A 550D/T2i Documentary shot at the mixed martial arts American Top Team headquarters.
I’ve been to Florida plenty of times, but this was one time where I was able to move around a bit more and take in the environment. The day was gorgeous out there, especially coming from the New York/New Jersey region in the same week, and many of the establishing shots were taken during the trip to the gym and at other pit stops along the way.
I was on my way to film one of the world’s top mixed martial arts teams. For the shoot, my main supplies were the H4N Zoom to capture richer sound for interviews between Institute of Human Performance operator Seth Jordan and Thiago Alves. Most of the general sound was captured with a basic Rode Video Mic, plugged directly into the camera and mounted on the hot shoe of the Canon 550D/T2i. Surprisingly, during an interview with fellow mixed martial artist Din Thomas’, the sound came out very clear, even dealing with the AGC troubles within the default body setup.
My lenses were a mix of old and new. One was the Olympus OM Zuiko 28mm prime from the 70’s (I believe), which was used to capture wide shots. Not enough can be said about its color clarity and sharpness, easily on par with my counterpart L lens, the Canon 24-105mm. Special thanks to my bro Robert Billings of Fractured Minds for this equipment. He’s an excellent photographic artist, so it would serve well to check out his portfolio, also done mostly with Canon equipment.
For any and all action-based shots, I tend to love using zooms. They provide more dramatic input and give me the freedom to catch wide shots for action-based pacing and close-range shots for more intricate, technical and emotional moments.
My original kit lens served me well to start with, but as I evolved in shooting, I started to see the flaws. Drastically. The images weren’t sharp and most of all, there was no constant aperture when zooming. That can be compensated for with photos, but it is a serious godsend to have a constant aperture when filming. The differences between my L series lens and the original 18-55mm were like night and day; the L was a blessing to grade in post with its rich colors, contrast information and much more detail than I’ve dealt with in the past.
Thiago “Pitbull” Alves has been described as a “Muay Thai wrecking machine”. He was also an awesome sport. For one, he checked out my original edited layout from all the collected footage of his career. He stood in front of the laptop, looking at the work I had produced of him kicking ass. No moment like that can be equaled. Beyond that, we just basically hung out as I filmed and chatted. I also became acquainted with more members of the team, such as Gleison Alves.
Half of the action with the American Top Team (ATT) facility was organized by boxing trainer, Howard Davis Jr. He had the guys go through some round robin sparring sessions, which included Gleison, Din and this unnamed badass kid in red headgear, who was probably, at most, 17 years old. I haven’t seen boxing technique like THAT in a mixed martial arts gym in well—ever, really.
Thiago’s part within the main gym in Coconut Creek was in a long warm up stretching session, which I shot to establish the brotherly relationship of the entire ATT family. After that I focused on catching the moments of these guys joking around, rolling (a jujitsu term, meaning “sparring”) and tidbits of a Capoeira demonstration. I almost immediately felt like I belonged there. Needless to say, it was VERY difficult to leave.
Later on at 6pm, we headed over to the Institute of Human Performance in Boca Raton. This place is essentially the ATT members’ second home. Famed Light Heavyweight/Heavyweight fighter, Jeff “Snowman” Monson was just finishing up his training and leaving the facility when I arrived.
Thiago arrived shortly thereafter with members of his crew, including his Muay Thai trainer and strength and conditioning coach. This entire session would consist of three 5 minute rounds of cardio, pad work, resistance training and other exercises. I won’t reveal the exact details of his session, but it WAS gruelling. One of the workouts included a neck strengthening machine, which looked like something out of Star Wars. Lesson learned on that one – I need to get myself a neck/weight harness for home.
The entire shoot ended sometime around 8pm. We then got some dialogue from Thiago, mostly about his mindset during the training, what changes he’s done in his life to improve his performance and his goals. In these types of “confessional” segments, I always try to capture the audio in a richer format, namely with the H4N, then sync it up in post with the video and make any other appropriate edits later. The entire project came out well and I’m happy Thiago was kind enough to invite us to his entire training day.
Unfortunately we didn’t get Friday’s sparring session with him, which I really wanted to capture. However, we caught more than enough for a 10 minute documentary highlight short film, based around Alves himself and marquee members of the ATT family.
Hopefully I’ll be able to do it all over again, but with more time on my table. These guys are truly welcoming and I would like to do a more detailed short film on ATT in the near future.
I would also like to thank my best buddy Jason Nurse for his support in chauffeuring me around Florida. He drove nearly two hours to pick me up from Ft Lauderdale and then made another trip over to Coconut Creek for this small production. Needless to say, along with being the impromptu boom operator, he was a major player in this project.
Kahleem Poole-Tejada (Director, Editor, Cinematographer)