I recently published a post about the camera and lenses used to film Pueblo so today I follow up with an entry on the other stuff we had in our equipment bag. I’ve listed the items below in decreasing order of importance, meaning that after my Canon T2i camera I’d say the next most crucial item was a way to record sound, then a viewfinder, and so on. Hopefully this will be useful if you’re wondering how to allocate resources on a limited budget (though I’m ranking these in the context of Pueblo so it might not totally apply to your project). As always, feel free to ask questions in the comments.
Zoom H4n Audio Recorder
Almost all the audio you hear in Pueblo was recorded on a Zoom H4n recorder using the onboard stereo microphones. Since I was focused on filming/directing and Ben was usually on-camera, we didn’t have anyone fully dedicated to sound so we just did the best we could. Luckily the Zoom worked out well for us and the audio it records is much higher quality than what I can get from my camera.
To capture the audio, we developed a couple different approaches through trial and error. For shots that were mostly stationary (e.g. Ben sitting at the bar chatting with the bartender), we’d just place the Zoom somewhere out of the frame, do a quick test to determine a recording level, and hit record (sometimes a tripod was involved here, see tripod section). For scenes with a lot of moving around or impromptu discussions in the street (e.g. Carnival, San Blas, the market) Ben would usually hold the Zoom with one hand, walk and talk, and I’d do my best while filming to keep the Zoom out of the frame. For the most part this worked fine (especially as we gained experience) but the trick is to get the Zoom mic as close to the sound source as you possibly can. This is key since it’s hard to control background noise out in the real world and the closer you can get your mic to the sound the less you’ll pick up the noise.
Syncing the Sound with Pluraleyes
My Canon T2i camera also recorded sound as I filmed, but as I mentioned, the quality of the in-camera mic isn’t very good so I only used it as “reference audio” so I could sync the Zoom audio to the video files during post-production. To do this I used a magical software plugin called Pluraleyes which is explained in the video above. The software is great and can work wonders, though sometimes my camera audio was so crappy that I had to use the “Try Really Hard” option. That option helps but it can take a while.
Note: I no longer have the Zoom H4n so I’m thinking of replacing it with its cheaper little brother, the Zoom H1, since I don’t have a use f0r the XLR inputs that increase the price tag of the H4n. I’ve read that the H1 and the H4n use the same mics so it seems like a good deal, and with the money saved I could get a good windscreen. The H4n comes with a windscreen but it’s mediocre. It’s all we had for Pueblo, but I highly recommend a better windscreen for either of these recorders if you plan to record audio outside.
I got an LCDVF viewfinder last minute before I went to Spain and was very glad I did. A viewfinder is really useful for two reasons: 1) it makes it much easier to see the LCD screen which is important when you need to pull focus or are trying to shoot outside on a bright day, and 2) trying to shoot handheld without a viewfinder makes things very shaky. For Pueblo I usually shot handheld since it provided the documentary feel we were going for, so I used the viewfinder all the time.
I’ve never tried any other viewfinder so I can’t compare the LCDVF to other brands, but I can say that it serves its purpose well and I like how it attaches magnetically to my camera. My only complaint is that it tends to fog up quite a bit in certain situations. Such is the case with viewfinders, though I’ve learned that if it starts getting foggy while you’re filming you can try to smoothly maneuver it away from your face a bit so air gets in. That helps a little but if anyone has other anti-fog tips please share.
I have my extended family to thank for these two tripods. They were both hand-me-downs, one donated by a cousin and another given to me after it had retired from a life of 1980s home videos. Below I explain how I used them for Pueblo.
Like I said, I usually filmed handheld for Pueblo, though sometimes in our dialogue scenes I used a tripod to get a steady shot and a little more of that cinematic feel. I also filmed almost all of Ben’s interviews using the tripod. I’m not sure what brand my tripod is but it’s so old I doubt it is even on the market anymore. If you’re looking for something cheap see if you can find a used one, possibly on Craigslist.
My mini tripod is a Joby GorillaPod. I would never put my DSLR on it because I don’t think it’s sturdy enough, but I mounted the Zoom H4n on it all the time. (They actually sell DSLR ones but that’s not what I have.) It was useful to stand it up on tables or sometimes the floor to elevate the recorder and point it in certain directions. Sometimes I’d use the bendy legs to wrap it around a chair or around one of the legs of the bigger tripod when my camera was on top. In this picture you can see it on the table after filming one of our scenes.
Memory Cards, Battery, Bag
Lastly, I also had a couple memory cards and an extra cheapo knockoff battery. The battery works fine but has a way shorter lifespan than the official Canon one. It was also way cheaper so I can’t complain. It is really useful to at least have 2 memory cards and 2 batteries with you at all times in case you need a backup or one gets full/dies.
So there you have it, all the equipment we used for Pueblo. Fortunately it was easy to fit and carry all our equipment inside of my messenger bag, which also doubles as a handy Erika carrying case.