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#119848 retiring from steadicam - continuing to operate a traditional camera

Posted by brooksrobinson on 05 October 2016 - 03:59 PM

It is with mixed emotions that I write this note to tell the Forum that I am officially hanging up my steadicam after 23 long years.  Being a steadicam operator has opened the door to countless opportunities I never dreamed I’d be able to participate in.  While I began my feature steadicam career with Roger Corman, I currently work with three Oscar winning DP’s, two Oscar nominated DP’s, and the rest of my resume is filled with ASC member DP’s.  I’ve had several MTV music videos of the year (back when those were still shown on MTV), many Super Bowl commercials, several successful big-budget movies, and overall, I’ve been very, very fortunate in my career, and the steadicam is what allowed me to get there. 


I’ve thought long and hard about this decision, as it has been at the back of my mind for the past two years.  I injured my back for the second time in early 2015 - a repeat of a herniated disc injury I first suffered in 2011.  The second occurrence was pretty bad, and I was out of work for eight months while I tried everything to get healthy (physical therapy, acupuncture with cupping and electricity, epidural shots, chiropractic, ultrasound, whole body cryotherapy, sensory deprivation (floating), tens machine sessions, etc.).  While I eventually regained my health and went on to operate on several more projects with the rig, I began to wonder if the next injury might be more permanent, and if I was doing myself a disservice by continuing. 


I found myself watching the blocking of a scene and hoping the actors didn’t start walking down the hallway, or alley, so that I wouldn’t need to put on the vest.  I began to not enjoy picking it up anymore, being far more content to ride the dolly, hop on the remote head controls for the crane, or put the camera on my shoulder.  It was time to make a change in my life, as it became apparent that the only reason I was still doing it was the fear of moving on, and the money I’d be losing by shifting to regular operating.  In the end, I realized that while a change in occupation can be scary, I wasn’t going to let that fear define me.  While I enjoy a payroll or rental check as much as the next guy, that was never the overriding factor in my life, and I figured it was better to be happy and healthy, then have a few more dollars and be miserable.  The job is too damn hard if you don’t love what you are doing.


There have been many things to love about this occupation.  The relationships with fellow operators is unique, in that you compete for jobs, yet still go out of your way to help your fellow man.  I’ve tried to be as helpful as I know how to be with fellow operators in need of loaner gear or advice, because the operators who came before me treated me that way.  On what was a big commercial for me at the time, my sled went out while shooting a Disney World spot in San Pedro.  Everyone I knew was working and unavailable to help, so I called Joe Broderick, who I only knew by reputation, and who didn’t know me at all.  Joe responded by driving 80 miles round trip to deliver his sled to me from Burbank, and then refused to take any money for it. 


The opportunity to do a job that is both physical and creative is unique.  While we sweat and endure while carrying the rig - sometimes with legs and back muscles quivering, there is a real artistic side to the craft that is addictive.  Designing shots that tell a story is the huge reward that comes with working with talented directors and DP’s that either know how to move the camera in space, or trust you enough to listen to your suggestions.  Once the basic path from A to B is established, it is our job to finesse it, and take it to another level so that it isn’t mechanical and enhances the story the script is trying to tell.  The best operators in the world - like Larry McConkey and Chris Haarhoff make this sort of thing look easy, and the nuance and subtlety in their frames speaks volumes. 


During my time on set, I’ve have many strange and wonderful things happen: I had Madonna tell me “Don’t fucking hit me with that thing” when I first met her on her “Ray of Light” video.  I had Harrison Ford embrace me from behind during an entire take while doing a close-up of Viola Davis:  when we cut and I spun around to look at him, Harrison told me “Just fucking with you kid”.  I had Ben Stiller repeatedly yell at me over his voice of God PA system while he was directing Tropic Thunder.  My favorite of those moments had me up to my knees in a Hawaiian river, while Ben started yelling at me to push into a close up on Robert Downey Jr.  I couldn’t push because there was a large boulder in my path that blocked the way.  I could hear Ben ask John Toll (while still on the PA) “Why the fuck isn’t your operator pushing in?”  Still rolling, I tilted the camera down to show the huge boulder that stood in the path between the camera and Downey, and after a pause, Ben said in a somewhat defeated voice over the PA system “Oh…”.  Karma can be a bitch, and after our move back to LA, we were doing a scene with Matthew McConaughey playing an agent.  In agent’s office, Ben had placed several of his personal items, including some of his Star Trek memorabilia.  He had Spock’s ears, Spock’s shirt, and the head of the Gorn in a custom Plexiglas case, from when Captain Kirk fought it at Vasquez Rocks.  There was a security guard that blocked the doorway to the set the entire day so nobody would steal Ben’s prized possessions.  The on-set dresser went to move the Gorn head when we turned around and picked it up by the Plexiglas.  The wood bottom that held the head dropped out of the bottom, and fell to the floor, where it rolled around a bit, while small pieces of 1960’s rubber fell off the head.  Whoops!


I did a commercial for the Spice Channel where we filmed an entire day of simulated sex.  In the last “scene”, the director insisted that he walk with me and look over my shoulder at my monitor as I circled the bed with a couple, including a man who was not what most would consider anatomically correct.  The director kept whispering in my ear “Tilt down to the cock”…I learned that day that if you ever hear those words whispered by another man in your ear, you are not in a good place in your career.  I once asked Colin Firth if he could help me out with a shot.  When he walked into the front door of the house, I needed him to set his briefcase down on an apple box instead of an off-screen bench, as that would allow him to stay nicely composed in the frame instead of leaning partially out of it.  Colin turned to me and replied “I quite liked it when actors leave the frame” and turned his back and walked back out the door.  We put the next wider lens on the camera.  


I was asked to do a shot from on top of an elephant marching in a parade.  The DP (who also operated the A camera) had done a camera test while riding the elephant during the prep and quickly decided that he didn’t want anything to do with it, so up I went.  Thankfully, our camera team rented an EasyRig, as I was stranded on top of the elephant for 20 or 30 minutes, and my legs hurt so badly when I came down that I could hardly walk – all from clenching them tightly around the beast so I wouldn’t fall off as she walked and I balanced the camera on my shoulder.  I did a commercial at Vasquez Rocks where I followed a running monkey into the tent of an anthropologist.  On three consecutive takes, the monkey ran into the tent, jumped on the desk, stood up on his hind legs and urinated in the face of the actor seated at the desk - priceless.  Lastly, I got called to do a Prince video where we finished the day in his bedroom.  I was handheld on his bed with a completely nude actress who was touching herself, while lesbian porn was projected on the wall of his room.  At some point, the actress turned to Prince (who was directing the video while wearing pajamas that, depending on how the light hit them, were see-through) and asked him “How is this ever going to be in the video?”  Prince laughed and told her “Oh baby, we’re gonna fuzz it”, to which she said “Okay”, and continued. I never imagined anything like this happening when I was a sophomore in high school in Montana and Purple Rain was racing up the charts.


There are many, many more, but then we all have stories.  For the first 14 years of my career, I did primarily music videos and commercials once I got past my low-budget movie phase.  Once I started to do big feature films, I started keeping a daily journal of the key points that happened during the day.  I have these for every movie I’ve done, and it makes for interesting reading before the movie comes out.  It allows me to remember the little things that were funny, hazardous, or amusing, as so many of these moments get lost over the years.  I would encourage those out there reading this to do the same, as it is a great reminder and memento of the hard work that goes into making two hours of entertainment.


I was so excited when I got my first sled from Derrick Whitehouse.  It was a Cinema Products model 2 that had been sitting unused in a closet at a university, and I had Bob Derose spend about 6 weeks modifying it – which was time that I didn’t have it to practice.  When I finally got the sled, it was awesome, but it took me a long while before I became proficient at it.  My first 35mm job was for Roger Corman, and my buddy Steve Adelson got me the gig when he was double-booked.  It took me about 45 minutes to balance the Arriflex BL2 as it was very motor side heavy.  My first 35mm shot involved 3 or 4 people exiting a helicopter and walking towards me for a long way across a field.  When they stopped, they had a minute-long conversation at an Army tent.  My previous work had been in 16mm with Arri SR’s, and the weight of the BL2 crushed me from the start.  On take one, the actors started out nicely composed, but soon I was cutting the outside two actors in half vertically.  I then scrambled to get wider, which resulted in a head to toe frame.  I knew I was fucking up, but there was nothing I could do about it, because despite my brain knowing what needed to happen, my legs were exhausted and had a mind of their own, and refused to listen to my persistent urging.  None of the subsequent takes were much better, and I knew I was going to get fired.  When they called lunch, I went and sat by myself, thinking that when it happened, at least I wouldn’t be sitting by others.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the DP get up, and approach me.  Oh shit.  He put a hand on my shoulder, and casually said that he liked my work, and asked if I was interested in working more days on the film!  I wish I could think of his name now…hard to imagine anyone liking those early frames - must have been the poor UHF transmission from my Modulus 2000 into my tiny 7” black and white monitor (my first consumer monitor/TV also had am/fm radio!).  Thankfully, I got a little better with time.


Thanks for listening.  Good luck to all of you - especially those just starting out on your journey.  If you work hard, it can take you to amazing heights.  Just remember to respect the gear and what it can do over time to your body - doing this job is like being a professional athlete (those who know me would never accuse me of that, perhaps that was part of my problem), and a career that involves this kind of physicality can be shorter than normal jobs.  Stay in shape, and stay strong.  If nothing else, it will help with longevity, in a career that often values the mindset and experience of age, but the body of youth.


I will be selling off both of my XCS rigs in the next few weeks and months, as well as numerous other items (rickshaw, hands-free Segway, etc).  I’ll post items on the Forum once I’ve had time to have them all checked out and done some research regarding pricing.  I hope they bring their new owners as much as they’ve brought me.


All the best, and thanks to all for over two decades of fond memories and comradery.  I’ve learned a lot from this Forum, and I feel like I know a lot of you from your posts.  Keep up the great work, and I hope to see some of you on set now that I'm not carrying the rig any longer.


Brooks Robinson

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#87369 Paralinx Tomahawk

Posted by Daniel Stilling DFF on 15 April 2013 - 11:04 PM

I really think this bullying spirit in this forum has got to stop!
If you don't like the product, don't buy it. This rampant speculation of who did what when and how is way out of proportion.
Chris, take the high road as a businessman. He's not even your competition. Why do you care if the transmitter works or not, or came first, or is different inside? It's just putting your own endeavor in a bad light.
I don't really care if the insides of this transmitter are the same or not from others. All I care is that it works as advertised, and Dans service is great!
I once had a false alarm where I couldn't get a receiver to work, but it was in fact a defective monitor. Called Paralinx, and they offered to overnight me another one immediately. That was a few minutes after I contacted them.
Not the same response from some other companies. And that, you can't put a price on.

But really, I'm tired of this childish rudeness. I find myself logging in here less and less...
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#108717 Tiffen Steadicam M1 modular

Posted by Rich Cottrell on 24 February 2015 - 10:24 AM

Apologies aside, I can not keep my mouth shut any longer... sorry.


I am tired of this argument.

Why do you guys continue to jump all over Tiffen for calling the M1 "modular"?


I feel you are trying to add something to the meaning of "modular" that is not a fair basis of comparison.


At the basic level , the M1 is modular in design.  

I think what you guys are wanting is an  "Interchangeable" and more specifically an "open structure" system, and you are adding all that to what you feel "modular" should mean.


At this point, with there being so many options in good,  solid, and  professional sleds, the other rigs are not as interchangeable as it seems has been argued so far against Tiffen's M1.



For example, I fly the XCS Ultimate.   I have had it for years.  It works great!  I can take it apart, swap the post;  I can mail in components for upgrades without shipping the entire sled.  I can buy new XCS components and swap them around as i see fit.

It is modular for sure, but far from interchangeable.


Turning back the clock a little, when XCS designed that first 2" center post sled, that design feature become a limiting factor in the center post's "interchangeability".


Until MK-V, Sachtler and BarBell jumped on the 2" center post bandwagon, the only gimbal I could put on the Ultimate with it's stock 2" post, was the XCS one.  

I only wanted/needed the XCS gimbal so who cares... but the point is,  [correct me if i am wrong] until the other manufactures jumped on board with 2", I could not put a different gimbal on my full XCS sled even if i wanted.


BUT that new 2" XCS gimbal could be fitted with a sleeve so it could put it on all sleds in existence at the time.  

Did that fact make all non-two inch gimbals no longer modular?

NO.  They were just not "interchangeable" with the new post size.


Now days, i would think anyone looking to design an "interchangeable" gimbal might need to make sure they support a 2" post if they want to ensure its "interchangeability", but as long as it is swappable within some system, it would still be modular, would it not?



Back to my sled,

Now maybe I want to put just my xcs lower electronics on a stock GPI-Pro?  

[I do not think that can happen.]

While I can buy an XCS center post to be wired for a PRO sled, I can not just get something off the shelf to put XCS electronics together with the GPI-Pro donkey box and PRO electronics.  It is not as simple as "Plug and Play"


Could it be done?  

Sure, we have many engineers who can move the world,  but I can not just make one call to GPI-Pro and one call the XCS, Inc. and have two boxes show up via FedEx within the week to make that happen.


So does that mean the GPI-Pro and XCS sleds are not modular?



They are just not interchangeable.


Is seems like people are arguing that a "modular sled" is only modular if it is interchangeable with the GPI-Pro echosystem.   While MK-V and Sachtler have embraced interchange with GPI, others have not... 


does any of this make sense?

or have i been missing something?



P.S. Notice i did not say "standard".


P.P.S  Shit, i just did


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#110206 This guy just called the entire camera department "cotton balls" betw...

Posted by Francois Archambault on 23 April 2015 - 12:42 PM

When I first saw that "Cotton balls" comment, I was immediately insulted.  I said to myself: What a schmuck!!!  But after a couple of minutes, I realized that the "problem" behind that comment had really nothing to do with me, but everything to do with Mr Jarvis himself.  The first comment made here by William Demeritt was not only spot on, but it actually pointed directly at the real issue at hand:  Chase Jarvis's total ignorance of the art of film-making, period.  I rarely make comments on this site, but William's words on this guy prompted me to write this because it reminded me of a story, so here goes:


I was working on a show with a great and famous director.  We had a good thing going on set, sharing ideas and opinions and making sure we always stayed true to the story and the actors style etc.  It was not a big feature, it was a pilot for a series.  I, like everyone else on the set, shared and voiced opinions directly to Him all the time.  He very much encouraged it, and He always listened to what you had to say.  Our days were long and our schedule brutal.  We were averaging 18 hours per day.  Time was precious, but still, He always took the time to hear you out.  He would then say: "…hey! great idea! let's do that…"  Or he'd say:  "...no, can't do that because...…",  always taking the time to explain why he couldn't go with your idea.  Anyway, one day (actually it was a night shoot…), He was standing beside me at my dolly (He almost never ever sat down), both of us an eye on what the DP was doing.  So I decided to ask Him why, being this big-shot director, working on this tight crazy schedule that we had, He would always take the time to listen to his crew instead of simply calling for whatever he wanted and having them done.  His reply was very much like William's comment.  This Big shot director's answer was this: "… you're right, this is MY crew.  And on MY 70-80 people crew, at every moment of each day, on every scene, every shot, every setup, one person on MY crew is bound to come up with a genius idea.  I either listen and make the movie profit from it, or I lose that opportunity like a stupid fucking self-serving egotistical cunt…"  ...sorry his words...


In my 26 years of earning a living as a camera/steadicam operator, I've seen all kinds of directors and cinematographers.  And I feel I have enough experience to say that it is clear in my mind that, with this mindset, Chase Jarvis is "loosing" big time on every shot, every scene, every setup, on all of his shooting days, and probably on all of his living "off set" days too.


Entire camera dept "cotton balls" between director and his vision…  Mr Jarvis, I recommend you use words, put them together in well constructed and grammatically-correct sentence, then voice your demands clearly, and express yourself in an intelligent and practical fashion.  It has been done before, you know, and by great and talented directors with vision galore, directors that gave us fantastic iconic films of all kinds and genres, with jaw dropping performances and deep super-charged stories.  Get over yourself, Mr Jarvis, I may be wrong (but I doubt it...), but I believe it is quite clear to all of us in all the camera depts of our world, or any dept for that matter, that you sir,are not the very "thing" in the way of your own vision.  By promoting this sort of "cotton ball" philosophy, you actually become part of the problem, encouraging the growth of everything bad that can negatively affect the process of good and proper film-making.  A film crew is a hard working team.  Make friends with them. Make them your accomplices.  They can do wonders for you if you let them, if you trust them.  A single lonely person is, and will always be… well… only just a single person…  


Gear is only gear.  The Mimic is only a tool.  Running in a park with available light and no sets, lights or rigs is ridiculously easy, no challenge there, no big achievement there.  I'll put you on a stabilized 3 axis head with a set of wheels, alone, and see how you fare.  Tools don't take "cotton balls" away from any film-making equation.  That would be like saying that if you get a 2500$ set of golf clubs you'll play better.  You say:  "I understand the tradition…"  tradition?!?!?  well, I don't think you do sir.  Film-making is not a tradition, it is a craft, a technique, at every levels of every depts.



Ok.  Enough said.  Sorry for the rant. but it was quite therapeutical.  I feel better now

  • 10

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