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Music and light with the EOS C300: shooting a pop video

Music and light with the EOS C300: shooting a pop video

© Best Served Cold Productions

December 2013

The poetry of rhythmic gymnastics was recently captured in stunning detail by filmmaker Chino Saavedra and cinematographer Mike Plonsky in a video for Spanish singer Rozalen. CPN writer James Morris rolls out the story...

Earlier in 2013, Spain’s Chino Saavedra made a name for himself with the ‘80 Veces’ video he shot for Spanish singer Rozalen. This striking music video, which has enjoyed over a million views on YouTube, consisted of the singer and a second girl sitting side-by-side on stools, with the second girl following the words in sign language.

When asked to shoot his second music video for Rozalen, Saavedra wanted an even more intimate feel for the dancer he intended to use alongside the singer's performance. So he called upon light steadycam specialist Mike Plonsky to provide his unique cinematographic skills. Plonsky is famous for creating the Skatecam, which combines light steadicam work with skateboarding to produce fluid tracking shots.

© 2013 Conderechoa S.L. Edited and Distributed Under Exclusive License by Sony Music Entertainment España, S.L. / Best Served Cold Productions

Please click on the arrow above to view Chino Saavedra and Mike Plonsky’s film of Spanish singer Rozalen, showing how effective the EOS C300 can be when used in low light with a Skatecam rig.

Holding shots steady whilst riding a skateboard requires a special kind of camcorder, which led Saavedra and Plonsky to Canon's EOS C300. "We chose the camera because both Mike and I have worked with Canon EOS DSLRs and also have our fair share of lenses," explains Saavedra. "The ability to maintain huge agility was key. We were trying to create a choreography with the camera and the dancer. The camera's size and weight were amazing. This made it possible to move around effortlessly."

Getting their skates on

"Chino and I met because of the Skatecam," continues Plonsky. "Chino wondered how he could possibly use it in the video, so the dancer still has her space. The main thing about the C300 is that it's pretty light. When you are expected to shoot for a long day, for many hours, you can offer a lot more with a lighter camera. Even with the RED One you have to add so much on to give it all the necessary features. With the Skatecam, you need to counterbalance, so with a heavier camera, you need to add that on again for the counterweight. The heavier it is, the less you are able to shoot. We were able to shoot pretty much all night with the C300, and deal with changes in camera level easily. You don't need to change your shot, just bend your knees. And you can go as high as 2.2m, if the camera is held up at arm's length. I like the monitor in front of me, which the C300 provides. So I appreciate the ergonomics of the C300 setup. It has everything you need on it, with no additional hardware required."

© Best Served Cold Productions

Filming of Rozalen’s pop video took place in an empty warehouse, lit by Christmas lights.

Plonsky has been a steadycam operator for over a decade, and is at pains to point out the difference between the light steadycam work he does compared with the traditional approach. "It's easy to keep a traditional steadycam stable with a heavy camera, because of the inertia," he argues. "Lighter cameras actually require more skill because they don't have this. The C300 is not too heavy, and not too light, so it fits the bill very well." The Skatecam combines Plonsky's 32 years of riding a skateboard with 14 years of light steadycam work. There is no particular equipment involved, other than a standard Glidecam X10, with the operator's skateboard supplying the tracking ability. Plonsky's main board of choice for the Rozalen video was a Hang Ten from 1980, used because it can turn in circles of just 2m diameter, making it highly responsive and manoeuvrable. But a few others were used, including an electrically-powered board for slower, more precise, tracking footage.

Award-winning design

The C300's excellent award-winning design and ergonomics for the Skatecam wasn't the only consideration. "We knew that the camera behaved really well in low light, too," adds Saavedra. The location chosen for the shoot was a dark warehouse, with plenty of atmosphere. "Chino made a beautiful artistic decision to use Christmas lights and candles to make as great a use of bokeh as possible," enthuses Plonsky. "There are beautiful floating defocused globes of light in the background. That whole artistic element would have gone if we hadn't been able to use lenses with such a shallow depth-of-field."

© Best Served Cold Productions

Cinematographer Mike Plonsky (right) discusses filming with his team on the set of the pop video for Spanish singer Rozalen.

This also counted out DSLRs for the shoot. "What really helped us was the really great range the C300 has," explains Saavedra. "The DSLRs only have maybe five stops of range. We were able to expose for the highlights and retain information in the low lights." Despite the low light conditions, there was no need to use high ISO, and in fact the whole video was shot at ISO 850, with the iris fully open at f/2.8, or as much as f/1.3 with the prime lenses that were being used. "That was the amazing bit, that you wouldn't have to increase the ISO to capture the scene," enthuses Saavedra. "It was absolutely amazing. We didn't even have to test bumping-up the ISO."

The music video was shot with quite a variety of lenses, both EF mount DSLR lenses and a selection of Canon cine primes. "The lens we used the least was the Canon cine CN-E24mm T1.5 L F," explains Plonsky. "But we used the Canon cine CN-E50mm T1.3 L F and Canon cine CN-E85mm T1.3 L F a lot, as well as the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM." The T-stop number on the cine CN-E lenses refers to the measurement of the transmission aperture of the lens, whereas f-stops on Canon's EF series lenses refer to the size of the aperture; a fundamental difference, but as a filmmaker Plonsky is well-versed in mixing lenses and working with their own characteristics. "Close-ups were shot with the EF70-200," he added. The Image Stabilizer was enabled to smooth out the tracking shots. But the biggest revelation was the Canon EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM that was called upon for wide scene shots. "Legs deformed a bit, but not too much with that lens," argues Plonsky. "It's a fantastic lens for architecture." The 10-22 was particularly amazing because it is not a fast lens, with a maximum aperture of f/3.5, but it still coped admirably with the low-light conditions, in tandem with the C300.

Heart of glass

The huge range of lenses available for the Canon Cinema cameras was another key consideration in choosing the C300. "We could use the primes that we hired, but also our own lenses," explains Saavedra. "This is an important point for independent camera operators," adds Plonsky. "When you are buying L-series lenses you want to play with the picture coming out of focus. If you have to jump between lenses you might not be able to achieve that when using a lens that you're not familiar with. You can throw any of your own lenses onto the exact same camera, so you're feeling right at home. Music videos are not big budget things normally, so some things have to be thrown out. When you have a camera as sensitive as the C300, you can save money in some areas and spend elsewhere, for example lighting."

© 2013 Conderechoa S.L. Edited and Distributed Under Exclusive License by Sony Music Entertainment España, S.L. / Best Served Cold Productions

Please click on the arrow above to view a behind the scenes of Chino Saavedra's film for the Music video by Rozalen performing 'Comiendote a Besos'.

Working with a dancer could have added further difficulties for the shoot, but in the end the combination of her professionalism and the C300's abilities made things go smoothly. "It didn't take that many takes," muses Saavedra. "The gymnast was always ready to do one more take, and she was dancing on a concrete floor as well. She should have been in pain - she had holes in her shoes by the end! My eternal gratitude to Carolina (the rhythmic gymnast). We did three or four takes in each section. We broke down the choreography into segments of about 30 seconds each. The C300's huge latitude meant we didn't need to change the lighting setup for different takes, which was a massive help in time."

The advantage of Canon Log

Saavedra didn't feel the need to extend the dynamic range of the footage by using Canon Log, as they wanted to maintain the differentiation between shadows and highlights in the low lighting conditions of the warehouse. Nor was high-speed shooting required. "We originally thought about using a C500, which goes up to 120fps," adds Saavedra. "But that requires an external recorder, which would have complicated the Skatecam setup." They didn't have sound to worry about, either, as this would be supplied exclusively by the studio recording of the musical piece. Most of the shots didn't even have the audio recorded, so no external microphones were used.

© Best Served Cold Productions

Filming with the C300 was made easier thanks to the Skatecam and steadycam combination, allowing Plonsky to react quickly to the dancer’s moves.

Using the C300's native codec and internal recorder meant post-production was unproblematic. "We imported clips to convert them to Pro-res and then edited them in Final Cut," explains Saavedra. "Post-production was a piece of cake. I wish I could take more credit for it! I edited in Final Cut Pro 7, then graded in Color. I didn't have to use any noise reduction filters. It was too easy!" The true genius of the edit was fitting all the shots together coherently alongside the music. "As you can imagine, it was pretty difficult to make everything happen at once. When we were seeing the dancer in the background we had to change between takes without causing jump cuts. That was the biggest challenge when editing. Timing-wise it was impossible that she do everything the same on every take."

This process was greatly assisted by the ability to watch takes as soon as they had been shot, on the camera itself. "As a steadycam operator, you can only shoot for a short period at a time," explains Plonsky. "So it was great to be able to watch the rushes on the camera all together, with the artist, dancer, director, and cameraman. You're getting to hear the positive, as well as the negative. Positive comments such as 'I love the drop to the feet', or 'I love the way the camera drifts off to the left', mean you can repeat that effect in the next take. There is a real poetic quality to that. One of the beauties of Skatecam is its spontaneity, and the C300 works perfectly to bring that out."

Mike Plonsky’s kitbag

EOS C300 digital cinema camera

CN-E24mm T1.5 L F
CN-E50mm T1.3 L F
CN-E85mm T1.3 L F
EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM
EF-S17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

Glidecam X10 steadycam
Loaded Longboard
Hang Ten skateboard
Electric motorised skateboard

Biographie: Chino Saavedra and Mike Plonsky

Chino Saavedra and Mike Plonsky

Mike Plonsky (left) is a cinematographer specialising in light steadycam operation. The Skatecam was an epiphany moment in 2001 when he needed a travelling shot whilst doing a low-budget video in a theatre. He has since studied steadycam operation with Rafael Bollanos at the Steady Factory in Madrid. Chino Saavedra (right) attended Sydney Film School in Australia in 2009, where he worked as an equipment manager and post production supervisor. He also worked extensively as a colourist and grader on short films. He has since began making music videos for the popular Spanish singer Rozalen. His filmmaking motivation is his passion for the work.


It’s a wrap! The team gather together for an end-of-shoot group shot after finishing the filming of singer Rozalen’s pop video.