Doing documentary-based video work is no longer just “gathering” news. Taking into account subjectivity and forging an aesthetic are now required practice.
Over on the mojo (mobile journalism) forum on Facebook Marc Blank-Settle canvased the group for thoughts and advice on best practices for focusing:
When I’m doing my training, I emphasise the importance of locking the focus when you’re filming, if you yourself are static – whether you’re getting a GV or an interview. But what would be best to do if you’re moving, eg filming a reporter doing a walking piece to camera? If you lock, there’s a danger that the reporter will be out of focus if they don’t stay in the same “focus range” as initially locked; if you don’t lock it, then you run the risk of the camera hunting for focus, making the footage look terrible. We did a test earlier today: the focus pulsated on the unlocked recording and it looked pretty poor, yet at times the reporter was out-of-focus during the “locked” one. What does your instinct tell you would be better to do? (One obvious reply is “don’t film a walking talking piece to camera on an iPhone” but that might not be an option…)
The comment thread was lively and reminded me of a topic I recently spoke about in an article I was asked to contribute to entitled High quality low cost cameras are disrupting the film/video job market. This was targeted at folks on the younger side and I was imparting a bit of history:
Another downside is that a good percentage of the people making up the glut of shooters are not good cinematographers. Not just from a technical standpoint, but because they don’t have the eye or ability to make creative decisions on the spot. A lot of this lower budget videography requires being able to make the image very aesthetic on-the-fly responding to the existing light or by using limited gear. Low end videography used to follow the TV news look: interlaced video feel, not very creative compositions, camera shooting from the shoulder, lots of close-ups, etc. It was called ENG or Electronic News Gathering. As the name implies, you weren’t really required to create the image, rather you were just “gathering” some shots. Since the advent of the game-changing Panasonic DVX 100 with its film look video, through HD camera with 35mm lens adapters and ultimately Canon DSLR cameras with removable prime lenses, this type of production resembles something more akin to making pretty, short little films, or perhaps EFP (Electronic Field Production).
Having begun to pioneer both “EFP” and mojo beginning in 2006 – 2008 I’m happy with the more “ENG” low-res, low-aesthetic results of mobile shooting as well as, when time permits best practices to be used, mobile films truly rival those created with other camera systems. However, I do think the distinction is important to make consciously: What type of film is this? ENG or EFP? Both are valid. So with regard to focus while moving, I think it’s completely appropriate to manually focus while following the subject consciously expecting there to be moments when focus breathes. This is a kinda arty EFP aesthetic that needn’t be reduced to “style” or “untruth”. It’s simply a more vérité approach, and with vérité we know comes the need for an active spectator. I think to some degree the expectation that our content consumers are indeed “active” these days is reasonable given the nature of today’s interactive media and tools; that is, the consumers are familiar with the same tools and software that used to be mysterious to them at the time Medium Cool was made in 1968 or a few years earlier when Marshall McLuhan first proposed his idea of “hot and cool” mediums. We can reasonably consider newer media to be in some sense intrinsically “hot”, demystified in part simply due to mobile video and media editing software being available on everyone’s phones. But this is another, larger Mojo topic for another time.
Demo of Filmakr Rack Focus feature.