over the course of the past year we’ve been a part of many projects, from commercials and sports to weddings and documentaries, we’ve had the privilege to be in places that many haven’t been, meet both well known and everyday people and characters, and see incredible things that most have never seen before. through all these shoots there were certainly several that stand out in my mind as some of the most memorable, not only because of the people we met and the things we experienced but also because of the challenges and lessons we learned along the way. this next series of musings from the sm team will feature our perspective of some of the shoots from the past year that we will likely never forget.
one shoot that was particularly challenging was military training with the first year Army cadets from Westpoint for A Game of Honor. for starters it was the middle of summer in upstate NY, i had just flown in from another shoot on little sleep and it was a solo shoot. armed with my beloved monopod setup, an energy drink and a pack of gummy bears in my Shootsac full of lenses i started to trekked through the forest with the platoon at sunrise but just as i started to feel good about the day things quickly started to fall apart.
first, the weather. it was incredibly hot and humid that day, so humid that my lenses would fog up from time to time making it difficult to shoot anything. fortunately, that also meant the cadets had to break more often to recover from the sweltering heat themselves and that gave me time to wipe my lenses and let the camera cool down – that being said, the 1D MKIV never quit on me, the body felt hot but it never overheated. at one point fatigue was also becoming a serious problem. see this was just training but they were firing live rounds so not only did i have to carry my bag of lenses and monopod with my camera, but also wear kevlar protection like everyone else.
with the weight of the gear and the heat slowing me down considerably i decided to dump whatever gear i didn’t absolutely need and go as light as possible. this meant that i would be taking some risks in leaving lenses back in the humvee, but it was important for me to stop and adapt to the situation, otherwise i might not even be able to keep up let alone get good footage. that day was all about tough military training and what it was like for cadets in the field. from a cinematography standpoint that meant it made more sense for me to get right up close to them to really bring the viewer into the environment so after an hour i left the 14mm and 135mm behind and just went with the bare essentials – 24mm, 35mm and 50mm. this ended up working out much better as i was able to stay ahead of the group yet not feel like i’m missing out on gear.
unfortunately almost as soon as i solved one problem another one came up. the location was in a spotty forest and although it was shaded at times, it was still bright out with tons of harsh light. i didn’t mind it much because their training was equally as harsh on their mind and bodies but what got me in trouble was my own ninja-ness. at one point i took a short cut to run ahead of the group so i can get a wide of them walking across the frame but as i was moving over a small ledge i accidentally knocked my Z-finder off the camera and it rolled down a hill. so there i was in the middle of a forest trying to decide if i should go down to get it and miss the shot (not to mention potentially being left behind) or move ahead with no viewfinder. i chose the latter.
this meant that it was just about impossible to see the back of the LCD so I had to quickly find another way to set proper exposure. i thought about covering the screen with my hoodie but that would have slowed me down considerably. i could also have fashioned a DIY hood had i carried gaff tape and black foil with me but i didn’t have any so i used the feature built right into the camera, the histogram. now i didn’t have live view histogram which meant i had to be even faster so i can snap a photo, pull up the info, check the histogram and make any adjustments to exposure before i started rolling. it wasn’t ideal, but it worked.
phew. a couple hours in on a 10hr day and i’ve already had to dodge two bullets, figuratively of course. but there was still the pressure of being a solo shooter – meaning if i didn’t get it, it won’t make it to the edit so i had to have a solid plan for the day. i’m usually pretty comfortable covering things on my own but this isn’t a football game or a wedding, it was military tactical training and i had no clue what would happen next. so instead of just jumping into shoot i asked a ton of questions, kept my eyes and ears open and pushed the boundaries of what i was allowed to do. luckily because it was training, exercises were sometimes repeated so after a couple rounds i was able to figure out the order of events, helping me plan where i needed to be in relation to the group as well as how i can best leverage one camera over the course of the training.
at one point i got into big, big trouble with the lead officers because i moved beyond the group in such a way where it became a safety concern. after all, these were 18 year old cadets who just joined the army and was learning how to shoot – live rounds. i was quickly pulled back and despite pleading with the officers i was told i absolutely could not be where i wanted to be for the shot. so in true stillmotion fashion, i found another way. i was able to convince them to let me leave the camera in a spot for the next group to come through and pick it up later. it surely wasn’t the conventional way of going about it, but i had to try and it paid off this time.
so things don’t always go as planned but i’ve learned that you can always find a way to work through challenges and make the most of out a situation. more often than not persistence gets you opportunities that might otherwise slip by and being resourceful in working with what you have often helps turn those opportunities into something worth pursuing. it was by far one of the toughest, most challenging shoots i’ve been on but it was also one i’d do again in a heartbeat.