Thinking outside the box - how I used a DIY beam splitter for an interview

I recently completed work on a short video celebrating the achievements of students in the 2015 graduating class at DePaul University. The goal of the video was to have a handful of different students speak on camera about their time at the school, and their goals moving out into the world.

We knew that this project was going to consist almost entirely of interviews with the students, and that the students would be speaking directly into the camera. Without including any other footage, such as stock or b-roll, we had to be creative, and figure out how a single camera could sustain a 2 minute video.

An added challenge to this was that the students would be looking directly at the camera, and so there wasn't much of an opportunity to use a B-Camera or a C-Camera like I had done many times before. This often presents problems in editorial, where you desperately want your interview subjects to say just the right thing, but it takes just a little bit of cutting and finessing to get them to do it. This is where multiple camera angles come in handy... in this situation, we had none.

So what to do?

I scoured the closet at the office looking for some inspiration, hoping I'd find a piece of equipment that would magically allow me to rig up two cameras in exactly the same place so that I could at least have a cutaway angle. Then it hit me... TELEPROMPTER.

I'd done a ton of prompter work at my previous job, and knew all about how to set it up, and how it works. I realized that if I removed the bottom plate from the teleprompter, where the iPad normally sits, that I could look from just below the prompter upwards and get the identical camera angle to the camera hiding behind the double sided glass.

Like so:

So we did some rudimentary tests in the office:

My thought was that if I could get the two lenses to line up to each other in the reflection from the perspective of the interview subject, then both lenses would be seeing the same angle. From there it's simple math, choosing a good solid lens for your medium A-Cam shot, and then choosing another longer lens for a close-up on the B-Cam.

The tests were successful so we implemented them into our creative treatment.

Here's how this setup looked on shoot day:

You can see that we have a camera directly behind the glass, while another camera is placed below the prompter, looking straight up into it. From just the right perspective I was able to get the two lenses to line up, effectively creating the same camera angle at two different focal lengths, simultaneously.

We used monitors on set to make sure that both cameras had good, matching angles.

This is what our set looked like:

And our final result:

This was a really fun project to put together, we interviewed over 30 people in 2 days with a setup that allowed us to rotate students in and out quickly, without adjusting our setup.

A big thanks to the crew that helped make this possible:

Amanda Smith, Producer - Guy Bauer Productions
Jason Chiu, Cinematographer
Josh Brunelli, Production Assistant - Guy Bauer Productions