Last Summer, I took a trip to the Pacific Northwest. I brought a Canon 5dmk2 and some Kessler gear with me to capture a few stories while I was on vacation. I have already posted a video about a banana slug, how Philip Bloom fell off the raft on a white water trip, and a video blog story about the California Red Woods. Now I want to give you a quick look into a very interesting place I nearly drove past while in Kerby, Oregon.
In fact, as I traveled down the road, I saw the unique art hanging from the trees and exploding out the gallery windows. I slammed on the breaks and knew that this place would be perfect to shoot a “slice of life” documentary. All in needed to find was the person in charge.
I found the 77 year old business owner, Harvey Shinerock, painting on canvas in a tool shed. I asked if I could stay til closing time and shoot a short documentary about the “It’s A Burl” gallery. Even though I had no idea what “Burl” was, Harvey said yes.
Burl is a type or wood, or a type of “flaw” in wood. It results from bacteria getting into a tree and a tree spawning suckers in the springtime. These off shoots create crazy patterns in the grain of the wood and a woodworker can make amazing art from Burl. Harvey had a ton of the stuff. In fact, the entire place was covered in bits of wood and pieces of Burl art.
I wanted to shoot a polished mini documentary in four hours. I always enjoyed knocking on someone’s door and asking permission to document a piece of their life. I think it is a cool and interesting way to make films.
Sorry about the quality of the behind the scenes pictures. All I had with me was my BlackBerry and I never got back to the car to grab a better stills camera. I was moving fast to get this documentary shot.
I was alone and did not have any lights. All I had was a Canon 5dmk2, Rode video mic, Vinten Vision Blue tripod, Kessler Cineslider, Bogen Magic Arm and a Sony UWP wireless lav mic. The key to the whole project was the portable CineSlider dolly. It gave me much more dynamic shots than a panning and tilting tripod could provide. And there was a lot for me to shoot!
I used only available light and this is where the large sensor on the 5Dmk2 makes a huge difference. It changes the way you think as a DP. Almost anything can be used as a key source and the fact that you can shoot in low light without noise makes almost any shot possible.
I plugged the Sony UWP-V1 1/8 inch mic plug directly into the side of the 5dmk2. I used the headphone jack off the Sony receiver to monitor audio and make sure there was not any RF hits. It sounded amazing and I did not have to use an external audio recorder. Using a Zoom h4 or similar to capture audio would mean sync’ing it up in post. Even without audio controls on the 5Dmk2, I was able to get usable sound with the Sony mic.
When I was not using the lav mic, I had the Rode video mic plugged into the camera to capture natural sounds. The mic works quite well and it was very useful when recording the water dripping down the copper fountains.
I only used two lenses on this shoot. I used the Canon 16-35mm II f2.8L (my go to wide lens) and a Canon 50mm f1.2L lens. The 50mm was used on the tighter shots in the gallery and it was also used on the camera during Harvey’s sitdown interview. I wish I had used a macro lens to show off the Burl grain in the wood, but was in a rush and forgot!
During the sitdown interview, I was concerned about the shallow focus. I locked down the camera on the tripod and had the lens at f1.4. I had to keep an eye on Harvey as he leaned forward to back because the focus was so thin. I covered most of his interview with video because most of it was soft! This problem often occurs when you are a one man band trying to do three jobs at once.
I had a Bogen magic arm mounted to the Kessler CineSlider. This articulating arm was ideal for me because it allowed me to shoot off the dolly platform. A few of the shots would not have been possible without it and you would see the track in the frame. The dolly was supported at the center point by the Vinten sticks. When shooting fast, the 3 ft CineSlider or Pocket Dolly are essential tools. And you gotta have a magic arm for versatility and quick shot resets.
Harvey was a very cool person. He was a modest guy and kept telling me that the people who worked around him were the main reason for his success. We had a great conversation off camera about the life of an artist and how passion plays into it. Harvey also pressed the idea of doing what you love, even if the money was not there.
Special thanks to Eric Kessler for sponsoring my trip and allowing me to tell someone’s story on the opposite side of the country.