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Up Close and Personal: Tips for the One-Person Crew

Holidays are a drag. Where to go? Book the hotel. Book the flight. Rent the car. Then, oops, it all falls apart. Why? Because the one-day Seattle shoot has now been moved forward to the exact date of the flight.

“Brandon, I can’t do the shoot in Seattle. Can you do it for me?”

“Sure, I could visit my grandmother. Any helpful tips?”

“Tips? Here’s my big one, “Shoot wide-angle and go in close. Oh, BTW, you’re filming a cauldron of boiling lead.”

Just Say No

No tripods, no monopods, no Steadicam device. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for years. Instead of a tripod, try using a Mini Cardellini Clamp and Manfrotto 492 Micro Ball Head or Joby GorillaPod on the back of a chair.

Carry-on drone, just 1.62 lb., folds up small, take it everywhere

No lights, no light stands. Use auto exposure, auto white balance, auto focus and auto audio.

One small-wheeled suitcase with clothes and gear. Pack cameras in between clothes. Check this case for the flight.

Carry on your DJI Mavic Pro quadcopter in its shoulder bag. Never ever leave batteries in their cameras or drone.

Just the Two of Us

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Take two video cameras—real video cameras, not DSLRs. Make it three with a GoPro, one that has a viewfinder.

Always take spare charged batteries and a charger. GoPros lose their charge quickly.

Move in to Kill

Handhold—shoot wide, get in close, walk and move the camera to follow action. Use a camera with a good stabilizer.

Shoot like you’ve never shot before—high angle, low angle, wide distant, CU of details—then record VO from the subject about what you’ve shot using a Tascam DR-60D or the on-camera mic.

Always take that 180° reverse angle shot. You might be surprised when you look behind you—it’s often better.

Get used to shooting blind without a viewfinder. If you’re wide, you’ll get the shot. A viewfinder isolates you from the outside world—you need to know where you are, both for the film and for your own personal safety.

Keep It Clean

No lights, no tripod, on-camera mic audio, one continuous moving (not a pan) handheld shot:

As an assistant cameraman at the BBC, I cleaned my lenses every few minutes. Use a moist puff from your mouth, wipe outwards with a white clean handkerchief. No lens cleaning fluid is necessary.

Use the On-Camera Shotgun Mic

Frame up a talking head from top of skull to second shirt button down. Because you are close, the audio will be good.

For a formal, more distant interview, use a wireless mic or try a Sennheiser Clip-Mic Digital with your iPhone switched to airplane mode.

Make Friends

On location, make friends. Learn their names. I can do 10 names in one day.

Take release forms. Get them signed! Give out and collect business cards. Pay for lunch and drinks. Be nice. Make them want you back.