This blog slowed down a lot the past few weeks, with my apologies. I’m keeping it real, by putting the art first, and what took me away was a documentary called The West that I’ve been creating incrementally with short modules building up to the feature-length film still in-progress. First was Equus Caballus, my film of renowned poet Joel Nelson’s intimate reading mixed with equine cinematography and western landscapes. The occasion for this was, the Nevada Museum of Art curated it, and built an exhibition around it, inviting an “ArtBite” talk last week where I took the occasion to show clips from some favorite contemporary films that meditate on western landscapes (and on what the West means). They included Terrence Malick’s The New World and To the Wonder, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, and Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi. I also projected paintings of western folklife by Thomas Hart Benton, contrasting that with Eastern artworks and exploring some differences in subject, composition and figuration.
In that fine auditorium, I debuted my newest module, Mining the Mother Lode, for which I had been shooting much of the footage that prior week, dashing about the northern Nevada high desert (with my dad). Running-and-gunning, as portable as possible, I used my Sony a7S II, and even after its latest firmware update, you might guess what happened constantly: overheating! The below picture shows the extreme, pathetic measures we’ve got to take these days when using “professional” filmmaking gear, in form factors better suited for purses and soccer matches than for art. But the full-frame 4K video, even in XAVC, turned out great — that wide dynamic range of S-Log3 really delivered across the bright, daytime Nevada landscapes, from mines to ranches to rivers to farms to rural towns. Since the minimum ISO for S-Log3 (and S-Log2) is 1600, each shot was a constant negotiation with ND filters, stopping down the aperture while brightening the variable ND filter enough to avoid cross-patterns caused by competing polarization. The image quality suffered a little, but alas. I shot most everything using tack-sharp primes, specifically the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8, and the 28mm f/2.0 (sometimes with its 21mm adapter for ultra-wide angles). Occasionally, I needed some extra telephoto pull from a distance, and the new full-frame 70-300mm zoom lens performed admirably. Its built-in optical image stabilization paired with the camera’s in-body 5-axis image stabilization often mooted the hassle of setting up a tripod — and when shooting in 4K, I had lots of latitude in post to stabilize shots using Adobe Warp. Speaking of stabilization, the CAME-Single is still going strong, my 3-axis portable gimbal of choice. I could throw it into a backpack and get some incredible crane shots, lateral pans, and tracking shots with minimal setup time.
During interviews, when flying on that gimbal, I resigned myself to a guerilla/indie tactic that’s really working out. See, it’s a big pain in the ass to mount a wireless microphone receiver onto the bottom of a gimbal handle, and carefully/lightly stringing up an audio cord to the camera’s microphone input (compromising balance). The solution in this context is bloody simple: just pay a little over twenty bucks for an Aputure A.lav and plug it into your Android or iOS smartphone, give that to the talent for their back pocket, recording separate audio the old-fashioned way, and sync it with on-camera audio in post (Premiere does it automagically). The smartphone sound is surprisingly good, arguably better than wireless (not only because it’s actually wired, but also, applications like Titanium Recorder can capture at 24-bit 48 kHz, and no camera does that).
The whole sojourn was a great experience, surrounded with friendly folks and breathtaking locations, country hospitality (but one case of collaborative objection that’s hopefully on the mend). At the top of this post, I’ve embedded the interview given by Lori Gilbert, who’s a journalism legend in Elko, Nevada and graciously offered up this broadcast occasion to talk about the project, which got me thinking hard about how to do it right. (Also at: kenvtv.com/news/elko-newsmakers/elko-newsmakers-paul-moon-filmmaker.)
This isn’t my usual technology babble, but one post about projects for every dozen about products might be a reasonable mix. I’m excited to dive further into post-production on this one, setting aside cameras for a while. You can follow The West at its Facebook Page facebook.com/westdoc, on Twitter @westdocumentary, and via its micro-site www.westdocumentary.com. The official teaser is below.