First person perspective (commonly known as Point Of View) is having a bit of a moment.
From advertising to music videos to branded content to short films, these videos seem to be popping up everywhere. In fact, I just heard about a feature length action film currently being shot in Russia, solely shot in first person perspective. I am not suggesting that the device is new or particularly creative, the technique goes back as far as the late 1920s, but with the wide adoption of GoPro and powerful cameras getting smaller and smaller this perspective is clearly on the rise.
In late 2013 we pitched Hyatt on a branded-content concept that centered around a first person’s perspective. The goal was to portray a different vantage point of the brand: from the perspective of a guest. It was fresh, new, daring and ambitious. We wrote a love story —spanning 15 years— between our female protagonist and her (future) husband set in different Hyatt hotel brands (Regency, Grand, Park, Place, Andaz, etc.). The ultimate goal was to showcase the different brands in the Hyatt portfolio as they relate to different moments in our hero’s life, but do it in a way that was realistic in the characters relationship. In doing so we were able to add a third character to the love story: Hyatt.
View the director’s cut here:
The pitch was on point, but production was a different story. We had to do a lot of research during preproduction to ensure a safe high end production. Here was what we knew:
We knew we wanted to shoot in the highest quality possible.
We knew the camera system needed to be light enough to be on the head or shoulders of our DP without causing injury.
We knew that we wanted about a 34mm focal length to create an accurate perspective of the human eye.
We knew the system needed to be steady enough, but not too steady, to mimic a natural human walk.
All options were on the table. First the camera. I know everyone LOVES GoPro. But while GoPro has helped expand the medium, it is not a professional grade image and offers little control over the camera. Truthfully, I didn’t even consider it for this job. My goal was to shoot in 4K with high end glass. The problem was, at that time, there were few cameras on the market that offered 4K recording and were light enough to wear in a POV rig.
In a perfect world we would have shot with a Canon 1DC with Zeiss super speed 35mm lens. Unfortunately the 1DC is a big DSLR that weighs 5 lbs+ (with a lens), then you have to add the counterweight, the rig and accessories. Now you are talking 15 lbs, which is just plain too heavy. Interestingly, while we were on our camera discovery mission the groundbreaking Panasonic GH4 was released. (We wound up getting our hands on one of the first GH4s for sale in the U.S.) It weighed in at 1.2 lbs, recorded 4K and created a beautiful image. It did have a few drawbacks, but made the running for our final camera. We also liked the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera. This camera weighed an incredible .78 lbs! But it did not shoot 4K and had very poor battery performance, which means it needed an auxiliary power source. We liked it enough to put it up against the GH4.
It was a classic camera show down. My DP and I had our preferences and both cameras had their strengths and weaknesses, but only one camera could emerge victorious. Both produced an extremely clean image, were extremely light weight, and had decent latitude. We had to get into the nitty gritty: work flow, codecs, color treatment, chroma sub sampling, battery life, sensor size, grain, dynamic range. We studied all these issues and more when choosing a camera. We eventually chose to use the BMPCC with a pancake 17mm lens (with the crop factor this is a 35mm lens). It created a more consistent image that seemed similar to the Arri Alexa whereas the GH4 looked more like a high-end video camera like the Sony FS700.
As for the mounting system, we knew we needed easy access to our DP’s hands. Her hands were the hero’s hands. They lived in the foreground and the foreground is as important of a stage as the location itself.
Proper interaction with elements in the foreground is what will sell the POV concept. Proper range of motion of her hands limited our options to a helmet or body mount. We explored both. We had a camera accessories inventor in the San Fernando Valley fabricate a Snorri rig that attached to the body — which we then turned around to mimic our DP’s eye level. Unfortunately it rested too heavily on her hips thus artificially jostling the camera too much. (We did use the Snorri rig on our opening shots on our hero.)
We needed to use our heads! Or rather, her head. We wound up using a modified full-face motorcycle helmet. We removed the plastic covering, drilled into the chin area, added a tripod head and attached our components to the back with high-grade velcro. Presto! It was’t the prettiest or most professional looking mount, but the image was solid, and it did exactly what we needed. As production commenced, we learned that we needed one more piece of the puzzle to help steady our rig (and help out our DP): a neck brace.