I recently finished my second video for the “I Will Reflect” melanoma and skin cancer awareness foundation. The first video intercut several patient testimonials, and was well-received. In fact, even though I shot it over a year ago, it’s still perfectly relevant (and, since I shot it on the Canon 5D Mk II, it still looks great).
This time, the I Will Reflect folks wanted to deliver a different message. We spoke to only one patient – a young lady who discovered she had stage 3 melanoma at the age of 27 – and a clinical dermatologist. This project was unusual because we had zero b-roll; the only elements I could cut into the video were infographics. This meant that the interviews had to look REALLY good. Since I was working as a Crew of One, and distinctly remembered the hassle of setting up dual-system sound last time, I shot this project on the Panasonic AF100, using Canon FD lenses. In fact, I wound up using only one lens: the FD 50mm f/1.4.
Because the AF100 has a sensor approximately half the size of the 5D2, the apparent depth of field in the image is much deeper. Using a lens that opens up to f/1.4 allows me to simulate the appealingly shallow depth of field that is associated with DSLR video.
The interview with the doctor went very smoothly. I had a lovely conference room with wooden walls and bookcases to use as a background. I used the Lowell Tota and Pro-Light in my Minimalist Video Production Kit, and lit the interview as you see in this diagram. I used my trusty Audio Technics 897 shotgun microphone, held in a C-stand over the good doctor, and since the room was very quiet, it sounded perfect.
The interview with the patient was much more of a challenge. We had planned to shoot it outdoors, in a little meditation garden that the patient had enjoyed visiting while recovering from cancer treatment, but it was starting to rain as I set up. We went back into the hospital, but all the potential filming locations were occupied. We were stuck shooting it outside.
I took stock of the situation. The garden had a small, covered area in the middle. The overhang was more or less a long rectangle, which meant that the client, the interviewee and I could stay covered, but that I only had a choice of two angles. Since one way looked directly at a gray wall, I had a grand choice of one background.
Since I only had small lights with me (and had no desire to run extension cords in the rain), I knew that I would have to use available light. I positioned the interviewee just at the edge of the overhang, so that light was spilling in on her from the side, and far enough back so that a little backlight would spill in from the rear (you can see the light on the back of her neck). I angled her, so the light was hitting about 3/4 of her face, and then squeezed the camera right to the edge of the covered area to get a reasonably angled shot. The result was a shot with a quasi “Rembrandt” lighting look that closely resembles the lighting pattern on the face of the doctor.
The biggest problem with this setup now became audio. Between the rain and the hum of the nearby air conditioners, the sound quality was not nearly as good as it was for the doctor. I wound up using the “Reduce Noise” function in Soundtrack Pro, but, unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do in post. The best way to ensure good audio in your projects is to record audio in quiet places!
Since this project leaned so heavily on the “talking heads,” I wanted to make the interview shots look their best. This meant turning to Colorista II, my preferred grading tool. The doctor’s interview looked pretty darn good to begin with, but I knew it could look better.
The first thing I did was pull the midtones of the image slightly towards the orange side of the color wheel. This brought a healthy glow to the doctor’s fair complexion. There was a slight pinkish cast to the highlights, so I pulled the highlights a bit to the green side to compensate. Then, I pulled the shadows a bit to the blue side to keep them free of any orange cast. Finally, I added a “secondary” effect within Colorista II that brought the “density” of the background down a bit. I find that, within Colorista II, the “density” slider makes the image darker or lighter, without blowing out the highlights or killing the shadows the way the “exposure” slider does.
The final product is not that different from the original (which is a good thing: it means I did a good job shooting it!), but it has more visual impact, and is more pleasing to my eye. Most importantly, it gave me a reference point for the patient interview, which needed a lot more work.
Because I had so little control over the environment in which I shot this interview, I really needed to do some significant grading to make it approach the quality of the doctor’s interview.
I again started off by “warming” the midtones of the image (pulling them towards the orange side of the color wheel), and then continued by adjusting the highlights and shadows to match the general tones of the doctor’s interview. Because the background was very bright in this shot, I again used a “secondary” vignette within Colorista II to darken the background, helping to guide the viewer’s focus to the interview subject.
Even though these interviews were shot in totally different settings, I wanted them to look as though they belonged in the same project. Of course, the fact that I shot both interviews with the same lens and similar framing, also helped to support this aesthetic unity. Here are both shots, before & after color grading.
After adding some music and footage from the old I Will Reflect Video, creating a few infographics in LiveType, and putting everything together, this video was finished. I’m sure the casual viewer has no idea that such a simple-looking video has so much thought and problem-solving going on under the hood!