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Behind the Barriers Director’s Cut: Fail-safe custom gear


No matter how you look at it, there is no way to do this job without having a heavy focus on equipment. After working at a camera rental house for four years, I have a complete understanding of just how geeked out and obsessive some production people get about their gear.

I’m interested in cameras just as much as the next guy, but I don’t have the patience or time for constantly thinking and rethinking, comparing specs, and test shooting with different cameras and gear. I usually don’t even like to talk about cameras.

Rather than being concerned with the latest camera’s dynamic range, resolution, codec, or form factor, I’m more just worried if it’s going to work consistently. With the type of shooting I do for Behind The Barriers, there are no re-shoots or second takes. If something fails, you’re screwed. Having a fail-safe rig is more important to me than anything else.

The problem is, there’s no such thing as a fail-safe rig. You can run the most reliable gear on the market, and there will always be a chance of failure.

For me, gear failure tends to happen in waves. As it turns out, I just went through one of those waves and it crashed pretty hard. I’m running a brand new camera body this year, and I haven’t had any issues with it yet. Awesome. But a week before the season started I realized my primary lens was not holding focus through the range of the zoom. I sent it in for repair: $250, only for it to come back just slightly better but not quite good enough. I ended up buying a brand new lens: $850.

At CrossVegas my old trusty Sennheiser ME-66 microphone stopped working all together. After calling a thousand electronics and audio/video stores, I settled on renting one to get me through the next two days, and had a new one overnighted to Madison, Wisconsin, which was our next destination: $550.

Once it arrived, I realized the new trusty ME-66 wasn’t so trusty. It had a wiring problem, and needed to be sent back. Two more mic rentals later, I’m back on track in terms of my audio setup.

This weekend we were in Providence, and Sunday’s race was drizzly and wet. Part of my morning routine on days like this is to custom outfit my camera with a rain cover, custom crafted out of a jumbo ziplock bag. I cut a hole at one of the bottom corners, put the camera in the bag, pull the hole around the hood of the lens, and electrical tape around it to create a water tight seal. Then I make another small hole for the microphone to stick out of, and electrical tape around that too. Then I cut some slack along the bottom of the camera so my hands can fit in. It’s really a perfect rain cover. And the most beautiful thing about it is it’s the only piece of “gear” I have that’s disposable. It costs about 7 cents, so no matter what, I can just use as many as I want and I don’t have to worry. I can rig it up, shoot all day, then just tear it off and throw it in the trash. I wish I could do that with all my stuff.

It works and it always will work, and I can’t say that about any of the other thousands of dollars worth of gear that I own. Look for the Sam Wiley Smith signature camera freezer bag series out soon. Electrical tape not included.

Sam Smith, Executive Producer
Behind The Barriers

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