DP Alex Buono presentation 2/18/11 in Portland, OR

Apologies if this info has already been posted, but here's my brief report about the fairly in-depth presentation Alex Buono gave yesterday at the Cascade Mountain Video Show, a small annual expo sponsored by local equipment dealer Pro Video & Tape (http://provideoandtape.com/).

For those who might not know, Alex is the DP on Saturday Night Live's "fake" TV commercials and the show opener title sequences. For the past year or two he's used Canon DSLRs (primarily the 5DM2 and 7D) to shoot all of that video.

He shot this last week:

The attached snapshots show the camera settings Alex typically uses, and also his contact info. I'm sure for most of you this info is common knowledge, but here it is. Since it was a free, public presentation I hope it's OK to show his contact info. He seemed to welcome receiving polite, professional technical inquiries from fellow HD-DSLR users. (Mods: Please let me know if I should delete the contact info photo.)

Alex's Twitter feed:

I'm actually a GH1 & GH2 owner myself, but I found Alex's 90+ minute Canon-centric presentation to be very helpful. His experience was a valuable real-world reality check -- well, if a network TV show can be considered the real world. ;-)

He discussed how he & his team produce "broadcast quality" footage using DSLRs every week under insanely tight deadlines. They take full advantage of DSLR's "stealth" factor when shooting city street exteriors under mostly ambient lighting, often with a crew consisting only of himself & a couple of PAs, and almost no gear: Canon L glass, no FF, with just Zacuto Z-Finder & rifle-type rigs, and if necessary: A small tripod, very small LED lights, occasionally a <1.2KW HMI light.

Of course, when they do DSLR shoots in the studio they usually configure the cams with full rigs -- add-on monitors, HDMI splitters, stabilization, follow-focus, video village, (& sometimes) cine lenses, etc.

Quality audio for spoken dialog is a high priority, so he emphasized the importance of using a skilled sound person, an external audio recorder, and pro mics.

He mentioned how he almost always shoots 24 fps (23.98), unless they need 60 fps (59.97) for slow motion, or very rarely 30 or 60 fps to create a "home video" (or "old timey" broadcast TV) look as a special effect.

He emphasized more than once that the main reason the talent & show producers _love_ shooting video with DSLRs is the narrow DOF and because the crew can work much, much faster compared to using larger and/or less light-sensitive cams. As a result, he says the extra speed is extremely beneficial for the "flow" of the comedy performances. He acknowledged that "traditional" full-size HD cams such as the new ARRI Alexa (which he loves) can produce more life-like highlights on skin, for example. But the small size, ISO performance, & DOF capabilities of the DSLR cams lets them quickly move from set-up to set-up, fit into cramped spaces more easily, require fewer/smaller/no lights, car shots can be quickly rigged, and so forth -- especially when shooting on location or with a tiny crew. When shooting city street exteriors or indoors in public locations (bars, restaurants, offices, etc.) the DSLRs win hands-down. He says shooting in public with a full-size camera or rig draws a crowd, which is almost never desirable. And crowd-control & security is expensive and not always effective.

A couple of tid-bits (which have probably been mentioned elsewhere): The iconic SNL opener clip taken with the camera mounted on the roof of a NYC taxi cab at night (with the cab's roof-light in the foreground) was shot by him working alone, in a few minutes, using a cheap plastic suction-cup mount (only!) holding a stripped-down DSLR. Likewise, the well-known crazy-shaky timelapse clip shot inside the cab showing the cab's meter & traffic through the windshield -- he shot handheld, while he was traveling alone on the way to the studio. He also showed how they've been shooting some panning/tilting timelapse shots using a slightly-modified $250 motorized telescope mount. Fun stuff.


Edit: Some info about his post-production workflow: All the DSLR motion video footage is transcoded to ProRes 422 (not HQ) via Compressor and edited in FCP. If I recall correctly, the color correction is usually done in FCP itself, not Color. He likes Color, but they barely have time in their insane schedule to do what they do as it is. He uses AfterEffects for processing timelapse files & for creating certain effects. They use PluralEyes in FCP to synch sound from the external audio recorder's tracks to the in-camera audio reference track.

Edit: Lighting: For soft light he prefers 4-ft. length, 4 or 8-lamp KINO flo light fixtures instead of 1'x1'-type LED lights. He feels the latter is too close to being a point source (not soft enough) given their cost; 4' KINOs make more sense. If he needs lots of light or to create hard-edge shadows, he prefers HMI fixtures instead of quartz/tungsten, but given the cams' sensitivity the HMIs can be relatively small (1.2KW or occasionally larger). Or, he may use HMI through large diffusion for very bright, soft light.

Edit: I believe he said he's only had a Canon DSLR overheat once (a 7D), and hasn't noticed objectionable image noise issues attributable to heat when using the cameras. He knows some shooters say they've had their Canon cams shutdown more often because of heat, and that some shooters swap bodies during a shoot as a way to keep them cool (and reportedly less noisy), but he hasn't seen the need. Given his extensive shooting experience using Canon DSLRs, I think his comments carry some weight.

P1000571 Buono 5DM2 settings.jpg

P1000573 Buono email.jpg
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Hi Ted: Unfortunately I don't remember which preset(s) he uses, regrets.

Perhaps someone else who attended his Portland presentation can pipe in here? Or, if not, you could send Alex an email and ask him (see photo).