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."