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‘A DSLR and a Dream’

Some of you may know that outside of my working passion for technology translation, I’m a second-year beekeeper, and just finished making a documentary film called Bee People.

For that reason, this week’s translation focuses on the technologies that enabled it to happen. As my colleague and the director of the film, David Knappe, puts it: We had a DSLR and a dream.

DSLR? Digital Subscriber Line, Right?

Wrong. Probably the most important ingredient in the journey was his “Digital Single Lens Reflex” camera – a “pro-sumer”-grade device, which over the course of the last 14 months captured some 60+hours of HD video (1920x1080!) about beekeepers, bee rescues, honey festivals, child beekeepers, allergic beekeepers, and even some escapades from the go-to beekeeper of the NY Police Department, Tony “Bees” Planakis.

The camera itself (a Nikon D-5100) is fairly small (“artistic cinematic potential in a small package,” as he puts it; less stuff to lug, as I put it), which inevitably prompted questions from onlookers/participants.

Not being a camera-aficionado myself, and knowing Dave as a perfectionist, I just figured it was good enough. On each query, though, he puffed up with protective pride: “We’re shooting on DSLR.”

Imagine my amusement, then, when finding this DSLR description, on Wikipedia: “ ’Shot on DSLR’ is a quickly-growing phrase among independent filmmakers. The movement has even inspired a branding: The ‘Shot on DSLR’ badge.”

What’s great about DSLR: One, it’s affordable, at least compared to a professional grade camera. His cost about $1,200. Two, it captures video in HD, and compresses it using H.264. The H.264 part is important for storage – because it’s one thing to capture enough video for a movie. It’s quite another to store it and ship it around.

For all of this process, I was in Denver, and Dave in Hoboken, N.J. – so another big tech contributor was the plentiful existence of broadband, and the emergence of cloud-based “shipping” services, like With those two ingredients, we were able to collaboratively review and edit the footage, as it came together.

Other observations: Should you ever decide to make a movie, know going in that everything takes longer than you’d estimated, usually because the gear always needs something. Batteries, especially. Cords. Offloading footage to solid-state storage.

“Bee People” premiered at the Cable Center in Denver on Nov. 16, and we’re now anticipating the film festival circuit while building the pilot for the spinoff TV show. (Ever the optimist!) All from a DSLR and a dream. Well, and a beekeeping class.

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