Filmmaker Prep - Camera Builds

 My first RED ONE Build for Tri Counties Bank "We Are You" in 2008.

My first RED ONE Build for Tri Counties Bank "We Are You" in 2008.

The "camera build". What in the world is that? It's a critical routine in being well prepared for a shoot, especially if you are using anything that deviates from your standard kit. In this post I will give some details about this important (and often overlooked) step in getting ready for a shoot.  

I was recently talking with a fellow filmmaker over coffee and we were discussing the importance of good habits when it comes to preparing for shoots. We were discussing an old blog post of mine about how preparation for a shoot often begins at the last shoot. This idea is nothing new. In recording studios you always "normalize" the studio or the board after a session to ensure everything is back to how it started. I believe we should always take the time to do that as we pack up at the end of shoots. For example, regardless of what color temperature bulbs I use in my Kino Flos during a shoot, I always normalize them back to K55 bulbs before they are packed. This ensures that when I take them out on the next shoot, I know what to expect.

When it comes to camera gear these days, rarely are we taking out a nice, simple, self-contained video camera. The modern digital cine camera has a myriad of accessories, rods, matte boxes, interchangeable lenses, viewfinders, monitors, and a host of other peripherals that we can keep adding. The list can get exhaustive. Even more exhaustive can be keeping track of all this gear - especially if we don't use every item at every shoot. This is where the camera build comes in.

My first camera build.

I remember the first time I walked into a "proper" rental house. I was picking up a RED ONE for a commercial shoot back in 2008. I had never used a RED or rented anything from a rental company before. When I walked in I was in gear heaven! Floor-to-ceiling shelves full of Pelican brand cases, cabinets with lenses, drawers full of filters - it was impressive. In the front was a large open area where the outgoing gear was organized. I found the row of cases with my name on them. The owner of the rental shop came up and went over what was there and said after we build up the camera we could evaluate if anything else needed to be added to the rental list. Build up the camera? This was a different world than my old "everything is ready to go, let's shoot" life I had been living.

We built up the camera, which means that we set everything up like we were going to film right then and there. We attached the baseplate and dovetail for the tripod, rods, matte box. The external battery system and all of it's cabling, checked the hard-drives and made sure all was working properly. In that moment I realized that this was such an essential process. After building the camera and ensuring that everything worked for our needs, we meticulously packed everything into the cases. Now, we KNEW we had everything we needed for the shoot.

Confidence. Piece-of-mind. Total preparedness. These are just some of things we accomplished in those 30 minutes.

Building as part of your preparation routine.

 A lightweight Samsung 4K build for corporate documentary.

A lightweight Samsung 4K build for corporate documentary.

Whether you are using a DSLR, a Canon C300 or something more extensive like a RED or Alexa, the camera build should be a staple in your preparation. Nothing will let you know if you need to pick up an accessory, a different cable, or an additional articulating arm like actually building up your camera in the setup you intend to shoot with. It's a quick and simple process, yet it can save you so many headaches on the day of the shoot.

The process is pretty straightforward. Set up your support and put the rig together! It seems simple because it is. For me this usually takes 15 minutes and I am confident when it is packed away that everything I need will be present and accounted for when I open up the case on location. 

I have found faulty cabling, dead batteries, missing filters, rods that aren't long enough for my lens choice - you name it. I am able to solve these problems or find alternatives in prep as opposed during the shoot - saving me precious time and keeping me professional in front of the client.

Conclusion

If you're not currently building up your camera prior to shoots, I encourage you to do so. It's the cheapest insurance you can get for knowing your camera setup will be ready to go. It also works well for grip, lighting and audio gear. Recording audio with on-camera talent? Take the time to setup your shotgun (or wireless), boom and recorder to make sure everything is in working order ahead of time. This process can be applied to any area of your gear and equipment.

A small investment in time can (and will) reward you with confidence and piece of mind.