Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Stills and video: Soldiers in the woods for Wolf Pack

Recently we headed up to Brechin, Ontario to spend a day capturing video and stills for a Canadian defense company (I can't tell you who they are or I'd have to kill you) who make a high tech imaging system used by military and law enforcement to combat evil. The primary objective with regard to the video was to create material for the product's training programs, required for training exercises overseas. The still photography was to be more for website and collateral use.

The budget for this particular phase of the client's marketing and instructional efforts was very limited as they are in the early stages of their foray into video, with a plan to produce lots more going forward. So we had a skeleton crew...photographer (me) with assistant Dusty Parr, camera man/director/DOP Kevin C.W. Wong (shooting with his RED system), camera assistant Mark Moher, the company's marketing director Eva, who had to dress up and double as a "bad guy" very briefly, a few times, and two "actors", one of whom (Jeff), as the company's ex-military chief training consultant, was an invaluable acting coach since he had full knowledge of correct procedures including proper weapons handling techniques. As Jeff acknowledged, it was pretty much inevitable that actual working soldiers would be highly critical of any inauthenticity so it was important to make the action and circumstances look as close to real as possible.

The day started off with collection of military wardrobe and gear from MAG (Movie Armaments Group) very nearby in the Film District. Then it was off on a two hour drive to a rural property where the "soldiers" would be setting up a tactical surveillance system in the woods surrounding a house.

The location property owners had and were happy to lend us two ATV's and a garage as a staging area. It was a 28 degrees C day, relentlessly sunny and hot (the  thermometer in my car still read 28 at 8:00 p.m.!), and we had to get back and forth from the garage to the woods at least 200 yards across a field a number of times with piles of photo gear, video gear, props, water and snacks. I had, as usual, brought more than I needed, or at least more than we had time to use, as the video shoot, which was being done with natural light, took precedence. I had wanted to set up fancier lighting but there simply wasn't time, so I had to go with a simpler one light set-up. It turned out that this actually worked well, in that we needed to achieve a balance between illuminating and separating  the 'soldiers' and the product from the background while maintaining the look and feel of proper camouflage, with a bit of motion blur thrown in to add excitement.

Being in the woods should have offered some relief from the sun/heat, and it did, except that the ground was unexpectedly boggy and the hoard of mosquitoes, also seemingly hiding from the sun, attacked anyone who dared venture into the trees where we were shooting. The poor actors, in full battle gear, were sweating bullets the entire shoot and drank bottle after bottle of water as they attempted to keep hydrated. The mosquitoes even bit through the camo uniforms. I sweated in a long sleeved top with a hood to protect myself from the sun, the mosquitoes, and any other bugs that might fall out of the trees into my hair. (If there were ticks they weren't going to attach themselves to me!) Kevin, Dusty and Mark just got bitten a lot.

Anyway, as far as shooting stills went, although I had hoped to shoot over Kevin's shoulder where possible it just wasn't practical, given what was needed from the stills in this particular case, so there was a lot of waiting around, followed by doing the fastest lighting set-up we could possibly do and shooting for maybe five minutes then tearing down and moving to the next position. But we got the shots!

The next day we were in town on an abandoned building set, where it was also really, really hot for the poor suited up actors, again. However, it was a fantastic location which allowed us to get shots like this one:

"Soldiers" clear a room using the Wolf Pack system

This project was yet another opportunity to do something cool for not very much money...and I have to say, as much as I love to work with producers and a full team of assistants, wardrobe, props, hair and make-up etc. there is something very satisfying about a small team rallying and pulling off a really successful shoot on a shoestring budget!

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