The Arri Alexa Mini
Arri Alexa Mini
Arri’s Alexa Mini is the choice of many filmmakers who want the best possible image for their production. The picture the camera generates is one of the most sought after images in the industry, with many filmmakers choosing the Alexa Mini and Arri’s historically prestigious reputation over RED or Sony. There always is a debate within the production office over which camera is the ‘go-to’ camera for Film Division, but for this particular project the team settled on the Alexa Mini.
How the Project Came to be
Back in 2014, we pre-ordered the faithful Panasonic GH4 with the stock 14-140mm lens. It was an exciting prospect to not only shoot 4k, but also shoot slow motion using frame rates around 4x slower than ‘real life’. I still consider this camera to be a great bit of kit, despite my access to bigger and better kit admittedly making me quite spoilt nowadays. I even remember the day we the GH4 arrived at the production office – as luck would have it the Tamworth Phoenix American Football Squad had commissioned us to create a short video for the team, and the team were excited to see what it could do.
Fast forward a year and a half from the completion of this first project and Dan, social media manager of the Tamworth Phoenixes, invited me down with some other proactive members of the team to discuss a new video. Since they loved the first video we produced for them, prior to going down I said to the rest of the group:
“I’d love to be able to shoot something with a bit more of a production value for the team again. Something along the lines of a big ‘NFL’ style promo that you’d see for something like the Superbowl”
At the end of the meeting with Dan we had a group of very excited people. However there was one small problem – they were mid-season.
In essence, we had an extremely narrow time frame to get the project done – including filming training, set-ups & game time.
Pre-Production – Where to film
We had worked out that we had just a single training session and the very next home game to get the footage that we required to produce the video we and the client wanted. Shooting at these two events;
a) allowed the entire team to be in the same place, and
b) it ensured that we were going to get enough action shots from the whole team.
It allowed us to be able to get the different levels of intensity, and a few more varied set pieces than it would going to just the game by itself – where anything can happen, and there’s the added concern of trying to win! Overall it also makes it a more genuine looking film – thanks to the emotion coming from the players who could focus on not only shooting the video, but having fun whilst doing it! (Because it’s important to remember that these are not a group of trained actors – this is a sports team.)
Pre-Production – What to film
Planning was key to this, as indeed it is to any video production. Fortunately we have considerable experience of story-boarding and managed to get a reasonable storyboard done within a small time frame to be able to show to the crew and to the team themselves a decent representation of what the shots would look like. With the storyboard to hand, everyone from the Film Division production rew to the Tamworth Phoenixes team themselves understood the shots that were needed, and we all worked more efficiently as a unit with this understanding in order to get everything we needed.
Production – The First Shoot Day
Training went well. We didn’t film as many set ups as we wanted because the coaches wanted to focus on the training session rather than setting up contrived scenarios that would look great on camera, but might not serve them too well on match day. Fortunately, we got a considerable amount of footage of the training drills and players studying technique prior to enacting it. This worked out as a great collection of shots we could cut in between the impactful action of the full game. Here we shot primarily slow motion since the Alexa Mini can shoot up to 8x slower than real life. I thought we should try and grab as much as we could to have the ability to speed up and slow down the footage creatively in post for dramatic effect.
We still wanted to set up a few shots but our problem was we couldn’t bring players out of training, so after training Dan suggested that we arrive pre-game when they’ve got players there for warm-ups, and fortunately a few of the guys said they’d happily come down a couple hours earlier for it.
Production – Game Day
We arrived game day and set up our interior shots ahead of the team’s arrival. Unfortunately the only space we had was the players changing room, so we needed to vacate that quicker than expected anyway so that we could let them prepare for the game.
Even though we cut it short, we got some great shots of the Phoenixes’ kit and jerseys and some intimate shots of the players ‘game faces’. We used only a few Dedolights to light the scene; small, convenient and powerful enough for the location- perfect for this particular situation. I wanted to match the 2k that I’d gotten from the previous training footage, although a team member made the point of;
“Why not just shoot it 4k, and crop in around the frame? You could create 2 or 3 different shots for each clip. Time saved.”
Filming in 4k really is a great way to shoot, it’s less manageable than HD footage but there’s so much more it offers in post production and could even save you needing to utilise a B-Camera with a different focal length.
The downside to this is that we did burn through quite a lot of our storage media incredibly quickly.
The team were incredibly helpful and understanding that these things take time. Although, it’s equally important to us that whether as a creative project for just us or with clients that we move as quickly and as carefully as possible.
We gave the team the time they needed for their pre-game talk, whilst me and the crew set-up for the game.
We ended up shooting a large mix of slow motion again. I would have dreaded getting a great shot and not being able to slow it down for a bit more impact in the final film. We chose to have an EF mount on the camera to allow the use of Canon lenses, which ultimately gave us a lot more choice with what we could use in terms of focal length. We used a very long lens to get in closer to the action – it did actually give us some of the best shots for the whole film.
Post Production – Sounds Good
The sound design for this project is incredibly important. Just take a look at a lot of any sports promo film and you’ll hear tons of impact beats – sounds that indicate transition and even incorporate lots of cinematic qualities. All in all this needed to feel epic. Our sound library at Film Division is incredibly vast. We have libraries full of sound effects, music and atmosphere for pretty much any genre or style of video you might care to name. However, it takes time to find the right sound but it takes even more to sound mix it in a way which transforms a good video to a great one.
We came up with an idea quite early on to mic up one of the more…vocal coaches for the entirety of the game. So we put a lapel mic on him and captured anything he said throughout the game. We got the entire game from his perspective audially and some of the lines he came out with were perfect to put in the video. Combining this with a pinch of narration from the boss man himself just adds more to capture the audiences attention, providing something the entire team can connect to on an emotional level, which is ultimately what we at Film Division aim for every single time we shoot for a client.
Whether it’s a narrative film or a documentary, we ensure that we incorporate some of the finer details into what we’re shooting to enable our content to connect to our and our clients’ audiences.
Have a look at the final video below!