From a day out on the ocean to a remote waterfall, shooting a commercial doesn’t always happen inside of a studio. For Vancouver-based 1 AC, Tolar Armitt, the locations can be extreme. Armitt has worked on commercials for some of the world’s most recognizable brands, including Audi, Porsche, Verizon, and even Apple.
“As a 1 AC, I’m in charge of building and maintaining the camera. Commercials are a boutique field. These days, a lot of DP’s want cameras more and more compact. Sometimes the battery is as big as the camera. To help keep it mobile for the DP, I used to place the whole battery in a backpack with an umbilical-type cord connecting to the camera. This allowed the DP to run around and fit the camera in tight spots and unique angles, like a car’s dashboard. I used to hate it because you’re still connected by wire. The shoots are pretty extreme, so you need to cut the cord.”
Extreme and inaccessible locales are part of the job. On a recent four-day shoot, Armitt found himself placing his Alexa Mini in a water box for a partially-submerged shot in the ocean. That same day, the camera was placed at the top of a crane and stabilized on a boat for another angle. The third day found Armitt gearing up to head to Whistler for shots on a helicopter before heading back to the studio for the final day of shots in a hydroflex box.
Given the extreme nature of the shoot and the use of hydroflex boxes, changing batteries can stall productions. At the same time, reliability is critical.
“Batteries are one of those things that no one thinks about until they don’t work. I’ve been burned too many times. One time, I went to a rental house to prepare for a shoot and got old dionic 90s. I started using them on the commercial, and they started dying. The director joked, ‘are these one take per battery?’ I made an emergency phone call, and it ended up being ok, but I learned my lesson.”
For ultimate reliability and compact size, Armitt turned to Hawk-Woods new Mini V-Lok batteries. The Mini V-Lok batteries are half the size of traditional batteries and offer the same capacity. Armitt pairs two Mini V-Lok batteries on a hot-swap plate, giving the camera access to double the power and runtime, and uses Wooden Camera for remote start and stop of the camera.
“I love the hot swap plate! Besides the small size of the batteries that’s the next thing people notice and mention when they see the Mini V-Loks on set. It’s a really great idea. The voltage and time remaining button on the battery itself are absolutely important, and we use that all the time.
It’s great having both options. I can use the hot swap plate with two batteries to power the camera twice as long as a single battery or I can use only one battery if needed for space or size or weight reasons. I use the hot swap plates on everything now from cameras, monitors, etc. I also got the gold mount to V-lock hot swap plate so I can easily convert the gold mount cameras to use the Mini V-Loks. Very handy indeed.”
Armitt reflected on his old workflow which included the use of cumbersome block batteries and cables to enable hot swapping.
“Before I started using the Mini V-Loks about a year or two ago, I would have to get the block batteries from rental houses. But now, I can just use onboard batteries. The DPs love it because it takes bottlenecks out of the system. Instead of waiting for power, we roll out, and the DP can immediately start framing the shot.”
In camera, you always want to be faster than the rate of production. I’ve switched everything over to the battery. I put the Hawk-Woods charger in a pelican case, and I can charge eight at a time. I call it my tower of power. Hawk-Woods Mini V-Lok batteries are smaller and lighter than any battery I’ve used before. So now, we take everything with us on a commercial. We don’t have to go back to the camera truck for a battery. Now, they are small enough that we take everything with us.
I’m always trying to find new technology to make life on set simpler or faster and Hawk Woods helps me do both.”