I Ditched the Rig

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It was New Year’s Eve and when my neighbor’s almost endless ear-damaging ‘Sinturon ni Hudas,’ a series of about 10-meter-long firecrackers meant to ward off evil spirits, and humans as well, subsided, I dozed off worrying whether my motorcycle parked outside would survive the night while monitoring fire alerts. It was this time last year when a huge fire broke out leaving 4,000 families homeless and three dead in Apolonio Samson district in Quezon City.

2015 NYE fire in Apolonio Samson, Quezon City

8 AM–I checked my Android. Boom! A fire broke out just right after the world faded to black for me at 2 AM. One dead on the initial reports and a thousand families affected. It was too late to run and get the footage which my news agency in Berlin would probably need. But after a couple of hours, an email came in.
When I went to Apolonio Samson last year, I had a big rig with a 21-inch-long shotgun microphone and mattebox attached.
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It was difficult to get spontaneous shots as people cannot seem to help it goofing around a news camera. This time, I decided to bring just my Canon EOS 60D camera body, my good old 18-55mm kit lens for the wides, a 300mm zoom and my newest special, a vintage 1977 Japan-made Nikon NIKKOR 50mm f2.0 prime lens.

Just like I thought, when I got to the still hot and smoking rubble, almost nobody waved a hand for the news. It was easier to capture the true mood of the area.
2016 NYE fire aftermath, Tondo, Manila
I used a wired lavalier microphone for the interview, of course, but it was difficult getting it right. Leaving my rig means I did not have a matte box to cover my lens. Keeping eye contact with the interviewee, guarding the shot and audio levels while trying to get the right story is hard enough for a solo video journalist and then to top it all up, keeping the lens covered from sunlight with a hand, to keep my contrast as crisp as possible, makes it a whole lot harder.
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My camera also got wet when I was hit by the firemen trying to put out the smoke coming from just a little behind my spot. I used to put a trash bag around my rig in these situations since it has this aluminum brackets that act as the shotgun mic holders and cage at the same time. With this experience, I am now planning a smaller rig setup. 🙂

One thing I like about filming news is the unique kind of high that I get while trying to get the right angle, picking the right person to interview, getting the right images while trying to protect yourself and your equipment in the midst of the overwhelming drama unfolding before me. Making a film out of a script is great but making it out of a real-time chaotic setting under a hairline of time frame is crazy and amazing.
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