FOUR POINTS: Beyond-basics advice about video from Peter McKinnon

August 12th, 2013 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

You’ve seen the teasers: The latest trailer for Republic No. 02, our newest deck of playing cards, involves a massive, complicated shoot with some of the best gear in the market. But it’s not enough to have good equipment — in fact, the best camera ever created might as well be an iPhone in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use it.

Peter McKinnon knows.

The production manager for Ellusionist is also an accomplished cinematographer who has brought a distinct style for product trailers and demonstrations. Inspired from his early days working for StillMotion, an industry giant that has specialized in Olympic coverage, the U.S. military, weddings and small business projects, Pete has transformed the concept of a magic trailer. From simple (and complicated) flourishes such as this video for the LTD deck to full movie-inspired short stories such as the Infinity deck.

He recently answered four beyond-basics questions while boarding a plane to Paris. Here are his thoughts about equipment and how to use it.

E — A lot of videographers overcompensate with fancy equipment, without really understanding how some of the basics work. Of all the things that a cinematographer should learn, what do you think is the most important to master before spending big bucks on equipment?

p:m — Telling a story. I have always said that having expensive and fancy equipment doesn’t matter at all if you don’t have good content. At the end of the day, you need to communicate with your viewers — and it doesn’t cost a fortune to do that. It takes thought.

E — For me, the lens needs to be the first priority when figuring out what to buy, but I come from a journalism background. Agree/disagree?

p:m — Agree and disagree. It’s all relative. Lens choice IS very important. Different focal lengths and speeds will dramatically change and produce various moods for your image. A good standard lens kit is a good place to start. From there, your lens choice will change based on the kind of shots you want.

E — Without getting into a brand battle, what bonus features on a camera have become absolutely critical to your work?

p:m — The C100 has built-in ND filters up to 8 stops of light. For the non-camera savvy users, I can shoot with a wide-open aperture even in extremely bright situations without having to stop down. Also:

  • Peaking: the camera outlines everything in red to tell me what’s in and out of focus.
  • Levels: monitor audio right on screen.

E — You’re no one-trick monkey: You have a variety of projects in your background, from studio shots to live coverage of riot prevention. What remains the same about your style throughout all the different things you shoot?

p:m — I’m not afraid to get into the action. If I want a shot, I go get it. I’m a firm believer of asking for forgiveness rather than permission 😉

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