The past three years have been a very exciting time to be a filmmaker with the many changes in digital technology. I think back to a time before “Act of Valor” and if I was asked to shoot a movie on a still camera, I would have thought the director had gone mad. The speed that you now have to function at has increased dramatically. Budgets are getting tighter and time is more valuable. Multi-tasking is one of the only ways to survive.
Along with all this disruptive technology, the App Store has grown. Who ever wanted to write an app now has a captive audience in the film community. I wanted to go through the ones that make my life easier as a cinematographer. My “life line” apps.
Tracking the sun is such an important tool for a cinematographer. Planning your days to try and shoot in the right place at the right time for light is paramount. Having the ability to calculate this anywhere in the world on any day of the week, even years in advance, is incredible. I have two Apps that I use:
Pcam: Figuring out depth of field and field of view are important tools. Say you have a massive top down wide shot of a Toyota Tundra ripping into a rodeo ring. The widest lens we have in our arsenal that won’t bend the crap out of the image was a 14.5mm Panavision Prime.
I was able to quickly calculate on the Pcam App to fulfill the director’s vision. I needed to get a 120’ Condor and sling Mike Svitak in that baby to get the Rodeo Ring as well as some of the seats. The ring was 160’ across so at 110’ on a 14.5mm lens, my 16:9 field of view would be 180’ wide and 101’ high. That seemed perfect. This would grab some seats on the left and right side.
The program calculates depth of field, hyper focal, which is so essential for those set the focus and forget it shots, like car rigs, crash cams, etc. The hyper focal is the distance that you set your lens at which will take in the largest range of focus. Seeing the car come at you in focus and being able to hold its impact in focus is important. On Deadfall, I set a Canon 5D on a snow covered road where we wanted the car to slide over the top of it as it goes into a skid after it had just impacted a deer. We tested the shot with a bottle of water and our stunt man slide right over that baby. Smash cut to putting down our 5D in the middle of the road and “Action.”
I find that when you say action, there is a slight adrenaline rush that happens in every stunt man. So the car comes speeding at the camera, our hyper-focal on the 24mm lens is holding perfectly, oh no, that doesn’t seem like he is lining up with the camera correctly.
The 5D is impacted head on by the Town Car’s tire and blasted ass over tea kettle 50 yards down the icy road into a snow bank. The camera was still on and recording. Here is the shot:
PCam does so many other things:
Match Lens: is an App that I use quite a lot. The purpose of this app is to compare what I know as my benchmark, 35mm Motion picture lens field of view. So when I slap a 14mm on my 5D, I like to know what the equivalent would be if it was on a 35mm camera. That calculation is done so quickly and you can select your aspect ratio as well. A 14mm on the full frame 5D is a 9.4mm on a 35mm camera with a 16:9 aspect ratio.
DSLR Slate: this baby has saved me on a few shoots. Grabbing that cool little shot when you are out on your own and you want to keep editorial in the loop. You can load all the camera info into the slate. Color temp, shutter speed, ISO, you name it and it is on there.
Artemis: Carrying around a scouting camera package is not always possible, so for those shots that you want to line up with the director and choose lenses, enter Artemis. This App gives you frame lines on your iphone depending on your lens size and aspect ratio. Here is an example of using this tool to the max. On AAA, we were shooting at Fontana raceway with three Nascar star drivers. We went up in the stands to see what lens would be required to duplicate the Fox Sports camera coverage. Now slinging around 500-800mm lenses in a scout package is kind of ridiculous, but with Artemis, you have all of them at a touch of a button on your phone with whatever camera you choose to shoot with, it will emulate your field of view from your position with frame lines.
CameraOrder: While you are choosing lens sizes and camera, you can now turn to CameraOrder App where you can plug in job and production company info. Then systematically put your camera order together with the most extensive list of camera and lenses I have ever seen. Once your order is completed, you can now send it out to the rental house as well as the production company with a few touch screen taps.
iTorch4: is a portable sun gun. I have used this to bounce and light the SEALs in dark rooms operating at 1600 ISO and go deep to a 1.2. I have successfully lit a scene with this. Utilizing flash function on the iphone 4, this gives you a powerful source to bounce, go direct or whatever you prefer.
Photosyth: Scouting panoramas are so helpful and there is a new App that does this. You simply fill up all the grey areas on your iphone screen by panning around 360 as well as your overhead and your underfoot areas. Once you fill in the grey areas, the App seamlessly fuses all the pictures you have taken together and you can scroll around in your virtual perfect global panoramic. An example of how this is helpful is for remembering details such as if there were street lamps that could flood the area at night. You overhead above you, can you get a condor or a crane in there? The surface that you were walking on, was it uneven, smooth, could you dolly on it? These save time and money. All these notes you never have the time to write down or slam into your memory banks. On my recent Azerbaijan Olympic spot, I drove around in a van for 6 days scouting 187 different locations. We stayed approximately 5 to 10 minutes at each stop. Just enough to take my panorama and then figure out how I was going to light it and when it would be best for sunlight. “Moving on” director Rupert Wainwright would say and I knew I had just enough information to pull it off with the Elite Team.
iHandy Carpenter: This App gives you essential filmmaking tools on measuring distances and inclinations for tilt on camera VFX shots, as well as spirit & bubble levels.
FlickerFree Calculator: is a wonderful app that I stumbled onto. I always have had my charts in my lighter pouch. They miraculous disappeared while in Baku, so I quickly downloaded this app and it will calculate any frame rate and match it with a shutter speed so that you don’t get boned with all the different hertz sources.
Weather Bug (Elite): Weather forecasting is never an exact science but being in the know as much as possible is important. Looking ahead in your schedule and trying to plan around possible weather coming in is a powerful tool. Need a weather update that pulls from a location that is not the rocky mountains? This is what Weather Bug (Elite) does. You can pin point the closest weather station to you and get hour by hour forecasts. This saved me in Oklahoma on Case IH. We could dodge the tornados that were heading towards us and relocate to a safe place to shoot combines churning up wheat.
Weather Radar: This app shows gorgeous animated graphics of weather moving your way. Essential in tracking storms in New Mexico on Terminator Salvation. This was our go to tool in watching the storms roll in from the North.
I hope this gives you a glimpse into my App Arsenal. What Apps have you found that help you as a filmmaker? We would love to hear your feedback.