Filmmaker Daniel Peters talks us through his latest short film he directed and captured on the Panasonic Lumix GH5 – including all the audio.
Sometimes when you write short films, they never happen. This can be due to funding, actors pulling out, or some other reason you can't control. This time I teamed up with Panasonic to create a film and everything turned out great. Well, that's a bit of a lie – I did almost give up before I got out to Palm Springs, but let's save that for a bit later on in the post.
For this project I wanted to shoot it all on the GH5 and do all the audio in-camera using the XLR1 audio box, showcasing what’s possible with affordable gear. You can check out the film below.
I often stay in Airbnbs while travelling for shoots with clients. Once, you would book a motel, check in and check out – it was very simple. An Airbnb is the same idea, with the exception that the person you meet is the owner of the property, most of the time.
The first two times I booked using the service, I met someone completely different to the person I was speaking with through the app. I like writing from life experiences but twisting reality, so I came up with story of “Deserted in Paris”.
As I was writing the film, I saw a story in the news where a cleaner had hired out a property and tried to make some money without the owner knowing.
As my story unfolded I wanted you to be interested in the characters, but once the problem in the story happened, I didn't want you to care anymore... kind of like the news. You want to know what happened but quickly forget and get on with your life shortly after hearing it.
I pitched a short film to Panasonic, to be shot all on the GH5 with all audio captured using the XLR1 adapter. Panasonic jumped on board, so I started to plan production. Like any company funding a film, no matter how big or small, they wanted to know why and where their money is going, so I needed to know my plan for when they’d start asking these questions.
The main concern for them was the amount spent on flights and location. Why couldn't we film it in Europe or the UK? I explained that my vision was for the film to be set in a deserted location with lots of travelling. Spain would offer similar views but the actual location was never quite right – everything was too much like a villa, any location that seemed similar to what I was after ended up being right by the beach, so not very secluded.
Like most stories, the location is at least 70% of the film, and can be a character itself, so I continued to push for my preferred location (it helped that the actors I wanted would have had to fly over and the costs would turn out the same really). Finally, I got the go-ahead to film in Palm Springs, California.
When filming anything, whether it’s a short film or a corporate piece, it’s always best to scout the location and lighting before you film. Sometimes you may not get the option, so you may only rely on the client to send you pictures or on Google.
In my case, I arrived two days before filming. So I had two days to scout and film wide car cutaways without the actors. After that I’d have only two days with the actors to film and nail all the scenes. Why not add more days? Budget. It always comes down to budget.
The first day we drove around scouting for roads that looked nice but also safe. That way we’d be able to pull over anywhere to mount the camera on the car, then switch mounting sides with no risk of getting pulled over by the police or causing danger for anyone else.
The second day we checked into the shoot location. This allowed me to check camera angles, and record the times when the light looked right for the scenes in the home, and when it was perfect for shooting outside the home
The gear I used
Despite bringing everything I mention in my BTS video above, the whole film was shot with the Panasonic GH5 with the XLR1 Adapter, two lavalier microphones and just the one lens: the Lumix f/1.7 25mm lens.
Why did I choose to shoot everything on the 25mm? Well this is interesting – the plan was to shoot the whole film twice, once on Lumix spherical lenses and again on anamorphic lenses. I only had the one anamorphic lens however, which was the SLR Magic f/2.8 50mm. This was matched with the XL Metabones Speedbooster as it was too tight in the car scenes with just a standard EF to micro four-thirds adapter.
Unfortunately, having the Metabones actually caused more issues. The anamorphic lens’s close focus distance was quite far away: around 3ft, and adding the Metabones pushed it back to about 5ft. So now the focus for the car mount was off, so I had to find a +1 close focus/diopter to reach focus marks. I managed to find one but it was only a 77mm, and the SLR Magic lens has a 82mm thread. So I had to use Blu-Tack to attach it…
So, back to why I used just the 25mm Lumix lens. Well, it’s basically the same look and equivalent focal length as a 50mm anamorphic lens with the Metabones. I love the 12mm Leica lens, but for narrative it can make people look too flat within the environment. The 42mm is also nice, but due to locations it looked nicer framing both my actors with the 25mm.
Some of the other key bits of gear used were a Sachtler Ace L tripod, a Kessler slider, and a Camtree car mount. A lot of people think that when you have a small camera you can get away with using small and cheap tripods. Nice in theory, but try getting a smooth locked-off shot in high winds and tell me if it’s working out for you. I’d say always try and invest in a decent tripod: it makes such as difference, and its going outlive your camera by a long shot.
I recorded all the audio in-camera using the XLR1 adapter, with all dialogue done with just Sennheiser lavalier mics. Why no boom mic or sound recordist? Well, I couldn't source a sound recordist with the date change of the shoot, and I had no-one confident enough to use a boom. So it was either cancel the shoot, or do everything locked off so that I could also operate the boom, or quit making excuses and make the best out of what I had.
The car scenes had already worked out the best with lavalier mics, rather than the boom. I’d used Rycote covers and fluffies to minimize ruffling under the shirt. So I did my best to carry on the whole film this way. Now I’m not saying sound recordists are not needed because they really are – they make a film so much better. But, just because something is done a certain way doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try something different – in this case recording sound with lavaliers –especially if you have to do everything alone. You do what you have to do, using the budget you’ve got to do it with.
That’s kind of what my point was with this movie – to make a good short film with just the one lens, a couple of lavalier microphones, and a great affordable camera. Hopefully, you’ll pay more attention to the story and stop caring about the gear. So many people say they need such-and-such camera or lens to make a film, and yes you do to a certain extent, but look at what you can do with a minimalist, budget-friendly setup. I’m not trying to toot my own horn, as I hate talking about myself in any way, but you can do wonders with little gear.
All the other gear used was for the anamorphic version of this film. The Atomos Ninja Inferno made this much easier due to its de-squeeze mode for any anamorphic crop, with the added bonus of the 10-bit ProRes recording and the high brightness/HDR mode to see in that bright desert sun
However, when reviewing the footage, I much preferred the actors’ performances we captured using the spherical version rather than anamorphic. I shot both versions using the GH5’s V-Log – I love that profile and always want to maintain as much highlight detail as possible.
I filmed using my LUTs as the preview both in-camera and installed on the Atomos Inferno, allowing me to see a rough version of the finished look while I was still capturing my shots.
Why the GH5?
First off, I love the GH5. I have been mixing the Lumix line-up with Red cameras, Blackmagic cameras since the GH2, and have been amazed how well it partners with those cameras.
The small size of the camera is big plus and the in-camera stabilisation is really nice to have – I found it especially handy for filming those handheld car scenes. You just need to be careful with panning too quickly, as sometimes it can look slightly robotic.
The small size and weight of the camera and its native lenses mean I can move quickly and keep my productions flexible, all the time knowing that I’m capturing images with a decent amount of detail. On the film, I knew the 10bit files would handle the desert well in the harsh sunlight/gradient situations. Having four times more detail compared to 8bit really does make a huge difference when you’re filming outside. Also, having 4K 10bit up to 60p means you’ve got some options for shooting slow motion without sacrificing resolution, should you need it.
If I could I’d probably shoot everything on an Arri Alexa, but again you work with what you’ve got and what the budget permits, and for me, that’s the GH5 – and I love it.
Why did I shoot spherical and anamorphic?
I wanted to show how different it can drive the mood of a story and how you can frame more of your vision while still maintaining a nice fall-off in your frame compared to aspherical. Spherical lenses also look beautiful, in their own way.
I also wanted to showcase how different the film could look shooting anamorphic but delivering in 16x9. Some people will cringe at that but so many shows have crystal-clear sharp images with perfect color, and it just takes away the feel of a show and emotions from the characters in a scene. It’s good to have something that’s not so perfect, and a lot of TV shows demonstrate that: True Detective, Fear The Walking Dead, Guerilla, Chance and the US version of The Bridge are all shot anamorphic but delivered in 16x9.
What’s great about the Atomos Ninja Inferno is that it allows you to film and de-squeeze anamorphic footage whether it’s 2x, 1.3x or 1.5x, and view it with a 16x9 frame guide while still viewing the anamorphic frame behind it
Unfortunately for me, having only one anamorphic lens led to me having limitations for close-up shots due to the close focus distance being 3ft. I also only shot with the 25mm spherical, as this is a 50mm equivalent to full frame and provides a similar look to the 50mm anamorphic lens with Metabones on it.
You can see some of the shots captured using the Anamorphic set up above. In the end I went with just pushing the spherical version, – I much preferred the overall look and performances captured.
When I was framing a scene, the 25mm just looked right every time, and it wasn’t until I finished the film that I realised I never took it off. Just because you have access to many different lenses doesn’t mean you should use them; you simply use what you feel is right for the scene and the narrative. I knew what I needed for the film once I arrived but it’s always good to have the lenses ready.
About the Author
Daniel Peters is an independent filmmaker who works on a mixture of corporate, wedding, and short film projects. You can keep up to date with more of his work and his blog by visiting his online home: danieljohnpeters.com