people don’t wear clothing that would make it easy to conceal a lav, and the language barrier certainly would make it hard to place something like that, plus they aren’t speaking english, so the levels can be softer and a tad noisier compared to a regular interview.

      P.