Killa Kela is a London beatboxer renowned the world over for his ability to create an entire band just with his mouth. Kela approached me a month or so ago to talk about a viral idea he had and we got along so well I agreed to come along and document the beatbox bar crawl he was planning with French beatboxer Eklips. I don’t normally do this kind of work anymore, kind of left that all behind when I started directing music videos, but sometimes it’s fun just to get out and smash something together, especially when you have talent of this calibre to work with.

5 bars, 5 performances and lots of other stuff in between. This kind of job isn’t really set up for a DSLR rig. You’ve got massively changeable light conditions, massively variable sound conditions and lots of tight spaces. So, I took the 5D, dug out the trusty Marshall V-LCD70XP and slung the Redrock/Zacuto hybrid on my shoulder. For the most part I shot on a 24-70L which is really my go to doco lens of choice. You can get away with all manner of smash zooms for this kind of work and that’s just fine.

Sound is of course a problem for this kind of work. There just isn’t any easy way of mounting a Zoom H4N to a rig in a way that gives you easy access to the levels controls. In fact the H4N is just a wretchedly designed piece of kit all round so the only thing to do is to set a very conservative level and then trust that you got it right. It doesn’t help that the headphone jack on the unit has packed up either.

I’ve done a lot of this kind of shooting, from the hip so to speak, following action as it happens and giving yourself as much help in the edit as possible. So here are a few tips. Always get the people you’re following to tell you what’s happening. All the time. Get lots of shots of them going places, from the front and the back. Lastly, don’t just film your subject. Action is reaction and the way people react to what’s going on gives you the editing ammunition to round out a story from the viewer’s point of view. So important that. It makes such a big difference.

I’ve been thinking about selling my 50mm f1.2L but time and time again I find myself leaning on its absurd speed to bail me out. Dark clubs are a nightmare but if you’ve got a 1.2 in your bag, you at least have a chance. Shooting wide open on a 5D at f1.2 gives you other problems of course, not least of which is focus and you just have to accept that you’re going to be hunting a lot. It’s not got a particularly close focus on it either and animated, pumped up musicians tend to crowd the lens which means they’re just soft and mushy. I shot the last club at 2500 ISO as well but turning to our old friend the Neat Video noise reduction plugin takes the edge off enough to make it very acceptable for Vimeo.


The original shot in the final club

The graded final shot in the club

I cut the 18min version in a day, then smashed together another 35 mins of extra bits and pieces for the guys to use as marketing material. It’s a sign of the way we do things now that we think in terms of granular content not feature content. It’s much more valuable to have ten pieces of bite size content than one super polished one that is watched once then forgotten. The challenge of course is to make every bit of work polished and excellent. We talk a lot about the triangle: fast, cheap, good. You can only have two. Well I don’t believe in that. But you can judge that for yourselves! Grade in an hour or so without using Magic Bullet, just 3 way color corrector in Final Cut, trying to get away from the uber crunchy DSLR look but still make it juicy and nice to watch. Yes, I used 2.35:1 and that’s a cheap trick but so what. Also, if you read my MTV editing tricks post, you’ll notice quite a few of them in here. Music content demands it. Just the way it is.

Quick note on the audio side of things. I had two people to film but only one lav mic and one shotgun mic. I knew the guys would be pretty close together most of the time so I put the lav on Eklips and made sure Kela was close to either myself or to the Frenchie whenever he was doing anything interesting. My usual routine with the Zoom is to press record and then forget about it. Creating one long audio file then syncing video to it is infinitely easier to manage than lots of video clips and lots of audio clips. However, sometimes it’s pointless leaving it running if you have a big gap. I switched off the Zoom (incidentally powered by the Switronix via a custom cable from Hawkwoods – highly recommended) midway and forgot to switch it back on for the scene where the guys are providing beats for some local b-boys. That sound is all taken from the 5D. Which is pretty remarkable really. I always leave the 5D audio on auto because you just never know when you might forget to press record on the Zoom. The trick is to give it a little compression in post and you can get away with it most of the time. I’m no audio post guy and just like a quick result so I use the AU Multiband Compressor in Final Cut Pro which works just fine.

Kela and Eklips are very very very good at what they do. People recognise them in the street and want to get involved. That makes it easy, and it just goes to prove that, if you have the right talent, then production is very easy. So, try and work with the best people you can. Whenever possible.


Oh, the 5D mk2. What a camera. Pain in the ass, but amazing. Amazing amazing amazing.

Jared Abrams is a cinematographer based in Hollywood, California. After many years as a professional camera assistant he switched over to still photography. About two years ago a new Canon camera changed the way the world sees both motion and still photography. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
  • Sebastian TR

    Awesome post – great info + detail on your workflow. Club stuff looked fantastic for 2500 – would love to see a before / after neat noise plug in video… How does it compare to Magic Bullet Denoiser ?

    Really liked the visuals in the video, 5D did a bang on job.

  • El Skid