“Crew Of One” Director Tries The “One Man Crew Director”

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Since I’m a video director with a blog called “Crew of One,” it’s only natural that I’d be interested in a product called “One Man Crew Director.” As a commercial shooter with 15+ years of experience, I love projects that allow me to hire my core group of freelancers, but often I find myself working on assignments in which I have to be the director, DP, audio operator, grip, gaffer and editor, all by my lonesome. On these “crew of one” jobs, it’s always a challenge to add visual interest and production value, especially to “talking-head” shots of sales pitches or interviews. Fortunately, that’s exactly what Redrock Micro’s “One Man Crew Director” (OMCD) is designed to do.

The One Man Crew Director is an updated version of the original One Man Crew. The basic functionality is the same, but the Director is quieter and mores stable than the original. It also interfaces with a very nicely-designed smartphone app, allowing for remote control by Bluetooth. The app allows an operator to change directions, set left and right motion limits, and start and stop the motion. With the proper connections, the app can even remotely trigger a camera’s record function. This would be great for situations, such as concerts, in which an OMCD is mounted right in front of the stage. No more need to awkwardly walk in front of an entire audience just to press the “record” button!

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Since I’ve learned the hard way not to take new and untested equipment onto paid shoots, I decided to acquaint myself with the OMCD by doing a couple of little tutorial videos. I’ve done a number of personal projects over the years, including a full-length training video called “5D Film School,” which I sold for several years during the early days of DSLR video. Normally, my procedure is to set up the camera on a tripod, and then stand in front of it and demonstrate various techniques. It works, but I’m the first to admit that it doesn’t make for the most visually stimulating presentation.

The OMCD is designed to address this issue by providing an unmanned, moving camera that maintains focus and composition on a specific point. Basically, it smoothly glides back and forth on a motorized track, automatically adjusting itself to keep the subject anchored in the frame. If you set it up at the correct distance and angle (a process that is made quite easy, thanks to laser pointers mounted on the device itself), the curvature of the track itself maintains critical focus throughout the range of motion.

The OMCD is advertised as offering very quick setup. Having recently struggled to work with a supposedly easy-to-use motorized gimbal for the first time, I was a little apprehensive, but the OMCD delivered. The OMCD comes in its own padded bag, with instructions conveniently printed directly on the inside lid. Once you unzip the bag, all you have to do is attach your camera to the mount (use the thoughtfully provided screw each time, or attach a quick-release bracket to accommodate whatever tripod plate you keep on your camera), attach the mount to the track, turn it on, push the start button, and turn a wheel to adjust the speed. Like the broom in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the camera immediately starts magically moving back and forth, doing exactly what you told it to.

In case the notion of a motorized device gives you flashbacks to the last time a leaf-blower was being operated in the vicinity of your shoot, fear not: the amount of noise generated by the OMCD is absolutely minimal. It’s a very quiet, neutral whirring sound that I couldn’t hear at all on the raw footage, and I suspect that if it were audible, it would blend in to the background “room tone” of whatever space it is in.

The OMCD offers four “modes,” or broad categories of speed (mysteriously, these modes are numbered 1, 2, 3, and 5, with no 4). So, for example, “Dolly-Fast” mode provides a travel speed that ranges from 12 seconds to 80 seconds, while “Time-Lapse” mode provides a range from 4 minutes to 8 hours. To me, changing modes was the only aspect of the OMCD that I found a little cumbersome, as it involves holding down a button while turning the power off and on, waiting for lights to flash, pushing the button again, dialing in the mode, waiting for more lights to flash, and then telling the unit to calibrate itself for the new mode. Personally, I’d rather just have a three-position switch that allowed me to change modes without having to hold down buttons and watch for flashing lights, but I suspect that with a little practice, the current system would become second nature.

For my photo tutorials, I used primarily the default mode (“Interview-Slow”), which provides a travel speed from 45 seconds to 195 seconds. I found that cranking it up to about 60 seconds gave me a nicely-paced shot. The difference between angles of view and distance to background elements changed the sense of motion dramatically, so it’s clear that there’s no one, perfect speed. Personally, I like to see a little more evident motion in the shot, but another user might prefer a slower, more subtle speed. On wide and medium shots, I found that, at any speed, the OMCD delivered consistently smooth, stable footage. Using a telephoto lens for a closeup, I did see a little bit of “wiggle” to the shot (unavoidable, given the distance of the lens from the camera base), but Premiere’s “warp stabilizer” filter effortlessly removed it.

Redrock advertises that 100% of the footage is usable, even when the camera gets to the end of the track and reverses direction. They have a feature that ramps down the speed, and ramps it back up for the opposite direction. I agree all the footage is usable, but I definitely preferred using parts of the shots where it’s going in one direction only. With that said, there was no point at which the footage was unusable. This is radically different from using a conventional slider, which always has some “down time” during the direction change at each end.

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I’m shooting primarily with a Blackmagic Production Camera these days, and I was curious to see how the timelapse function of the BMPC would work with the timelapse mode of the OMCD. In a word, it worked perfectly! While I set up the lights and background for my photo tutorial, I set the camera to shoot 1 frame every second, and set the OMCD to a 4-minute travel time. If I hadn’t had to spend several minutes rummaging through my camera bag to find a tripod plate, the shot would have been perfect. As it is, I simply cut out the dead air, and added a quick dissolve in post. For a first attempt, I think it came out great!

One note about space: I got rid of my studio a few years ago, so I did these videos in my home office. As you can see in this BTS photo, I basically picked the messiest corner of my office to shoot from, and set the OMC up on two light stands. While the footprint is definitely larger than a conventional tripod, it really doesn’t take up much room at all. And, since you don’t have to stand behind it, you can put it right up against a wall, or (in this case) a bookcase.

For the talking-head shots, I had the camera at about eye level, and for the timelapse shot, I raised the lightstands up to give me a wider view of the room. It’s also possible to set the OMCD up on a tripod, but I was so pleased with the way the lightstands worked, I didn’t even mess with a tripod. The OMCD camera mount actually allows you to tilt the camera, so unlike a conventional slider in which the whole track has to be tilted in order to shoot up or down, the OMCD can remain level while allowing the camera to be adjusted for framing. In my opinion, this is a very useful feature.

Once I finished filming, I dumped the footage into Premiere Pro and took a look at it. I was blown away! The OMCD really does deliver rock-solid, smooth motion. In terms of visual interest, there’s really no comparison between a conventional static shot and an OMCD shot. Here are my finished tutorials.

I was very impressed, and took the OMCD out on several commercial jobs. My clients and I were very pleased with the results. I was also happy with the performance of the OMCD on battery power. It uses very little juice, and runs perfectly off the same batteries that run my Blackmagic camera. Here’s a quick compilation of some of the shots I got with the OMCD; this includes a few from my tutorials, and some from the paid gigs.

As with any new tool, I did experience the temptation to overuse the OMCD. For example, I discovered that using it to film martial arts training was not the best idea! The advantage of the OMCD is that it allows the user to add motion to an otherwise static shot. “Otherwise static” is the key phrase here. If you’re shooting some kind of action scene, the OMCD’s emphasis on keeping one point centered and in focus will work against you. It’s not bad, it’s just not necessarily the most effective solution to that particular situation. Likewise, the app is a great tool for a multi-camera setup, but if you’re standing behind the device in order to operate the camera anyway, you may as well just push the buttons on the side of the OMCD.

The bottom line here is that, for commercial/corporate shooters, journalists, musicians, or other independent creators, the One Man Crew Director effortlessly adds precisely-oriented movement to otherwise static shots, delivering a level of production value that is far superior to anything one person could do on their own, and far more economical than adding a crew member with a slider to provide the same effect.

Q&A With “Heavy Objects” Director Fletcher Crossman

Fletcher Crossman

I had the pleasure of meeting phenomenally talented artist Fletcher Crossman back in 2009, when I photographed him in his backyard studio for a now-defunct magazine. At the time, Fletcher was focused on painting: his large-scale, figurative paintings – often incorporating text and political/philosophical overtones – made a big impression on me.

I found Fletcher himself to be a very affable British expatriate with a dry sense of humor, and the kind of vivid imagination rarely found in anyone over the age of three. We kept in touch after the shoot, and in 2010, we collaborated on a short documentary called “The Apple Thief.” The film followed Fletcher as he worked on a huge, controversial painting of a woman in a Christ-like crucifixion pose, while having challenging conversations with religious leaders about the role of women as defined by different faiths.

“House Of Cards” Style Photo Tutorial

I had so much fun doing a self-portrait in the style of the “Gotham” promo photos that I decided to do another. This time, I’m using as a stylistic reference the extremely cool b&w portraits done for the Netflix hit series, “House Of Cards.”

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As with most promotional images, all the copyright info is for Netflix, so I have no idea who actually took these photos. I suspect that the individual portraits were shot on a Hasselblad, probably with some kind of large “beauty dish” lighting, and then stitched together in Photoshop.

But, that doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t do something similar, in whatever space, and with whatever equipment we have! Here are a few of the shots I came up with for myself.

House Of Cards style lighting

Without further ado, here’s my video tutorial on “House Of Cards” style photo lighting.

“Gotham”-Style Photo Tutorial

Gotham-Wallpaper

I’m a big fan of the new “Gotham” TV show. I also like the promo images that were done for each of the main characters. I couldn’t find any information online about who took the images,or how they were done, so I decided to figure out how to do something similar myself.

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Waveform 101

Back in the early days of video, tehcnicians relied on two main instruments: the waveform and the vectorscope. Even though we now have fancy flat-panel monitors, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these venerable tools – especially the Waveform.

In Premiere Pro, you can switch to the Waveform view by clicking on the little wrench icon under the program window.

Ideally, you want a full range of video signal all the way from bright white (100 IRE) to dark black (0 IRE). If your signal is all smushed up in the middle like this, it’s going to look muddy and unattractive.

Goodwill Christmas TV

I was recently hired by the good folks as The Brandon Agency to shoot, direct & edit a series of spots they’d written for Goodwill Industries. In time for the season, here’s the Christmas spot.

Basic Audio Processing in Adobe Audition

A friend of mine recently edited his first TV commercial, and got this note from the TV station:

I wanted to let you know about the latest spots I just put in the system. The quality, especially of the audio, is quite bad.
The audio levels swing wildly from quiet to loud throughout, making the quieter parts hard to hear because I have to set the levels for the louder sections. Some of the audio also sounds like it was recorded a bit hot and distorts a bit. Also, some of the voiceover and stand ups audio only comes out of the left audio channel rather than both.

Ouch! Fortunately, aside from the audio that was recorded “a bit hot” and distorted, all of this can easily be fixed. Audio purists may be horrified by my approach, but it’s quick and effective.

Is Tamron’s 17-50mm f/2.8 The Perfect Blackmagic Lens?

Ever since the original Canon 5D MkII opened up the world of accessible large-sensor video, it’s been hard to stomach the reduction in field of view that a cropped sensor demands. I absolutely love the image quality that my Blackmagic Production Camera captures, but the 1.7x crop factor made it a challenge to keep working with the same lenses that I used with my 5D2.

For example, my go-to lens for wide-angle handheld work with the 5D2 has always been the Canon 20mm f/2.8, and my favorite general-purpose lens is the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8. But neither of those lovely pieces of glass work the same way on the BMPC, because of the crop factor.

After investing in a couple of new lenses (plus digging an old 8mm Peleng out of my closet), I set out to do a side-by-side comparison to determine what lenses I can count on, and which I should leave in the bag.

First up was the Peleng 8mm. I bought this Soviet-era marvel years ago to use with a Krasnogorsk 16mm film camera. I had used it for a couple of fisheye shots on my Canon 5D, but I’ve really never had much use for it.

Here’s what it looked like. For each lens, I’m showing a scaled-to-fit image and a 100% crop from the ProRes HQ 4K video file.

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While the ultra-wide angle is impressive, and the vignetting could be dealt with, the lack of clarity in the image would be hard to justify for any serious production.

Getting Decent Audio Out Of The Blackmagic 4K Production Camera

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Last week, Blackmagic announced that their v1.9 firmware update for the 4K Production Camera would include audio meters. This was met with great rejoicing by camera purchasers who have been struggling with the amazingly bad audio functionality of this otherwise exemplary device.

Let me preface what follows by mentioning that I have used a lot of cameras and audio equipment over the last 20 years, and the Blackmagic Production Camera is by far the absolute worst. Not only are the onboard preamps noisier than the worst DSLR – meaning that using anything more than 10% gain will result in audio so full of hiss that is almost totally unusable – but the input tolerance seems to have been calibrated for some kind of alien technology. Every type of signal I fed into it was either clipped or inaudible – and often both!

Armed with the new audio meters, I resolved to test the BMPC’s finicky sound circuits more systematically.

“Media-Proof Kids”

As digital content creators, sometimes we come face to face with Pogo the Possum’s famous observation, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” In a cultural landscape drowning in endless advertisements, hypnotic entertainment, and overwhelming information, are we making the world better or worse?

As a parent, I felt forced to ask myself, “How can I use what I know to help my children defend themselves against manipulative media?”

About a year ago, I started researching this topic. Today, I am very proud to introduce my new eBook, “Media-Proof Kids: A Guide For Parents.”