Dream Sequence 5

Phase two: My gear continued

My tripod was a composite of three parts. The legs were a Bogen 3246, with strong bracing, a wide height range, and quick setup. This is a heavy tripod for a light camera, but once you have it set up in place it's rigid, and you're glad of the weight for those smooth pan shots. The head I chose was Bogen's classic 3063 fluid head with quick-release plate. Best of all, I installed it on Bogen's ball leveler (part#3115), which enables you to quickly level the head of the tripod on any terrain without fiddling with the tripod's legs. I can't imagine my tripod now without it. The total for this support system was about $430.

When you're shooting something of a "run and gun" nature, as I was, you want to travel as light as possible, and a hefty tripod may be your most limiting piece of equipment ... but you really can't do without one, if you want professional results. I shot about 80 to 90 percent of The Eye of Rudra handheld, but when I needed a tripod, I needed it. You will hate it until you need it. There are many good tripods now, and you should try to find a place that stocks a wide range. Bring your camera and get a feel for their differences and trade-offs.

Even the best video can suffer as a result of poor sound recording. Though I wouldn't use it very often, the on-camera stereo mic on the VX1000 is one of the best ever made for a consumer unit. The audio circuitry in the VX1000 is excellent. Even though the camera only records at 32kHz (nearly all comparable cameras today offer 48kHz), sound engineers are amazed at its range and clean, low-noise signal capture. The camera is built with a great pre-amp, superior to many cameras made today. And the manual audio control is predictable and adjustable on the fly.

Good external microphones can be incredibly expensive, and adapting a pro mic down to the mini-input jack on cameras like the VX1000 can tear down an otherwise good signal. And there is no one microphone that will do everything. So I ended up with three relatively inexpensive mics that worked out well.

A pro wireless microphone (like a Lectrosonics) can cost nearly as much as a good camera. Depending on what you're shooting, however, it may be one of your most essential pieces of equipment. If you've ever seen a film called The Cruise, by Bennet Miller, starring my buddy Timothy Speed Levitch, you should bear in mind that the entire film was shot with little more than a Sony VX1000 and a Lectrosonics wireless mic attached to his lapel. As he was virtually the only person doing the talking, this was a perfect solution. But my film would have several speakers, in a wide variety of situations, only some of which would allow the use of a wireless. So I chose an inexpensive (about $400) system by Shure, the VLP 93 VHS. It comes with a good lavalier (lapel mic), but allows for the adaptation of different professional microphones (like a handheld). It still performs well, but there are now several good mics out there in this price range and some for even less cash. Remember that even a great wireless can pick up strange interference in some locations. The airwaves are, after all, getting busier all the time.

I found a decent handheld directional mic in the Shure BG 5.0, for about $150 at the local music store. For most close voice and instrument monitoring, it produces a natural sound that accepts a wide range of volumes without much trouble. I tried to use it more than I actually did, again because I was on the move so much. When I did use it, it was either hand-held by an assistant or the person speaking, and it was positioned just out of visual frame on a pole, or set up on a small, collapsible mic stand with an extension arm.

I recorded probably 80 percent of the film's audio with an Audio Technica short shotgun mic, the AT835B. A shotgun mic is extremely directional, filtering out sounds to the sides and focusing on what it's pointed at. The drawback is that most shotguns make people sound as though they're talking out of a metal garbage can. The AT835B had great sonic response for its price (about $250), and, importantly, at about 15 inches in length, it just fit on top of the VX1000. A better, more expensive (around $550) solution would be the Sennheiser ME66, used by pros the world over. It's on my present shopping list. A shotgun mic can be mounted on a camera like the Sony with a "shockmount" such as a Beyerdynamic EA86 (about $35). It slides into the accessory shoe of the camera and suspends the mic in a matrix of short rubber bands, isolating it from camera-handling noises.

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