Zina Semenova & Mike Bogatyrev: Out in the woods. First camera test for documentary “The Land of Spirits”

Now it is time to introduce my loyal friend, reliable crew-member and a person who totally shares all my crazy ideas about filmmaking  – Mike Bogatyrev. In the past, Mike used to work for British News companies; BBC News included. As many other creatives, he sees his future as an independent filmmaker. Mike currently lives in England and works as a freelancer cameraman.

When I asked Mike for his contribution to Film Career he was more than happy to add some geeky stuff from cameraman’s perspective in conversation about our future documentary “The Land of Spirits”. I think it will give an extra dimension to my dairy-like previous stories. (you can catch up reading them here and here)

Out in the woods

After a numerous conversations with Zina about “The Land of Spirits” documentary I have decided to revisit my camerawork experience and do more research.


This is a documentary and I am a cameraman on this project. Do I read everything I can find about filming in the woods, and then go for it? I figured otherwise. I decided to have a chat with my father, biology scientist, who spent his younger years in biological expeditions all over Russia. He would know a thing or two about being in the middle of nowhere.

“Make sure you wear the right shoes, keep vigilant and equip yourself accordingly”

was his response with a smile.

I never knew how to interpret it. My cappuccino-flavored corporate camerawork experience needed to be put aside for this project.

How we begin

So, being a very practical person, I thought, I’d better get my gear together and go and shoot some test footage in a local woods nearby.

What could be easier? Its only 15-minute drive and at least I’ll know what to expect for myself. It was a nice moderately sunny day (catching a good weather in England in November is a challenge in itself).

Getting In

I pulled up in the woods parking area and already felt that the environment is very different. One thing pulling up to a private car park in central London, then taking a short walk to reception and then back to my office but a completely different thing was the parking area in itself. Tarmac-friendly Mazda 3 was rocking and swinging, puddles splashing, bits of gravel and tree roots were almost attacking the car. Mud splats were everywhere and I haven’t even left the comfort of the seat yet!

Indeed, having right shoes was important, as the mud was ankle-deep. And surprise-surprise! No carpeted office floor to put all the kit on when unpacked.

I recently got myself a new shoulder bracket designed by Protech for the camera (Sony HVR Z5)sony-hvr-z5camera, which greatly improved the ergonomics. Now I could get nice off the shoulder shots and with a new tripod, I could capture very smooth movements too.

But lets talk about the cases first.

So without hesitation I pulled all the kit out of the boot and off I went. The first thing that I have discovered was that the wheel on the camera bag are way to close to each other and that is why it keeps rolling over and falling on the side. So shortly after a trip on rough terrain brilliant new e-image bag got pretty battered. With every step the ground seem to be more and more unforgiving with the kit. Custom built trolley for this bag appeared to be pretty useless in that environment.

Getting further into the woods, what was the immediate difference from the office-based shoots is that I had to level the camera all the time. And sometime just ignore the bubble altogether. Always keeping that in mind was definitely useful

Focus pulls from branch to branch; exploring the foliage through the lens changes the perception of the woods. I couldn’t just stroll; I needed to make sure that no kit would touch the ground, as it was pretty damp and muddy. That was another thing to look out for.

 More geeky stuff

Another little gem of a kit was the shoulder support bracket, again bought from the same people as the bag was great and solid. I strongly recommend this bracket because it uses the v-mount battery as a counterweight! What a great idea! I say that but surprisingly enough so many shoulder support rigs use… WEIGHT as a counterbalance! Isn’t it great when you are lugging all the kit yourself and all the batteries weigh a ton to have a steel weight behind your shoulder? Just sitting there, doing absolutely nothing. And, of course, the other thing is that a lot of rigs come apart, which is a great idea, but in the field that means that they have a potential to come loose and wobble. Which will never be a case with this bracket: it’s a solid steel plate with a handle and a belt. I can’t stress enough how happy I was that it could be put on the shoulder!

The end of adventure

With few minutes-worth of footage and knee-deep in mud I came back to the car. When the wheels eventually hit the tarmac I felt a warm welcome of civilization and now the words:

 Make sure you wear the right shoes, keep vigilant and equip yourself accordingly,

meant something a little bit different then only few hours ago.

Of course, this tiny foray of mine is just a beginning: testing waters that is. There will be more.

Lots more to come!

– Mike Bogatyrev    


About zinasemenova

Russian filmmaker and blogger at filmcareer.wordpress.com

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