Shooter’s Diary: Lights, EPIC, Action in San Francisco!

By Annette Gaillard, Artbeats DP

As we mentioned in a previous post, Artbeats recently acquired a new RED EPIC camera. We spent a few days doing testing on the Oregon coast, filming lifestyles at a local Coffee House and shooting aerials on the East Coast. Now it was time for me to take it on the road just in time for the holidays.

Over the years we’ve received a lot of requests for holiday related footage. Being from a rural area on the west coast, I wanted to capture the magic of the holiday lights and decorations in the city. For this, I chose the beautiful and eclectic city of San Francisco. Blue skies, a little haze in the air, but otherwise ideal conditions for filming, and a great opportunity for me to work with the EPIC. Before leaving I decided to upgrade the build on our camera, so we finally have playback available on the camera. We’d also recently received our side handle, but had not had the chance to test it.

Looking over the city from the top of Lombard Street.

Over the past three years, I have gotten very used to filming on the RED ONE and am not a big fan of change, however, the EPIC made the transition relatively painless. Many of the menus are very similar to the RED ONE, just more accessible via the touchscreen LCD. I did find myself accidentally hitting buttons on the optional side handle, which caused minor confusion a few times. The playback option worked flawlessly and so did the camera, which was a big relief. As with any software upgrade, you never know if a new glitch will show up while you’re out in the field.

Shooting in San Francisco is not without its challenges. In some cases, parking simply isn’t an option. For these instances, I’d hop out, grab the gear, and have my assistant circle the block, sometimes multiple times, until I had completed the shots I needed. Having a smaller camera like the EPIC, as well as a small tripod to trek around the hills of San Francisco was definitely a benefit. After navigating the streets, I wished that I had told the film office that I needed traffic control, as the best vantage point was often in the middle of the street. The San Francisco Film Office was extremely helpful in the planning of this shoot. Even though we were a very, very small crew, a permit was needed since our end product is for commercial use. My contact was able to provide me with information on areas I was not allowed to film, for various reasons, and also suggested many alternative sites. Unfortunately, they did not know about several of the private events that had been booked, which blocked some of the best holiday locations for the days that I was there. It had been quite some time since I’d been to San Francisco, and I had forgotten about the grid network cable for the trolley cars. If you’re into realistic shots of a city, the cables are no big deal. However, if you want a clear view of things, good luck!

This is part of the 17,000 lights outlining the buildings in the Embarcadero Center.

There is so much to film in San Francisco, and I wasn’t able to get nearly everything I wanted, but in the end this shoot was definitely a success. We captured some spectacular holiday footage, a large number of establishment shots of the city and some unexpected environmental content. You’ll find this footage soon in our royalty-free stock footage library.

Looking back, I have to say that my overall experience with the EPIC was a success. At this point I feel that the only real drawback to the camera are the Redvolt batteries. You get approximately 30 minutes recording time and they take 90 minutes to charge. The chargers available at this time only hold one battery. Depending on how many batteries you have, you are up a lot during the night to get batteries charged for the next day. I personally can’t wait for the RED quad charger to come out. I found that using a mixture of the Redvolts and the Red Bricks was the best way to make it through the day and for charging to be manageable at night.

I learned quite a few things about San Francisco, and will definitely change how I plan to do things on my next film shoot there. Most importantly, I would budget more days. There is so much ground to cover, and so many great places to film. When choosing a hotel in San Francisco I would recommend that you make sure it has parking available and ask what vehicles it can accommodate. The hotel we stayed at for this excursion did have parking available. Unfortunately it was fitted to accommodate sub-compact cars, rather than the SUV we use to haul our gear. It was definitely a challenge, and one morning I was forced to request that other cars be moved.

My parting suggestions to all the other stock shooters: even though it is very important to have a shot list, don’t tie yourself to it. Keep your eyes peeled because there are so many opportunities that pop up. Even though these unexpected shots may derail your plan, they can be completely worth it. Go for the things that take more time to shoot, that are harder to get. Lastly, releases, releases, releases…the shot maybe fantastic, but if it needs a release and you don’t get one, it could be worthless.

View of the financial district at night.

FCPUG SuperMeet 2012 in San Francisco

Join the FCPUG Network, including SF Cutters, Lafcpug, BOSFCPUG and other FCPUG and digital video user groups around the Globe in San Francisco, CA on January 27, 2012 for the largest single day gathering of creative and collaborative editors, HDSLR filmmakers, digital content creators and Gurus in San Francisco in 2012! Workshops will be offered all day prior to the SuperMeet Digital Showcase and the actual SuperMeet itself. Artbeats will be at the Supermeet with our wheel of prizes!. Stop by and spin! For more information visit