The gear we didn't see at NAB: the beating heart behind the camera.
As we ready ourselves to leave Las Vegas, say goodbye to our friends at NAB 2014, and board a plane back to Portland, we're reminded more than ever that the heart of filmmaking is not in gear, but the one behind all that technology.
Yet, as exciting as these new developments are—and, oh, we are excited—as astounding as the possibilities they hold for filmmakers, by simply acquiring them, assembling them into a formidable gear arsenal, you will not suddenly become a better storyteller.
The difference between a story simply told and a story told well is not about how you tell your story—with what new, expensive, or sophisticated gear, that is—but why.
So often we can feel that this cutting-edge camera or that state-of-the-art gadget will infuse us with filmmaking superpowers—especially at an event like NAB, inundated with a barrage of new treasures. The feeling is literally inescapable: even when you go outside to get fresh air (as fresh as it can be in Vegas), you are bombarded at every turn by massive billboards touting the latest and greatest.
But, that feeling is a crutch, one so many of us use:
If only I had 4k...
If only I had 14 stops of dynamic range...
If only I had a helicopter...
If only I had <insert any piece of gear>...
If only...then what?
Rather than celebrate what we do have, we lust for that which we do not. Instead of telling a story we can tell now, we dream about stories we could tell if only we had that perfect piece of gear, that brand new development in storytelling technology.
How many incredible stories have never been told because of this?
Great storytellers never look forward to the stories they have yet to tell, but embrace those stories they must tell—now.
Having exceptional gear is typically a matter of resources—those who have them and those who don't—and not a matter of the worthiness of one's story.
And guess what? Just because the newest and greatest cameras and accessories were announced only a few days ago, the camera and accessories you own still totally work—they didn't miraculously blow up or, in the face of they're more advanced contemporaries, now fail to turn on!
So we won't focus this Blog post on the most fascinating finds from NAB. Because we want you to feel compelled to go capture your story with whatever you have on hand.
Here are 4 films by 4 stellar filmmakers created with "old" gear—gear you probably own or of which you own an equivalent, to you inspire you to kick that crutch to the curb and embrace the story in front of you before it escapes.
1. CHOICE. by Gnarly Bay
Mostly made on a Canon 5D Mark III by the world travelers at Gnarly Bay, "CHOICE." is epic not only because of its scenics, but because of the intimacy of its shots: achieving a sensation both grandly sweeping and deeply personal.
The lenses they brought—the 14, 24, 50, and 70-200mm—were simple to carry and able to capture pretty much any desired depth of field in any kind of light.
Nothing crazy sophisticated. Nothing brand new. The gear they toted was chosen for weight and versatility, because they weren't going on a big production shoot, they were going on an adventure.
The story dictated the gear, and not the other way around.
Waiting for the right piece of gear to come along—to tell you which stories you should tell, someday—will almost always mean another adventure has passed you by.
And speaking of adventure...
2. The Great India Adventure by Joe Simon
"The Great India Adventure", by consummate man-kid Joe Simon, was filmed on a Canon 5D Mark III, using only 24-105 IS and 50L lenses, and shot predominantly handheld on the 24-105 with the so-called "strap" technique.
As is typical of much of Joe's work: a limited cadre of lenses, a simple handheld technique, and a standard camera choice provide the energy necessary for full audience immersion.
Focusing too readily on gear—really any kind of gear, from the advanced to the vintage—replaces focus on what is actually priority: bringing the story to life for the viewer.
As Joe has discussed before in conversation with us, when you spend too much time and resources on capturing the moment—having all the right gear to grab the experience in the most high-definition way possible—you will most likely miss the whole story behind that moment, for both you and for the viewer.
3. The World's Largest Aquarium by Stillmotion
In this playful, dreamy piece from the team at Stillmotion, the Canon Mark IV, a small batch of primes, and a monopod opened up a whole world of storytelling possibilities within the confines of an aquarium in Atlanta.
Notably, "aquarium" was shot on a whim, with a few extra moments to spare, with whatever the filmmakers—Patrick and Joyce—had on them. Their choices were instinctual, and both the physical space and their resources were limited.
While "CHOICE." and "The Great Indian Adventure" carry a lot of beauty by simply capturing the adventure of traveling to the unknown, "The World's Largest Aquarium" is a film entirely shot within the walls of a single aquatic museum—a museum many of us have been to before.
As long as you listen for it, the heart of the story will beat strongly no matter how you record its rhythm.
Stillmotion's ability to make the lives of these animals seem so much more immense than the space they occupied was a matter of storytelling versatility, and not the camera they wielded or the army of lenses they packed.
As far as available light was concerned, they had only that which was available in the building. As was the case with the following well-known short.
4. Nocturne by Vincent Laforet
Chances are you've seen this one by Vincent Laforet—with only streetlamp light and a Canon 5D Mark II (yes, the Mark II!), he was able to unlock something sinister, surreal, and thrilling about the L.A. night.
The oldest of these films, at over 4 years old, and accordingly filmed by the oldest equipment, "Nocturne" is pretty much a standard for filmmakers in illustrating how the impact a story can have is never limited to the sophistication of the equipment that captured it.
The story itself—of a skateboarder's hallucination after an accident bears an incredible sense of place: it's contextually, chromatically, and chronologically on point, all due to Laforet's desire to tell this story, and not the equipment under his employ. Really, the gear used in this film could not get more bare bones.
Imagine this story filmed with the newest gear, or with the latest breakthroughs in film technology. Would it be more impactful? More importantly, would it mean more to the filmmaker behind the camera?
It's too easy to make up excuses: the grass is greener on the other gear-laden side; I'm not capturing what I want because I don't have what I want to capture what I want; the extent of the resources I have are limited because I'm not good enough to have them.
Yet you have no excuse when the most important piece of gear any filmmaker can have isn't something you'd find in a well-packed camera bag or displayed in a convention hall, but is inside you: a beating heart.
Which means that everything you need to tell your story the way it's meant to be told is with you, right now, totally available. And passion will never be a crutch for any storyteller.
We've got something incredibly exciting in store for our community, involving not only the filmmakers we've showcased above—Gnarly Bay, Joe Simon, Stillmotion, and Vincent Laforet—but many more names you know and love. Stay tuned to this Blog for more news about an event you definitely won't want to miss.
In the meantime, if you know of any other films that were captured on "old" gear, films that moved you and touched your heart no matter what gear was used, please share in the comments below.