It could have been a standard-issue bachelor party in Vegas. Eight of my best buds, each one a perfect casting choice for any comedy beer commercial, shared two rooms in Bill’s Gambling Hall and Saloon and planned to do everything everyone else does in Vegas.
But I had my Sony NEX-5n with me, which I could practically hear depreciating as it sat in my luggage. So I devised a challenge: shoot a lip-synched music video with my friend Jonny Hughes – who just happens to be a respected singer-songwriter – over the course of the evening, without disrupting the planned activities. We chose his single “Sleeping Faces”.
The hastily-developed concept was simple. In act one, he walks Vegas at sunset in a groggy haze. Act two: we go back to last night, where he goes out to dinner with his friends. Act 3: he goes to a club with them and lives it up.
Our strategy for act 1 was to shoot slow-mo lip sync as he walked around Vegas.
For the daytime shots, I used the NEX5n + 17-55mm kit lens (for its image stabilization). When light got a little lower, I switched to the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 + LA-EA1 adapter.
I shot in Manual mode, Sunset creative style, with contrast, saturation, and sharpness at -3 for maximum latitude in post. I also set Dynamic Range Optimization to level 5. While this can increase shadow noise, a simple curves adjustment in post can neutralize the effect. I feel it gives maximum exposure latitude.
I shot at 60p with a 1/80 shutter and interpreted it as 40p in Premiere (creating a 1.5x slow-mo effect) and then editing that at a 24p timebase. With our lead singer Jonny Hughes singing along to a 1.5-speed version of his song, this created the effect of him walking in slow-motion yet singing regular speed.
For the nighttime footage, I used a combination of the 16mm f/2.8 Sony pancake lens and the Olympus 38mm f/1.8, which is a great low-profile normal lens. With this combo, I was able to shoot in Tao’s VERY dimly-lit restaurant without attracting attention or requiring much external lighting. We improvised lighting by using an iPhone and Flashlight app to give Jonny just a little key light. In retrospect, I could have used an even faster lens – the Voightlander 35mm f/1.4, perhaps, to keep the ISO a little lower.
We almost hit a snag when attempting to enter Tao’s club – they wanted Jonny to check his sunglasses and earbuds for “safety reasons”…instead, he walked around the corner, pocketed the offending items, and passed back through security freely. The camera posed no problem. Try that with a Canon 5dmkII.
Tao was packed to the death-by-stampede level, so my buddies volunteered to shove the crowd out of my way as I filmed Jonny dancing on the floor. I wanted act 3 to be fast-motion yet still lip-synced, so I switched shutter speeds to 1/15 and had Jonny lip-sync to a .625-speed version of the song. In post, I conformed the footage to 38fps and everything lined back up, only now Jonny was moving in fast-motion while singing normally.
Toward the end of the night at the club, I felt something drop out of my pocket. I quickly realized my Olympus lens had bitten the dust and was now rolling somewhere on the beyond-capacity dance floor. I quickly enlisted my friends – who willingly ditched the girls they were dancing with – and we all canvassed the floor like madmen looking for the lens. The iPhone flashlight app made an encore appearance.
Alas, after half an hour of searching, we emerged lensless. I was momentarily inconsolable. This was a valuable lesson learned in run-and-gun filmmaking: always protect your gear. Strap it, clip it, bag it, do whatever it takes or you’ll eventually end up in a similar situation.
So my budget bachelor party weekend ended up being more costly than expected, but at least I had a great time shooting an improv music video with some amazing friends. Now I’m thinking about replacing that Olympus lens with that sweet Samyang 24mm…stay tuned.