Making a short film with the Nikon D7000

The Whaling City Film Project is a competition in its third year in New London, CT. The challenge, create a short film in four days with a set of parameters provided to you at the kick-off event. After failing to get our act together in time to enter last year, I was determined to get organized this year. I teamed up with Rick Koster, a reporter at The Day, and our friend Lee Elci, a talk radio host at WXLM who also has acting experience.

Our randomly assigned genre, drawn Friday night, was mockumentary. Other teams got sci-fi, musical, period piece, and comedy. At least 30 seconds had to be filmed in New London, and all seven teams had to include the following:

-characters named Ruby and Morris Turner

-a campaign sign

-the line “Where is the Mayor’s secret office?”

The final film had to be four to seven minutes long. Here’s our final product:

We came up with an rough plot on Friday night, but then scrapped that first idea when we met again on Saturday. Lee came up with the basic plot for “Until the Bell Rings,” and then set off to secure actors and locations. Rick and his wife Eileen Jenkins worked with me on writing lines for the interview segments over lunch, and then we jumped right into filming without a finished script.

Going in, I had insisted on having a script and storyboard done before we started shooting, but the schedule wasn’t going to allow that. We technically had four days, from Friday night to Tuesday night, but all of had to go to work on Monday and Tuesday, so we needed to be done shooting on Sunday.

We shot the weight lifting sequence first on Saturday, and then shot the punching bag sequence, and the first two competition sequences. The last scene on Saturday evening was the radio interview, which we were scripting right up until the shoot. We wrote the host’s lines, and then left some room for improvisation for the responses.

We shot the running scenes early Sunday morning, and had the rest done by mid-afternoon. This left me Sunday night and Monday night to edit and output to DVD. I shot the film on a new Nikon D7000, my first experience with an HDSLR. I started my career shooting exclusively stills, before moving to several Sony cameras – the A1U, Z1U, and EX-1R. I’ve often envisioned a video shot as a photograph, and then had to figure out how to work around the limitations of the video camera to get what I was looking for. With the D7000 this was no longer an issue. I could once again work with the lenses I was used to.

This was great for visuals, but I had to give up some of the ease I was used to when working with a video camera. Shots had to be planned out and pre-focused. Audio for the most part had to be captured separately with a Zoom audio recorder. There were hardly any camera moves and no follow focus. To edit in Final Cut I had to transcode to ProRes, which took quite a bit of time, and then syncing the audio took even more time, even with PluralEyes.

It was a little daunting to sit down and edit without a script, but the editing workflow was similar to what I would have done on a traditional news or documentary story. I started with the interviews and then matched up the b-roll sequences. The finishing touch was music from Rick’s old bandmates Stephen Powell and Ernie Myers.

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