How to film your Vegas fling and get away with it

Last fall, I was approached by VivaVegas.tv, a Las Vegas events promotion company, to create a branded video about one of their nightclub parties at Haze.  I’ve never had a particular interest in shooting at clubs, or events of any kind, because I enjoy the hunt of stealing people’s unaware moments.  Filming at a club traditionally involves walking around with a big LED light that results in about as much emotional nuance as a Wal-Mart portrait.

I agreed on one contingency: I could shoot whatever I want, and take as long as I want to edit.  They agreed.  So I ended up just filming a first-person account of a fling I had with a girl over my four-day weekend.

THURSDAY

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 4.41.57 AMI brought two cameras: the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition and the Sony RX100.  90% of the video was shot with the RX100; I only used the GoPro for the intro segment because it was easier to handle while navigating airplanes and airports.

GoPro Settings: 1080p, 30fps, wide angle, auto everything, ProTune update installed

I started filming on my drive to the airport.  I had only the vaguest idea of what the final video would be – some kind of montage of whatever happened – but I knew from my docu experience that it’s better to start shooting too early than too late.

I continued filming throughout the day’s travels until I got to the club.  Knowing I would need some party B-Roll, and that I didn’t want to shoot it myself, I made a deal with the other club videographer to give me some of his footage.  I knew his 5DmkIII would be better than the RX100 for that kind of thing anyway.  I grabbed a few self-shots and candid moments but otherwise took it easy during the actual event.

On the walk back from the club, the other videographer and I ran into a couple girls from the party.  Some drunken syllables were exchanged and we all ended up in a cab to the Bellagio together.  The RX100 came out, and I filmed our tipsy ride and subsequent 4am meal together.  Nobody noticed, or at least cared, about my tiny camera.  After the meal, numbers were exchanged and I thought that might be the end of it.  I went back to my room and crashed.

My one regret from day one is that I didn’t film the actual moment of meeting the girls.  I had run into dozens of random people that night, and it was impossible to predict which ones would become a part of the story.

My RX100 settings for nighttime were as follows: AVCHD, 60p, Sunset Profile, Contrast -1, Saturation -1, Sharpness -3.   I used white balance creatively, often using “cloudy” or “warm daylight flourescent” instead of “tungsten” because I wanted the video to have a consistenly golden tone.

FRIDAY

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 3.46.11 AMA friend of mine happens to be a Cirrus pilot, and he was in Vegas for the weekend.  So once my hangover lifted in the early evening, he let me join in on a twilight flight around Vegas in his prop plane.  We rode with another guy friend and a girl he had met the night before.  I sat with the girl in the back seat and we looped to the Grand Canyon and back, a hair-raisingly turbulent jaunt that tested everyone’s tooth fillings.

A little later we decided to do one more tour around Vegas.  I invited Tera, one of the girls from last night’s 4am breakfast, to join.  She showed up bubbling with excitement just as our other friends had left.  Tera took the other girl’s seat, and we were off for another crazy ride around the Strip.

I realized when editing the plane footage that the two girls looked similar enough in extremely brief glances to pass for each other. So I combined footage of both flights and reversed the sunset to make it appear to be dawn, letting the other girl double for Tera in a few shots.

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 3.47.04 AM

We then rode the NY roller-coaster, which has a strict “NO CAMERAS” rule that I of course respected.  In no way did I exploit my camera’s stealthiness to slip it aboard.  The roller-coaster scene depicted in the video is 100% CGI and took a Korean team of animators four months to create.

After the ride, we hit club Hyde in the Bellagio, and I grabbed some kaleidoscopic moments when the glowsticks came out.  We made quick detours to Paris, Sugar, and a few other spots that became hazy in my mind.

Sometime around 5, Tera and I said goodbye to my friend and we retired back to Hotel New York, NY for the night.

SATURDAY

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 3.48.27 AM

After the intensity of shooting the first two days, I wanted to hang out and spend some off-camera time with Tera, so I filmed very little on Saturday.  Tera lives in Vegas, and I enjoyed cruising the strip with a local.  I learned about why she lives in Sin City: she was driving to move to San Diego for a change of pace, then pit stopped in Vegas and decided she liked its pace better.

But what drew her was not so much the city glow as the surrounding nature.  Tera is a desert-lover and a more courageous rock climber than I ever care to be.  I also met her equally fearless – and terrifyingly cute – Pit Bull, Lu.  Lu is the kind of friend every girl in Vegas needs.

pitbull

Pet, best friend, theft deterrent, and can opener all-in-one

At this point I was beginning to form the concept of the video in my mind: I wanted it to feel like a rollercoaster ride, ever escalating in intensity.  Yet I wanted to juxtapose those frenetic Vegas moments with more mundane, intimate ones.

SUNDAY

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 3.47.37 AMTera and I woke up at the Monte Carlo. I grabbed a couple shots of her looking out the window after showering.  Her semi-wet hair had a particular quality I really liked, so I decided to push the shooting just a bit further. I wanted something kinetic, yet SFW, that I could intercut with the rollercoaster footage, so I suggested filming a pillow fight. Tera was down.

We jumped around the room like monkeys for a while, smashing each other (and frequently the camera) with pillows and bedding. We then settled down and packed our stuff.

We said our goodbyes shortly thereafter, promised Facebook contact, and she dropped me at the airport.  It was a grand weekend and I had a mess of footage to digest.

POST PRODUCTION

I first chose a song I felt fit the tone of the weekend, “Flames” by Karl X Johan.  It was way too long at nearly 7 mins, so I chose my favorite parts and created a 3-minute cut to serve as the soundtrack to Viva.

In FCP X, I laid down the music as the project’s main storyline, then arranged the trimmed footage chronologically over it.  My intent was to keep the events linear until the roller-coaster ride.  Then I wanted it to be all about motion and free-association.  I tried to match the direction of motion from shot to shot to create a sense of cohesion even when the content of the shots had nothing to do with each other.

I also alternated fast sequences with slow ones to give the video a natural ebb-and-flow.  I used FCP X’s Optical Flow to retime some shots down to 10%.  I love how this creates a “moving-photograph” effect, surreal without disrupting the overall narrative.  I would have achieved even better results had I used a faster shutter speed, but in such low light this was rarely an option.

Finally, I added some film burns as overlays to give it a colorful, vintage feel. You can download some free film burns here.  To use them, lay the film burn as a second layer above your main footage.  Then set its transfer mode to “add”, “screen”, or “overlay” depending on your intended effect. Then adjust opacity to taste.

As always, my wish with a video like this is that I had shot even more footage to create a more complete narrative.  But I’ll leave that for another trip. Maybe Vegas again, maybe not.

 

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    Latest Comments
    1. Justin McClelland

      Well done man. I felt like I was entrapped by this video and on the journey with you. I love it and aspire to produce projects of this quality.

    2. Charles

      Brandon, thanks for generously sharing some very helpful information on your blog which I’ve been following for some weeks. I’m just tossing up at present between buying a RX100 or an LX7 for run&gun doc work. I’ll mostly be shooting handheld in a low light forest environment, so with the f1.4 wide angle maybe a slight edge to the LX7, but I believe the stabilisation and resolution on the RX100 could persuade me. More importantly, I love your Vegas video. I hadn’t heard this Flames track before and discovered another video on vimeo which you are probaby aware of:

      http://vimeo.com/19013264

      That video is very well done, very controlled, very considered and has fabulous shallow depth of field. However, I have no hesitation in saying I prefer yours. Joie de vivre runs right through it and the exciting fast cuts and almost kaleidoscopic approach fit perfectly. Top notch stuff.

      • Brandon Li

        Thanks Charles! I have seen the other (official) video for Flames and find it quite impressive. As for the cameras, the RX100 is a 28mm wide angle lens if you turn off the stabilization entirely. With Steadyshot Active enabled, it’s closer to 35mm. The LX7 is reportedly 24mm on the wide end, so it does still have a bit of an advantage here.

        As for lowlight, the RX100 will be better at wide angle despite the apparently slower aperture. The LX7 has a smaller sensor that cancels out its f/1.4 advantage. At the telephoto end, I believe the LX7 has a minor advantage over the Rx100.

        One thing to be aware of with the LX7: If you’re going for regular speed 30p or 24p (as opposed to 60p slow-motion), you will have a poorer bitrate than the RX100. The reason is that it doesn’t shoot at 60i/24mbps (which in reality is 30p/24mbps). LX7 shoots only 60p/28mbps and 60p/17mbps.

        Bitrate jargon aside, the takeaway is that your LX7’s 30p footage will have about half the bitrate per frame as RX100 footage shot in FX mode. When you’re editing fast-motion footage, you’ll see the difference immediately as big blocks of compression.

        • Charles

          Many thanks for that info. Although I was aware the Steadyshot Active on the RX100 involves a crop, I didn’t realise it was quite so significant –as you say it’s nearer 35mm and I found a quote of 33mm. Still, it does at least mean the active mode is doing something. I am UK based so I was planning to shoot 50p to improve motion rendering while panning and for general smooth movement. I can also easily frame drop the 50p to 25p in post if necessary. So essentially the LX7 is still a candidate if shooting 50p at 28mbps. It’s also happens to be about £110 cheaper here which is nice. The other possible is a new entry level/mid-level Sony camcorder available within the next few weeks with 50p/28mbps. Only ¼” sensor but has the impressive balanced optical steadyshot where the whole lens block moves, and f1.8 and 27mm at the wide end. It will probably cost about the same as the RX100. Don’t know if it will have much or anything in the way of manual control but will check it out before making a decision.

          http://www.sony.co.uk/product/cam-high-definition-on-memory-stick/hdr-cx410ve

          • Brandon Li

            That Balanced Optical Steadyshot looks like a total game changer for stabilization. Check out 2:02 in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvoBvyBn-5w

            Low light will still suck, though. Mark my words. No way a 1/4″ sensor can compete with 1″ and larger.

            I would buy that camera just for the Steadyshot, though. It makes it possible for anyone to be a Steadicam with a little effort.

    3. Jason

      Brandon,

      Wow, so that’s how you did it. I’ve been geeking out over this video since seeing your first version many weeks ago and trying to deconstruct how you did it. Very helpful to see you break down the thinking behind it, and also really cool to see this new final version.

      • Brandon Li

        Thanks, Jason. The trickiest part of filming something like this is developing comfort between the subject and the camera. Second trickiest is knowing when to start shooting, because you never know when the story really starts until after it’s all over. The technical stuff is a distant third in difficulty. But it’s all a hell of a lot of fun.

        • Jason

          Word, I know what you mean about knowing when to shoot. After seeing this and some of your other vids, I went on Craigslist and snagged an RX100 for $500. Much easier to carry than a Canon 60D. After a ton of searching last night, I found a couple places that sell ND filters for it. Now I have to get off iMovie and onto Final Cut Pro. Downloading trial now.

          BTW, I forget which video of yours had it, but there was one that ended with a shot of your reflection in the window. Seeing the two-handed pyramid grip you were using was actually helpful. Makes it MUCH steadier. Dude if you ever make an online course on how to make killer life movies like this, I’ll help you with the sales copy to get it out there.

          • Ken C.

            Jason, I think the video you are referring to is “Walk Like A Steadicam in Miami” (two handed pyramid grip).

    4. Jason

      love it man! absolutely brilliang gorilla nostalgia preservation. WOOT

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