Tonight Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secreatary of State Hillary Clinton will debate in Flint, MI and as our nation debates the direction our country should take, we here at HardPin have been thinking about our time with President Obama.
In one way or another all of us at Hardpin have been touched by President Obama's message of hope and positive change. For Adam, Saimon, Noah and Myself his 2012 campaign was the springboard that launched our company. Looking back at that race and our time working for the President brings back fond memories, but also it was were we learned how to overcome crazy deadlines, limited budgets, and unforseen obstacles to get a project done and shipped. Last year we had the opportunity to shoot a short message from President Obama for the first debate of the democratic primary.
The setup was easy - one camera with lights and a teleprompter - but anytime your working with the Commander-In-Chief you’ve got to bring your A game because once he walks in the room failure is not an option. When we were on the campaign trail the pace was breakneck and all of us had run into situations where gear breaks down, the power stops working, or more commonly an airplane starts circling overhead in the middle of your shoot forcing you to figure out a solution on the fly. You don’t forget those moments and if you do it right nobody else in the room will ever know there was a issue. That’s especially true when your subject is the President.
We arrived in Washington, D.C. on a Thursday night having planned to do the shoot with as minimal gear as possible. We shot the interview direct to camera, in 4K 24P on a Sony FS7 with the REC 709 picture profile. Initially we planned to use the Canon 24-105 F4L, but once we got into our location (the map room in the White House East Wing) we decided to use the Canon 50 F1.2L to get a cleaner, more defocused background. Once we’d framed our shot, we started lighting the room. We used a Lowel Rifa with a softbox at 75% for the key light and then used two Fiilex 360PW LED lights as a head light and to add a little ambient light to the room. POTUS was going to be seated with a window in the background, so we had the headlight color dialed to look like he was being backlit by the window. We got all of this put together pretty quickly and tried to relax and get focused before the shoot started.
We’ve worked the President before, but it’s hard to describe the nervous feeling that comes over you in the moments before you’re supposed to start a shoot with him. That happens every time.
About 15 minutes into the Presidents weekly address tapings (we expected these to last about 20) Saimon asks me to check the QXD cards to make sure they were recording. I had shot with both cards the day before and was totally confident we were good to go. I boot the camera up, check my exposure and press record. Then nothing. There’s no recording and the camera freezes and locks up - forcing us to kill the power to the camera by pulling the battery out.
At this point the President is wrapping up in the other room. We change out the cards and power the camera back up.
At this point you wonder how the President would respond to “sorry sir, we’re having technical difficulties”.
The camera boots up, we punch record and verify it wrote to the card. Not a moment after we’ve done that the door to the Diplomatic Room opens and the President strides into the room. “Hey folks!” We shake hands and say hello. He then sits down and nails his script in a single take without reading it beforehand. He thanks us and then he’s out. The whole thing was over in less than five minutes.
After enough shoots, you will eventually have one go bad. Your camera dies on set. The memory card fails and you lose all of your footage. If you’re really unlucky a plane runs over your footage. We’ve all heard the horror stories and thanked our lucky stars it wasn’t us on set when everything went south, but you can learn a lot from those stories.
If Saimon hadn’t had me double check those cards I don’t know what we would’ve done. But at the same time, you have to remember that wether your shooting the President or a home movie there’s always an inherent risk with technology that something could go wrong and you won’t be able to fix it on the fly. So you double check everything and bring duplicates of what you can, especially when working with someone high profile, where you might only get one shot. We had a whole bag packed with a GH4 kit ready to go in case we had to scrap our FS7 rig.
On the campaign trail you learn that you can't always avoid problems - they inevitably come up - it’s about quickly and calmly figuring out a solution. That can mean duck taping your tripod together or using your iPhone as a lav mic, but whatever it is, it is essential to put the time in to plan your shoots so you’ve got the tools to help yourself.
As a company we've been incredibly fortunate to see the President and the administration up close and it's bitter sweet to think about his time in office coming to an end. Although we're pretty fond of our current candidate too.