Digital acquisition and editing technology is offering freelancers the opportunity to improve their output while lowering costs. Digital Studio speaks to a producer/director team that is using technology and technique to make a little money go a long way.
A yacht sailing past the Burj Al Arab ... cars zipping past on Sheikh Zayed Road at night ... a construction in progress and multi-storey car parks are all everyday features of the Dubai landscape that now feature in music videos on MTV Arabia.
Hip-hop videos, largely from the US, have a reputation for vulgar displays of wealth from the artist and little-to-no concept.
But here in Dubai, we see a team of freelancers getting together to produce the emirate's first hip-hop videos armed with a wealth of concepts and ideas and little-to-no budget.
Director David Zennie (D Zennie), producer Hrag Jansezian and post engineer Hanoz Navdar have had to be clever with their production techniques in order to make a small budget go a long way.
In one scene, we see Dubai-based rapper Kaz Money approaching the camera, then we see him briefly from the side walking forward. The camera rolls smoothly along with him.
With a third cut, he is still progressing, this time from the front. The impression we get from this video is that at least two cameras are shooting continuously with one mounted on a dolly and moving down a long track. The reality is a tad different.
"We shot all of these videos using a four-piece light kit, a tripod, one digital HD camera and a micro dolly with just one piece of track," says D Zennie.
"We have given the end product a completely professional and slick finish though. You just have to be a bit clever with the kit that you have. The trick is in repeating the same sequence and filming it from different angles and then editing them together. Our videos look like we had a team of twenty or thirty crew."
This technique is repeated later on with shots taken on board a yacht matched with shots of the same yacht taken from another boat. The result, again, is the illusion of several cameras shooting simultaneously.
Creating a product that looks like it has been produced with a far larger budget is possible with careful planning in both pre-production as well as some clever editing.
"We don't rush into a shoot. We dedicate a good amount of time to 'pre'. It's very important to have a strong foundation for any project," says producer Jansezian.
Securing the use of the yacht, a Rolls Royce and the plush penthouses, which feature in Omani singer Sham's video, continue to lead the viewer into thinking that they are watching a music video created with a significant budget, while the contrary is true.
The footage is developed further in post production.
In the case of these music videos, the team used a stylised colour correction tool that gives the outdoor shots a slick and artistic feel.
The videos also make good use of Dubai's dynamic urban landscape with a skyscraper rooftop, a yacht sailing past the Burj Al Arab and an uncharacteristically empty car park all providing unique filming locations.
"Between my own editing suite and D Zennie's personal film equipment, we have managed to make some high-quality productions," says Jansezian.
Despite being happy with their current standards, both D Zennie and Jansezian say the scale and complexity of their productions will grow as people become willing to invest in the industry.
However, without digital technology, even these straightforward videos would have been too expensive, they admit.
"If we had tried to make these on film...well basically we couldn't have! We were shooting straight onto a hard drive."
"All we then have to do is upload the footage into the editor and that's it," says D Zennie.
"We use a Panasonic HVX 200. The quality turned out great and the small size of the camera allows me to get great hand-held shots, which is an added bonus."
"I could say that I am a 'digital director'. The digital era has arrived and we are seeing the use of digital cameras more and more in this industry. I have been reared on them. In my opinion, digital will take over completely."
"It's not the format that matters though, it's about how you deal with the logistics and how you treat the subject matter," says D Zennie.
With the cost of digital hardware and software crumbling, filmmaking is becoming more accessible to individual players with only talent and no budget.
The potential standards that can be achieved using this equipment are far higher than the entry-level analogue equivalent of ten years ago.
Clever use of the effects features offered here, along with clever editing, can add value to material that may have either looked fairly unspectacular untouched, or that can be greatly improved once tweaked.
The time warp feature is one such effect. In the example below, the windsurfer is slowed down when travelling through mid air to enhance the impact of the stunt.
When your production is limited to one camera, such techniques can add depth and increase the viewer's interest.
D Zennie and his team have looked to push beyond these standards through the addition of the micro dolly, the short track and the lighting kit.
The team saved a lot of time by storing the footage onto a hard disc recorder, which enabled more continuous shooting than would have been possible with tape-based filming.
Reducing the time required for any given job also allows small production houses to take on a greater volume of work.
Removing many of the time consuming hurdles created by film, particularly processing, digital technology drastically reduces the turnaround time for any production.
Jansezian estimates that the team is currently averaging a week to ten days from the first day of filming to the final day of editing.
Both are also quick to sing the praises of digital technology in the post-production phase.
"Post is a lot easier with digital. We shoot straight onto the hard drive. All we then have to do is drag and drop onto the computer and then it's straight to the editor. We use Final Cut Pro for the edits."
"Special effects and colour grading are done on Autodesk Combustion software. Everything is in house this way, from pre to post," says D Zennie.
Although the freelancers come together only for such projects, they hope that some day, they might be able to save up to own their own production house and undertake more risky projects such as films.
"We'd love to have our own independent production house one day," says Jansezian.
"The long-term goal is to be making feature films. I think that must be the long-term goal of any director. For now, however, we are trying to carve a niche in music videos and documentaries. The music videos we have done for MTV Arabia were a good break. It also means there is room for innovative thinking and talent in this market."
The team's work has clearly earned them the respect of the channel as more work has come their way although details are under wraps.
The four-piece light kit used in D Zennie's Kaz Money video was sufficient to enable filming at night.
By filming on a roof top for the after dark scenes, the effect of Dubai's night time cityscape is maximised.
The lighting also permits filming in low-light atmospheric indoor locations, such as the underground car park.
A combination of adding a small amount of kit to the production and some clever pre-production scheduling adds an entirely different perspective to the videos.
Without any lighting, shooting would have been limited to outdoor daytime conditions.