Shooting for PBS's FRONTLINE

Packing the Gear

I shot two interviews for PBS's FRONTLINE in July, 2014. The episode is called "Losing Iraq." It first aired on PBS on July 29th, 2014. It may re-air on a PBS station near you. You can also see it on the web here:

FRONTLINE: Losing Iraq

I have wanted to shoot for FRONTLINE for as long as I've been in this business, so it was a huge event for me!

My girlfriend and I were on vacation up in Quebec City when I got the call. We had a looooong talk, but basically it boiled down to "The Red Sox have asked me to pitch on Monday. We need to go home." We cut the vacation short so I could do the shoot. We did return to Canada later in the month for another 10 days to finish the vacation.

Sunday 7/6/2014 my sound tech Susan Bryant and I drove up to Deer Isle, Maine which is about a five hour drive, plus rest stops, lunch, and a visit to Radio Shack to get some more HDMI cables. We stayed at the Pilgrim's Inn where we would be shooting in the morning.

Monday morning, 7/7 we had to wait until 11 AM to start setting up because we were going to shoot in their dining room (formerly a barn I think). We didn't want the other Inn-mates around anyway. Susan convinced me to go for an hour walk first which was a great way to get psyched up.

The room had big windows on three sides, so I had to black those out with a bunch of black fabric (duvateen) I carry for that purpose.

They wanted a super blurry background, so I chose to at least have some different textures and shapes. The brick chimney, the wood stove, and the wood walls.

The interviewee was Thomas E. Ricks, veteran defense reporter:

The tights shots are from my C300, and the wide shots are from my 5D Mark iii, both with Canon L prime lenses with the irisis wide open. I rented a 17" Sony OLED so I could ride focus on both these cameras. The wide shot is generally used less often than the tight in the show. Mostly for a back up or cut away. The Sony 17" OLED monitor was soooooo pretty, I ended up buying one soon after.


When we were done, it took a while to FTP the audio files to the transcription service (tip: record MP3s as well as WAV files. MP3s take much lest time to FTP!). We returned to Boston around 2:AM. We got up at 6:00 AM (left around 6:45) to drive to Hyannis to catch the 9:00 ferry.

Even though we got there early, we were almost the last ones on the boat, but we made it! I was very relieved to finally be on board after dealing with the Boston traffic, etc. Once we were underway, I found a bench seat and slept on that for another hour or so.

When we got to the hotel / inn (White Elephant Village) where we were shooting, we found out that the first floor room we had originally reserved was right above the washing machines. That could have been very bad for audio! They gave us another suite on the second floor of a building with no elevator. Joy. After lugging lots of heavy gear up the stairs and sending the bell boy out to find us lunch, we got set up.

FRONTLINE uses a big key light to make the light on the subject soft, but they also want a very dark background.

Being on Nantucket, the room was all white so I had to set up some more black fabric (duvateen) to control the spill from the key light. Basically I turned it in to an enormous Chimera. I also hung a black sound blanket on a C-stand against the opposite wall to cut down on reflections (aka: negative fill).

The big white blob on the right is the key light i.e. a light being shot through a big piece of diffusion material).

    Me in the corner with my cameras and monitors.

Me in the corner with my cameras and monitors.


The interviewee was Peter Baker, of the New York Times:

After we were done and the producer had left, we quickly chucked every thing back in the truck and headed for the ferry home! I was really thrilled to be working on FRONTLINE!


Maybe I'll keep at this TV thing a little longer...

    Victory fro-yo in the ferry parking lot! :)

Victory fro-yo in the ferry parking lot! :)