DALLAS, NOVEMBER 30, 2016 – The Republic of Ghana is a sub-Saharan nation on the West Coast of Africa with a diverse culture. Filmmaker and co-founder of Lastminute Productions, Joseph Pelegreen, has traveled there numerous times over the past dozen years and has come to know and care for the people of this nation. So when he and associate, Matthew Lang, decided to do a documentary that explores education and its significance in changing third-world countries, Ghana was the obvious choice.
Mamakrom — named for a village in Ghana — became the latest passion project for the Texas-based filmmakers, but it was a project that took planning. "We had two trips to Ghana to shoot," Pelegreen says. "One was in the southern region and one was in the north."
Prior to their initial trip to Ghana, Pelegreen and Lang knew they wanted a separate video recording monitor that could provide a clearer view than their camera’s monitor — one that would help alleviate worry about glare affecting the shots. Portability and power were also important, but first and foremost, they needed equipment that could withstand the high temperatures of Africa without overheating.
"The humidity in Ghana gets up in the 98th percentile," explains Pelegreen. "The days are already as hot as they come, but when you factor in the humidity, the temperature is over a hundred. It's very, very hot. So we needed something that was going to hold up in heat. We needed something that wasn’t going to shut down on us while we were shooting."
While still in Texas — a southern state known for its own high temperature ranges—the filmmakers tested some popular brands of monitors. Pelegreen says, “That was where we kind of figured out the overheating problems and began looking for an alternate solution. A lot of the camera recording monitors we were looking at all had overheating disclaimers on the bottom, except for the PIX-E5 and PIX-E5H. So we did a little more digging.” The sturdy design and material makeup of the PIX-E Series of 4K recording monitors were the deciding factors in choosing to go with Video Devices, so for their first trip to Ghana, they rented a Video Devices PIX-E5.
"We loved it. It held up excellently. Obviously the device warms up after running, but it never once had to shut down or anything. We didn’t have any issues with it," Pelegreen says. "That was very reassuring to us, because there were times when we'd set up the cameras literally in the sun. One interview lasted an hour and a half, and obviously being outside, it was very hot, but we knew it wasn’t going to overheat on us or melt anything internally, which we would be concerned about with other monitors. I never had to worry while I was talking to the subject and Matt was checking the cameras. We never had to worry about the monitor itself being an issue."
For their second trip back to Ghana, the filmmaking duo chose to take along two PIX-E5H camera-mount monitors. "Because the E5 had worked so well," Pelegreen says, "we were very excited to have the PIX-E5H with us. The reason we chose the E5H instead of the E5 on the second trip was because we only needed the HDMI input."
The PIX-E Series of 4K recording monitors comes in three models. The PIX-E5 has a 5-inch touch-screen LCD, SDI and HDMI I/O, and a suite of monitoring tools and scopes, as well as the ability to record ProRes and H.264 codecs. The PIX-E5H is the HDMI-only model with the same size screen and feature-set as the PIX-E5. The PIX-E7 is the 7-inch model with even more flexible I/O options.
While the monitor’s rugged durability was the original deciding factor for Lastminute Productions, other features soon impressed the filmmakers while on location in Ghana.
"Number one was the ability for us to record 4K, which was very nice. The variety of ProRes options available was a great option we had," Pelegreen says, "Also the ability to apply the LUTs to our images. We used a Picture Profile 9 on the A7Sii cameras, and we were automatically able to use the S-Log 3 LUT that comes with the E5H to see a preview of what our color would look like. Obviously that helps as we're shooting to determine what we’re shooting and how we’re shooting it."
For the documentary, the team had to travel to some of the more isolated villages in the African nation. Pelegreen says, "A lot of the people we see in northern Ghana, they don’t have access to what we consider everyday commodities. A lot of them are still living in huts that are made of mud." These remote locations challenged the crew, who carried with them a gear bag full of high-end equipment. In addition to the Sony® A7sii cameras and PIX-E5H monitors, they had a Canon® 24-to-70 as their primary lens, a secondary Canon 100-to-400 lens, a Sony 16-to-35 for use with a glidecam, a Switronix PowerBase-70 battery pack, and a DJI Phantom 4 drone.
Media storage and battery power were crucial commodities, especially during the lengthier shoots. This was where the innovative SpeedDrive™ and the hot-swappable, dual battery mounts of the PIX-E5H proved most useful. "There were situations where we were definitely thankful to have the SpeedDrive because the camera records 4K internally, but shooting straight out of the camera, the A7sii gave us a cap of about 30 minutes, and that would’ve been a major problem during interviews, just stopping and breaking the flow. With the PIX-E (and its SpeedDrive) we were able to just run through it without stopping." As for powering the monitors, Pelegreen adds, "We were able to smoothly switch batteries when the need arose without needing to interrupt our subjects or our shots. It was just a quick transition as opposed to stopping everything and replacing batteries."
The monitor’s playback feature even came in handy when interacting with villagers. "They don't have mirrors," Pelegreen says, "so a lot of them have never seen their reflection. One of the things that I really enjoyed was being able to record somebody and then show them their image being played back on the screen. Everybody gets excited because the person doesn’t really recognize themselves until their friends are like, 'Oh that's you! That's you!' Just seeing their excitement gets me excited, so that’s definitely one of my favorite moments as a filmmaker in Ghana."
The filmmaking team of Lastminute Productions spent more than a month in Ghana during their two trips to document the changes that education has made in the lives of the people and nations on the African continent. Through it all, Pelegreen says the PIX-E monitors performed without issue.
"We had maybe two days that were cool due to heavy rains, but the PIX-Es endured the African heat and if they can endure that, I'm pretty sure they can endure just about anything."
So what does the future hold for Pelegreen who also works as a videographer/editor for a Dallas-based marketing group? "My employer recently bought a couple PIX-E5s on our recommendation, so that means whatever interviews he needs, I get to shoot them with the PIX-E5, and I'm looking forward to that. At some point I'd like to play around with the larger PIX-E7 if I get a chance to, but the PIX-E5s were excellent for us—portable, quick for us to use, and I definitely will be using them in the future."