The Gear And the Set-Up
For the past year I have been shooting a lot of video with GoPro cameras. Their durability and low cost makes for a perfect tool for higher-risk situations. I love that recent technology has given rise to smaller, cheaper, and more portable gear. If this camera falls off a moving car I might just have to replace the plastic housing. I can take these cameras everywhere.
For the "Dogs In Cars" series, I mount a GoPro to the exterior of the car using a suction mount. Depending on the make of vehicle and/or size of the dog I might add attachments to extend the mount or to adjust the angle. I want the framing to be as consistent as possible from shot to shot so having some versatility in positioning has been really important.
The GoPro suction mount works great but I also rely on a similar mount that uses a standard ¼-20 thread. Using the GoPro Tripod Mount I am no longer locked into their fastening mechanisms and can also use a different small camera in its place if I so choose.
Since the GoPro does not come with a screen it is really important to use the add-on LCD BacPac accessory. In some GoPro situations you just don’t need the screen (surfing? sky diving? I haven’t done either yet) or it isn’t practical—for consistent framing it’s a must. The other option is to connect the camera’s outputs to a monitor (HDMI or composite). GoPro is coming out with a Wi-Fi attachment will transmit a live feed. This will be huge if it ever comes out.
I have five GoPros (two Hero2 and three Hero1) that I pack in a Pelican case and take with me on shoots. I have extra batteries and SD cards on hand just in case. If there is an opportunity to get great footage I can shoot it—from any angle, at the same time. If one of them is destroyed in the process I always have a backup. I’ve also found the NewTrent iPad/iPhone USB charger really useful for longer shoots. I can have one of these on hand for hours of power.
For me it boils down to cost and portability. For other shoots I will hire a DP and rent gear appropriate for the gig.
The first dog I shot was my girlfriend’s family dog Mia (seen above). She’s a beautiful white German Shepherd with a great smile. The idea started on a nice sunny day in upstate New York while all three of us were going for an afternoon drive. I had my cameras with me as usual. Mia wanted to see what it looked like if she stuck her head out of the window on camera. Since her paws don’t allow her the dexterity to operate my camera I set it all up for her. We were really happy with how it looked. She edited out the shots she didn’t like and I kept the rest. (There were a few shots where she thought she looked fat. I think it was just puppy fat, but whatever.)
The larger dogs have been much easier to set up and frame because they can stand in the shot with little effort. For smaller dogs it’s hard to feel close enough to them especially if they can’t even make it up to the window. In some cases the owner is actually holding the dog up to the camera. I believe this is called "cheating" in the business…
Longer hair is fun, but I’ve found that if it’s too long you might end up with something like this and lose the dog’s face all together!
I’ve found that the dogs with the most prior car experience have been the most motivated behind the camera. When I call "action" they know exactly what to do. Some of the less experienced dogs need a bit of coaxing and instruction. Kona’s parents actually sent me an audition video. She was perfect for the role and we really hit it off on set.
I end up with about 30 minutes of video shot at 60fps. After it’s slowed down to 30fps in edit, I choose the very best clips. I go through up to eight or nine passes until I have the best of for each dog. I then slow some of those clips down further. In the end I have about 10 seconds of footage for that dog I consider useable.
The music is a really important part as well and helps set the pacing. I might seek out certain clips or moods depending on moments in the music. With hours of raw footage and a three minute window there are opportunities to invent a narrative.
I’ve tried to capture the most interesting and varied backgrounds that I can within the hour I spend with each dog around their home. The weather and sunlight definitely plays into this as well. I don’t want the backgrounds to be too distracting but its really great when people recognize the areas. It was fun to shoot the follow-up in California and to see how much different it felt with completely different backgrounds. The consistent light also helped salvage plenty of shots that might otherwise have been lost to the clouds in New York.
Catching interactions on the street is always a treat but if the dog isn’t interested in its surroundings and/or the lighting isn’t right that opportunity is on the cutting room floor. People really seem to love Beans, the Beverly Hills Chihuahua, checking out the Bugatti on Rodeo Drive in California.
What should the average person remember about shooting a dog?
I don’t have any experience shooting with trained dogs but I have learned the following. They might sound pretty obvious:
Calling the dog’s name is not going to get it to look out of the window (or do what you want). He’s going to come inside because that’s where YOU are. Just let him do his thing. Be patient!
If the owner is in the room and you want the dog to look towards the lens the owner should be behind the camera.
Shoot at a high frame rate if you can. This will increase your chances of a good take.
About The Director
I really enjoy the process of taking a sketch on paper or a simple idea and turning it into a reality on screen. I love the planning, the pre-production, the execution and the editing. There’s something so satisfying and fascinating to me about this whole process—taking an idea and making it into a "reality." It can be whatever I want it to be.
I grew up in the '80s and watched a LOT of MTV. I remember being one of the first kids on my block with cable TV (and maybe the only one allowed to watch any of the channels). And in between videos of hair metal bands and Kirk Cameron there were also plenty of advertisements (and all of it is now on YouTube). Every day I consider a new idea for an ad or a sitcom.
I’ve shot a few music videos and submit to commercial ad contests when I can. I would love to shoot comedy shorts and advertisements. I’ve recently been fascinated by a group on the Internet called "5 Second Films." They have mastered the extremely-short-attention-span YouTube generation:
I would love to be a part of some larger scale productions and work with other talented folks (or animals!).