Kit and caboodle. What Story & Heart is bringing to the Final Four.

With clouds to match its legendary status, the Madness comes to a climax.

With clouds to match its legendary status, the Madness comes to a climax.

Saturday, it begins: the Gators at the Huskies, and the Badgers vs. the Wildcats, the alphas of the animal kingdom come to Texas to see who will reign supreme.

As may be apparent in our last Blog post, we’ve had March Madness on the mind all week. And now, March Madness has finally given way to April focus; the Final Four is upon us.

We mean “us” literally—we’ll be there in Dallas too.

The Story & Heart community has already gone into action over the past couple weeks, organizing crews who will spread out to film March Madness in all of its national glut and glory.

This is the power of community: that like-minded creators from all over the country can join forces, each person playing a vital part in a story so much greater than any individual can tell alone.

March Madness has afforded us the unique chance to foster such a far-reaching collaboration—quickly, and in earnest.

We are, needless to say, incredibly excited to tell you about the project we’ve been creating. We won’t hesitate to share more about this on the Blog as soon as we can, of course…

But you can see for yourself!

Watch CBS this Sunday, April 6th at 5:00 pm EST to check out "Moments of NCAA March Madness".

A massive undertaking like filming the NCAA championships meant that assembling our team of storytellers had to happen quickly, efficiently, and, as is the case in any large-scale creative endeavor, without needless expense.

What’s the hardest part about all of this?

As any filmmaker may tell you, with a weary look in his or her eyes, that would be packing.

Packing gear for something like March Madness is a challenge, of course. You must strike an optimal balance between anticipating the many, varied needs of a high-energy, fast-paced shoot with mobility and access.

More than super-sophisticated gear or an army of crew members, packing for any production requires flexibility at its purest—resourcefulness, creativity, and a bit of hope, all honed on a deeply rooted sense of purpose.

There’d be nothing worse than missing a shot because a particularly burdensome piece of gear got in the way, or being unable to become immersed in the action because you forgot something essential.

So, before Stillmotion’s storytelling samurai, the one and only Ray Tsang, left to attend the end of the tournament, he wanted to share all of the care and consideration that went into packing his bag for such an incredible production.

Check out what we found—and promised Ray we’d repack exactly as he had it before he came back from lunch.

Here’s what Story & Heart packed for Dallas:

Freefly Systems’ MoVI

While it may seem like there is a lot of gear involved in one contraption, the MoVI is all about speed.

The games aren't the only things moving fast: stories change rapidly—based on who wins and loses; based on the characters in play, the athletes, the coaches, the media, all coming and going.

Ray lifting the MoVi proudly.

Ray lifting the MoVi proudly.

Imagine four teams packed at once in AT&T Stadium, swarmed 24/7 by small armies of journalists, publicists, security, and assorted industry or NCAA dignitaries. Now imagine these 100 or so college players moving through a predetermined media circuit; from above it looks like a murmuration—never chaotic, but working on a logic too big for us to understand in one glimpse.

The Story & Heart crew is fortunately never part of the circuit itself, but instead follows the players as they navigate from station to station, from one reporter and one interview to the next. We must literally be faster than the circus in order to capture the story of the event in all of its craziness and overwhelming power.

The MoVI strengthens and caters to the best traits of any natural storyteller: forethought, preparation, enthusiasm, imagination, and immersion. 

We have to think ahead. Which the MoVI allows, ensuring a degree of efficiency to the grace and ease in which any camera operator can follow the thick of the action.

The MoVI of course requires stabilization and assembly long before you head to any shoot, but this is little preparation given the large benefit the tool provides on the go.

Kessler Stealth and Oracle Kit

One of the biggest, most widely watched sports tournaments in the U.S. hosted inside one of the country’s largest stadiums: the event demands epic scenics and astounding timelapses. It's a big deal, after all.

So much emotion—electric happenings emphasized by the huge scope of the event—squeezed into such a condensed space. The Stealth and Oracle kit gives us the unique ability to capture all of the intensity, all the heightened emotion, in one sweep.

At AT&T Stadium, the Final Four floor is born.

At AT&T Stadium, the Final Four floor is born.

A slider, Oracle (the controller for the slider motor’s movement), and intervalometer kit (which programs the frequency and length of each individual shot) allows us to quickly set up such smooth slides and timelapses, knocking out a major shot in minutes that has the potential to run for hours.

With these tools we can both appreciate and play with scale. A timelapse in itself could capture a shiny new coat of paint going on the stadium, or signs and media areas set up, or, before any game, seats filling.

A filmmaker in tune with his or her environment is one sensitive to scale: how to control it, how to get out of its way, and how to reveal the true nature of its stature.

Add an Oracle motor, and the extra movement reveals even more scale: from one end of the stadium to the other, from one basket to the opposing team’s, the viewer is given more breadth contextually, and so is brought even more into the scope of the scene.

Removing the motor from the slider means that during game time we can position ourselves up in the bleachers, giving us the ease of being apart from the action, and still achieve an intimate, smooth shot of the full court below. All of this: compact and so simply mobile.

Manfrotto Monopod

Incredibly versatile, the monopod provides stability and mobility without sacrificing speed. Like the MoVI, it thrives on agility, staying ahead of the story.

Get into the tiniest of spots, or reach impossible angles—the monopod is a gift to anyone needing an extra bit of reach to film the players at eye level without having to carry around an apple box or two.

Any tool which allows the filmmaker to stay in thrall to the ecstasy of an all-encompassing experience will do the same for the viewer.

Unlike the MoVI or the slider, the monopod had the added bonus of being relatively unobtrusive, especially in the context of a press junket or crammed locker room. Similarly, out of any of these tools it can most mimic the motion of an audience member, placing a viewer in the shoes of an active participant. Whereas the MoVI and slider accommodate grand cinematic gestures, the monopod brings one’s perspective back to a much more human level.

Which means it’s a gift to pretty much everyone.

Zacuto Z-Finder

Oh, the Z-Finder is capable of so much more than just blocking out light.

It in many ways is any filmmaker’s most essential route to full on-the-spot story immersion. In the midst of such frenzy, it’s hard for any devoted filmmaker to focus. By fixating on what's inside the frame through blocking out all other visual stimuli outside of it, you can pay careful attention to any distractions that stealthily creep up.

A filmmaker and a ninja should share one near-mystical talent: the ability to disappear in plain sight.

It may be anti-social, but avoiding eye-contact can really help a filmmaker focus—and in turn, those you’re shooting can resist the inherent urge to not focus on you.

In the case of shooting a player or a coach—attempting to capture their story, to bring the viewer to a place of intimacy with your subject, even if the shot is in the midst of a roaring deluge of media—it’s easy for your subject to break that 4th wall when you’re overtly avoiding eye contact.

By noticing you, they’re not only taken out of the moment, but they may start seeking direction, waiting for specific questions, which will inevitably pull the viewer out of the moment too. A Z-Finder provides one more tool to avoid such a story-based catastrophe.

Coterie of Lenses

Ray loves his primes.

They force me to always think ahead about my lens choice and how it relates to my story.

This kit in particular includes a 14, 35, 50, and 135 mm. Having specific lens choices like these encourage better storytelling, because we have to think ahead to what lens we’re going to use based on what we think will happen.

Thinking proactively is the cornerstone to great storytelling.

Ray takes the monopod and 24-70 to the floor. 

Ray takes the monopod and 24-70 to the floor. 

Yet, we have to think practically too, which is why we’ve also included a 24-70 mm version 2. It’s a super-sharp lens with a zoom feature capable of accommodating everything from some crazy action to an unpredictable environment.

Back in that media circuit, or in the frenetic locker room, maneuvering the MoVI through the crowd to hone in on one player who’s already hovering between countless cameras and journalists can mean you only have 10 seconds or less to get as many different shots as possible.

With the 24-70 on the MoVI, not only do you avoid repeatedly re-balancing the MoVI every time you need a new shot, but in quick succession you can get a wide shot, then quickly punch in, getting both your medium and then tight shots. In 10 seconds you have 3 different, but essential, shots—without changing anything.

Without being too hyperbolic, you should spend the most packing time picking out the perfect arsenal of lenses. The right lens will make or break a shot—there really is no excuse for not being prepared in this case.

An Apple

One thing many busy filmmakers do is forget to pack for the most important part of any production: the beating heart behind the camera.

Shoots can become exhausting and unpredictable, and in the thick of any harried schedule, concentration can often distract from more basic needs, like staying nourished or properly hydrated.

No worries, we understand: this sometimes happens when you’re in the zone.

In Dallas for a week, shooting for hours at a time, it's imperative to have snacks and drinks on standby. You simply never know when a meal will be pushed back or cancelled altogether. And if you plan to keep your energy up, your artistic muscle pumping?

Any great artistic endeavor is a meeting of the body and the mind, and so should be treated as athletically as it is cerebrally. You have to feed both.

In Dallas, during every day we’re shooting, game or not, we always have the option of taking off during a predetermined “lunch hour”—but more often than not, since these are the players’ or staff’s down times, an amazing story is waiting.

With an apple or healthy snack, we can avoid breaking when everyone else is doing the same to capture a story from a perspective and an intimacy others won’t have.

Which is really the purpose behind any considered packing: preparing far enough ahead to be able to tell an old story in a new, refreshing, and enriching way—the way, maybe, that it deserves to be told.

Still excited to see all of Ray's equipment in action?

Tune in to CBS this Sunday, April 6th at 5:00 pm EST for the hour-long program, "Moments of NCAA March Madness"!

Big, warm, heart-in-hand shout-out to all the Story & Heart filmmakers who made this possible! We literally could not have done this without you.

Any more questions about any of the gear? Ask in the comments below. Or tell us all about the last time you put a lot of effort into packing for a shoot. Pictures, of course, are always welcome.