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Anatomy of a $200 Music Video Shoot

How Two Singers, Some Rental Bikes, a Rig, a U-haul and a Blackmagic Cinema Camera Delivered on a Micro Budget

And the Giraffe is a two-person indie band started by friends Nicholas Roberts and Joshua Morris, an audio engineer, while both were students at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The pair recorded two EPs while still in college and are currently recording their first full-length album in Nashville. With big hopes for their new song "Sorry," they headed to L.A. and tapped friend Harrison Sanborn to shoot and direct the song's music video—their second—on a shoestring budget. "We had been talking about a number of ideas for the video," says lead singer Nicholas Roberts, "but strapping a camera to a bike to show each of us in close up as we rode through L.A. seemed to be the most feasible and cost-effective of the bunch."

Sanborn, an up-and-coming feature cinematographer and aerial photographer with a handful of original shortform projects under his belt, immediately suggested using the Blackmagic Cinema Camera (BMCC), light enough to fit on a rig yet rugged enough to then be strapped to the handlebars of a rental bike. "I bought the camera soon after it was released and have been shooting test footage," says Sanborn. "For the video we'd discussed doing something simple but also unusual and eye-catching. I knew our camera choices were really limited by size and weight, and the Blackmagic camera is probably the best camera in its size and weight category. It was the natural choice for this type of project. You have a much wider dynamic range than any DSLR of a similar size, and much better video recording formats to work with in post. I also knew it could give us that unusual perspective we were looking for." Sanborn used a Tokina 11-16 mm lens for every one of the bike-mount shots.
Shot over two full days in Los Angeles and about 200 miles outside the city in a dry lakebed, the video cuts between Roberts and Morris as they sing in transit. Using a scratch track from the camera, Sanborn cut the video in Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 and synced the audio to the original recording of the song. He color-corrected the edit with Red Giant Magic Bullet Looks. "The money we spent on this shoot was really the bike rental fees and gas money to get from L.A. out into the middle of nowhere and drive around until we found the right location," says Sanborn.
Setting a small camera on a rigid rig still presented plenty of challenges. "During one afternoon and evening of tests, we tried to stabilize the camera as much as possible," says Sanborn. "Unfortunately, on a mount like that it's very difficult to isolate vibrations, so we made these semi-elastic tape straps which helped tie the camera down but also dampened the vibrations. At first, we were getting some very-high-frequency vibrations that would have been too difficult to use." Sanborn was also discriminating when it came to choosing where the bikes would go. "We were very selective about [the] physical surface on which we'd shoot, and I also cut out a fair amount of footage that was unusable."
(from left) Director Harrison Sanborn with And the Giraffe's Joshua Morris and Nicholas Roberts
Most of the resulting footage, however, was exactly what they'd hoped for in those early creative discussions. "Even though we tried to avoid them, heading out to the Santa Monica Pier there were these huge potholes and bumps," says Roberts. "It felt like the camera was flying all over the place. But when we watched the footage later it was much more stable than I thought it would be." 
Sanborn says the camera's dynamic range also meant he didn't need to budget in a separate lighting setup. "You can go in and out of shadows and under trees and you can be in a heavily backlit situation and with no bounce or fill light and you are still able to resolve the detail that's there." He also owns a Sony PMW-F3, which he used with a Zeiss CP2 Compact Prime lens to shoot the lakebed sequence at the end of the video. "I really like the F3 and have most of the PL-mount lenses for it. It was the best choice for those long shots. But what the Blackmagic camera is great for, even on a bigger production, is pick-up shots when you need them and unusual POV shots," he says. 

The downside of Sanborn's version of the BMCC, he says, is the battery life. "You only get about an hour of recording time before you have to charge it back up again." Unlike in the newer Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, the battery is not removable. "We charged it in between locations in my car," he says. "It would have made it too top-heavy to add an external battery like an Anton Bauer to the rig."

Sanborn says the team looked online for nearby dry lakebeds before settling on the final location the night before the shoot. "We saw some crappy Google Maps images and decided to go for it. When we got there it was infinitely better. It looked like an alien landscape and was so serene. It was one of the most amazing places I've shot, and it just worked beautifully for the video and the song."


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  • Piece Work

    This a load of C RAP.
    Seeing the video the associated images and the meager details in the article, I see well over $200 in production expenses.

    What kind of moron think they can produce a video for $200 ?!?!

    • Anonymous

      Thank you. I thought the same thing when I saw this. If we are just counting what production spent, then I’ve been on several passion projects where no money was spent even though there was a 5-ton grip and electric truck and the results were way better than this video for quite a bit less.

  • Auggie

    Filmmakers should refrain from touting a silly low budget number because they do a disservice to everyone else by not placing any value on human time. It is not necessarily about cameras or equipment (which in this case was tens of thousands of dollars). Its about creativity, personnel, experience and lots of hours. If people have no value you don’t have much. There are interesting points that make the article worthy but in the end it is simply an amateurish way to promote oneself.

  • PhillyPhilip Philly

    Looks more like $50, so many wanna bees, no wonder production company’s are going under.

  • Mike H

    I wonder how that cinematographer manages to pay his rent if he owns two pro camera packages, yet doesn’t charge rental fees for them, and doesn’t bill for his time and expertise either. Hopefully mom and dad’s basement is comfortable.

  • StarvingProducer

    Wow… after shooting 3,243 videos they will be able to pay for the camera… next thing you know they will make enough money to buy a Big Mac.

  • ralphieb

    I’d like to know how such a project would happen counting the usual expenses incurred by a production company – labor, equipment rental (time), gas, meals on site, etc. It’s not a ‘production’ but a TF project between friends, which is cool. A more productive indulgence for a professional magazine would be to give an accounting of cash expenses, donated/traded items and time, as well as logistical costs (lodging if applicable, meals, water on site, etc.). As a producer for a couple hundred small productions, I like the bike ingenuity, but I’m unimpressed with the supposed economy of the production. It’s not real.

  • Joe Mahma

    What does a claim of 200 dollar music video get you in the end? It gets you musicians asking you to shoot 200 dollar music videos for them. Great business model, guys.

  • massta

    They should of used one of Sony’s new HD Handycams with the new Optical Image Stabilization. This was ok but still too shaky IMO. By the way, true artists don’t put a price on great work. We create when we can afford to.

    • john hollands

      massta. Again, who do you imagine you are communicating with?
      “By the way…” you say, “true artists…WE create…” I assume this means you think of yourself as a “true artist”, yes?
      I appreciate you taking the time to explain to us all. BTW I am NOT a “true” artist; I am a highly experienced, gifted professional who creates art for a living. For a living, i.e. all the time – not just when I “can afford to”.
      As they say; it’s ShowBIZ not ShowART.
      I take it you’re not familiar with the camera mounts used on racecars and helicopters and other stabilising techniques.
      Please be aware how amateur you sound when offering a solution based on cheap handicams.
      No Steadicams? No Dyna-Lens in your arsenal of tools? Nothing in the way of Post or Motion Tracking (Bijou?)???
      and I take it you mean “should have” not ‘should of’. From the contraction “should’ve” which sounds like ‘should of’ but is in fact ‘should have’.

  • john hollands

    Apart from the ‘hobbyist’ aspect, (where these folks don’t value nor count their time), the video strikes me as one lacking direction. I wonder, were the singers directed to be so laid-back and low-key? (A nice way to say “boring”).

    The song itself is no great shakes, I’d have been inclined to go the other way; to make it somehow MORE interesting rather than less. Maybe inject some interest and excitement via the production.

    Apart from those I’ve produced or directed, I’ve EDITED probably thousands of music videos over my lifetime, and I have to say the editing on this is “a good start”. It has the feel of a beginner being delighted with the fact that edits occur, rather than any deeper creativity. It is pretty lifeless, occasionally moving outside the box of predictability.

    For instance, if you’re going to do jumpcuts using shots where there is no singing, why not choose an interesting piece of vision? Maybe where the guy is looking vaguely on-camera and vaguely interested. Do that “slip-sync” thing.

    Clearly SOMEONE has said “you know what? These guys are so good, they don’t need any fancy production or camera tricks, let’s just shoot them in a static shot. And… I know, I know!!! Let’s make THE BACKGROUND different sometimes. YES!!!”


  • john hollands

    And another thing…

    THIS quote, from the cinematographer:
    “Sanborn says the camera’s dynamic range also meant he didn’t need to budget in a separate lighting setup. “You can go in and out of shadows and under trees and you can be in a heavily backlit situation and with no bounce or fill light and you are still able to resolve the detail that’s there.”

    First, thats patently untrue as even a quick look at the material shows.

    Second, somehow we have to get the message through to these dopes; we use lighting not to just get a picture, we use lighting to CREATE BEAUTIFUL OR MOODY OR EMOTIONAL PICTURES. To improve what’s there.

    Wanna see a picture that needs no lighting? Look at your Driver’s Licence; Is THAT what these jockeys are striving for?

    Clearly Sanborn is a great talent, greater than all those Hollywood Hacks who STILL use lighting in their shots. You know, the ones who win Oscars for their work. Darn fools, if only they realised, as this fellow does, these modern cameras don’t NEED no steenkin’ lights. Tell THAT to Meryl next time she asks where the keylight is.

    Today, with so much available on the internet, it is unforgivable to not know how to light and doubly unforgivable to not realise the importance of it.

    And don’t get me started on the grading, that too, is appalling.

    Look at the skin tones and facial shadows on the cut at :20. Mr Light vs Mr Dark. (Forget the Black levels, clearly no scopes were used).

    But then, look at the sequence around :36. The same guy is both Mr Dark and Mr Light. They said they used Magic Bullet. Really? For what? There are three shots cut together with radically different “looks”. If you’re not using lighting, get the grading right, eh?

    Look at the desert stuff around 2:45. That could have been beautiful, it isn’t. Why?

    (Um, the material at :20 and :36 might have been improved with use of lighting. Oh, sorry. Lights not needed.)

    For those who think I’m harsh, it can be harsh in the real professional world and when people put this tripe up in a quasi-professional publication, I think we need to get over the “cute puppy” level of indulgent criticism and cut to the chase.

    Except, in the “real world” this type of criticism isn’t usually received, just the termination notice, the DCM (Don’t Come Monday).

    I wish these boys well, but seriously, when this young fellow sprouts off about how this camera needs this or doesn’t need that; who does he think he is talking to?

    I’m interested in that camera, why doesn’t he tell us if it used LUTS or what the gamma setting was or where he set the black pedestal and clamping or about the white threshold. Did he use gain on the F3 in the desert? What was needed to match the two camera’s output? Or were the pictures fairly close? Did he WB on white or a colour? Same card WB both cameras? And what changed as morning went to afternoon and dusk?

    You know, Pro stuff.

    • Joe Mahma

      This is the age of the hipster ethos when any tight-pants wearing art school dropout can be a “director” or “cinematographer” because THEY are the audience being marketed to with the new wave of RAW footage cameras (BM, Bolex, etc.) These people were raised to believe that they themselves were special, brilliant, and gifted, so now they can be without technical skill, or experience.


    they count renting bike and gas as $200 buck but no food, help or gear was used. no camera, grip or lenses. director was free…… ah, now I see why people posting on Craigslist for full crews with gear for pizza and a credit….. I LOVE PIZZA!

  • Anonymous

    Seen this done a miilion times. FIlmmaking 101. Meh