By any means possible

‘BC’ is based in rural Lincolnshire and produces shoestring videos for web release, with a hybrid, DIY ethos and a mobile setup that would comfortably drop into a car boot. He typifies a grassroots movement of motivated, small scale individuals dotted across the globe who have benefitted from a technological revolution. He doesn’t even own a dedicated digital video camera.

It’s a sign of the times that such things are possible, with increasingly high-spec consumer gear available at increasingly lower prices, relatively speaking. Whilst we still can pay a few thousand pounds (or more) for a digital video camera alone, interesting, even subjectively ‘good’ results can be obtained with semi-pro and home-user technology.

A digital camera being used to record video

One of the most celebrated and extreme examples of this is the 2015 independent feature; Tangerine, famously shot on a pair of iPhone 5s mobiles, although that wasn’t the first. 2011’s Olive was shot via a set of Nokia N8’s, whilst SMS Sugar Man was shot in 2008 on 8 Sony Ericsson W900i’s.  

Yes, various modifications, apps, conversions and tricks were utilised during each production to squeeze the most out of the hardware: Olive used a system where an N8 was mounted onto a rack of ‘pro’ lenses, for instance, but so what? Innovations, ‘tricks’, ‘cheats’, whatever term you prefer have always been utilised in film. They are inherent in the filmmaking process and have been since day one.

It certainly gives pause for thought whilst you mull over the cost of your dream gear list, raising the obvious question - mirrored on Ashley Hockney’s Teachable blog:

Why spend money on a specialty camera if you don't have to?

The aforementioned titles illustrate the point perfectly. They are headliners; the tiny, ‘breakthrough’ presence of a wider, happen-stance movement that is quietly, irrevocably changing the nature of the medium itself; like a (relatively) polite, visual equivalent of Punk. What were once seen as the shortcomings, limitations and idiosyncrasies of an ‘unprofessional’ arena are now being smartened up and even celebrated as part of a new aesthetic. Some ‘professionals’ (a term that is losing the once pointed nature of its definition) have ostensibly identified and embraced the diamond-in-the-rough, modifying their method in the process. Other self-styled professionals snipe and demean the grassroots - a sure sign that the latter is doing something decidedly right.

Consider music video usage of datamoshing, glitching, super 8 film, ‘incorrect’ exposure settings and more, or the immersive news footage look to the battle scenes in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006) for instance. How long before pro videographers seek that original ‘mobile-phone’ look?. Well probably less time than it took for Punk to be assimilated, re-packaged and presented on the fashion catwalk. In 1976, who would have thought it?

As ‘BC’ himself says on the subject: “Sometimes bad quality is good“, though in truth he is referring to the bulky, power hungry era of analogue video production (now digitally simulated with its glaring false colour errors and noise artifacts). The good old days.

Photographer taking a photo of a street

A whole world away from the market-place features listed above; ‘BC’ soldiers on, videoing historical buildings with his car-load of tools and assembling his compositions in a spare room editing suite. Suddenly his gear list looks relatively advanced compared to the aforementioned hardware: he’s gone down the DSLR route. Relative luxury indeed!

At the heart of his setup lie two cameras: a Nikon D750 and D7100, with a Ninja Blade for recording and storage. Audio duties are catered for by Rode NTG-2 and NT2 microphones, feeding into a Tascam DR70 digital recorder. Editing is via Final Cut Pro on a Mac. That’s essentially it, outside of some portable lighting and a monopod: ‘BC’s’ preference for manoeuvrable camera mounting.

I inquire about the inherent pitfalls or limitations of his kit, but interestingly enough he seems largely content. He bemoans focusing on an exposed screen; considering it useless in bright daylight without the optical isolation of a dedicated eyepiece, but that is essentially all. He even considers buying a ‘proper’ dedicated video camera, but there’s no real sense of urgency apparent! As far as editing goes, he seems to have arrived and where he needed to be in terms of equipment. There’s always a case for ‘faster’ and ‘more storage’, but the productive core is there, as-is.

Simple pleasures.