As a director the most powerful tool you have is the emotional distance you put between your audience and subject.
Think about the conversations you have in your regular day life. Does't it feel completely different sitting right next to a person versus across a table? And completely different when you scream from across the street?
This emotion comes through just a well in filmmaking. When you cover a conversation you could be using the same close up framing but whether you get that frame with a 24mm or a 100mm feels completely different to your audience.
Figuring out how to use this emotional distance in filmmaking was what first lead me to POV and eyeglass cameras. I was fascinated with not necessarily being inside the character's perspective but being an invisible best friend in a scene along for the ride. My first attempt with with my Wondervision infrared eyeglass cameras I built for Sugar Park Tavern which I then used again on my music video for 6 Cheek (now the Lumineers) Park.
I loved the freedom this perspective gave me as a director. If I wanted to feel closer to the actors then I leaned in, if it got too intense I stepped back. It was amazing to be able to be fully in the moment with my actors and react as they did. The problem was that I made them in 2008 where the board cameras I used were still large and bulky and required being plugged into a mini dv clamshell.
For years I've waited for a better solution. A real HD camera that was more inconspicuous but was high enough quality to make cinematic images. GoPro's get you 90% there but not quite. Then, one day, I was lucky enough to come upon Pivothead cameras.
I've been following the company for a little over a year and with the recent release of their new models they have found a way to get the best of a GoPro in a true POV camera. It's amazing how powerful a tool eyeglass cameras can be and how they can add such a different emotion to every scene. Whether action sports or a more intimate scene there's a magic to being inside someone's head.
I wanted to find a different way to present POV filmmaking and thought parkour would be a great place to start. One of my favorite ways to capture parkour has always been tandem moves. It's great when someone pulls a great move but when you have three guys all being amazing at once it really ups the excitement. The idea Joey Katz and I came up with was to block each athlete so that when they finished their move he would land in a position to begin covering the next person's move. This opened up a lot of possibilities for cool angles and a very immersive feel to the final video that would have been impossible if each athlete was worried about holding a camera while chasing each other.
WFPF's Max Henry
With the help of the WFPF's Max Henry I was able to bring together Jereme Sanders and Nick Ortiz for a day running around New York City. One unexpected surprise was how much more stealth the cameras made us. One of the most difficult parts of covering parkour is how much attention it draws. If you don't have a permit and you're running around the city it's very hard not to get caught. Because the Pivothead cameras are inside sunglasses everyone is looking at the moves, not whether or not they are being filmed. This made very difficult locations like the High Line and inside of the subway very easy to capture (and, as a bonus, in a new and exciting way).
Jereme Sanders and Nick Ortiz on the edge of Hudson River Park
Working with the pivothead cameras was even more hassle free than a GoPro. There is a power button then a switch on top to push forward to begin recording. Iif you want you can set the switch for different modes like timelapse, stills or slow motion when you press it long/short or back and forth. I kept the switch set to just standard 1080/30p to make it even more parkour athlete-proof when we were running around.
Battery and internal memory lasts about 75-80 minutes so we would usually record in 5 minute bursts at each locations. We carried around a small USB power pack to charge the cameras as we moved location to location.
Jereme and Nick jumping in tandem while filming each other
I'm really excited about how this film turned out. Having true POV (as opposed to a GoPro attached to a mouth piece) adding a sense of danger to the piece that I haven't seen in my other parkour films. I'm amazed how little technical things that I usually hate on other cameras seem to work when used in a POV. The rolling shutter and jello ad a feeling of impact to the footage. Even when I tested the cameras in extreme low light, the grain and muddiness that comes with a small CMOS sensor made me feel like I was sitting in on a conversation I wasn't meant to hear.
It was also great to watch Max, Jereme and Nick get into the action and also have their natural interactions between moves and feel like I was a part of it. As you can tell I've always been a fan of POV filmmaking but Pivothead has finally made it easy while still providing the quality I want. Yeah there are still things that could be improved (a wider lens, more record time, 24p) many of which will be solved with upcoming models, but for a second generation product I couldn't be more excited about what these cameras can do and the possibilities they opened up for me.
Big thanks to these three amazing parkour athletes as well as the WFPF and Pivothead for coming out and making this video possible. I hope whether you are into parkour or not this helps