Updated: Aug 31, 2019
This is a behind the scenes look at how I shot the short film “The Brown Bomber”. I filmed it in about 2 hours with practically no time to prepare in advance. How did I do it? Here are the answers!
Sometimes in life, an opportunity to shoot something really special comes your way. Getting the chance to interview Will “The Brown Bomber” Santiago right after his big fight was one of those times for me. I had been wanting to shoot something MMA related for several years and when I finally got that moment, I seized it.
This was a fantastic opportunity, but I no time to prepare and only had about two hours to shoot the whole thing. Have you ever been in a situation like that? What if you don’t know anything about the subject, have no idea what the environment will look like, and have no clue as to what’s going to happen when you get there? You’re basically being thrown into the lion’s den. Well, this type of thing happened to me day in and day out when I used to work in television news, so I’ve learned how to deal with this. I’m sure a lot of you shooters out there may be thinking, “Oh, well that’s never going to happen to me!” Trust me, it can and it will at some point. So, here are a few tips and tricks to keep your “A” game tight when life throws you a curveball.
Here’s how I did this
1. Quickly found out as much as I could about my subject. Thank God for the internet, right? I was on the road and had stopped at a gas station when I got the call that the interview was possible. As soon as I got off the phone I Googled Will and created a list of questions I would ask. Since I didn’t have much time I really had to stay focused on asking questions that were going to shape the story into the one I wanted to tell. As you may know, there’s so many different directions a film can take and it’s important not to go down rabbit holes, especially when pressed for time.
2. Created a shot list. You have to have a plan on how you’re going to execute your vision. Even if you don’t have time to write it down, take a moment to gather those thoughts in your head. Fortunatley, I’ve done this so many times that I can quickly see what I want the finished piece to look like and can whip up a solid outline of shots I want to get. Trust me, your finished product will come out a thousand times better if you just take a brief moment to think.
3. Get as many different angles as you can possibly think of. This trick has been my saving grace so many, many times. A lot of the time on run and gun shoots there’s only one location, or one person, and no time to go anywhere else. So how do you make those limited visuals more interesting? Use creative angles. Go high, get low, eye level, dutch tilt, inside, laying on the ground looking up, whatever. Just think outside the box. This also extends your B roll as well. You can either get a shot of a table at one angle and be done with it, or you can get 10 different angles of that same table and there you go. You now have 9 more shots for B roll use. Shooting the same shots but with different lenses helps too. As you know, objects shot with a wide angle lens look vastly different when shot with a 50 mm.
4. Get as much B roll as you possibly can. Shoot everything. Objects, interiors, exteriors, even papers being shuffled. Anything within the environment is pretty much fair game as it could be used to mix things up or in case you get low on extra footage. Hands are good to shoot as well. After you’ve spoken with someone on camera, take a moment to shoot their hands and have them talk to you at the same time. This way you can splice in those shots while they’re speaking and it shows some of their body language. Also remember to shoot any objects you can think of that will be referenced or was discussed during the interview.
5. Shoot at a higher frame rate. Why should you do this? It gives you options. When you shoot at a higher frame rate, you now have the option to slow the video down. The benefits of this become apparent once you start doing this on a regular basis. First, this stretches the amount of B roll you now have. So, if you didn’t have a lot of time to gather extra footage, slow down your clips and you’ll have so much more extra video to cover interviews, voiceover, etc. Second, who doesn’t love a nice, cinematic looking slow motion shot? Everyone does. Even the most mundane things look incredible in slow motion. It really adds something special to your piece, gives it a more polished look, and holds people’s attention better. I typically shoot at 120 fps and then modify my footage to 30 fps in post. Keep in mind that shooting at a higher frame rate eats up space on your SD cards faster but honestly, I’ve never had a problem with it.
6. Stay Calm. You have no idea the amount of stress I had been going through when I got this opportunity to interview Will. I had been helping my mom move from Texas to California, spent several days on the road already, and everything was going wrong. Everything. I was so stressed I almost canceled the shoot. Then I thought about how I’d regret it. This is something that I had been wanting to do for many years and I wasn’t about to let anything get in the way of that. I was so frazzled when I arrived at Jackson Wink but very quickly pulled myself together. Since I had done all the steps I just mentioned above I was as ready as I could be. I took a deep breath, stayed focused, and the rest is history.
7. Have a 2nd camera rolling. This was not possible for me this time since I was traveling and had to be very selective with the equipment I chose to take. But, I highly recommend you have a second camera rolling during interviews and when gathering B roll. What I’ve done in the past is prop up an unassuming camera, such as a GoPro, to gather footage while I’m out shooting something else. Just pick a spot where there’s lots of action, press record, and walk away. Couple of rules, try to make sure you don’t end up in your own shot and watch for thieves. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your camera on its own, then don’t. You can always ask someone you trust to watch it for 5 to 10 minutes if you’re comfortable with that. Just use your own good judgement. Using a second camera allows you to maximize your time and amount of footage gathered. It’s also fantastic during interviews because then in the edit you can splice in that second angle on your subject, making it more interesting for the viewer.
Wouldn’t it be nice to always have a surplus of time to carefully plan each and every shoot? Well, that ain’t always gonna happen. When opportunities come your way, don’t worry about whether your fully prepared or not. Just take them and you’ll be fine. When you get that call take a brief moment to quickly come up with a plan, stay calm, and execute it. Even if you make some mistakes or forget something a lot of that can be fixed with some creative editing. The more you’re thrown into situations like this the better you’ll get at dealing with it and more skilled a shooter you’ll become. If you have any questions about these tips please feel free to comment down below and I’ll do my best to answer them. Talk to you later!