Having the opportunity to bear witness and document the big and the small moments of this amazing world we live in feeds my passion for the art of cinematography. I believe in dismantling barriers, opening doors, and revealing truth—and that only happens when we film intuitively, honestly and without inhibition.
The cinematographer’s journey is one that requires a compassionate heart and the ability to see and hear what lies beneath the surface so that we’re able to capture the unique stories that unfold before our eyes.
A. Canon Cinema EOS C300 Mark II ($10,000)
The Canon Cinema EOS C300 Mark II is perfect for doc films. It’s lightweight, with quick programmable access to setting choices, offers a 14-stop dynamic range in C-log 3, awesome Super 35mm mega pixel sensor, and shoots beautiful images. Sometimes I use a small offset for the LCD monitor to have more room for my favorite Deity Mira viewfinder.
B. Canon CN-E Prime Set 35MM, 50MM, 85MM ($4,000 Per Lens)
I exclusively used prime lenses for the interview set-ups in RBG. Shooting with shallow focus at T2 allowed me to abstract the background in a painterly way and create an image that captures the subject’s personality. (T-stops are the f-stop of the lens corrected for its absorbance and reflectance. The T-stop is the true speed of the lens, calculated by compensating for its light absorbance and reflectance, and will result in accurate exposure.)
C. Canon EF Zoom Lens Set: 16-35MM F/2.8 ($1,300), 24-70MM F/2.8 ($1,700), 70-200MM F/2.8 ($2,000) With 2X-Extender ($500)
Depending on the situation, I might need a lens to be close and personal with the action, or be far away to witness as an observer; I might need to be in a tight space such as a car, or to capture the beauty of the landscape. It’s essential to have a set of zoom lenses that are fast, reliable, and the right fit for various situations. I needed all of them during the productions of Atomic Homefront, The Freedom to Marry and most recently for cinéma vérité in RBG.
D. Zacuto Z-Finder Kit ($1,500)
Every person has a different shoulder-neck-eye relationship that needs to be to aligned with the viewfinder of a camera. The Zacuto Z-finder Kit works for best for me.
E. Deity Mira Viewfinder ($600)
This prevents light from getting in my way when shooting, and allows for better critical focus.
F. Arri LMB-25 Clip-On Matte Box ($1,800)
Essential to have; reduces flares and holds my favorite filters for scenic shots.
G. Schneider Soft Graduated ND Filter (.3, .6, .9, $350 Per Filter) and Polarizer Filter ($300)
Soft edge Natural Density (ND) filters help me pull the focus away from the bright sky to redirect it to the landscape or a particular point of interest. My Polarizer is great for water shots to reduce refraction of light or when there is a need to eliminate reflections on windows.
H. Set Bag: 6X6 Matthews Silk ($120), 6X6 Matthews Solid ($120), Raya Collapsible 5-IN-1 Reflector ($25), Lastolite LL LR1250 Ezybalance 18 Percent Grey and White Exposure Card ($35)
I’m a fan of sculpting light. My basic selection is a 6×6 silk, to diffuse sunlight or artificial light sources, 6×6 solid to reduce unwanted light or create negative fill, Raya 5-in-1 reflector for a quick edge light, positive fill or to diffuse the sunlight for an Optical Transfer Function (OTF) in an exterior setting. The Lastolite works well and keeps my exposure on track when I shoot in C-log.
I. Dubé Prime Beanbags ($8 Per Ball)
Pure fun! It releases the tension in my arms and shoulders when I juggle after a long day of cinéma vérité shooting.
J. Set of Favorite Earrings
I purchase unique souvenir earrings from areas I travel to. They represent my joie de vivre and remind me of the many people I’ve encountered along the way shooting docs.
K. Sandisk 128GB Extreme Pro CFast 2.0 Memory Cards ($400 Per Card), Sandisk Card Reader With USB Cable, ($45)
For feature documentary projects, I advise the producer to purchase Compact Flash (CF) cards. But I always carry a back-up set with me, including a card reader and USB cable.
L. Personal Pen ($3) and Day-To-Day Scene Journal
On the road, before a new shoot day starts, I list what I’ve captured the previous day. I highlight surprises, which approach worked, and which didn’t. It’s a personal journal that helps me sharpen my mind to apply my cinematic skills to particular story elements.
Gear I’d Love to Have:
Canon CN-E 15.5-47mm T2.8 and Canon CN-E 30-105mm T2.8 lenses.
What Item Can’t I Live Without?
I cherish a delicious piece of chocolate at the end of the day.
Many thanks to the hard working team at Production Junctions in East New York City for supplying me with excellent tech service for my camera, grip, and lighting rental needs. MM
RBG opened in theaters May 4, 2018, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures and Participant Media, and airs on CNN later this year. Photographs courtesy of Claudia Raschke.