The Chancellor Challenge
Back in April I was asked to follow Timothy White, the new Chancellor of the California State University system, as he toured the campus of Humboldt State University. He was only visiting for 1.5 days, but those 36 hours were full of activities around campus and throughout the local community, and I couldn’t miss any of it. I was to record his experiences and then later make a short video showcasing his impression of the university.
Chancellor White had taken on the challenge of visiting each and every campus in the CSU system within his first year in office. That’s no easy feat considering that there are 23 campuses spread out across the state. He had already visited Sacramento State, one of the biggest CSU campuses (four times the size of HSU), and their Marketing Dept. had created a short video documenting his experience there. It was a high quality video, it was produced by professional filmmakers, it made the university look really good, it was probably the reason why I was hired to record his visit to HSU, and so it was my new challenge to top it in every way possible.
Now this goal was mine and mine alone, but I felt strongly about it. HSU is my Alma mater, I wouldn’t be where I am today without it, and I like to give back to it when & where I can. This was an excellent opportunity to do that. So it was game on. Sac State was up by one point, there was a little time left on the clock, and I had the ball.
The first thing I did was to put together a shoulder-mounted rig for my GH3 camera. Up until this point I’d never used a rig before. I’d mostly done shots on tripods or dolly sliders. But in order to follow along with a multiple-hour-long walking campus tour I really needed a shoulder-mounted solution. So after a lot of searching & reviewing I purchased a used shoulder rig off Ebay and a brand-new follow focus. However, that was only the beginning of my rig. Here’s the full list of what I ended up using for this shoot.
1. Edelkrone Modula 5 (shoulder rig)
2. Edelkrone Follow Focus
3. SmallHD DP6 Monitor
4. JuicedLink DT414 Pre-Amp
5. Rode NTG-3 Shotgun Mic (w/ furry)
6. Sony UWP-V1 Wireless Lav Mic
7. Sennheiser HD280 Headphones
8. VidPro 96 LED Lights
And at the center of it all was my Panasonic GH3 with the Voigtlander 25mm on it. Add to all of that my camera backpack full of lenses, batteries, chargers, filters, extra cables, etc. and my Manfrotto carbon-fiber tripod in its over-the-shoulder bag. While everything was relatively lightweight for what it was, all together it still added up to be quite a heavy package to carry around for 12 hours straight.
The Chancellor’s visit contained all sorts of various activities, and I had to be able to record all of them. I had to be ready for indoor shots and outdoor shots, walking shots and tripod shots, close up shots and distant shots. That’s why my rig was the first thing that I assembled for the job. It had to be a versatile solution to a variable problem.
Another consideration that I had to make was whether or not to hire additional help for the job. After all, I was bringing a lot of gear to the show and it’d be nice to have some helping hands. This was a tough decision but in the end I decided to do it alone and I’ll tell you why: because I couldn’t find anyone available to help me! I laugh about it now, but at the time it wasn’t so humorous. These events where happening on weekdays and everyone that I knew who could help me was either working, in class, or out of town. I did manage to find some help for a couple hours on the first day and for one hour on the second day, but other than that I was on my own. That made me more than a little nervous.
In the end, it worked perfectly. I didn’t even need any help for most of the job. My rig was relatively lightweight and very versatile, and I managed to get great shots of all the Chancellor’s experiences while exploring the HSU campus and interacting with students. However, there was one thing that wasn’t perfect: the Chancellor had no time in his busy schedule for an interview with me. And at the time I thought that I really needed an interview because the Sac State video had one. What to do?
Well, it just so happened that one of the activities scheduled for the Chancellor was a radio interview, and I was able to record it!
The radio interview ended up working perfectly as the basis for my short video about the Chancellor’s visit to HSU. Luckily for me, the interviewer, Paul Mann, asked the Chancellor some great questions that prompted some great responses about his impression of HSU. (You might notice that the Chancellor is wearing headphones in the photo but is not wearing them in the video. I actually sort-of interrupted the interview in order to ask that he remove them. Sorry, Paul! Don’t worry, it was during a commercial break. Sometimes what sounds great on the radio just doesn’t look good on video.)
So here it is, my short piece about the Chancellor’s visit to HSU. I hope you enjoy viewing it as much as I enjoyed making it!
And just for comparison, here is the Sac State video. What do you think, did I meet my challenge?
Oh yeah. And GO LUMBERJACKS!
Tip: I found my Variable ND filter and Voigtlander 25mm f0.95 lens to be very useful combination on this shoot. The Voigtlander is fast enough to handle indoor locations with minimal light while the Variable ND filter was able to reduce the bright sunlight when shooting outdoors. I mostly kept my Voigtlander wide open at f0.95 and adjusted exposure using the Variable ND filter. This gave the footage a soft, dreamy feel that I think adds to the character of the overall piece. It was also very useful to have a strong follow focus attached to the Voigtlander so that I could keep the subject in focus as he moved through the frame. Shooting 10 ft. away with a 25mm at f0.95 gives approx. 17″ of in-focus area to work with. That’s pretty tight. But as the day progressed I got more accustomed to the Chancellor’s behavior and I got better at anticipating his movements. That said, I couldn’t have done it without my SmallHD monitor with Focus Peaking enabled. It allows me to see precisely what’s in focus and what is not in focus.