Fringe Elements Skills: Gear for the Aspiring Adventure Filmmaker
By Fitz Cahall, Video still by Byran Smith. Watch the Fringe Elements adventure filmmaking video here >>
In the age of YouTube, documenting personal adventures has become a pursuit in its own right. When 35-year-old adventure filmmaker Bryan Smith first pulled out a video camera eight years ago, he had no idea what he was doing. Now he’s shooting regularly in some of the most extreme environments on the planet. Here are five pieces of gear that Smith wishes he had right from the start.
1. Basic Audio Kit
“Good audio brings a story to life. Even a simple shotgun and lavalier mic kit will go a long ways to improve your work,” says Smith. A decent mic is arguably more important than an expensive new lens. Smith suggests Sennheiser's MKE102-EW lav mic kit coupled with a RØDE NTG3 shotgun mic, which will cost less than $1,000, but make your work feel like a million.
2. Effective Storage
“There is nothing worse than fumbling through your gear trying to not drop things or keep them dry,” Smith says. In the field, Smith has to deal with snow, water, sand, and dust. “Every sport you shoot requires a slightly different way of carrying equipment, but a sturdy camera bag is essential.”
3. An Adventurous Laptop
"While the a laptop doesn't always travel with me in the field, it's never far away for downloading footage to hard drives," says Smith. Most adventure filmmakers go with a MacBook Pro. It's trim, but has enough horsepower to handle and process large HD files quickly. Apple's Final Cut Pro ($999) has become the standard editing tool for upstart filmmakers. If you're just start out, consider purchasing Final Cut Express ($199). An Apple Care plan is a must—your computer will be subject to the same wear and tear as your camera gear. Pelican Case makes a rugged hard shell, foam-padded case for your laptop for around $100.
4. Sense of Humor
“It’s just a matter of time before you have a bit of an epic episode of filmmaking. No batteries, moisture shut down, flat light—it’s going to happen,” says Smith. When it does, laugh about it. “You film adventures because it’s fun. Don't worry about screwing up; just learn from it and get better.”
- Nat Geo Expeditions
5. Weight Set
“That’s right, you’re going to need to be strong. If you are chasing after athletes who are better than you are in a given sport, you better start training,” says Smith. He’s only half joking. A given day in the field might mean following an elite mountaineer 5,000 feet up a mountain. “To save gym fees, push-ups and pull-ups daily could be substituted,” Smith adds.
6. Pro Tripod
“It’s not cheap, but a good tripod is one of the most overlooked pieces of initial gear.” Smith suggests splurging. “Don't spend $300, spend $1,000 or more. A smooth fluid head is one of a filmmaker's most important tools.”
—By Fitz Cahall