Equipment Resource

Creating Your Perfect Run&Gun Rig for Documentary Filmmaking

Recently I’ve come across this issue where I am going out to shoot b-roll for a documentary and once I’m out on location I realize my shoot would have been much better if I just had one piece of equipment. It’s tough because I have this aversion to taking much with me since I want to keep my rig highly portable, but oftentimes I find myself needing more than I brought. So with that in mind here is a rundown on the equipment available in the FMMC production hub that I recommend you consider next time you are shooting a documentary.

The most important decision to make with your rig is your camera choice. The type of camera you have will inform what other equipment is compatible with your rig and will start to parse down the amount of choices you need to make. The go to choice for me is the Sony FS5. It is kind of the standard for FMMC and with good reason: it’s light and versatile but high quality. The only thing in the production hub significantly better than the FS5 is the FS7, but it’s significantly heavier weight makes it unwieldy. Additionally, if you have a personal compact SLR that shoots in 4K, it might be worth choosing that over the FS5. The FS5 is light, clocking in at just under ten pounds in weight, but after a full day of shooting, ten pounds can feel like a lot.

The next big decision to be made is what lenses to use and my advice for this is less clear cut. It depends on the circumstances on your shoot and what tradeoffs you are willing to make. You may balk at the factory lens on the FS5 and say you want something more “artistic”, but these factory lens work well in a variety of situations. Additionally, you will not have autofocus or image stabilization if you use non-Sony lenses. Ideally you do not want to use autofocus, but some circumstances in your doc may make movement so fast paced that autofocus is necessary. Image stabilization is a great feature that will help steady the shot in camera and reduce the natural wobble you get on a shoulder mount in many shots. Additionally you need to ask yourself whether or not you want a Zoom lens. Are there circumstances in which you might be far away from your subject? The Fujinon MKs are a good option if that is the case, but beware their size makes them cumbersome in tight interiors. If you do choose to shoot with prime lens, you may get a “cleaner” shot but you will also have to move more to get your desired framing. If you do want to use prime lens I would recommend either the Zeiss Loxias for the best look and the Rokinons for versatility. In most circumstances, I would advise using a zoom lens, especially if you are not a seasoned camera operator.

When thinking about microphones it is highly important to think about expected conditions. Remember that the FS5 has four audio tracks. If you wanted to clip a lavalier microphone to your subject’s lapel, run with a second mic on your rig, and have a boom if you’re lucky enough to have some crew you can do that. My best luck has come with the Sony UWP-D11. For your on-board mic, you will want to decide between a shotgun mic or a hyper-cardioid. Shotguns mics have a much smaller range in which audio is clearly picked up, whereas hyper-cardioid can pick up sound even in the opposite direction that you have the mic facing. If you want to capture all the noises in a given environment to enhance your setting, use a hyper-cardioid mic. If you want to limit sound pollution and hear your subject better, a shotgun mic will help. For hyper-cardioid, I recommend the Audio Technica and for shotgun mics, I recommend the Sennheiser MKH60.

Now that we’ve got the big decisions out of the way, it’s time to dive into the little things that will improve your shoot and are compatible with most camera/lens combinations. The first and most important thing you should obtain is a rain cover. If you think there’s going to be even the slightest chance of rain, get a cover. Although not listed on the production hub website, the gear room has rain covers for the FS5. Another highly individual component of this rig is how you hope to carry it. Handheld is possible with the FS5 or an SLR, but if you use a RedRock shoulder mount, you’ll get a much more stable shot. You could theoretically pair a gimbel with a steadicam arm for an extremely stable shot, but I would caution against it since it does limit your speed/mobility. The steadicam arm will also make you pretty visible and subjects may become self conscious of themselves. If you are shooting in dark conditions and would like the grainy image quality that comes with a higher ISO, you can screw either the Litepanels Micro or MicroPro onto most rigs. Be careful though since this will create flat head-on lighting that is not flattering to your subject. If you have your subject address the camera at any point, it might be wise to add a red sticker just above your lens. I find that subjects tend to struggle with looking into the lens and providing a clear point helps them focus.

In general, I would recommend you getting creative with your rig as long as it does not hinder its performance or risk damaging the equipment. Talk to myself, other TAs, Ethan, and Fayza about other resources the department has to help you make your best rig. There are some items not listed on the production hub and it’s always worth asking.

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