Spartan Games 2.0
By Timothy Fare-Matthews
Myself and the team had the opportunity to do so with Spartan Race, to shoot their upcoming Spartan Games 2.0 series.
Spartan is renowned across the globe for being the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand, hosting brutal military-style races that test any athlete’s strength in every aspect. Their recent Spartan Games product was created for the selected elite few and was documented to a very high standard in a TV series-like format.
After working with Spartan CEO Joe De Sena in Abu Dhabi a few years ago when he was on a site visit, we obviously made an impression and were booked to be the official local media for their first Spartan World Championship outside of the US in late 2021.
Knowing the brand’s goals to venture out and expand Spartan Games 2.0 even further globally, this shoot became the perfect test project for my Dubai-based production company, First and Ten Productions, to support with and a way to test the synergy ahead of the Spartan World Championship which was to follow two months after.
Being the Sony Alpha Ambassador for the MEA region, I was incredibly excited to take this job on, not only for the travel aspect but it was also a perfect opportunity to test the FX3, FX6 and FX9 together all in one project in a docu-style format.
I’m very used to shooting documentaries anyway, but you rarely get the chance to work with three to four units simultaneously on a job. But equally, this also has a consistency variable from both an equipment and shooter skill standpoint.
Before we dive into the structure of how we shot this, the Sony FX6 and new ‘Cine Line’ technology has transformed the way I shoot since it entered my life. The ergonomics, quality and speed in which I can capture content has been made so easy thanks to Sony’s clever engineering and design. If you have ever had the pleasure of transitioning to an FX camera from a previous generation FS5 / FS7 equivalent, then you will know what I am talking about.
This year, the Spartan Games series was presented by the United States Air Force Special Warfare Division and structured to pit 16 of the fittest athletes on Earth against each other in a variety of athletic challenges for a grand prize of $15,000.
After the success of the first ever Spartan Games series, the bar was set high, but knowing we had more time for post-production than the previous year as well as better equipment, I was excited for the challenge.
From our side, we scoped four camera operators using the Sony Cine line – two filming with FX6s, one experienced AC on an FX3 and myself on the FX9. We kept everything as light and as simple as possible. We knew that in order to keep up with the fittest on the planet, we were also going to be tested a bit here, so being nimble, fast and efficient with our shooting was crucial for our success.
To make matters harder we are also shooting at a high altitude, so something as simple as unpacking the car when we arrived felt like a Spartan event in it’s own right.
Our crew were running Sony GM Zoom lenses on a handheld rig set up. The FX9 and FX3 were mostly using the Sony PZ FE G 28-135mm f/4 and both FX6 cameras pivoted between the 16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm. We had brought a few primes for interview set ups, but knowing how versatile we had to be, the GM Zoom lenses proved to be the best set up.
Overall the whole job was a lot of fun, but the event was incredibly complex to cover as we were battling with extreme weather conditions. The temperature dropped down to -6 ° Celsius and the lack of air supply made it difficult to be as efficient as we could be.
The Sony Cine cameras, however, performed extremely well in the environment and made our jobs ten times easier as they didn’t need to be built up, had useful auto functions and could still maintain great quality despite the weather.
One thing you get incredibly used to being in the Middle East is your consistent lighting outdoors. But in California, with the clouds in and out every couple of minutes, using things like the Variable ND was a life saver when we had a 2 – 4 stop variance every couple of minutes.
Like with any team, we all varied in skill with operating. So one of the biggest challenges was actually trying to keep the content uniform. Most of the time we were nowhere near each other and trying to cover a race with only a few seconds of someone passing you as your opportunity to get the shot. It would be foolish even for the very experienced to not utilize the responsible auto focus for example. Have you ever successfully captured someone sprinting towards you above 85mm in manual focus? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
There were times where we were together, such as for the wrestling event, where we could allocate a couple of units to some high-end slow motion on telephoto lenses. But I would say the majority of the content was us spaced apart trying to capture and construct some sort of story at different parts in the many courses.
The whole post-production part was smooth and straightforward, which was a great benefit as we were working to tight deadlines. The cameras helped to significantly streamline the process by allowing us to easily match footage across cameras.
The Sony Cine line cameras seriously improved both our production and post-production work, and our client felt the benefit too. Spartan Head of Media Christine De La Rosa-Stotz says, “It was clear from the first day on-site how much easier it was to work with the Sony Cine line cameras. The footage looked beautiful and the shoot was refreshingly painless (apart from the weather!) as the crew weren’t facing camera problems and were able to support me by focusing on the actual content being captured.”
The FX6, FX3 and FX9 proved to be the perfect cameras to execute a docu-series style shoot with as they made the jobs of the camera operators much less complicated and a lot more enjoyable. It’s safe to say that we’ll be bringing the same equipment with us to the next Spartan Games.
Timothy Fare-Matthews is the co-founder of First and Ten Productions in Dubai, producing hundreds of projects across the globe for brands such as VICE, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Will Smith, Jay Shetty, Spartan, Aston Martin, Emirates, Red Bull and many more. With over a decade of experience in content creation, Tim is a well-versed DOP, producer, director and video editor. He is an official Alpha ambassador for Sony Professional MENA and holds regular physical and virtual keynote talks, webinars and workshops across the MENA region to share his exclusive knowledge and experience with Sony’s latest product range.
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