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‘Inside Man’: Capturing the CNN Series with Canon’s EOS C300 and 5D Mark III

Hosted and produced by documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, the CNN series Inside Man is filmed across a wide range of locations, requiring cameras that are rugged and mobile but also deliver a cinematic look.

Cinematographer David Vlasits chose Canon’s EOS C300 and EOS 5D Mark III cameras to capture the action. He explains, “We chose the Canon EOS C300 for a number of reasons: the MXF recording format, which is easy to deal with in the field; the camera’s two CF card slots that let us record for 160 minutes straight using 32 GB cards; and the ability to record in Canon Log, which provided us with better dynamic range than we could find with any other comparable camera. Also we were able to get into places with the EOS C300 that we wouldn’t have been able to with a larger camera. Its lightweight form factor aided my back in the long run, considering how much footage we needed to capture.”

Because Spurlock is frequently filmed driving for the series, Vlasits depended on two Canon 5D Mk III cameras on rigid mounts inside the car. “This allowed us to get angles on the driver and passenger sides that we wouldn’t have been able to get with a larger camera, while still maintaining the cinematic look we were going for,” he says. “They also enabled us to get shots from outside the car without seeing the mounted cameras inside it. A lipstick or other super-compact camera doesn’t have the dynamic range we needed and would never match the show’s visual quality.”

Morgan Spurlock

“Morgan moves very quickly,” adds executive producer/director Matthew Galkin. “Although we used the EOS C300 camera most of the time, there were situations where we had to jump into the car with him with no time to slow down and switch the camera rig. The EOS 5D Mark III is super mobile and it enabled David to instantly hop into the passenger seat and move around the car very easily. There are tremendous benefits in using both the EOS 5D Mark III and the EOS C300, and the two cameras cut together very well.”

Another instance in which Galkin and Vlasits experienced the benefits of having both the C300 and 5D Mk III cameras was during interviews. “When you are dealing with subjects who might not necessarily be used to having a camera aimed at them, the smaller the footprint you have, the better,” Vlasits says. “The compact size of these cameras added a lot to reducing our presence as filmmakers and letting the subjects we interviewed interact with us naturally.”

Galkin and Vlasits cite the low-light capabilities of both cameras as being essential not only for interviews but for all aspects of shooting Inside Man. “Whenever you are dealing with vérité or documentary, the pace of it doesn’t necessarily allow you to spend much time on lighting,” Vlasits notes. “Lighting is usually minimal because you don’t want to distract from the interaction between your subjects.”

David Vlasits

“We put these cameras through their paces,” he continues. “We filmed an episode in Nebraska in tremendous heat and dust you would not imagine, on a scale like the desert. We had no issues whatsoever with getting dust in the camera, or with the cameras malfunctioning for any reason.”

“On the other extreme, we basically went from that desert to what was practically the tundra, zero degrees with a crazy blizzard in Helsinki,” Galkin adds. “I think we had something like 120 shoot days on this series, and we are probably averaging eight to ten straight hours of shooting every day. We got a lot of mileage with these cameras, and the cameras held up beautifully.”   

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