Updated July 9, 2015
We use a lot of gear for any given shoot. It’s imperative for us to have the tools we need to execute the shots required for our stories. Without them, we’d be making subpar productions in terms of quality and limiting ourselves to a lesser story. The tools we use help us shape our story. These can be effects in post production, audio design or lighting techniques to give a certain feel during our shoot. Usually, it’s a combination of all things.
We love these tools. However, they are just that, tools. They help us, not make us. We treat each piece of equipment as a tool, and do our best to utilize that tool for it’s best use in a given shooting environment.
For example, if we’re shooting a documentary that is run-and-gun style, we’re not going to be bringing out a couple built up RED Dragon cameras. They’re heavy, bulky and take time to operate. We prefer to use a smaller camera setup that is lighter and quick to work with. We must be able to get the camera setup for a specific shot immediately with documentary work. Sure, we could ask the subject to repeat what they just said or do this or that over again, but it is never natural the second time around. This affects our story negatively. We strive to shoot stories in the truest, most natural form.
The camera is the center point of any shoot. Usually the lighting design, audio and scene blocking are all in perspective of the camera. Naturally, it’s one of the most popular tools in any shoot. Here are the camera’s we tend to use more often than not.
RED Epic / RED Dragon – For our high end shoots we typically will bust out a RED Dragon. It’s the highest resolution cinema camera on the market with a fantastic image quality. It can be used with Canon lenses or cinema glass with a PL mount. The quality of the image is second to none and allows for a lot of leverage in post. For example, our Penny Skateboards Painted Fades shoot would not have been possible without shooting on a Dragon camera.
Panasonic GH4 – A small, mirrorless camera that really packs a punch. This little guy can shoot true 4K cinema quality images in a portable package. This means we can take it nearly anywhere or place it nearly anywhere. For run-and-gun shoots, which is how a lot of our documentary work is – we need to be able to move quickly and act fast, and the GH4 allows us to do that.
GoPro Hero 4 Black – It seems no shoot is complete without a GoPro these days. The image quality continues to improve with each generation and now that the Hero 4 shoots 4K it means we can deliver projects in 4K all the way through. 4K resolution isn’t the end all be all, but it’s certainly important for a number of reasons. The GoPro cameras allow us to put a camera in places never before possible. This let’s us tell a better story, and just for that reason, we’re sold! They also work great on drones and bring incredible imagery from new, bird’s eye view angles.
Arri Alexa – The Arri Alexa is a beast! It’s the gold standard digital camera on the market today. The image quality is very cinematic and provides rich, film-like images from it’s 3k sensor. This is the camera setup many Hollywood feature film prefer to shoot with. (main image above)
Underwater – We got our start in the action sports industry shooting professional surfers. This means we were in the water a lot, so we’ve mastered what it takes to shoot in water and underwater. The GoPro is great, but sometimes we require a higher image quality for our story, this is where our underwater setups for the Canon 5D Mark 3 and Red Epic come into play.
TV ENG package – Occasionally we’ll get the chance to shoot a live event with an ENG style setup. TAR Productions being at the forefront of technology and cameras only settles for the best. Our ENG package consists of a $35,000 Canon Cinema Zoom lens and RED Scarlet. It’s a beast of a setup but the image quality is nothing short of amazing.
Lighting can vary from shoot to shoot depending on setting, time of day and story. These are the tools we bring with us on most shoots.
KinoFlo – Nice, soft lights, great for interviews as they are quiet and cool so they can be handled without gloves. They don’t require a lot of power and come with daylight or tungsten balance bulbs.
Fillex LED lights – These little lights are nothing short of amazing. They are bring, have a high CRI (color rendering index), are temperature controllable and dimmable. They come in a case that’s perfect for traveling. They are full bright immediately and do not require time to reach 100% color as KinoFlo’s do. There’s a reason why these are always on our go-to lighting list.
Arri HMI 1.2k Par – Arri makes some of the highest quality equipment available in filmmaking. The HMI 1.2k par is a great light. It’s incredibly bright and because it’s an HMI it’s extremely efficient. It’s big, so only the larger productions we have can handle this. Works best when you have dedicated gaffer and grip to handle the lights and flags.
We have a separate post on exterior lighting equipment which I encourage you to check out, there’s so much you can do with silks, bounce and negative fill as seen below.
They say audio is 50% of video, I’d say it’s more. Good audio can make or break a project. And great audio can take a good project to the next level with sound design and mixing. Read on for more on this (in the Post Audio section below)
Countryman B6 – This lav mic not only sounds great but is incredibly small. It makes it so much easier to hid on a subject, which means you have more freedom with angles and lighting. We’ll use one for each subject and usually carry a backup with us. They come in white, black and beige which helps with hiding the mic. It’s one of the pricier microphones but definitely worth it.
Lectrosonic 400 Series – Lectrosonics are the gold standard in wireless microphone systems. Paired with the Countryman B6 these are the top notch. They’re also really expensive to buy, so we recommend renting first to see how you like them. If these are out of budget try the Sennheisser G3.
Sennheiser G3 – A great quality mic for the price. If you’re on a budget this is the wireless system to get. The quality is great and will act as a perfect starter kit.
Rode NTG-3 – This is our go to boom mic. We use it on pretty much each and every shoot. Why? Because it sounds amazing. The tone is rich and warm. Boom mic break down into a pretty small, portable setup, so we use it on our studio shoots and in the most remote places in Haiti. It’s an effective piece of equipment no matter what the situation is. It can be used on a boom pole or set up on the camera. This is one piece of gear I could not live without.
Zoom H6n – This is a portable recorder that offers higher quality preamps than your camera will (cameras are predominately made for capturing images, not sound). The result is higher quality audio, but the downsides are that 1) it’s an extra piece of equipment to handle on set or on location – so make sure you have enough crew to support. And 2) you’ll have to sync it up in post. This isn’t an issue but it is an extra step.
For studio shoots we often use a 9′ paper roll for a seamless background. What’s great about this setup is that it’s portable and we can set it up almost anywhere – be it a garage, our office or a client’s office.
Teleprompter – Not just for the news desks. When creating sales videos or a direct connection to the audience is required, teleprompter can help your talent deliver the message smoothly and naturally. This increases production value and engagement young audiences. It’s a powerful simple tool. There are some iPad apps that act as teleprompters although we can’t vouch for them as we’ve never used them.
Audio – We almost always use a dual audio system for interviews. Our go to setup is a lav mic hidden on the subject and a boom mic overhead. Be sure to get these mics as close as possible to your subject to reduce interference and audio hiss.
Drones & Gimbals
Our go-to drone is the DJI Phantom. It’s a workhorse and gets some incredible shots. We’ve pushed the limit of this system several times. Paired with a GoPro Hero 4 Black and you’re getting awesome 4K images in the air. We’ve upgraded the system throughout, so it can fly longer, higher and further than a stock setup. We have hundreds of hours operating a drone, so these equipment setup is reserved for professional pilots only.
Related to the drone as the technology is essentially the same but a completely different tool is a gimbal. Popular gimbals include the Freefly Movi, DJI Ronin and G-Stabi. This is my personal favorite tool as the shots it produces incredible imagery – just look at our Housecall video for proof. You can even use these in helicopters!
All our shoots are in 4K these days. Because of this we have to have a system with enough horsepower that can handle the demanding media pipeline required. The future is looking like the USB Type C port will win out, but Thunderbolt is still a powerful option. We require it to get all the data from point A to point B efficiently.
They say a film is made in the editing room. In the past couple of years there have been a few major advancements in editing technologies that have allowed small production companies to simplify their set up. We are one of them. I thought I’d share what our basic post production setup looks like.
iMac – this is a Late 2013 model with 512GB SSD, 32GB RAM, 3.5Ghz i7 andNVidia 790m with 4GB video RAM. We’ve only had this for a few months but have yet to really push it. If you use the Newton plugin in After Effects you know how demanding it is, and this machine handled it pretty nicely.
30″ ACD – this is an older monitor but still provides a great amount of screen real estate on a matte display. It works great next to the 27″ iMac and beautifully on FCP X dual monitor set up.
Promise Pegasus2 R8 RAID – This is a beast, a quiet beast. We upgrade to a new RAID with the iMac earlier this year and it has been pleasantly impressive. It’s quiet and very fast. It’s also smart in that it goes to sleep with the computer. This is a Thunderbolt 2 interface, which transfers data 2x as fast as Thunderbolt 1. Although the iMac is Thunderbolt 1 we were forward thinking knowing that we’ll keep the RAID longer than the computer as our main editing machine. It’s also an 8-bay setup, meaning there are 8 3TB drives installed. Love this RAID.
MacBook Air – I’ve been on a dual computer system for several years now and don’ think I’ll ever go back to a single computer set up. A laptop makes so much sense for separate tasks. When you’re a small editing studio you often have to multi task and I find a laptop perfect for email, marketing, social, and research. I keep my desktop to mainly editing tasks.
iPad – So, by now you know I’m a big user of Apple gear, always have been. The iPad doesn’t get used a lot but it’s main task is pushing email and consuming content with apps like Feedly and Facebook.
THX speaker system – although you can’t see the speakers in this image you can see the subwoofer on the floor. THX quality and all output through the iMac’s speaker output. A good speaker system is key for mixing dialog, music and effects.
APC Battery backup – This will run our setup for about 45 minutes in case of a power outage. Thankfully have never had to use it for this reason, although it has come in handy when the power has surged, or tripped, a few times during storms. Worth every penny and the box says it saves me 40% on my power usage every month (haven’t A/B tested it).
Tangent Wave – This is a color board built specifically for color grading. Any colorist will tell you that color is something you feel, and working on a color board allows for finer movement and color grading precision. Our colorist also prefers a 3 monitor setup maximizing screen real estate – it’s a prety awesome setup for coloring projects.
Final Cut Pro X – We’ve been longtime users of Final Cut Pro. And when Apple release version 10, we jumped on board.
Adobe After Effects – Another longtime user of AE. Some of our projects only use After Effects (and Illustrator and Photoshop).
Motion – We don’t use Motion as much as After Effects, but the integration with FCP X is great.
Skype – Great for conference calls and keeping up with any remote freelancers. Other good tools are FaceTime Audio and Google Hangouts.
Da Vinci Resolve – Simply the best color grading application out there. For simple, quick shoots the tools inside FCP X are great, but the level of detail available with Da Vinci Resolve is amazing.
Dropbox – We deliver a lot of files via Dropbox to both clients and editors, writers, etc.
Lumberjack – We love using Lumerjack with Final Cut Pro X. This amazing, cloud based software let’s you tag & log your media in realtime. Essentially, when you ingest all your media you can, in less than 5 minutes, organize everything you shot and begin editing with power immediately. This used to take days with an assistant editor.
Final Cut Pro X Post Production Organization
This could easily be it’s own post, but here’s a quick screenshot of how we organize our media in Final Cut Pro X. We can quickly access the different types of media and bring it into our timeline. This means that we’re editing our story faster and more effectively. I know there has been a lot of bad things said about Final Cut Pro X but it’s really an amazing program that let’s us to our jobs faster and, more importantly, better.
Post Production Audio
Post Production Audio is a huge part of our process and storytelling. It’s the most overlooked part of a production, which is unfortunate because the implications for bringing your audience into your story is huge.
Izotope RX4 – This is an incredibly powerful software for post production audio. It’s used by many in the audio recording world. It’s best described as a “make it better” button for audio because it just does wonders. From mixing, to interview dialog, it’s so easy to use and results speak (literally) for themselves. It’s a professional application with a professional price tag, so it’s reserved for the higher end projects that we do or the ones we send out to a professional sound designer for final mix.
Logic Pro X – Logic Pro X works very well with Final Cut Pro X. It has all the features and capabilities necessary for a final mix but is one of the lesser used programs out there.
ProTools – ProTools has been the gold standard for decades for mixing a film project. I personally don’t use it but I know our sound designers love it.
All the above are tools. These are all industry standards and readily available to almost anyone. Remember, it’s how you use them. Creativity and storytelling are where you’re going to stand out from the crowd.