I recently produced a short video about Perry, a homeless young man who is choosing to stay at Covenant House in New York City instead of living with an abusive family. You might be surprised to hear that he’s a talented pianist — completely self-taught — and writes his own music. He has ambitions of going to college and working in the music business.
I volunteered to produce the piece for Do1Thing.org (blog). The nationwide movement strives to raise awareness for the more than 1.3 million homeless youth in America by asking everyone to simply Do 1 Thing on Valentines Day, 2009. It’s a chance to help someone less fortunate than yourself.
This isn’t a documentary. I prefer to call it a “video portrait.” It’s 2 1/2 minutes long and should give you a sense of who Perry is.
(If you’re reading this via email or RSS, you may not see the embedded flash player above. Click here to view it on my blog.)
Do1Thing was founded by Najlah Feanny and Pim Van Hemmen, who have recruited 26 Pulitzer Prize winners for the project. They also did an amazing job setting up the New Jersey Heart Gallery a few years ago. The portraits I shot for them in 2005 led directly to children getting adopted. It was an amazing experience.
If you’re not interested in the technical details of how I put the Perry video together, you can stop right here. Otherwise, keep reading.
I shot the video with the Nikon D90 camera. I was thrilled when Nikon (and subsequently, Canon) announced that they were releasing DSLR still cameras that could also shoot video. I’ve always enjoyed using motion and sound to help tell a story, but have never liked way that video looked.
Still cameras allow me to make images with a shallow depth of field. Now I can use my Nikon lenses to shoot video that takes advantage of that and gives my videos a “film” look.
The D90 is a mature still camera, but the video side is in its infancy. There are a number of limitations — the biggest of which is its inability to record quality sound. The D90 only has a built-in microphone, so you can’t use any external mics to record.
The best option is to use a stand-alone audio recorder like those made by Marantz or Fostex. I don’t own either, so I used my Canon GL1 mini-dv camera.
I put my Sennheiser lavalier mic on Perry and wired it into the GL1. I shot the interview with my Nikon 70-200 locked down on a tripod and rolled both cameras at the same time.
The D90 can only shoot 5 minute clips, so I started and stopped the cameras every 3-4 minutes to be safe. At the beginning of each clip, I clapped one time to make it easier to sync the two audio captures in post.
After the interview, I asked Perry to play through the song five or six times while I shot it at different angles on the D90 with my 14-24 and 24-70 Nikon lenses.
I brought all of the footage into Final Cut Pro and synched the interview audio. After that was locked down, I deleted the GL1 video and the D90 audio because I didn’t need either. Then I simply did a normal edit like I would for any video.
It was a bit convoluted, but in the end I was able to get the look and sound that I wanted.
DSLR video cameras are still a first-generation product. I’m sure they’ll improve over time, making it easier to produce great looking (and sounding) video projects.