A challenge….Can directors work without a video split ?

I’m currently 2 weeks into a TV series that is shooting exclusively with DSLR cameras, using the Canon 1Dmk4 and the 7D with Canon EF lenses.

One of the unintended consequences of making the choice to shoot using DSLR cameras was loosing video split.

We choose not to use a split because the production had a tiny budget that would only cover two in the camera department (including me !). Originally this was me and a focus puller / assistant.

In very early pre testing when we were trying to decide on which shooting format to choose between and shot 3 test scenes with the cast on a RED, a Sony EX3 and DSLRs.

We decided on the dslrs for reasons discussed here, but the short version is that it meant we could be more reactive and discrete.  I was all for embracing all of the good things that DSLR shooting embodies.

We did realise that because of the mix of improv and script, using two cameras instead of one would make it much easier to not have to match continuity.

So my focus puller Cameron Gaze was suddenly became the B camera operator.  Production didn’t have the budget to put on a third person in the camera department and nor did we want to.  The whole choice to shoot using DSLR’s was based on the idea that we could have a tiny crew and be highly mobile and reactive.

Although it is technically possible to plug in video splits to DSLR’s, the practicalities are really quite painful.  Plugging an image into the HDMI connection turns OFF the camera’s own screen.  HDMI cables don’t really work over the distances a typical video split cable needs to be.  We could use the AV cable which is a lower res SD version of the same thing but the same issues apply.

So to get a viable split working on this shoot we would have had to either use a lower resolution monitor on the camera for framing that had loop through (SD) that then would run  via cable to a larger monitor OR use another *box* to split the HDMI into HDMI for the onboard monitor and HDSDI for the split back at the video village.

Both solutions are very unsavory for a camera operator.  The HDMI and video connections are fragile at best.  Both also involve carrying and powering additional “bits” that would attach to the camera…something that agin meant we were moving away from the advantages of DSLR shooting.

So aside from an on-board small HDMI monitor that is carries on the camera, we’re shooting without splits at all.  Something I don’t reckon I’ve done for 15 years.

I do remember in my earlier days shooting on film when a video split was a bit of a luxury that one couldn’t always afford.  It’s only now that we’ve basically been forced to shoot without them that I realise how much as changed.

I’s been very difficult for the director.  He has been frustrated and he’s used to being able to see everything.  It’s also made it a challenge for both art department and continuity. And now I realise the pressure is on us as operators at the moment to make sure we pick up things like reflections, and other errors.  We’re the only ones looking !

Back to the poor director….He’s coping, but he’s certainly seeing the upside.  The best he can do at the moment is watch over the shoulder of one of us as we operate but he’s never seeing the other camera.  Cam and I try to match frame sizes by comparing stills we take during blocking and rehearsals.  Now at the end of a take he asks me if we’ve got it without having seen my shot.  It’s back to the old days of trusting the operator…

We are getting through 50+ setups a day though and I don’t think I’ve ever shot as fast.  Having small cameras like this and shooting without a split is in many ways very liberating.    The downside is that we’ve managed to swamp post with a lot of footage and they’re struggling to keep up with their workflow.  As yet, we’ve not seen much in the way of edit’s to see if this new methodology is bearing fruit in terms of the end result.

About johnbrawley

Director Of Photography striving to create compelling images
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