We’re living in the age of the iPhone.
We Instagram our meals before we eat them, there’s an app for everything, and when we see a moment worth capturing we hustle to turn our gritty camera phone lens on the action and record a video before the moment is lost.
The ability to have a video camera at our fingertips has changed so much about the way we document our everyday lives, including the way we function as superfans.
While there are still a few remaining Jeremy Lin fans who spend an hour making a poster board to hold up in the middle of a crowd as he passes by, most of them do what any loyal fan does in this day and age: stick their arm out and record a video.
As filmmakers, however, we don’t just stick our arm out there.
We have equipment, we’ve studied this stuff — we understand composition, framing, the properties of light, and… we have media credentials!
But when Jeremy Lin decides to play a game of pickup basketball at midnight in Taipei, on a public court with tons of surprised fans flocking to get a glimpse…
…we leave our sliders at home, and we shoot dirty.
More on what that is and why we chose to do it in a minute, but first…
Wait, when was Stillmotion hanging out with Jeremy Lin?
Not so long ago, we received an email from CBS at midnight in New York — just after wrapping up a 16 hour shoot day, launching SMAPP, and finishing the KNOW book.
They asked us to jump on a piece for 60 Minutes about Jeremy Lin’s stardom and impact on the Asian community…
60 Minutes? Hell yes! Next thing you know, Joyce had a flight booked and we sent her on her way.
On the plane Joyce immersed herself in Linsanity, researching his rise to stardom and also studying up on 60 Minutes‘ storytelling style.
Over the next few days, Joyce would be following Jeremy around, capturing the screams of uncontrollable joy that follow him everywhere he goes in Taiwan.
Throughout the week of filming we’d chatted with Jeremy about his constant surveillance being the star that he is, and his desire to just go out unannounced into the city. Soon formed the idea to sneak onto an urban basketball court for an impromptu game of pickup basketball… and surely we’d be filming that sweet action!
So… why shoot dirty?
First and foremost, lets talk about what “shooting dirty” actually is, and then we’ll get into the reasons why we chose to do it for this particular shoot.
Basically shooting dirty involves lighting and camera movements that are far from precise or perfect.
It doesn’t look pretty, but it feels gritty and real, like you’re right there shooting on an iPhone camera (that magically has a much better picture quality).
We decided to shoot dirty for the late night pickup game (and much of the 60 Minutes piece) because we put the story first. This story is about Jeremy’s devout following of fans — a following so strong that an entire subculture of puns has developed around the word “Lin.”
Gritty homemade cell phone videos are a huge aspect of what it means to be a part of Linsanity, and if we didn’t capture that, we weren’t putting story first and we weren’t doing our job.
For this particular basketball game shoot, Joyce ran up and down the court with a Canon C300 attached to a shoulder rig. The shoulder rig is a great happy medium for a shoot like this, where you can’t quite maneuver with a monopod and going handheld will just make everyone want to vomit.
We had a couple of local shooters designated off the court with DSLRs to get shots of the crowd, and that footage from the crowd’s perspective adds a lot to the realness we were going for.
In several shots during the pickup game, you’ll see our camera pan across a sea of arms holding up smart phones, moving together in perfect unison.
Recording a video in the moment like that is the complete opposite of a “produced shoot” — there’s no preparation, no lighting setup, no audio, and no idea what’s going to happen. This is what allows even the crappiest quality videos to go viral — there’s an authenticity and realness to them that captures not only a great moment but also the incredible power we have as everyday people in the 21st century.
Step away… from the media area…
Another thing we’d encourage you to do if you’re trying to shoot dirty and make something feel “real” is think about where you’re shooting from.
In an event setting, it’s easy to get corralled into the media area… but don’t let this happen to you.
During Joyce’s time shooting Jeremy on various basketball courts and in public places, she found that shooters often flocked to the media area without thinking twice because it’s what they’re “supposed to do.”
At one point I went on the other side of the building to get a shot and was quickly directed by security to the media area. There weren’t any restrictions on going to the other side, but it was so out of the norm that I had to spend 3 minutes explaining that I didn’t want to be up front with all the other cameras, and that I wanted to shoot from the back of the room where all the fans were.
Q: How do you get away with shooting from other areas?
A: Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
Just because you have access to the media area doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have access to other areas. If you see somewhere you want to shoot from, and there’s nothing visibly stopping you… we’d encourage you to just get in there. What are they gonna do, arrest you? If you have to ask for forgiveness, you can, but until then you should probably just try to get the shot!
It’s a powerful tool… use it!
Here at Stillmotion we don’t shoot dirty all that often, but when the story calls for it we recognize that filming with less production value can be a really powerful tool.
Really, our friend Jay-Z explains this best in his caption for a video he posted on his blog in 2011 of Beyoncé rehearsing acapella in her dressing room, shot on his Android cell phone:
Sometimes you need perspective. You’ve been right in front of greatness so often that you need to step back and see it again for the first time.
The video is nothing more than a narrow frame, and you can’t really even make out Beyoncé’s face, but the low quality helps us feel more connected to her than if this were even a slightly more produced video. It’s been passed around the Internet time and time again because it takes something so unreal (I mean c’mon, she’s pretty unreal), back down to such a human, every day level.
The same was true for the Taipei piece. Here are two major NBA stars, Jeremy Lin and David Lee — walking onto an urban court, unannounced, asking to join in on the next pickup game. Super stardom can make someone like Jeremy seem so far from normal, which he kind of is — but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a nice guy who wants to have fun with his fans.
Going onto the court with just a camera and shoulder rig allowed Joyce to keep up with the action and keep the piece feeling raw and real. It was a rare, magic, and real moment that those fans are going to remember (and rewatch) for the rest of their lives.
In all, it’s about experience.
What is the experience you’re trying to create in order to best tell your story? If it doesn’t require anything more than a camera and some movement, it doesn’t have to be more than that.
When have you shot something dirty? How’d it go?