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Making a Documentary: 7D workflow for docs
03.12.11

 

Obviously the 7D has become super popular among the indie film community (and even for bigger budget stuff too -- an episode of "House" was shot on it). Because my HVX was off in China for another shoot, we ended up needing to use my friend's 7D for a shoot in L.A.
 
Broadly - the picture is fantastic, the workflow is a pain but not so bad that it disqualifies it. I would argue that it should just be used in specific situations. For the 7D we used -- Jason (the camera operator / cinematographer) mounted a monitor on top of it and we ran sound into a h4N recorder (I held the boom). This is a little bit of a pain because it requires a second person to handle sound (I'll explain the HVX workflow in a second.) The 7D also does something strange -- it seems to record in bursts (just did a quick Google search and I found a posting that says it records in 12 minute bursts.) Obviously for a documentary, this is not ideal. I like to just run camera continuously. For narrative, this is no problem -- set up, shoot, swap cards -- and no single take is anywhere near 12 minutes (or very rarely will you even approach that.)
 
The next problem is in terms of sync'ing of sound. We could slate -- but will we slate on every burst? That's a pain and a distraction to the people we're documenting. However, there's a great piece of software (we haven't tried it yet but another editor that my editor knows has and he says it's fantastic) -- that uses technology to sync the audio. It's called Plural Eyes. Basically, what it does is it takes the sound the 7D records (it has an onboard mic, it's poor, but it has it) and it matches the sound waves to the good sound recording and that's how it syncs it. Pretty brilliant.
 
But that's it. If you have at least 1 other person + you don't mind some additional details of the workflow, it's doable. The 7D is also way cheaper. The body is maybe $1,500 right now? That's phenomenal. I paid $2,700 for my HVX used.
 
Of course, the HVX (conceivably) could be operated by a single person. Put the mic on a shock mount on top of the camera and run sound directly into it. Put a monopod on it (or not) and you're good to go. You don't need a monitor because the onboard screen is sufficient. I literally have gotten set up on the HVX from opening the bag to recording in <5 minutes. (and I'm sure my DP could do it much faster) We also have 64 gig cards in it which last a little over 2.5 hours? We put two into it so we can run continuously for 5+ hours. It's pretty awesome. However, the picture is not as good as the 7D and it also doesn't process low light conditions as well.
 
I think what I may do for future projects is if I want to upgrade in terms of camera -- I would look for something very similar to the HVX in terms of workflow (I really like everything about it and I have never recorded so much in a single session that I've had to offload footage in the field) but an upgrade in terms of the image (could be expensive unfortunately.) However, for narrative, I'd seriously consider using the 7D or a close variant of it -- which would require a much larger crew.

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