Trust Your Instincts: Preparing for Any Eventuality

The Crazy Duck team is traveling to Cambridge, Mass., to create a film for HEAF, the Harlem Educational Activity Fund, to open their yearly gala.
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The Shoot
The Crazy Duck team is traveling to Cambridge, Mass., to create a film for HEAF, the Harlem Educational Activity Fund, to open their yearly gala. Our film's host is Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard professor and host of the PBS series Finding Your Roots. His schedule is hectic, but he's cleared a two-hour window for us.

We've been using our Sony PXW-FS7 rigged with a Zacuto Gratical electronic viewfinder for most of this project, with a set of classic Cooke Speed Panchro lenses set in Duclos PL adapters.

With this level of talent, I instinctively packed our F55 and a host of extra accessories.

We're ushered into his office and told that Dr. Gates will arrive in about an hour.

Beautiful Light, Let's Change It.
A wall of windows softly lights the room. It's beautiful, but I have no intention of trusting Mother Nature for my key light. I have Nick point a large daylight-balanced Light & Motion Stella LED at a small umbrella, with a few other fixtures to kick light around the background.

Sarah sits in to check lights and sound. Everything has been tested and retested and we're ready to go.

Dr. Gates arrives. He's smiling and he's in a great mood. The mood in the room is lifted.

"I'd really prefer to stand while doing this. Do you mind?"

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Chuck Fishbein, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sarah Fishbein

"Not at all," I reply. While he and Eric, our prompter op, revise some points in the script, we raise the camera, lights and mic boom.

"Tommy, Can You Hear Me?"
Again, Sarah is in place with a color chart and a final "One, two, testing," and I hear nothing. I check the headphone connection. "Could you do that again?"

"Testing one, two."

Nothing! A cold chill is moving up my spine.

"Nick, can you tap on the mic over there?"

Not even a blip on the meters.

While our talent discusses verbiage with our prompter, we proceed to replace the microphones and XLRs, and turn the camera on. Everything short of a total reset without any results.

"Change the camera, Nick," I say quietly. Within a minute, the F55 is in place, with audio working as it should.

Dr. Gates steps onto his mark and delivers an incredible performance that is strong, convincing and has us all nearly in tears. What a pro!

As he's leaving the room, Dr. Gates turns to me, smiles and says, "True professionals always bring a backup."

Oh Shoot!
Later, I give the camera one last look before sending it for repair. I turn on the display and see that the camera is set to 60 fps; there is no audio recording when the camera is set to slow motion. Apparently, I had hit the button while lifting the camera, and as I was using the Zacuto viewfinder, that information was not visible. Riddle solved. I'm happy with my camera again and the HEAF video is soon to be a success.

Ah, live and learn.

You can see the finished HEAF Gala video here: vimeo.com/236586219.

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