I recently had the opportunity to have dinner with Alex Merriman, the Director of Photography with the UFC. I got to geek out with him about mixed martial arts, and the technical side of filming and promoting the fastest growing sport in the world.
If you're a fan of the UFC you've probably noticed that there are cameramen standing on platforms looking down into the cage during fights. These are the same cameras that are used to follow the fighters to the cage and are inside the cage before and after each fight. This is the broadcast team and they work for a third party company that the UFC hires. But if you look closely, you'll also see Alex. He's usually wearing a black baseball hat.
Alex is the guy shooting the cinematic looking footage that you see in all of the promos. During the fights, Alex is actually sitting next to the still photographers shooting through the cage with a cinema camera. Check out Alex's new demo reel, it will blow your mind.
On event night, Alex's team of seven to eight shooters shoots specialized content for future use. None of the footage will be seen in the live broadcast. His team normally shoots with three Arri Alexa Mini’s around the Octagon covering fighter walkouts, Bruce Buffer introductions, winner arm raises, fighter arrivals, and fan reactions. This will be mixed in with a set of Canon c300’s that cover most of our backstage shots such as hand wraps, warm-ups, and pre-walkout/post-fight coverage.
Alex prefers to work cageside most of the night and he usually uses two different Alexa rigs. His handheld rig is an Alexa Mini with a Fjinon 19-90mm lens opened to approximately f4, an articulating arm holding a Small HD branded monitor and a top handle.
The other Alexa Mini is attached to a Freefly Systems MoVI Pro with a 35mm Prime Lens set between 2.8 and f4 to get a cinematic shallow depth of field. To pull focus the rig Alex has a thumbstick on the side of the MoVi.
Normally Alex shoots at 2k, 90fps, ProRes 4444 and Log C with a base ISO at 180 and a 180- degree shutter. The only reason he isn't currently shooting in 4k is that the files are too large to capture an entire seven hours event.
Alex is also in charge of filming UFC Embeded, the behind the scenes series released on YouTube before every event. Alex tries to only have a single shooter follow each fighter which means they are in charge of all of the footage and sound. In most cases, Alex will lav mic the fighter and will also run a shotgun mic on the camera. Alex uses a Sennheiser MKH-416 and the Sanken Cos-11D lavalier hooked into a Lectrosonics receiver/transmitter combo.
Currently, the embeded series is filmed with Canon C300s with Tokina 11-16mm, Canon 24-105mm f4 and Canon 70-200mm f2.8 lenses. Every day the footage must be uploaded so that a team of editors back in Vegas can edit and release an episode within 24 hours. They do this 5 days in a row leading up to each fight.
I've been trying to get access to film a Fstoppers original feature on Alex for a while now and he thinks it may be possible in the near future. If we can work it out, I'll be bringing you guys an even more inside look at what it takes to promote the incredible fights that the UFC puts on.