I'm making a rum documentary

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 13, 2023, 11:15 PM | comments: 0

If you follow me on the gram, then it's probably obvious at this point that I'm making a documentary about rum. It specifically centers around the Florida distillery Wicked Dolphin, but the narrative is likely about the bigger process of an ecosystem of local businesses making stuff. It doesn't have a formal name yet, but I'm leaning toward Rum With Me. I like the way that sounds and it says what it's about without being too literal.

This weekend, Diana and Simon helped me get started. The first day we went to two restaurants that are customers of Wicked Dolphin, one right at the Sanibel Causeway and the other in Cape Coral. Both sustained damage after Hurricane Ian. We were surprised at the amount of damage still visible even on the mainland. So many retail signs are blown out, traffic lights are at weird angles or missing their shades and trees are either down or in piles of cut debris. Today we spent the day at the distillery itself, and interviewed the founder and CEO, and then got the basic mechanics of how rum is made. I'll have to go back and get a lot of pickup shots for that, including bottling and barrel breaking. They also do a bunch of big events, so I'll go back to cover those as well. Next week I go to see where sugar is refined, though I can't actually get anything at the refinery, and we'll get some done shots over the sugar cane fields. Exploring some other ingredient threads as well.

I fully expect this to be a year-long process, but I think I've got a good start. I was thankful to have my partner and producer, Diana with me today. She's organized and helps me fill in the blanks on the people interfacing, which I admit is more exhausting than carrying things. That autism and eye contact thing is legit. Honestly, she makes everything easier. Even my day job, and she's not even in the room for that.

The mess of equipment that I have collected has been fantastic. The core piece of gear is a Canon C70 cinema camera, which I've had for two years, but honestly has been used more for LEGO building time-lapses than anything else. But the dynamic range and quality of the image it makes is so amazing. Paired with an RF 24-70mm L f/2.8 IS, everything looks so good. I used my still camera, a Canon R6 with an older EF 17-40mm L f/4 on an RF adapter as a B-camera, and when I set both to use CLOG3 and the same color temperature, it's staggering how easy they are to match. In retrospect, I should have tried my RF 35mm f/1.8 IS, because it has dreamy depth of field, but I don't have any ND filters for it, and as it is I had to bring it down to ISO 100 at f/4 and a 1/50th shutter speed (close enough to 24fps with 180º shutter, or 1/48th, as the C70 measures it). I think the two cameras will match really well, but I'll likely only use it for short bursts of alternate angle things.

Lighting has been my fear all along, because frankly the camera and lenses don't even matter if the lighting sucks. I have four cheap Neewer LED panels, but I think the output is like 35W equivalent, so they're not very bright, and borderline useless with natural light. After much watching/stalking of various YouTubers who have great lighting, it was clear that I needed a fixture that was 200W equivalent with a quality dome or diffuser. The go-to here seemed to be the Aputure/Amaran 200x with a Light Dome II. This was, absolutely, a killer combination. Even with daylight, it's the right thing. I coupled it with $20 of black quilted fabric we picked up and Diana bound, and hung that from a C-stand to do some negative fill opposite the new key light. For backlight I used one of those cheap Neewer lights with a honeycomb on it (to keep it off the lens), and that rounded out the kit. I dialed in the 200x and the Neewer to the same color temperature as the cameras, and it looked amazing. I also used one of the Neewers to throw up some subtle color on the barrels in our one interview, but it was only a little visible. I'm going to have to suck it up and buy some more powerful secondary lighting at some point. The smallest thing I bought was the DJI Mic kit, a pair of transmitters and a receiver, and then I added a decent Shure lavalier to plug into those. I love having those on a person, with a little piece of gaffer's tape on the inside of their clothing. Sounds amazing. The transmitters can record right on the units, but I haven't done that. I imagine it might be slightly cleaner than what's piped into the camera. Oh, and I had to buy a few C-stands, which I've avoided for years, but they make such a huge difference because you can fly all kinds of stuff over and around people. They're also satisfyingly heavy.

Which comes to my last point. You can't do this sort of thing for free. I've been accumulating some of this gear in the past few years, and some of it even dates back to 2006 when I bought my first HD camera. But there are gaps, and I knew I would have to spend to catch up. My total "budget" as I thought of it was $10k, which includes travel, but I've only spent about $3k. The aforementioned 200x light and dome were part of that. The next biggest thing was a DJI Mini 3 Pro drone for the sky shots. It's pretty fantastic, but not entirely without its flaws. I flew it over Sanibel Harbor about a half-mile away and a pretty neat shot following a car over the bridge. The most expensive thing I bought though is a Swiss piece of fantastic engineering called an Easyrig Minimax. Basically it's a contraption that you strap on to your back and it supports the weight of your camera in front of you at any height you choose. As cameras are too small to sling on your shoulder without extra rigging, they're also too heavy to carry in front of you. The Easyrig fixes that problem. The C70 with the 24-70mm, a shotgun mic and a 7" LCD monitor (because my vision isn't good enough to monitor focus without) weights about 8 pounds. I can also strap my gimbal to it, but I didn't do that this weekend, even though I did bring it with me.

What will I do with this film? I have no idea. I think the first step is to submit it to film festivals, though unfortunately I don't think it's realistic to do any fall shows. Maybe then I try to get it in front of streamers. I don't really know. The temptation is to get it in front of people any way I can, for free, but truth be told, if I can make something back, that would be OK. So I don't know.

I've got some action items and follow ups already to do. As the footage marinates, I think a clearer narrative will emerge. But I'm finally making a movie. I just never realized that it should be a documentary.


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