When first starting off in film and video (or, you know, after you do or don’t finish film school) no one is ever going to truly lay out a perfect path for you and your career. For the majority of us, we’ll have no defined path at all—instead left to figure things out on our own.

Which, actually, can be a good thing. Because at the end of the day, the best path for anyone is going to be the path that they’re already on. You just have to be open to forging it yourself.

That’s why we were excited to chat with videographer Chris Ortenburger at NAB 2024 about his career and the exciting high-speed race event videography path that he’s found himself on. Here’s what we learned from Ortenburger about his current gear loadout, his asset management workflow, and his hopes for how the industry will change in the future.

No Film School: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you fell into your specific niche of videography.

Chris Ortenburger: My pathway into filmmaking was sort of an accident, quite honestly.

I was an amateur race car driver myself, and was sort of climbing the ranks way back in 2001. With September 11th, that turned the economy into a tailspin. So, I wasn't able to put together the sponsorship to continue my own driving. With opportunities in racing drying up, I began dipping my toe into the motorsports creative space doing graphic design and photography.

Slowly, I had other race teams and drivers reaching out asking, “Hey, I know that you don't have the funding to drive yourself, but would you be willing to help me out on the creative aspect to promote my team with creative work and storytelling?” And this was 20 some odd years ago. From there, the photography turned into a little bit of video work, and then it just steamrolled from there. It kind of fed on the momentum of itself and one opportunity led to another.

NFS: Very cool. So tell us a little bit about some of your most recent projects, and specifically how you approach videoing these race events.

Chris Ortenburger: In today's day and age and the advent of social media, there's no shortage of demand for the type of work that I do. At any given race, there’s of course the on-track action. But there’s also everything from sponsorship activations to VIP fan experiences. So we also film and document those. And then when the racing begins, we’re obviously filming the cinematic content to recap the weekend’s competition. So, there are a lot of different creative boxes to check every weekend. It keeps the work fast moving and a lot of fun.

NFS: What’s your current camera gear loadout for most of these events and shoots?

Chris Ortenburger: So believe it or not, I try to bring as little gear as I can. Mainly because it all has to fit in an overhead bin. I always fly with my gear on my person, just to avoid lost luggage.

So I run it pretty lean and mean from a production standpoint. I think a lot of your readers and other filmmakers can appreciate that. What gear will get me 90% of what I need. 90% of the time? It all has to fit in a Pelican case that can go above my head. Because I am shooting fast-moving subjects, my go to rig is a Komodo X by RED Digital. I love it for the obvious reason of the global shutter. It’s super helpful for the whip pan style and a lot of the fast-moving action.

And then as I said, a lot of the supplemental work I do is the marketing and activation side of it. Quite honestly, it’s overkill to shoot that with a RED. And that's where the beauty of an all-in-one smaller camera comes into play. The current setup there is the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro. It's just a great camera and has a built-in flip screen that’s plenty usable. It also has a beautiful 12-bit RAW image, and pairs well with the RED color in post.

NFS: Could you tell us a bit about your workflow for offloading footage and bringing it into the edit? Do you edit on-site usually or wait until you get home?

Chris Ortenburger: All the above (Laughs) It's not uncommon to see me editing in something like a TSA line or in the middle seat of a crowded airplane. The hectic delivery schedule involves filming and creating same day edits. With the culture of social media, teams and sponsors want the day’s content in a vertical format as quickly as possible. So, every second matters. And then after the event, they want the traditional widescreen cinematic recap video. It's just nonstop shooting, ingesting, and editing up until the wee hours of the morning. And then you do it all again the next day. It's definitely a grind and a labor of love. You’re never not working.

NFS: As for data management, what are your methods for working with and storing your footage on a shoot? How do you eventually get all of your deliverables to your clients?

Chris Ortenburger: Everything we shoot is in RAW—on both cameras. And that's the beauty of a camera like the Blackmagic, for instance. The B-RAW format and of course the RED RAW give us maximum versatility in post. The downside of that workflow, as many will relate—it's an enormous file size. On any given weekend, we shoot between four to five terabytes. So it gets cumbersome to manage and requires a lot of storage space, especially with backups.

To get into technical specifics, I shoot everything at ELQ on the RED and then 12:1 compression on the Blackmagic. Both are more than enough quality for online content. But even still, running out of storage far from home is always a concern. Once the footage is ingested, we edit, color, and do sound design all within DaVinci Resolve. For such a fast turnaround, Resolve is the perfect NLE application. It’s a one-stop shop to getting racing footage edited and delivered quickly.

NFS: What are you most excited about in the film and video industry? What are the biggest technologies that you’re keeping your eyes on in 2024?

Chris Ortenburger: I'll be honest, I think I'm scared and nervous… but also optimistic about AI. I'll unpack that. I think obviously AI is going to be the talking point everywhere this year at NAB. I think it'll be integrated into software, or perhaps even at the camera level. And understandably, I think a lot of filmmakers are very curious to see what that means for them. What does that mean for their production? Or their particular line of work? Maybe wishful thinking, but I think the event video space is still going to benefit from a human touch.

Hopefully AI underscores the value in what I do. Whether it be weddings or filming a sporting event for instance, I think there's still something to be said about a human interpreting it to tell an interesting story.

I could be wrong, but I don't see AI replacing me anytime soon. Selfishly, and perhaps opportunistically, I think that's going to bode well for me. I think there will be certain genres or areas of film that will always benefit from human involvement.

Staying with the theme of NAB, I think gear-wise new camera releases are always fun. It seems like technology over the years has gotten more accessible to everyday filmmakers like myself. I'm sure others can relate to that.

For instance, a fully RAW workflow or a RED cinema camera used to be orders of magnitude more expensive. Tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. And today you can get a very powerful camera for less than 10K. It’s democratizing filmmaking and putting real power in the hands of many.

NFS: If you could share any advice from insights that you’ve learned over the course of your career so far with others, maybe just starting out on their film and video journeys, what would it be?

Chris Ortenburger: I would say just start. I think it's easy to get mired down in the technology or talking yourself out of trying. People get lost in the gear or software, or where the end result will live. I think a lot of times it's paralysis of analysis. So I would say first and foremost, just do it if you really want to. Even if it's using your iPhone to play with ideas. Phones have plenty capable cameras to practice your skills.

Don't be afraid to hit record. Just make something to experiment. That way, you can be learning through repetition. Better gear won’t automatically make you a better DP—only experience will. So, learning how to shape your shots to convey thought and emotion are agnostic to the gear you’re using.

And then the other big piece of advice I would honestly say is AI is going to be a game changer. Perhaps even a seismic shift in the industry. To that end, I firmly believe being able to tell a good story will still be paramount. If you're using AI tools or even with all these AI-generated videos, it's still going to be incumbent on a human being (at least for now) to tell an interesting story. There's no shortage of tools out there. But there is a shortage of good content. You tell me why.

Good stories are the cream that always rises to the top.

No Film School's coverage of NAB 2024 is brought to you by Blackmagic Design.