Behind the scenes – UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling 2015 Team Video

I traveled to Asheville, NC in early December 2014 to attend the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team winter training camp. Overall it was a fantastic week, even if the weather was a bit on the chilly side. We had a few objectives for the week, one of which was to capture enough video to put together a launch video for release at the end of January 2015.

Aside: we will be featuring other videos we produced during our time in Asheville soon, keep an eye out

We started pre-production back in October of 2014 with brainstorming and script drafting. I had a long conversation with sporting director Mike Tamayo and asked him to look back on the 2014 season and his expectations for the 2015 season. We spoke about what he felt were the strengths of the team and one word stood out for me, family. After I had parsed my notes from our conversation I created a rough draft that looked more like a series of four-stanza poems than it did a script – script writing is still something I’m trying to work on. A little back and forth editing between myself and the rest of the communications team at Momentum Sports Group (the owner and operator of the team) we landed on a refined version of my script. The plan was then to have each of the four sporting directors read our script for us, and then cut between their audio to add some texture.

Once we arrived in Asheville we had to figure out when and how we were going to get the shots we needed. There were two aspects to this: first all the ad-hoc shots that myself and the team staff photographer Jonathan Devich would be captured throughout the week on various group rides and general time with the riders and staff; second each year the team brings in a production company to spend an entire day doing nothing but capturing video that would be used for a variety of purposes from distribution to team partners for their own purposes to national TV ad material, the team does a good job of providing a large amount of raw assets to its partners and video is becoming one of their most asked for assets.

Shooting a bit of video from the back of the jeep with the #GH4 and my trusty old nikon 80-200 2.8 – #smallrig A photo posted by Jonathan Potter (@mrjonathanpotter) on

Fortunately we had a driver for the week – Director Mike Tamayo himself – who let us ride along in his Jeep for any of the team training rides that we wanted to shoot. So we planned on two or three days of shooting ride material so that we could get more natural images than might come out of the production day. Day one was a flop, as it was cold, cloudy, and just plain dark – which made shooting at 96fps a bad idea because I would have had to boost the ISO so much that the footage would have turned muddy. Days two and three were both after the production day, so at that point we knew what we had in the can, and could fill in around it. Primarily we worked on close up shots of riders climbing, sprinting, and enjoying each other’s company. I was impressed by the combination of the old Nikon 80-200/2.8 that I’ve used for years with my GH4 and a Novoflex adapter – solid mount, and the extra distance you get out of the micro-fourthirds crop factor makes 200mm plenty long (ends up being 400mm effectively). Although I will admit that stabilizing those kinds of shots while speeding down a twisty mountain road in the back of a Jeep at 50mph wasn’t exactly the easiest – nor was changing the battery halfway through the descent. All that said, some of the shots we got were really quite nice.

On production day I left my camera at the hotel and was put to task as an assistant director. I worked with a crew of guys who stayed back at the basecamp to shoot life-style and b-roll images while the first team shot on the road with their GH4 mounted to a Movi to get those buttery smooth shots of the road, and the flyby shots of the riders. We were able to capture quite a bit of footage as a second team and I was glad that I was left with such great shooters. I had created a list of shots that we needed the first team to capture from the car, and I just let them loose on the backroads of Asheville and they would make 20 minute passes capturing a number of different shots in one pass. I must admit that is a huge selling point for using smaller camera’s like the GH4 for this kind of work, in the past when we have used Red cameras and shot slow motion we have gotten some amazing images but the run-time of the camera at 240fps was quite short, which meant that the longest pass that the camera car could make was only a few minutes. While this might be alright for car chase scenes, or driving videos it is hard to convince 20 professional cyclists that they need to rider up the road five minutes, stop, go back to start places, and then do it all again. At least with a 20 minute pass with the camera car they could go out, ride, and then get back and do it again with a minimal amount of freezing attacking their muscles. No, we weren’t capturing raw 4k at 240fps, but we were able to massage the 96fps GH4 footage into shape fairly well.

Once I got back to the office and started to process the footage I could tell that we had some great stuff. The sun angle in many of the shots is really fantastic, and some of the telephoto shots that I was able to capture out of the back of the Jeep really impressed me. The little GH4, if given the right lighting conditions, can get some simply lovely slow motion. Just don’t try that any where dark, you’ll end up with muddy un-gradable footage. A few weeks of part-time editing and the video started to take shape. About 80% of the footage in the video is from our ad-hoc shooting, and I’m quite happy with much of it.

Some closing thoughts on this shoot: we had some issues with matching camera looks in post due to the variation of camera settings that were used. We had everything from .MTS files from a Panasonic HMC at 24p, to 720/30p 5D files with technicolor applied in camera, to 96fps 1080/30p files from the production company GH4. All that, and my preferred camera settings on the GH4 are Cinema 4k at 24p, or 96fps 1080/24p with the built in flat cinema color profile (takes the technicolor curve fairly well) so it meant we had to do a good amount of grading to try and match shots. So, although having a large number of cameras on hand meant that we were able to capture more footage at once, it also meant that we ended up with a lot of unusable footage. What this taught me was to confirm all the technical aspects of the shoot with the director prior to shooting – something so basic I assumed it didn’t need to be done, boy was I wrong.

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