A stressful shoot

Dealing with a stressful shoot & learning from my own expensive mistake…
by Ben Cole

In my youth, I spent 20 years trying very hard to be an actor, seeing directors as God. An entity that could, if pleased with me, make me a success. So I would stretch my boundaries and contort my personality to extremes to make God happy. I don’t think this giving my power away made me professional at all. I became nervous and as they say in the acting circles ‘thrown off my center’. So I stepped behind the camera so that others could stand in the light and became a technical artist.
Many years later I am sitting in a hot studio, 2 5K’s roaring light at 6ft polly boards, then through a large trace frame to give the best and largest amount of soft light. The result is making the director hot in this sweaty studio but happy. He wants to shoot 5K cinema quality so he can get a perfect close up out of a mid shot. I assure him that I am shooting in such high quality that its 8 times larger that HD and he can zoom into the frame all he likes. The first day goes well apart from the fan on the Epic doesn’t seem to be working well. When I press the record, all goes silent which pleases the sound guy a lot, The silence concerns me, I keep an eye on the temperature gage and am relieved when the fan kicks in around 70. Then on one extremely long take, the picture glitches and fusses into a shutdown. I panic this is my nightmare situation. The director starts saying that we will need a back up camera. This has consequences. I have owned this expensive camera for a year now and tired to rent it out but do not have the backup to replace any parts if they go down. Now I seem to have hit a good client who wants to pay for me and the Epic. This is a start of a new era. But no not since it’s shut down. I reach into my mind for a solution. Can’t find one oh there is one….Reset factory settings. Which I do. And hey presto the camera boots up and the fan starts working at 25% and the heat is steady and all is fine. We decide to shoot at 4K to keep the pressure off the camera. We shoot over 1 terabyte of 4K that’s over 10 x 128 GIG SSD cards. At the end of the day I am happy that the director and client is happy and that I solved the problem and all is good.
I spent the next day shooting outside in the rainy cold and the camera behaving itself so all is good. Then Monday comes and back into the studio for another 8 hours of 5K.
The director greets me with a problem he was experimenting with the footage and if he zooms into the picture at 100% it starts to go fuzzy. I take a look and find out he is zooming into a close up from the full length wide. I point this out and he still insists on shooting 5K 5:1 that day just in case. I do not want to call the director on this and of course want to keep him happy. So we begin. The fan is so quiet at 25% that I and sure its not working. The temp gauge is going up to 70 again and I am worried so I cut and tell hime I have to cool this camera down. He seems upset. The interviewee is very nervous is a computer programmer and sounds like he has spent 24/7 in front of a screen since he was 3. The director waits impatiently and when the camera has cooled to 50 I begrudgingly turn over again and sweat as the temp gauge rises again and then bam the Epic glitches and that error sign refer the log to red. Shit! Now I am in trouble. I have risked all for this job and now I have damaged my camera. I try resetting the factory settings and still the screen is black down one side and when I record the same error sign comes up.
So I call Sam at Red Europe send the log and a few screen grabs of the glitches and he reports back that the camera will have to come in to be fixed. probably a burnt mother board hopefully only one out of the 14 mother boards in the camera.
I ask the director for a few mins to test the footage and make a call. The only mission now is to restore the shoot and swallow red pill and loose £500 and hire another camera.
Which we do and an hour later my assistant and I have rushed across town to VMI and hired another unit, changed the mount in the taxi and set up the settings ready to shoot, arrived and set it up and press the record button and hey presto the fan is silent at 25%. Shit the temp is rising this can’t be happening. Why did it work on Friday and not today. So I don’t want to screw up again and call Sam at Red and ask their tech guy for some help. You have to run the camera at at least 45% fan whilst recording to keep the temp low whatever the sound guy or director says. So I relay this and to my surprise they all say ok.
So we set the camera and rearrange the mikes and live with the bad sound and yes the camera seems to be handling this.
Now I am left with a broken camera and no insurance for mechanical breakdown.
What has happened here?
How can I learn from this expensive error?
Who is to blame?
Why did the camera behave well on one day and not on the other?
I have always believed that computers which this camera is are either 0 or 1 so why?
After 2 days of turning over this in my mind whilst not sleeping and struggling to keep the truth in my consciousness as apposed to blaming something else for the error, I conclude that, it is my responsibility to give the director and client what they want, but with a few clear and safe and professional boundaries. They are to not risk the equipments safety.
At the first and not the 3rd sign of problems stop the shoot and get some advice. Do the professional thing of admitting I don’t know and ring someone who does and ask:
How do I solve this problem without risking damage to my equipment and my reputation?
If I had done that after Fridays glitch and restore. If I had called Red and talked to a technician about how and why and what I should do. I would have been more informed and earning £500 instead of loosing much more.
So now I wait to find out if the damage is great or small. But the big damage is to my confidence. Next time, I will listen to that small voice in the back of my head which whispers; stop, calm down and think clearly, get some advice and do what is best for you, do not risk all for the good temper of a director and client who may try and push you into something you may regret.
So to all those who have walked this road I am on, lets share this learning, so that we can all be the best for ourselves as well a the clients and directors out there!
Ben Cole
Epic Digital cinematography on any screen size

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