How I Shot Amy Johnston (Camera Choices For The Ultra-Low Budget Filmmaker) | Script Revolution

How I Shot Amy Johnston (Camera Choices For The Ultra-Low Budget Filmmaker)


While every filmmaker dreams of using the best of the best when it comes to equipment, there will always be a trade-off between aspirations and budget, more so for those with low budgets than anyone else. Given the need to get as much money on the screen as possible, camera choice is one of the most critical decisions to make and it's easier than ever to suffer from choice paralysis. In this blog, Emmy Award winning producer-director Shane Stanley talks about his decision making process when he came to shoot Paloma's Flight - CJ

Often filmmakers ask what camera I would recommend for making an ultra-low budget film or video project. It seems a new camera surfaces every other day and weather it’s the new Pocket Blackmagic or the latest Nikon, I can’t tell the end results apart and I’m betting you can’t either. I am not one to get much into comparables with cameras, as I believe as long as you have a camera and a subject, you can make your project. But I did recently find myself needing to make that tough decision when it was time to buy a camera and here’s what I chose and why.

Amy Johnston in Paloma's Flight

When prepping Paloma’s Flight helmed by 5-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, Lee Stanley and starring martial arts phenom Amy Johnston, we had few options for cameras because our partners in Mexico had us on a tight schedule with a skeleton crew. Due travel logistics, customs, and a host of other reasons, we needed to go the compact 4K/Ultra-HD route and our choice ultimately narrowed between the SONY A7sii and Panasonic Lumix GH5.

Amy Johnston in Paloma's Flight

Both are leaders in their class and run mirrorless systems. Cinematographers from Europe I consulted favored the Panasonic while my fellow countrymen in the United States leaned toward Sony. Our camera team, primarily from Mexico, was split so at the end of the day it was up to yours truly to decide. I hadn’t shot with compact HD cameras since my Dark Side days almost a decade before and wow, they have advanced light years since - literally. We tested both cameras during our scout and because the project included several low-light exterior night scenes, it was crystal clear which camera was better suited for the job. I chose the SONY simply because of its low light values which were a step above the Panasonic’s and enabled minimal noise and impressive sensitivity due to its 12MP full-frame sensor. This was especially important considering Paloma’s Flight had several action scenes in low, exterior light where we were often relying on either available light coming from nearby buildings or just headlights from a vehicle.

Amy Johnston and Graham Clarke in Paloma's Flight

If low light exterior night scenes hadn’t been so prominent in the show, I would have chosen the Panasonic preferring its exterior daylight imagery as well as in naturally lit interior daylight scenes. In addition, the Panasonic’s images along the Baja coast were slightly superior but luckily at the end of the day, it’s almost impossible to take a bad shot next to the Sea of Cortez. I don’t think you can lose with either one, but before pulling the trigger on an expensive and ever so important filmmaking tool, think about what kind of projects you’re going to make moving forward and if possible, rent a few cameras if your schedule and budget allow at a place like where you can do side-by-side comparisons and make an informed decision.  

Good luck and happy shooting!

About The Author

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Shane Stanley is a lifer who has worked in the industry for over 40 years. His career began in front of the camera at just 9 months old before becoming a two-time Emmy Award winning filmmaker and launching his own company, Visual Arts Entertainment. Best known for Executive Producing the #1 Box Office hit, Gridiron Gang for SONY Pictures starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Shane has an extensive portfolio of credits in everything from hit music videos to TV series to feature films...Read more