Guest Post: is shooting a doc on Mercury Vapour and using an iPhone Rig as the second unit / behind the scenes camera – here is their story…

This is a first for my blog- a guest post. Its also a fascinating example of what is, the Global Village and how no matter how far apart we are in reality we are neighbors with common interests online.
The production team from have commented on the blog on a number of occasions – particularly in relation to iPhone rigs. When they recently sent me some pictures of their latest Rig I invited them to send me more info and some more pics…Here is the full story. GM
I’m making a feature length documentary entitled, You Put What In My Mouth, which uncovers the widespread practice of dentists to disregard manufacturer warnings and occupational safety regulations, thus exposing staff and patients to level of mercury vapor and particulate matter up to 10,000 higher than safety levels during the placement, polishing and removal of “silver” dental amalgam fillings, which are made of 50% elemental mercury.
As an independent documentary filmmaker, I am of course of an ultrathin shoestring budget, so I’m in the process of creating a trailer to post over at to raise the rest of funds needed to complete the film. As a filmmaker utilizing Kickstarter I needed to come up with various incentives for individuals to donate a larger amount of contribution. One of the incentives would be access to behind the scenes footage and our production vlog.
Since the film is being made with only a few individuals and we are all sharing many responsibilities, it was vital that the added content we were producing for Kickstarter was easy to acquire, edit and upload.
We usually go out with a small crew of two, myself and a cameraman, who is adept at lighting and audio. We travel light, extremely light, as all our camera gear (Canon 5DM2 DSLR Rig) fits in one carry on pelican case and all of our lighting (Ikan, 
IDK4312 iLED 312 Standard Interview Kit ) in another. Additionally we might also travel with a tripod case ( HPRC – 6300TRIB Wheeled Hard Case for Tripods with Soft Interiors Kit ). I knew I didn’t want to purchase another camera to lug along just for acquiring behind the scenes footage as it would be one more item to keep track of, charge batteries and acquire media for. The iphone 4s seemed the perfect solution as I already used it for a number of other production reasons such as model releases (the aptly named Model Release), keeping track of expenses (Expensify), enhancing pictures (Instagram), social media promotions for our film (Facebook and Twitter) and of course contacts, messaging, calendar and google maps to name but a few. This one device has now become an extremely valuable asset by offering many solutions to our needs.
The iphone app for video is about as basic as it comes. As a filmmaker I like more control over the many aspects of the video I’m acquiring and with the help of the awesome app, FilmMic Pro, we could increase the bitrate, choose from a number of different aspect ratios and change to whatever FPS we needed. Additionally, Film Pro allows us to control focus, exposure, white balance and monitor the audio levels being recorded (both tracks viewed as one). The app offers many, many more kick ass features, but those were more than enough to choose Film Pro as the app we would use to obtain our behind the scenes footage.
So with the iphone 4s and FilmMic Pro app we had a great foundation, but the app had one short coming, we were unable to change the “framing” of a shot (without physically moving) as FILMIC PRO did not have a zoom feature. To solve this problem, we bought an ALM Mcam (previously the Owle Bubo – I loved that name) to be able to add additional lenses and thus change the framing of a shot. The Mcam is a hunk of solid aluminum that holds the iphone 4 and 4s. While it comes with a small microphone, we chose to mount a  Rode Video Mic Pro on the Mcam’s hot shoe. Additionally, we added a Vello handle with two additional hotshoe mounts which held an Ikan 312 Led light. Lastly we used velcro to attach a sun shade from About the only downside to this rig was the lack of stereo audio recording, and that it had grown into a beast of a rig for initially being so small.
So we set out to find solution to the stereo recording and size problem. Upon searching the web we came across two websites that had a ton of content regarding useful additions to the Iphone to make a more stable platform for serious video projects. had some terrific DYI ideas for attaching 37mm lens to cases and Glen Mulcahy’s -VJ Technology Blog had additional info on lens options and various complete iphone configurations which included using the Fostex AR-4i for stereo audio recording. About the same time I discovered the blogs above, the FilmMic Pro developers had emailed me back and suggested using the Fostex AR-4i. So we added the Fostex AR-4i to our Mcam rig (as per pictures from Glen’s blog). This solved our stereo recording problem but turned our beast of a rig into an even larger Frankencam.
We decided to ditch the ALM Mcam (Sorry ALM, I really loved that thing) since the Fostex AR-4i actually acts as a sleeve for the iphone and has a hotshoe mount, plus two 1/4-20 mounting threads. Using the Fostex allowed us to downsize our rig considerably, but we then lost our ability to use additional lenses. The only option on the market that would fit our current set up was the Ollo Clip, which are a series of small add on lenses for the Iphone. They are small and cute but I missed the larger 37mm lens that came with the Mcam. We needed something that would slide over the end of the iphone that had 37mm threads. I looked into 3D printing, which is absolutely amazing, but more complicated than I had time, energy or money for. So I went with the easiest route, modify an existing product. I bought the Turtle Jacket case and had our industrious editor Brandon, hack it down to fit the Fostex Ar-4i (pictures attached) and secure it with Velcro.
This complete set up gives us the best of everything, a small Iphone rig with stereo recording that is able to utilize a variety of 37mm lenses. I chose to keep the the Vello extension handle as it offers the two hot shoes mounts that we use for lighting and additional stability when the rig is not on a tripod (which is most of the time). Also, I’ve now attached our Sony wireless to the right side of the Fostex (with a 1/4-20 screw) and use it as a grip handle. One last addition came from an idea I saw over at DSLR Film Noob and that was to allow wireless audio monitoring by way of stereo Bluetooth transmitter and receiver. Unfortunately, one cannot use the native Bluetooth capabilities from Iphone with the Fostex Ar-4i, so we are coming out of the headphone jack on the Fostex into the wireless Bluetooth transmitter.
After watching footage on Glen’s blog it is apparent that the editing and uploading can be completed either within the iphone ecosystem itself or for those with fatter fingers and poor eyesight, the ipad.
Update: The  FilmMic Pro  developers are great as they have been very accessible and open to suggestions. They will soon be releasing version 3.0 of their app, which adds additional functionality such as keyframable zooming and stereo audio monitoring levels.
A Note to Android users / lovers. While Android is a great platform that offers many similar features (video camera, apps, etc), but I could not find many 3rd party camera products that had the additional functionality that makes my workflow easier in all steps of producing extra content.
 ®™ [Article published with permission – all images ©]

You can follow the progress of the documentary via

Twitter :@Youputwhatinmym

The guys also have a great pimp my iRig photo collection on their Facebook page showing the process they used to modify a TurtleJacket Lens adapter for use with the Fostex Ar4i. Clever stuff


About vjmentor
Innovation Lead, RTÉ | VJ & MoJo (Mobile Journalism) Trainer -Circom Regional | Photographer | HDSLR shooter| Views are strictly personal, not those of my employer.

3 Responses to Guest Post: is shooting a doc on Mercury Vapour and using an iPhone Rig as the second unit / behind the scenes camera – here is their story…

  1. Fred says:

    Posting twice since WordPress bounced me out. Don’t know if you got the first draft !

    Snap is a word that comes to mind with this post.
    They had a need and came up with the same rig.
    Nice to see it fit into their process. I’m curious as to why it would not work for their main rig. I’m sure there are reasons as every rig has its pros and cons but I’m curious what the comparitave checklist would look like.
    Just my 2 cents.


    • Rtm says:

      Hi Fred, thanks for your comment.

      We wanted to scale the size of our rig down, so we dropped the ALM Mcam (Owle Bubo), which meant we lost the 37mm threads for extra lenses. Since we went with using the Fostex for the main housing of the Iphone, we then needed some sort of add on lens attachment. The only one that I knew of that would work with the Fosex was the olloclip lenses. I wanted the larger 37mm threads to take advantage of a wider collection of lenses (wide angle, 2x and 3.5x, plus the polarizer).
      To scale down even more we could put the Rotolight on the rode video mic, but I like the Vello handle as it gives me improved stability. The only thing our current rig doesn’t have is a sun shade.

      RIG #1
      Iphone 4s
      Vello Extension Handle with 2 cold shoe attachments
      Ikan 3212 LED light (dimmable and switchable from 3200 to 5600
      Rode Video Mic Pro
      Fostex AR-4i (stereo recording) connector cable not shown (we could mount a wireless lav to this with a 1/4-20 screw)
      Sunshade Hood (From Swivi) attached by velcro strips
      Sony headphones
      Filmic Pro

      RIG #2
      Iphone 4s
      Vello Extension Handle with 2 cold shoe attachments
      Rotolight (on Vello handle)
      Rode Video Mic Pro
      Fostex AR-4i
      Sony wireless lav (attached to the Fostex by female hot shoe)
      BTT005 Stereo Bluetooth Transmitter
      Stereo Bluetooth receiver
      Filmic Pro

      BTW: what is “snap”?

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