Filmmaker, director and producer Adam Marton is one of the few American tourists to enter Cuba. A veteran of Chicago’s television and commercial production industry, he also has taken a turn in front of the camera, interviewing President Obama (then Senator Obama), Mick Jagger, Christina Aguilera and other A-listers for popular entertainment news programs. But that’s not what brought Marton, a pair of marine biologists and a handful of sport fishing enthusiasts to Havana’s José Martí Airport in April 2015.
Passionate about conservation and saltwater fly-fishing, Marton is outdoors when he’s not on a shoot. His group traveled to Cuba on a people-to-people exchange permit to prepare for a tarpon tagging expedition planned for the following year. This fishing trip required previewing the charter and capturing its highlights in a video for prospective anglers. In addition to cases of fishing tackle, Marton brought along a couple of cameras and some audio gear.
Making a Gear List
The pre-production planning process for the short video wasn’t much different from the large-scale, big-budget commercial productions Marton shot or directed over the years. He had outlined a storyboard ahead of time, so he knew exactly what equipment would be making the trip. There was, he says, “a lot of discussion about the appropriate equipment for this shoot. One of the challenging things about shooting in a country like Cuba is that you don’t want to draw a lot of attention to yourself. With that in mind, we pay close attention to the kinds of camera and audio equipment we bring with us.”
Common sense dictated that drones and other flashy gear were not appropriate for a shoot in Cuba. “Ultimately, we decided to bring only what was required to capture all the footage that we needed without running into legal or logistical problems,” he explains. The run-and-gun video crew of two —Marton and Sport Fishing Television producer Graham Morton—kept it simple: two Panasonic GH4 DSLR cameras, a BETA 58A® microphone, a Shure ULX® wireless system, and a Røde VideoMic Pro, plus a Shure VP83F LensHopper™ and SE846 Sound Isolating™ Earphones borrowed from a friend.
Detained at Customs
When the gear bags arrived at the baggage carousel long after other tourists had retrieved their bags and gone, Marton knew there was a problem. Met by a Cuban customs official, he was escorted to a secondary screening station where the bag, covered with tags and stickers, was x-rayed and its contents examined. “As the customs officials were pulling out stuff, they asked me about what was inside: the walkie-talkies, for instance. They weren’t allowed. Same for the wireless mics. They went through the rest of the stuff: cameras, fly fishing gear, batteries, cards, computers and lenses.” The anglers may have been headed to Garden of the Queens, a bay some 50 miles away, but the wireless mics were remaining under lock and key, to be retrieved later at the airport.
A Shotgun Mic Shootout
Lesson learned: Wireless transmission devices, including mobile devices and wireless audio systems, are not allowed in Cuba. That left the video crew of two with a pair of camera-mounted shotgun mics, legal because they’re not wireless.
Having two cameras and two camera-mounted shotguns mics gave each cameraman the basic equipment required, but the LensHopper emerged the preferred mic and lived up to its name by literally hopping from Morton’s DSLR to Marton’s. Marton cited three reasons for the switch: “First of all, the sensitivity, the pickup pattern, our ability to isolate a particular audio source and record it in a high-quality fashion. Secondly, its ease of use. We recorded straight into the camera. Third, the sound quality. It just sounded incredible.”
Brisk winds in a fishing boat on the open seas presented an audio problem even the LensHopper couldn’t overcome: “We did everything we could to get out of the wind, so our classic interviews were done in coves, out of the wind as much as possible. Windscreens aren’t adequate in conditions like that.”
Marton’s VP83F Review
The resulting video, edited from over 20 hours of material, was uploaded to the Italian tour operator’s website and, nearly a year later, fulfilled its mission in generating excitement about the expedition. The Tortuga sailed with 24 adventurers drawn from a notable list of marine biologists and sport fishing anglers.
Marton’s loaner VP83F LensHopper and the SE846 earphones he used to monitor while shooting went back to their rightful owner when he returned to Chicago. But the LensHopper was quickly replaced by one of his own. “I bought one!” he said. “As soon as I got home, I bought one!”
Few of Marton’s finished projects lend themselves to the guerilla-style production techniques he used to shoot this video, but he has found the DSLR/LensHopper pairing useful in his professional work. “I just went on an exploratory scout for a shoot that I’m doing in India,” he said, “and it was the perfect audio capture device for that project.”
For the budding filmmaker or videographer, he has this advice: “For any type of web-delivered content, it’s a great mic for capturing ambience. It’s also a great B unit or go-to mic to capture high-quality audio in a run-and-gun production style.