Retail city…kinda like The Trueman Show for Canadian Tire

Retail City, the Truman Show set of Canadian Tire Corp.  In this warehouse in East York (Toronto) you will find the most incredible find ever found…if you can find it.  Retail City.  The first time that I went to Retail City I was blown away!  Imagine this…you walk into the building, a normal looking warehouse building just like any other and after being buzzed in by the receptionist you proceed to walk down a lengthy hallway.  The hallway is like any other hallway that you might have walked down before, walls, ceiling, well-lit, you know…pretty hallway-ish.  As you walk down this hall, on the right-hand side wall you see this “thing”, and as you draw nearer to the end of the hallway you realize that the “thing” is a large square button.  A sign beside the button reads “Press the Magic Button”, and as any naturally curious human being would, you push the button.  The large double door slides open when you press it and the parting of the wood and metal with a sound that can only be described as the Magic Button sound reveals…a Canadian Tire store.  I’m talking about a full sized front of a store.. inside this warehouse.  And that’s not all!  As you walk through the front doors of this inside-the-warehouse Canadian Tire you emerge into a fully stocked, current flyer offerings and sale items displayed, up to date with seasonal stock Canadian Tire store.  There are cash registers, displays, isles, auto dept, sports, housewares…everything that you’d find in a regular CT store, except the people.  It’s a “lab” or testing environment for CT to set up displays for dealers to see how they are supposed to dress their store, for Executives to come by to see how the latest CT products will be displayed and sold, to train, to experiment and the best part…to shoot video!  Imagine a CT store with no people, looks just like a CT store, and is current with seasonal offerings as my set for shooting video.

I was introduced to Retail City in my first month at CT and have had the opportunity to shoot there many, many times.  You’ve probably seen CT commercials that have been shot there and not even known it.  I had that opportunity again last week as Brad, Charles and I set out to shoot a Christmas Strategy video for one of the top Executive at CT to kick off the Christmas season.

We scouted the location the week before and decided that we were going to do a 3 camera shoot (the Sony PWM-350 and two Canon 7D) and we hired our regular audio guy, Brian, to help us out with the 2 person audio recording.  We had Brian send audio to the Sony camera since it doesn’t suffer from the 12 minute recording limit that the Canon 7D’s do, and we also recorded separate audio to an Olympus recorder (not sure of the model but it is a device similar to the Zoom h4n).  It was a simple enough shoot…until the entire script was changed last-minute.  I wanted to make sure that this thing was easy to edit so I quickly jumped in with a couple of suggestions on how to make this an easy process.  The key thing for me this day was to ensure that each scene consisted of 1 question and the answer to that question only, allowing us to do retakes easily as well as making it easy to log good takes.  Being that I needed to edit this the next day (today), I really wanted it to be easy in the edit room, and sice it was a 3 camera shoot, cutting to another camera to fake that everthing was one seamless conversation wouldn’t be hard at all.  Another thing that we did to ensure ease in post-production was using the slate or the clapper.  By using a slate (to indicate the scene number and take) and actually clapping it (to create a visual and audible sync point that all cameras can see and hear) I was able to very easily use the Multicam feature of FCP7 (this feature does not yet exist in FCPX…but hopefully it will soon).

The shoot was a 2 person interview with a nice Christmas display for the backdrop.  The main cam (Sony PMW-350) was the 2 shot and each of the Canon DSLRs shot a single of each person, giving me plenty of footage to be able to cut between.  We lit the set with two large softboxes with 650watt tungsten bulbs and used two 500watt Tota bulbs as backlights.  As usual, I was equipped with my Zacuto EVF which proved to be very valuable on this shoot because I had to man 2 cameras and viewing them both at the same time would have been very difficult without the EVF, so thanks again Zacuto!  Brad was styling out with a Jag35 Field Runner kitted out with the D|Focus from D|Focus Systems (Good look Brad), and we were both outfitted with a medium range zoom lens on our cams.

So, the interview was smooth, b-roll was shot, the set was striked and we left to head back to CT in the Community Events Vehicle to backup and start to transcode the footage (turn it into a format that my editing system likes…not necessarily what the camera spits out).  I love shooting with this team (Charles, Brad and Myself), we work like a well oiled machine from packing, to setup, to communicating our thoughts on shooting right through to the actual shoot, striking (teardown), backing up footage and getting ready for post-production. So, all-in-all, a great shoot day, great team, a fake/ real CT store to shoot in and the talent did it all in about 45 minutes…maybe this really is CT’s version of the Trueman Show.

Shoot Straight!

How to clean your lens – video

I was sitting on the couch watching Return of the Jedi and surfing on my MBP and I came across this video on a blog called Wide Open Camera and thought I’d put it up.  It’s a video on how to clean your lens…very straight forward, but good to see.  Enjoy!


The 10 non-gear essentials for an event shooter

I was about to take a lunch break while shooting a while ago and in preparation to eat, I pulled out my bottle of hand sanitizer and the guy I was with said, “you really are a shooter, all the shooters I know carry one of those around”. To me it just seemed like a natural thing to have with me, but then I started thinking of all the other non-video, essential things that I have with me on every shoot. So, I am writing this posting as my list of camera operator’s essentials.
• Hand Sanitizer – think of all the hand shakes and gear grabbin’ that happens throughout the day
• A bandana – wipe the sweat away or to be used as a slider on a smooth surface (more on that later) or to protect your good pants’ knees when kneeling to get a shot
• A good multitool
• GPS – get an app, saves the cost of buying dedicated hardware or…get dedicated hardware like a Garmin or TomTom. I personally use TelNav on my Blackberry.
• Phone car charger
• Gum – I like Stride 2.0 myself
• Black electrical tape (fixes and modifies all kinds of stuff!)
• Antihistamine – not only for seasonal allergies, but I’ve used it after having a reaction from some weird bathroom soap on a shoot, as well as bee stings.
• Tide To Go Pen – at weddings, I’m in the public eye as much as the bride and groom are. Gotta eat…gotta stay clean
• Fully stocked refresh kit – work all day, summer sun, carrying a Glidecam with a camera, monitor and mic on it all over the church, park and hall in a suit means…better have travel sized deodorant, toothpaste, tooth brush, chapstick, hand lotion, body spray and hair brush (unless you’ve been blessed with the chrome dome like me). I keep this kit in the car, all the other stuff is always with me.

Well there it is, my list.  What are some of your essentials?

My 1st Go Pro video

So, here’s a supplemental posting about my Go Pro Hero Cam.  I got this in February of 2011 and on day 1 of having it I obviously had to test it out and here’s what I did.  For those of you who don’t know what a Go Pro is check this link out.

I have since done quite a bit of shooting with my Go Pro and used the footage in many corporate videos that I have done.  As much as I loved it when I got it, it was made even better when Go Pro released the Backpack LCD for the camera.  That’s right, originally and out of the box the camera doesn’t have a preview screen.  What this new Backpack release meant was that instead of hoping that the shot turned out right (especially after a lengthy time lapse), you can preview the shot just like any other camera.  You also can use the LCD to operate the menu on the cam instead of the small, 3 character, monochromatic LCD on the front of the camera.

If you check the link and do some browsing, you’ll realize that the lens on this waterproof, shockproof, miniature HD camera is very wide…170 degrees to be exact…that’s wide!  But that is also very distorted and is so evident when shooting things with straight lines or edges (like a building)…so the Backpack was also a huge help in ensuring that the framing and distance to subject in my shots were esthetically pleasing.

At the same time that I got this camera, I also picked up a bunch of accessories for it.  It came with a helmet mount and a waterproof case etc., but I grabbed some more stuff

  • Chesty – Chest Mount
  • Tripod Mounting kit
  • Grab Bag – bag of misc Go Pro mounting pieces
  • Fat Gecko – suction cup mounting rig
  • Skeleton case – allows access to ports on camera for things like AV Out, continuous power supply

There are a million and one ways to use this camera!  Here are some cool features that might get your creative juices flowing.

  • super small
  • waterproof
  • shockproof
  • mountable (on anything)
  • 170 degree field of view
  • superfast adjustment to light changes (check the “under the car shot” in my video)
  • does time laps photography
  • 1080p video
  • sound recording

the biggest drawback to this camera in my opinion is how it lacks low-light capabilities.  Even in a semi-well lit room this camera still suffers and is very noisy (grainy).  I don’t suggest any indoor use with this camera if you want useable footage.  I even shot in the Air Canada Center with it and it was just ok.  But outdoors…it’s amazing!

Anyways, since this snowy February day, the Go Pro has accompanied me on many, many shoots and it a great part of my “anytime, anywhere” kit!  I recommend it, but watch out for new competitors on the horizon… this one looks promising! And check out the iphone preview feature

My lens kit, the must haves for this versatile shooter

I would like to take this time to introduce (to those that are interested), what I have put together as my “all around” kit of lenses that allows me to shoot 100% of the work that I do with my DSLR.

  1. The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM Zoom Lens
  2. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens
  3. TokinaAF 11-16mm f/2.8 Pro DX Canon Wide Angle Zoom Lens. 

These lenses cover the entire range of my event and corp videography requirements with exceptional performance, image quality, sharpness and colour.  Yes, the lenses are pretty pricey, but they are worth every penny in my optinion.  Here’s the rundown…

The Tokina 11-16mm is a super wide-angle lens that allows you to get tons of people in your shot, work at very close distances to subjects, minimize the obviousness of camera shake because of its width, is amazing to create the look of movement when on Glidecams or sliders and has hard stops in manual focus mode which is great when using a follow focus system like my D|Focus (Check out the D|Focus System Blog and website for info.  GREAT product!!!).

The Canon 24-70mm is great for interviews and speeches, but also covers a range that is suitable for what I would call “typical” event shooting.  This lens provides a natural feeling focal range…more like the feeling of looking around or seeing through a typical human perspective.  Now, obviously this depends on the distance between you and subject, but in an event world I think you’ll find this to be a “natural”feeling range.  Oh yeah…it’s a macro lens too.

Canon 70-200mm, AMAZING!  The ISII (image stabilization, 2nd generation) on the new version is great!  2 levels allow for pan type shooting (back and forth) and vertical stabilization (more for photographers as vertical shake is more common when trying to hold the cam still for  a photo).  The stabilization is a very welcomed feature, especially when on the telephoto end because you’ve zoomed in so close. Not having stabilization on a lens like this (for anyone that doesn’t get the why you need stabilization), well it’s kinda the same as trying to shine a flashlight across a dark football field at a person’s eye…and holding it still.  Wouldn’t be easy.  In addition, the depth of field on the tight end (how blurry you can make the background) is amazing and just looks so…uummph!  Beautiful!

So, here’s the summary.

  • 11-16mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm (the entire range from wide-angle to telephoto is covered…including macro)
  • All of them are f2.8.  This means great Depth of Field and good low light capabilities.  Also pretty darn sharp focus too
  • They give you versatility in the gigs that you can do and versatility in what you can do while there
  • They are all good quality lenses that can outlast your camera and go from cam to cam
  • you look like a pro (and yes, that matters)
  • Can cover anything from interviews to concerts, weddings to corporate video, super close-ups of things right in front of you and zoom-ability to things a football field away.

So for me, there have been and will be gigs that come up that a different lens or set of lenses will be needed.  I mean, let’s not forget that Prime lenses are the sharpest images you can get.  There are situations where if you can get your hands on Prime lenses either for a project or maybe even to own yourself then you would want to do it.  But generally I let the project pay for the rental of some really good Primes and this is two fold.

  1.  They are not as versatile for run-and-gun and event situations as zoom lenses are and with the huge number of corporate shooting that I’m involved in, the need to be versatile is even greater.
  2.  As expensive as the Canon Zoom lenses are, to cover the focal range with Primes that I have covered by using my 3 zoom lenses…let’s just say that in a lot of cases it makes sense for the client to rent the lenses on their budget!

Anyways, thanks for listening to my opinion!  Please feel free to comment or let me know what’s in your lens kit, I’d love to hear!

Shoot straight…and in focus!

Shooting at the gas station…(lol, that sounds different than it means!)

So we set out yesterday for a scheduled 10 hour shoot for a Gas+ video for Canadian Tire with Mark (he’s the Producer for this video) out in Woodstock Ontario.  I ran through my regular gear check/ battery charge rituals the night before and was ready to go.  The list looked like this:

This is the core of my “ready for any and everything” kit that I can use at most live events, weddings, celebrity appearances or other “run-n-gun” style shoots.  I though it was an appropriate set up for this shoot as well, so…I packed it.

So, this is a gas station at the side of a highway between Toronto and Windsor and although it is the new concept gas station…it is still just a gas station.  Nothing wrong with shooting a gas station.  I mean, gas stations and new concept stores all have a message that needs to be conveyed to someone, and it’s just as important as any other video and it’s message.  What I mean is, well to be blunt…I can shoot a gas station in 4 hours, easy!  It’s just that it’s way out in Woodstock and, well…it’s a gas station! Anyways, I just looked at it as just another opportunity to hone skills, play with toys and show people how my eyes see things.  I guess that because I have that kind of mind-set (see sentence about honing skills, playing with toys blah, blah, blah), I am always anxious to shoot, no matter what it is and I really do try to do something different or better each time I get the opportunity to work.  So, I ran some time lapse with a 7D using a remote to trigger shots every 2 seconds, I did some GoPro time lapse, ripped up and down the highway with the GoPro on the hood of the Canadian Tire-mobile…you know…had me some fun!  We shot outside before lunch…ate…then shot inside the gas bar for about and hour and a half…then home.  Easy shoot!  I’m not sure if I can post this video because it’s pretty “internal”…but I’ll see.  I will post a video that was a similar kind of shoot; cpl hours shooting, GoPro for time lapse, same gear, etc.  This one does have a bit of audio in it.  Again, I know it’s not related to the shoot I just did, but I want those of you that have honoured me by reading my blog (thanks you!) to have something other than text to hold your interest.

Check out this shot of me working the highway-side gas station yesterday.

Till next time

Shoot straight!

Joe- Zacuto and Canon


So I’m back at work today for a short work week,( holiday yesterday and I leave for Montreal on Friday to shoot Nascar for Canadian Tire).  My schedule has me editing a Canadian Tire Jumpstart video that I shot footage for last week called Fun in the Sun.  It was a day long event with 600 kids playing at different activity centers, making friends, eating food and basically just having an all out play-day.  They are, for the most, all kids from high risk environments and cannot afford to be involved in sports and activities.  I think it’s one of the coolest charitable foundations and am always happy to support them.

I shot with my two Canon 7Ds using 3 lenses…Canon 24-70mm f2.8, Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS II, and Tokina 11-16mm f2.8.  In addition I also had a GoPro Hero cam, Glidecam 4000, my Manfrotto support gear, Rode Video Mic Pro and my Zacuto EVF and Z-Finder.  This is my arsenal for gigs like this and they always do me well!  I spent the day running around after kids, getting soaked at the water play stations, mounting my GoPro in the bbq’s and having a blast doing it.  I always love shooting Jumpstart events, they’re always a load of fun and I always get to be as creative and use whatever gear I want when out.

So, this edit started with me reading over the Creative Brief to refresh myself on the edit parameters and clients direction, as well as a brief phone meeting.  Shortly after that I had another meeting with some of the stakeholder on this video and it was determined that i would be using the “Jumpstart song“…again… This is the 3rd time (in a row) that a Jumpstart edit by me is going to use the Jumpstart song.   Big exhale…Oh well, it’s all about the client right?!  A Prof that I had in College once told me that doing this kind of work isn’t a “Joe-ego trip”, it’s about the clients requests.  All we can do as professionals is offer our advice, look past our feelings and emotion and at the end of the day we just have to do what the client wants.  Words to live by I’d say, just get it all in writing!  (Especially the choice that go against every creative and technical fiber in your body).  And smile while doing it.

Anywho, here are the 1st two Jumpstart videos for your consideration.

This one is the SDE (Same Day Edit) done on Canadian Tire Jumpstart Day.  This was shot and edited by yours truly and played at the Canadian Tire Financial Services and Jumpstart Gala at Brock University in May 2011.

For the most part all this video was shot by someone else (not sure who).  I did most of the photography and I did the edit