Like a traveling band

Being on the road with a video crew can feel like being in a traveling band. We never stick around in any particular city for too long, and we’re constantly humping large boxes and bags of gear. Set-up and breakdown at the end of the day are remarkably similar to prepping and striking a stage for a big performance. …And oh my god, baggage claim is stressful. Let’s not even get into security.

In this post we want to talk about what we’re producing, how we’re producing it, and some of the hiccups and solutions.

At the moment, we’re traveling the country producing a corporate video that entails lots of all day recording in conference rooms where we have little control of the room except in the hour and half when we are setting up. For the rest of the day, we shoot hour long interviews every hour on the hour and need to fade into the background without interrupting the interviews we are documenting. We try to interrupt them as little as possible, because they would be happening with our without us there. It’s simply our job to document the process.

If you’ve ever worked on a set of any kind, you know that any and all aspects of production can be tweaked, and often are through the course of a production. Problems arise, and trouble shooting must happen. Sometimes the subjects need a little make-up, or in this case need to present to camera instead of turning there back to us. On this job, we take each arising challenge on a case by case basis. So far the only actions that have called for absolute interruption of the proceedings have been mic issues, or in the case previously mentioned, when a subject literally turned his back to camera.

We’re working in a mixed production environment using two Canon XH-A1′s, both shooting to tape. The A-Cam is also being fed to an AJA Ki Pro Mini recording in Apple ProRes LT. This is both for ease of post-production later, and so that the client has immediate access to dailies. We brought our Matrox Mini Max in an attempt to feed the B-Cam directly into Final Cut Pro in a live capture, but it kept dropping frames. We didn’t have time to trouble shoot, so we aborted that and will need to capture the B-Cam later.

The AJA Ki Pro Mini is a new device (not just new to us). Some people are having audio sync issues with it. We have not had those, but we have had some issues. We are recording all day long (usually 8 to 9 hours of recording). We have done two production days so far. Right around hour six on both days, the Ki Pro Mini crapped out on us. It spontaneously stopped recording and would not start again. We tried fresh cards in both slots, and neither would record. Our opinion is that it’s an overheating issue, because after about 15 minutes of cool down and a reboot, it came back.

The Ki Pro Mini gets HOT! And the cards coming out of it are hot as well. Because we have not yet purchased a desktop stand for it, or rods to mount it to camera, we’ve tried to increase air flow by perching it on top of two tape boxes. Having it crap out on us two days in row was a big dissappointment. Luckily we’ve got redundant systems going, we’re also shooting to tape. That means we didn’t loose anything, but it’s a bit of a hiccup in our workflow. It meant an extra couple of hours after production capturing A-Cam tapes for dailies. That goes completely contrary to why we purchased the device in the first place and really messes up our sleep patterns. In short, five hours of use and it works like a charm. Six hours and you’ve got problems.

Other interesting observations about the Ki Pro: It will not roll over recording from one slot to another because it needs to “close out” the recorded file on the first card. You need to wait for it to do that, then hit the “slot” button to deactivate the card so it can be ejected. Then hit “slot” again to initialize the second card for recording.

Related to audio, if you’re feeding audio in through the SDI (at least with our A1′s through a BlackMagic Design converter) then you can’t control the levels on the Ki Pro. If you feed audio in through the XLR inputs, you can.

Above is Brian Quint, who helped us out with set-up and media management on our LA Shoot.

That is Lauretta Molitor, our all star audio person.

We’ve got triple system audio going. Lauretta feeds audio into both A1′s, the Ki Pro, and records independently.

We’re using two KinoFlo Diva 400′s as key lights and two 200′s as back lights/ fills. They’re working great for quick set-up with even/ soft lighting.

We’re also using the 7D for close-ups, and b-roll. Abby rocked it to snap this props photo.

She was also having fun with it in our hotel room.

Because we brought the Matrox Mini with us, we’re employing it for a second task: compressing dailies to h.264 for the web. It rocks for that.

PluralEyes in action with FCP to sync the “Ki Pro crapped out” captured dailies with Lauretta’s iso audio. Here I should say that we forgot to bring a firewire to capture tapes. (We’re going to pick one up today.) On the first night when we needed to capture a couple of tapes from the A-Cam for dailies, we tried to run the capture through the Ki Pro Mini and on to a compact flash card. For some reason that we have not been able to repeat, the audio coming out of that capture was completely ruined with rhythmic popping sounds. Therefore we needed to sync with the clean audio Lauretta recorded independently. Ah, new tech. It’s a little frustrating, but by using redundant system’s we got everything we needed. That’s all that matters in the end.

All in a days work.

LA and Houston down, next stop NYC.

2 Responses to “Like a traveling band”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry that you experienced issues with your AJA Ki Pro Mini. It seems like there may is some fault with that particular unit as the behavior you describe is not normal or expected. If you have not yet contacted AJA Technical Support, I would encourage you to do so. They will arrange to have the unit exchanged. AJA even provides an advanced exchange service where a replacement unit could be shipped out before your unit is returned. Contacting AJA Technical Support is free of charge and they can be reached by phone 9am to 5pm PST as well as by email.
    Phone: +1-530-271-3190
    Again, we are very sorry that you experienced issues using the product,
    AJA Sales Department

  2. admin says:

    The nature of the project that we’re on has limited our time to call AJA, but we plan to do that next week. We bought the stand for it at B&H while we were in New York a few days ago and it seems to help with the temperature. However, we haven’t had a shoot last more than 5 hours since, so we haven’t truly been able to test it. Thanks for checking in. We will be in touch.

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