Davis Guggenheim on filming "Teach" and other documentaries on the Canon C300

Davis Guggenheim is an established documentary filmmaker, known for some of the most notable stories of the last decade like “Waiting for Superman”, An Inconvenient Truth”.He knows when a story needs to be told and how to tell it best. For his most recent film projects, he’s found the perfect camera and workflow for his documentaries in the established Canon Cinema EOS C300.

It's no secret the Canon C300 has been so widely adopted by documentary filmmakers and broadcasters worldwide – small form factor, combined with ergonomics, superb Super35 sensor capable of delivering gorgeous images in a broadcast and workflow friendly codec making it easier than ever to delivery the final output.

In his latest project entitled “Teach”– a new documentary film that takes a look at the education system through the eyes of its teachers Davis was to figure out how they were going to shoot in many different locations all at the same time. The production team needed to dispatch camera crews to multiple locations at once - Colorado, Florida, Idaho, and Los Angeles.

Guggenheim realised that having only one DP or operator was out of the question, due to multiple stories happening simultaneously and the delivery schedule for the final product to CBS, who aired the film in September 2013.

“My first order of business was figuring out what camera system we could use to handle this very ambitious, complex challenge,” says Guggenheim, “Thirty plane trips and fifty classrooms.”

The other piece of the puzzle was making sure filming in a classroom – with students at multiple ages and from various walks of life – was as unobtrusive as possible.

“This was my fourth film about education,” Guggenheim explains, “and I know how easy it is to distract students when the crew arrives. If you get too close to a kid in the middle of a classroom and that boom comes down into their face, they might look up or reach out to touch the fluffy thing. Or if the camera gets too close, they can become self-conscious and not be themselves because they’re aware that someone is filming them. So we needed a camera system that could let us be in all these places and also be hidden at the same time.”

Shooting on the EOS C300, Guggenheim and his crew were able to unobtrusively film actual classes without drawing much attention to themselves letting the characters be themselves and not influenced by the cameras being present. Something he notes would not have been possible, had they chosen to shoot on bigger cameras, which would have eventually caused the students and teachers be aware that they are filmed and thus altering their performance accordingly, something quite undesirable in documentary filmmaking.

He and his crew relied on the 24mm CN-E T1.5 and the 50mm CN-E T1.3 cinema lenses from Canon as well as the venerable 70-200mm F2.8 IS zoom lens, allowing them to film unobtrusively in classrooms and close quarters. Quite often shooting wide open at T1.3 on the 50mm lens in dimly lit interiors and also wide open on the 70-200mm zoom for close-ups and exteriors, where the camera needed to be as far away from the subjects as possible.

“Nothing compares to how it looks in very low light,” he says. “And I’ve shot with hugely expensive cameras and hugely expensive lenses with the most subtle lighting. Nothing compared to me sitting in a car with only a street lamp to light a face. Because of the camera speed and the sharpness of the lens, it made for a gorgeous shot.”

Adds Guggenheim’s lead cinematographer Erich Roland: “The C300 has a nice organic look and the colors are pleasing to the eye. With the Canon Log setting, it gives the colorists some room to play in post to push and pull the image around, giving me more room to not be technically perfect while on location. I can be a little under exposed and not worry about noise too much or if things are moving fast between light conditions and I miss changing the white balance pre-set, it’s not the end of the world.”

Utilising high ISO's of 1600 and the sharpness and colour fidelity of the 24mm and 50mm cine lenses from Canon, Guggenheim and his crew were astounded by the crisp and noise-free images in night exteriors and interiors.

The small form factor and stripped down approach to his camera setup, allowed him and his crew to move quickly from location to location.

The 50Mb/s 422 MXF files from the Canon EOS C300 were a breeze in post-production, allowing for fast download and backup speeds. The editing team could start editing away at the end of each day, which would have not been possible in the days of digitizing tapes and ingest times... For the full write up, head over to Canon Learning Centre

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