Mobility in Independent Filmmaking / by Chris Weigl

The one thing that we stress more than any other aspect of our production strategy is the importance of mobility in filmmaking.  This is an incredibly important facet of what we do especially for our upcoming project: This is Flyball.  This is Flyball is a documentary.  We have to fit cameras in some pretty tight spaces and we need the flexibility to move quickly and adapt to what is going on not only in front of us but next to us and behind us as well.  Mobility it turns out is the most important component when it comes to our camera strategy and production design.

Our next shoot is at a small, warehouse-like building where most of the flyball ring is off-limits to us.  Therefore we have accommodated our camera strategy accordingly.  We’ll be using 100mm, 250mm, and even 400 mm lenses.  The longer lenses allow us to shoot from greater distances.  They also require greater stability than wider lenses.  This isn’t your typical documentary shoot.  There’s no room for a steadicam.  In fact, space is so tight at this event that we don’t even have room for a tripod.  We’ll be shooting with monopods so that we can adapt to changing conditions on the ground during the flyball tournament.  Basically, we want to give ourselves as much flexibility to adapt to changing conditions as possible. 

Greater flexibility helps us in adapting to lighting and sound as well conditions on the ground.  The lighting at these events cannot be altered because it would distract the dogs.  The challenge of shooting these events is to get as good of a shot as possible and as clear audio as we can get without interfering with the event itself.  This proves to be challenging in many respects.  For one thing the dogs are all extremely loud.  The majority of the dogs waiting around the flyball ring are eager to get their turn and barking profusely.  We thus have to find a place near the flyball team that has the lowest decibel sound level possible, which is difficult because we don’t want to interfere with the event itself.  Lighting is something that we have no control over so we have to adapt our cameras to make the most effective use of the existing lighting as we can.

The most important attribute required for documentary shoots is awareness.  We need to be situationally aware, but also aware of the tendencies or aspects of certain dogs and their owners.  Joey, for example, is known for intimidating dogs on the other team.  This is something that not only is amusing to observe, but can alter the outcome of a race as well.  It is important therefore to be aware of all of the different things going on around us.  Individual performance plays a big part in the sport of flyball, but that individual performance only matter insofar as their performance impacts the team.  It’s very important to be both situationally aware and aware of the dog, the owner and their tendencies.  We also need to be aware of the general climate around us.  If there is another major race coming up afterwards involving two other teams then we may need to move our cameras just so that the next two teams can fit in the room – it’s that tight.

We are in a good position to deal with the challenges we face in shooting This is Flyball because we have embraced greater mobility in our camera strategy and with our production staff.  It is becoming more and more important to be as flexible as possible in how we shoot independent films.  Not only does flexibility and mobility allow us to shoot different concepts and ideas, but it puts us in the best possible position to capture our subjects and this is what should be the most important aspect to independent filmmakers.