Tech specs

Time to get technical.  Now that I have most of the official planning out of the way: Visa, ISAF credentialing and flight itineraries.  I am now beginning to divert my attention to the technology I will bring with me to help me tell the story of the 135th ADT, a group of Minnesota National Guard soldiers working with local Afghan farmers to help provide knowledge, technology and ideologies that can help them better provide for themselves, their families and their communities.

When traveling for a story, traveling in general I suppose, there is a fine balance between bringing enough and bringing too much.  When heading for a week in Cancun do you bring one pair of pants, or two?  If you bring one pair you’ll probably spill cocktail sauce on them the first night, if you bring two there will be one pair coming back unworn.  Television gear is more cumbersome than a pair of khakis.  Most professional videographers will tell you the heavier and larger the camera the better it is.  Ever tried to keep a Flip Cam steady while Junior is at the free throw line?  In addition to heft better cameras also pack a need for more knowledge and expertise.  I’m a decent videographer, but it’s not my trade.  So I’ve settled in on bringing my own JVC GY-HM100.  It’s compact, shoots a decent HD picture with a quarter-inch chip, records to SD cards in a Final Cut Pro standard .mov file structure and has two XLR inputs and according to reviews is good enough for CNN.  CNN has provided their foreign correspondents with these cameras.  This is all fancy tv-talk for a camera that doesn’t present a lot of headaches when it comes time to edit footage and it is professional-enough to record industry-standard audio and video.

For audio I will bring two wired lavs with me. I will work with one of the tpt audio gurus to get set up with what I’ll need.  Perhaps I’ll ask for a higher-quality shot-gun mic so to be better able to pic up natural sound.  I don’t know if I’ll bring a wireless audio pack.  My camera doesn’t have the mounts necessary to attach them on board so I’ll end up with the receiver taped to my leg or stashed in a pocket.  Wireless also adds weight and potential technical problems to overcome while I’m in the field.  While I’m producing, shooting and interviewing the last thing I want to be on my mind will be, ‘how the hell do I get around these RF hits?”  On the other hand I can envision a need to be able to go wireless.  As I’m out with the group of soldiers I can see wanting to mic one up as he or she is interacting with interpreters and speaking with locals.  If I don’t bring it I’ll miss some nice sound up moments relying only on a shotgun mic.

Lighting kits are out of the question.  I’ll be using natural light.

Interviewing soldier in Iraq

My set up in Afghanistan will be similar to what I had in Iraq. For this interview I improvised a tripod.

Other necessities include a tri-pod (which will be the heaviest thing I bring), a couple of battery chargers, 4 extra camera batteries, half a dozen SD cards, and a wide angle lens adapter for shooting in tight places.  I’m going to bring a laptop and a back up hard drive.  It may seem like overkill to take footage off of the SD cards and put it in two places, but I am not going to risk losing any of what I shoot.  I’m considering mailing a drive back home so if something wacky happens, like having footage confiscated in Kandahar, I’m only out a drive and a computer and not two drives a computer and all of my footage.  It could happen, I suppose.

For fun I’ll stash a small GoPro HD camera and will bring a cheap Flip Cam with me.  These cameras, in addition to the camera tpt provided the Guard, will present options to be able to shoot missions, meetings, farming and veterinary demonstrations, events all happening in real time — and as part of a combat mission —  from a couple of different angles.  True videographers, and my video editor, are right to cringe, none of this footage will match and it won’t make anyone think, ‘wow, how beautiful, would you look at that Gamma encoding’, but this is a one-man-band production.  Actual one-man-bands when witnessed on a street corner make stoppers by pause and appreciate what one can accomplish when they put their slightly off-center mind and talents to work; the drummer, strummer, trumpeter, cymbal crasher and harmonica playin’ guy will likely never end up on stage with a full orchestra, but even a virtuoso can pause and appreciate.

The ultimate goal of packing will be to get all of the vital gear into a backpack I will carry-on and never let it leave my sight.  I’ll bring a larger pack with me that I’ll check, but all that will go in that one will be things I can live without while I’m there…like khakis.  Okay, maybe not khakis, cargo pants.