THE WIRELESS COVID-19 SET
As producers and production companies across the globe struggle with just how to safely and effectively shoot under Covid-19 safety restrictions, Rio Films has tested a workable path towards the completely wireless production set.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, around mid-February 2020, I made the decision to quickly transform how Rio Films shoots content.” said Rio Films’ owner, Rodrigo Rodriguez. “Early on, based on the international reports, I understood that this virus was going to be a long-term problem for how we shoot our future productions.”
“Being a Texas-based production company, for better or worse, we had some lead time over other parts of the country in getting back to work,” explains Rodriguez. “Rio Films immediately implemented all the CDC and industry’s best practices when it came to crews wearing masks, taking temperatures, using gloves, and sanitizing equipment. We have eliminated department cross-cooperation, and now shoot more with telephoto lenses to keep the crew socially distant from the talent. Additionally, we have created ‘no touch rules’ for talent,” says Rodriguez. “Talent are shown how to place the lavalier microphones on themselves, if needed, and they now often do their own makeup. We also work with our clients to update the creative with Covid-19 social distancing in mind. All of this, and much more, is being done to keep our production team, clients, and talent safe,” explains Rodriguez.
“But,” Rodriguez continues, “That was not enough. Film sets are complex environments, filled with temporarily laid wires and cables running power, recording sound and capturing visuals. That is a lot of different hands touching equipment. To eliminate this, I committed Rio to having a completely wireless set. I see this as an ongoing issue, in the process of production. Different departments crossing in contact with one another to run audio/video signals, and to run power to lights, monitors, and other equipment. Eliminating all the cables makes a safer set.”
Soon after researching how to create a wireless set, Rio Films had an opportunity to test out this concept. The U.S. Census commissioned Rio Films to produce a new campaign in late June 2020, in the middle of the ongoing pandemic. The creative centered on using several individually shot actors speaking in a large empty arena.
Rio Films purchased new equipment over the course of several months. “We purchased a new Sony FX9 camera with wireless setup controls that we operate from an iPad,” mentions Rodriguez. “For the director’s video monitor, we eliminate the use of BNC power cables by setting up a Teradek Bolt wireless video transmitter/receiver to feed a signal to a SmallHD 17 monitor. The SmallHD 17013 PX3 is adapted with a gold mount kit to take brick-style batteries which power the monitor, eliminating the need for AC power.”
“Sound acquisition already had a well-established wireless path, but we now no longer use lavalier microphones clipped to talent. Instead, we use wireless boom microphones,” explains Rodriguez. “A Sennheiser MKH-416 shotgun microphone with a SKP 300 transmitter is fed to a Zoom F6. Our audio recording is independent of the camera, just like our old film-shooting days, using a slate and syncing sound and visuals in post,” explains Rodriguez.
“Lighting appeared to be the biggest challenge in creating a wireless set. That is, until we discovered Rotolight, a British manufacturer creating some of the most advanced LED lights in the world. Rotolight’s Anova Pro 2 has extensive capably in color temperature with a range of 3150-6300k. And the Anova’s color temperature, brightness, and SPFX can all be controlled remotely by Elinchrom’s EL-Skyport,” says Rodriguez.
“As an example, when we want to change the brightness of the light, we just dial it in from the app. This eliminates having a grip climb a ladder and adjust the light fixture. But, for us, the biggest selling point of using the Anova Pro 2 is that they can be operated via battery or AC power,” explains Rodriguez. The Anova Pro 2 works with industry standard brick batteries. “We chose the Anton Bauer Titon 150, which can keep light powered for over 3.5 hours at full brightness. Being LED lights, they also have the added benefit of not getting hot.”
“The Anton Bauer Titon 150 batteries are not just used for the Anova Pro 2. All lights, cameras and monitors on our set are powered by the same battery system,” say Rodriguez. “This means less chargers and battery systems to maintain.”
Having everyone on headsets makes a huge difference when it comes to social distancing. “We decided to invest in our own in-house communication system,” explained Rodriguez. “All of our crew members are now on headset using Midland GXT1000VP4’s. We prefer them to the larger Motorola walkies because they are much smaller and easier to use.”
“Headsets are treated as personal equipment,” explains Rodriguez, “meaning crews keep their headset at the end of the shooting day; we bill them like expendables. The Midlands do not have the same range as say, a Motorola RDU4100, but they have the same features. They are also smaller, and more lightweight. As for the range, we have had no issues in using them up to three blocks, which is more than enough for most of our shoots.”
“Our production for the U.S. Census Bureau, using our new workflow and technology, was executed without any issues. We were able to shoot safer, not only from a Covid-19 standpoint, but also removing cables creates a much safer work environment,” explains Rodriguez.
“This system works for the current, new world of production, and the guidelines limiting the number of cast and crew allowed in one place. Of course, creative must be adapted to fit the crew size. “We look forward to getting back to normal. But once you work in a completely wireless set, you don’t want to go back to walking over stingers or video and audio cables. We have proven that the technology is there for small and medium sets to operate in a wireless workflow. I hope someday we can apply what we have learned to larger sets.” concludes Rodriguez.
Sony FX9 and video transmitter powered by Anton Bauer Titon 150 battery.
Battery powered director’s monitor with wireless video receiver.