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Video Game High School (VGHS), a popular action-comedy web series from Rocket Jump Studios, is described as a show about “best friends, first loves, and landing that perfect head shot.” Set in the near future where video gaming elevates its best players to stardom, the show follows BrianD and the friends and enemies he makes at the elite Video Game High School. VGHS is known for using live-action scenes with the series’ characters to show action within the games.
Freddie Wong, a filmmaker and VFX artist, is credited as director, executive producer, and co-creator, along with Matt Arnold. They recently completed shooting season three of the hit web series, which is scheduled to premiere later this year. For VGHS’s upcoming six-episode season, shot over 40 days in the greater Los Angeles area, Wong and his team relied on a host of production gear – from Litepanels and Anton/Bauer, to Sachtler and Manfrotto – to keep up with their breakneck shooting schedule and deliver the efficiency and flexibility their workflow demanded.
Below, Freddie Wong details his unique perspective on using these products and how they were used on season three of VGHS:
In film school, we used a lot of old, traditional Fresnels, and I burned myself multiple times. I wondered why we were still using lighting from 1910! Then a DP I was working with recommended Litepanels, and their LED technology made perfect sense to me. Their fixtures have a very low power draw, they don’t make your crew sweat, and LED technology is new and improving, as opposed to old and established. Litepanels allows us to work with the speed and efficiency we need in order to do what we do.
On VGHS, we had Litepanels fixtures everywhere and anywhere. There were a number of situations where regular lighting just would not have worked; it would have been too cumbersome or not even possible. We did a lot more location shooting for season three, and the ability to have a light where we needed it, without having to spend 20 minutes running cable and making sure the generator could support it, was really important. We relied heavily on our Sola 6 Fresnels, especially when we were shooting in our many remote locations. Litepanels was also our go to whenever we would say, ‘Hey – we need a fill in right here!’ It was super fast. We could just fly them in wherever we needed them, and we weren’t sitting around, coiling cable all night. When you’re trying to shoot fast like we do, covering eight to ten pages a day on a show with big crowd scenes, action scenes, and a lot of visual effects components, it’s just critical.
We used Litepanels fixtures as self-contained lighting units a lot, especially for car driving scenes and shots at night. It was great to be able to run off batteries in those situations. We had Anton/Bauer Gold Mounts on the back of several of our lights, and we just clicked the batteries right in. For episode six of our new season, there was an action car scene we were shooting at the end of the day, and the sun was basically over the horizon. We were in a very remote location, we weren’t running power or anything, we still needed to get some stuff shot, and there was no way we could push until the next day. So we put every battery powered Litepanels unit that we had up around the car, and it gave us enough fill for the last half hour of the day. We didn’t have to push into an expensive overtime situation, which was great from a production standpoint, but it also made it look like we still had enough light to shoot, even though we were definitely on the waning edge of that day.
We also found some bizarre uses for several Litepanels fixtures on VGHS. We discovered that the Bi-Color 1×1 LS’s, with the ability to change the color temperature and dim them at the same time, looked like a changing television or video game. They ended up being our go to for television and computer monitors through the entire series. Who knew, but it worked perfectly. We would hide the Litepanels Lumas on laptops too. We’d tape them on, and from certain angles it became the computer up light. It was a lighting source that was controllable and much more powerful than a computer LED monitor, and it was a quick way of getting a very cool lighting effect for a lot of things that we did this season.
There were many situations on VGHS where Litepanels’ LEDs were just better in every way. They’re faster, they’re lighter, and they let us get the shot.
We used Anton/Bauer products to power our lights and our cameras for the entire season three shoot. I would go with the Anton/Bauer Gold Mount any day of the week. It’s not even a question for me. In the past, we had so many situations where we’d be doing a camera sequence, and the camera would get bumped. The battery would go flying, you’d lose the take, and the camera would get powered down. We’ve never had anything like that happen with Anton/Bauer. If you are moving your camera in any way, you want to be using a Gold Mount. We really learned that lesson the hard way in our previous seasons.
For a recent episode of VGHS, we were shooting out in the desert in an airplane graveyard, and we needed to power stuff all day. It was a long hike to get to our charging station, but we were all good with the Anton/Bauer DIONIC HDs. They are just reliable, which is really the key word with battery technology. We’ve never had any issue with our Anton/Bauer batteries, and that’s one less thing we have to worry about on our very full plate.
I’ve always been a big fan of Monfrotto’s Fig Rig system. You can be very precise with your fast pans, and you’re able to hop all over the place really quickly. One thing you can lose in a handheld situation is the ability to transition height in your shot. If a character is running, falls down and then gets back up, usually all you can do is shoot shoulder height, tilt the camera down and then tilt back up again, which is really boring. With the Fig Rig, as you’re running along with the actor, you can drop down to their height and then pull back up again. The ability to transition heights smoothly with the Fig Rig really makes the handheld shots dynamic.
In terms of the handheld work that we do, we use the Fig Rig like crazy on VGHS. It allows us to stay smooth instead of being super shaky. In episode three of this season, all of the handheld work was done on a Fig Rig, and we were able to have exactly the look that we wanted. We had the gritty handheld feel, but without it being all crazy and shaky. I was also able to run with it at a full sprint, and still have it be smooth. The Fig Rig gives us the look we want, lets us do cool height transitions, and it’s less bulky than any other handheld rig I’ve worked with.
The Sachtler SPEED LOCK CF HD legs are my favorite tripod legs ever manufactured. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t just use these legs. If you’ve ever used a huge hand-crank to readjust the heavy metal leg stagings of another brand – why would you ever do that? The SPEED LOCK is just faster, and you don’t get a workout every time you move the camera. If you’re not looking at the bleeding edge of material science and what new products are becoming available, how can you improve your workflow? Shooters get the new iPhone every time it comes out, so why wouldn’t they do the same for their career tools?
Our DP on VGHS used to use a heavier set of legs, so we had those on set this season as a back-up. I can count on one hand the number of times we pulled them out. It takes three people to move the camera once it’s set up that way, but with the Sachtler tripod, one person can do it. You’re not tying up your crew just to move a camera. When you talk about speed and efficiency on set, it’s not just a matter of being able to set things up faster. The time the SPEED LOCK saves us adds up over the course of a day – 15 or 20 minutes saved in set-up time means another two or three takes of something, another set-up, or finishing on time, which means everyone’s still got their A-game going the next day. It keeps us efficient and keeps the crew and the whole production moving forward. It’s more than just how much time it saves you right now. What’s really important is how much time the Sachtler tripod saves you in the long run.
We also use the VIDEO 20 S1 fluid head on VGHS, and it’s all we need. It lets us balance fast, it’s incredibly versatile, and it can take anything we throw at it. We use a variety of cameras on VGHS and all of our behind-the-scenes stuff, so having the versatility of a good, solid fluid head is super helpful. It functions for everything from ratcheting down in the back of a car to hold a Canon EOS-1D C, to using it as another tripod support for a stunt sequence holding our RED Epic, to shooting a podcast.
On VGHS, if we’re going to flip a car for instance, we’re only going to be able to do it once, so we have multiple cameras going. We don’t have a huge crew, so that spreads our team pretty thin. But in those situations, the Sachtler SPEED LOCK and VIDEO 20 gives us the ability to do just that. The less weight you have, the less manpower you use. The less manpower you use, the more efficient your production is. And that is always our goal.
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Efficiency, flexibility, and reliability. These are the three things we’re always looking for in a tool. Reliability is always the key component to any efficient workflow. There are so many situations where we can’t afford to take the time to throw money at a problem. For VGHS, we operate on a budget that is a fraction of what you’d find on a traditional television show, and a fraction of what is spent on other web series. We need every piece of the machine to be well oiled and working at its best.
We’ve never had an issue with any Litepanels fixture, Anton/Bauer battery, or any of the Sachtler and Manfrotto tools that we use, and that reliability is something you really can’t put a price on. You might think you’re saving money by going with some other manufacturer, but you’ll pay for it later in your production.
I think content is going to need to be made even cheaper and faster, based on where we see the industry, and the world, heading. That doesn’t mean giving in on quality and production values, but you have to leave the excess behind. The tools you use to create content need to allow you to work quicker and better. You’re going to find that on the cutting edge of technology; you’re not going to find that by using the same things they used on Citizen Cane. Camera technology is evolving, lighting technology is evolving, and support technology is evolving too. The Vitec Group covers everything in that range, and whenever I see their products, I think ‘Wow – that’s cool’ or ‘That’s something that’s really new and exciting.’ We count on Vitec to provide us with tools that allow us to work faster and smarter. That’s how we get VGHS done.