Nikon D800 Music Video Shoot at SXSW

by Vu Bui on May 30, 2012

SXSW is a big deal for us every year. We’ve spoken at the conference for the past 3 years (this years talk, last years talk) and it’s our favorite conference for many reasons, not the least of which are the people who attend (half of our friends are there). Conferences really are about people, you can go for classes and talks and education and the tradeshow… but most likely you will walk away from it having most benefited from the people you meet at the parties and in the halls. Another great aspect though are the films and music. In case you don’t know, SXSW is three festivals in one… Interactive (for the internets and geek stuff), Music and Film.

When Nikon approached us about not only shooting a music video in Austin during SXSW but also doing it as a live workshop and with the brand new Nikon D800, we were stoked! Most workshops we’ve done have included live shooting, but we had never done a real gig before in front of a workshop audience where there would be a full deliverable. The plan was to have 30-50 people come and watch us shoot a music video of The Statesboro Revue performing their song Lady on-stage at La Zona Rosa. We’d have exactly 2 hours for the entire event and while we were doing it there’d be people there setting up for a week long festival at the venue for Warner Bros Music sponsored by Nikon. At the end we would need to come away with a full music video for the band and we also wanted to make sure the attendees got something out of it and as usual we wanted to shoot a BTS video of the whole thing. We also wanted to stick with the theme of our SXSW panel and do all of it just with the gear we were able to bring to Austin in our carry-on luggage.

No pressure.

We decided it would be best to meet the band before the shoot day and shoot a little intro, something to give a tiny bit of context to the fact that we were going to be shooting the band on a stage yet didn’t have enough people to shoot a proper audience. We came up with the simple concept of them breaking into La Zona Rosa and playing to an empty venue which was fun and covered up our problem of not having anyone watching them! The real reason we wanted to be sure to shoot before the big day though was to build rapport with the guys in the band. We had spoken on the phone with Stewart, the band’s frontman, but it’s always good to meet people in advance and get to know them first, especially since we were going to have to be able to quickly direct them so we could get everything done in our limited time.

The night shoot went well, the guys in the band all turned out to be easy going and quick to laugh and joke, so we were happy and confident that the day of the workshop/shoot would go pretty easily. Or at least smoothly.

On the day of the workshop we showed up and Nikon was already there with a team of people setting up some D800s and D4s on various rigs so that people could shoot with them while we were shooting the music video. Geoff handed us the first two production model D800s that were “out in the wild” as he called it. We set up a Teradek Cube on one of them to stream to a laptop hooked up to a 50″ plasma display so the 60 workshop attendees who came could see what one of the cameras we had was seeing at all times. We set up our Manfrotto Tripod with a Kessler Stealth Mini Slider (this was the first one out there, it’s just 18″ long and is AMAZING and now available for sale!) and were ready to go. We did an intro talk for about 30 minutes and then started shooting, leaving us about 90 minutes for the entire video shoot, which started with them coming onto the stage and then mostly consisted of us playing their song over the venue loudspeakers over and over while we did various different shots. After each repetition we would stop and take questions.

And suddenly we were out of time and had to get the heck out of there. Luckily with the tiny amount of gear we’d brought getting packed up took a matter of minutes, and we were on our way to enjoy the rest of SXSW.

Since it’s a favorite question of most people we decided to list out all the gear we used on the shoot:

Nikon D800
Nikon 24mm f/1.4 (for all the steadicam shots)
Nikon 105mm f/2.8 VR macro
Nikon 24-120mm f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR
Rode VideoMic Pro (on-camera for all the BTS)
Zacuto Z-Finder Pro 3x
Zacuto Target Shooter rig
Kessler Stealth Mini (if you travel at all GET THIS)
Manfrotto 755CX3 tripod
Manfrotto 701HD video head
Steadicam Merlin
Teradek Cube
Hoodman Steel SD cards (16GB and 32GB)

All of this fit into our two carry-on bags, a LowePro x200 and a 5-year old LowePro that has now been replaced by the x100. We also have more audio gear, a couple litepanels, Leatherman tools and lots of other miscellaneous items that fit in the bags as well.

Our experience with the D800 was a very positive one, and the whole event ended up working out great. If there’s anything more you want to know about any of this… the gear, shooting a music video, or where the best places to eat in Austin are, just leave a comment!

  • Glasseye2

    Awesome Choncho!!!!

  • Jennifer Weiss

    Very impressive!

  • Yacine

    Thanks for sharing, appreciated!

  • Peter Cabuay

    ‘Our experience with the D800 was a very positive one’ C’mon guys, you can elaborate a little more here without offending your Canon fans! :-)

    • Lan Bui

      Haha! We didn’t think we were holding back… what else would you like to know!?!?

  • David Quiring

    I’m trying to set up flying a Merlin 2 with the D800 and 24mm 1.4 – any chance you could share your settings (weight placement, plate position, maybe even arc length…).  It would be greatly appreciated!

    • Vu Bui

      I am pretty sure I used the N plate hole, but other than that I don’t remember at all! I’ve set that thing up so many times for so many camera combos. If you watch the BTS video you can probably eyeball what weights are on it and even what arc length though. Good luck man!

      • David Quiring

        Fair enough!  It’s going to take a bit of practice balancing but I’ll figure it out.  Thanks for the starting points, and great video by the way.

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