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Introducing myself (and a gimbel question)


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#1 Keith Francis SOC

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Posted 19 July 2009 - 11:57 AM

Hello all,

Since I am new to the art of Steadicam, I want to introduce myself. My name is Keith Francis and I am a camera operator who resides in New Orleans and runs Emerald Coast Film & Video, L.L.C. I have operated handheld, hard, and jib (Stanton Jimmy Jib) for 10 years in the region. Like most of your, I’m sure, I work on a wide variety of stuff from live sports and music to commercials, film jobs, reality tv, and everything in between.

Because I have been on many jobs as the jib op where Jerry Jacobs was the Steadicam op and seeing how much Jerry was sweating in an air conditioned environment (thinking of a commercial we shot for ESPN's first Monday Night Football after Katrina), I always thought to myself, “that looks like a lot of work,” and although I thought it was a really cool camera support device, I never considered becoming a Steadicam operator.

That changed after about a year of owning a HVX200. I bought the camera to travel as it just got to be too much of a hassle to travel with my betacam after 9/11. The travel difficulty of a large camera on a small budgeted production combined with the fact that my betacam was becoming outdated, turned my little HVX into a workhorse (and with the constant upgrading of technology, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to buy a Varicam, HDX900, etc. to replace my betacam).

Working long hours on the HVX200 and its inherent shakiness due to no shoulder support because of its size combined with my love of the smooth “tracking” or “dolly” shots I get on the jib, got me thinking of buying a support system for it. At first I simply considered a shoulder harness to provide support like a shoulder mount camera, but soon I started looking at smaller Steadicam rigs. It started with the Merlin, but I decided I put too many accessories on my HVX to make it practical. The pilot was the next rig I looked at, but the arm on the Flyer really attracted me since it was a smaller version of an isoelastic arm. Through all of my research, I was firm on buying a Steadicam, not a fly-by-night cam, as I wanted the best made rig on the market—barring custom rigs such as the AR, which is quite intriguing.

While researching the Steadicam, I found a used Flyer F12VLBN for a price I could not pass up and hastily purchased it. While I feel the thicker post of the newer models would make operating easier for me, I am nonetheless determined to learn to use the rig to the best of my ability and become a badass Steadicam operator.

I have read the Steadicam Operators Handbook cover to cover and are working the exercises diligently and … I am signed up for the Eastern Classic Steadicam Workshop in December.

I have been making my way around the forum for a month or so and am completely impressed by the passion which everyone on the board has. It makes one proud to be a Steadicam op … even us new guys!!! It is my hope (and passion) to be able to give the world something great with my operating and I welcome any and all hints, advice, and shout-outs.

Respectably,

Keith Francis
Emerald Coast Film & Video, L.L.C.

www.emeraldcoastfilmvideo.com

P.S. I cannot leave without asking one question. It should probably be listed under “Gimbel,” but since I’m a newbie…

I find that my gimbel rides lower on the post than I like. At first I thought it was because I did not have enough counter weight at the bottom of the sled, but now I feel it is because my camera is so lite (I practice with many of the accessories I use on ENG gigs removed). If you want to raise your gimbel but still have a 2 to 3 second drop time, do you add weight to the stage???
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#2 Kevin Andrews SOC

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Posted 19 July 2009 - 01:06 PM

I find that my gimbel rides lower on the post than I like. At first I thought it was because I did not have enough counter weight at the bottom of the sled, but now I feel it is because my camera is so lite (I practice with many of the accessories I use on ENG gigs removed). If you want to raise your gimbel but still have a 2 to 3 second drop time, do you add weight to the stage???


Yes, an HVX is VERY light, especially for a Flyer. I imagine your gimbal is half way down the post. When I use an HVX to EX3 camera with a Flyer, I always add a weight plate of 11lbs to the stage. The Flyer works best when loaded up closer to max.

Janice Arthur sells these plates in the marketplace section.

Peace
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#3 Mark Schlicher

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Posted 19 July 2009 - 03:59 PM

Keith,

Welcome. Your story is remarkably similar in broad strokes to mine. Longtime professional DP/camera op in a market that requires one to gain a wide skillset and wear a lot of hats. Became interested in the art/craft of Steadicam operating for lightweight pro cameras, then a used Flyer became available. Been hard at practice and reading for a few months myself. I'll look forward to meeting you at the Eastern Classic Workshop!

I fly an HVX200 on my original/2nd gen Flyer and I have added a Bogen quick-release plate to the camera stage. It adds a little weight and height up top, and allows me to get the gimbal about 5 1/2 inches below the camera stage with a 2 second drop time (which all works fine for me.) I also use the largest capacity battery on the camera. I've considered adding more weights but haven't gotten around to it yet.

If you haven't already, tilt your battery bracket so the battery is vertical (I have one Anton Bauer Hytron 50), and tilt the monitor bracket upwards to about a 30 degree angle. These adjustments make dynamic balance possible on the Flyer.

I also recommend contacting Tiffen and getting some kip handles for your dovetail lock and the battery bracket, and an aircraft pin to upgrade the arm to allow you to switch to right-hand operating. Michael Craigs can hook you up.
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#4 Brandon Baudier

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Posted 19 July 2009 - 09:12 PM

Keith-

I've got weight plates that'll make an HVX balance on my Ultra2 ;) I'll get you the information for my machine shop guy that made my plates, low mode equipment, and everything else.

Call me up and lets get together next week.
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#5 Keith Francis SOC

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 10:56 AM

Kevin - thanks for the quick reply. An 11 pound weight plate combined with my HVX and a few accessories seems like it would put the total weight for the stage over the 15 pound limit. Being that I have yet to fly the rig with that much weight on it, do you think it would present any problems?

Mark – the kip handles are a great suggestion. I have already thought about them (and checked to see if B&H carried them as they do carry replacement locking stage screws—but not kip handles). So you have the smaller diameter metal post on your rig too? I fly the battery (mine came with IDX batteries and I use one to keep the gimble as high as possible) near vertical for dynamic balance as you suggested. How does the aircraft pin aid in right-handed operating? I prefer left-handed operating as I operate the jib with my joystick on the left and zoom/focus on the right and aim to keep the inherent muscle movements similar, but welcome any and all advice for growth as an operator. I, too, look forward to meeting you at the Eastern Classic Workshop? Are you bringing your rig to the workshop? And … if you’re a beer aficionado, Atlanta has some great beer bars that I am looking forward to visiting after the workshop is over. (Consider that an invite!)

Brandon – I guess you found your weight plate then (reference to you tearing your truck up looking for it when we finished that shoot last month). How many weight plates do you have and was is/are the weight of it/them? I have a jib job this afternoon, but I’ll call you this week for sure!
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#6 Kevin Andrews SOC

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 11:40 AM

Kevin - thanks for the quick reply. An 11 pound weight plate combined with my HVX and a few accessories seems like it would put the total weight for the stage over the 15 pound limit. Being that I have yet to fly the rig with that much weight on it, do you think it would present any problems?


Thought you meant you had a Flyer LE which tops out at 19-20lbs. In the case of the original FLyer, Janice also sells 6.5 pound plates. It will make your rig feel more like a big rig when you run closer to the max.

With the gimbal further down the post, your gimbal hand will affect the camera a lot more, especially with a light camera.

I ran a Flyer LE with a weight plate until the arm was cranked to max. The shots were a lot more solid looking. Just watch for vibration with any accessories you may be mounting.
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#7 Keith Francis SOC

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 12:53 PM

Thanks Kevin! I'm checking with her now. I am looking forward to the stability it will provide.

Where should I watch for the vibrations you mentioned? Would it be like having a loose shoe on a tripod plate?

Edited by Keith Francis, 20 July 2009 - 12:59 PM.

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#8 Mark Schlicher

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 03:39 PM

Keith,

Yes, I have the small-diameter aluminum post version. "2nd generation" defined by all-black (vs. gray arm and red gimbal). The aircraft pin replaces the hinge pin that connects the arm to the male socket. This allows you to remove the pin to flip the arm "upside down", switch the socket block tto the left side of the vest, and operate "goofy foot." Why? In case a situation arises where you need to in order to clear an obstacle like a wall, or for personal preference.

Which zoom/focus unit do you use?

Peter Abraham told me that, due to liability issues we won't be allowed to use our own rigs in class. I may bring it along just for kicks anyway.

I've been known to hoist an occasional brew, so thank you for the invitation!

Mark – the kip handles are a great suggestion. I have already thought about them (and checked to see if B&H carried them as they do carry replacement locking stage screws—but not kip handles). So you have the smaller diameter metal post on your rig too? I fly the battery (mine came with IDX batteries and I use one to keep the gimble as high as possible) near vertical for dynamic balance as you suggested. How does the aircraft pin aid in right-handed operating? I prefer left-handed operating as I operate the jib with my joystick on the left and zoom/focus on the right and aim to keep the inherent muscle movements similar, but welcome any and all advice for growth as an operator. I, too, look forward to meeting you at the Eastern Classic Workshop? Are you bringing your rig to the workshop? And … if you’re a beer aficionado, Atlanta has some great beer bars that I am looking forward to visiting after the workshop is over. (Consider that an invite!)


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#9 Dave Gish

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 10:24 PM

Peter Abraham told me that, due to liability issues we won't be allowed to use our own rigs in class. I may bring it along just for kicks anyway.

If anything, just bring your vest.

I made the mistake of bringing in my whole rig, and it just sat there. For insurance reasons, they won't let you do anything with it in class.

By the way, the class is very helpful - well worth it.
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#10 Kevin Andrews SOC

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Posted 21 July 2009 - 02:27 PM

Thanks Kevin! I'm checking with her now. I am looking forward to the stability it will provide.

Where should I watch for the vibrations you mentioned? Would it be like having a loose shoe on a tripod plate?


That would be a rattle, I'm talking about vibrations that are created from the flex or bounce in certain accessories and the remaining friction in the gimbal and arm.

I've noticed vibrations in the image from hot shoe mounted mic receivers that "clip on" and also matte box eyebrows bobbing on a long lens without rods. Adding a weight plate should help stabilize things a bit so that the light camera isn't effected by these outside forces as much. The weight plate becomes part of the camera when tightened down and calms down the effect of possible vibrations.

To eliminate vibrations coming up through your gimbal from the arm and you, I find it good to always apply a little upward lift with your arm control hand, so that the arm isn't 100% horizontal. I got this tip from the forum and it was one of the best for operating that I've used.

My two cents anyway.

Notice how the big rig ops have things nicely hard mounted to the camera. XCS even put their x/y controls at the bottom of the sled to make the stage more rock solid!

Edited by Kevin Andrews, 21 July 2009 - 02:29 PM.

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#11 Keith Francis SOC

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Posted 22 July 2009 - 03:05 PM

Mark – Can you post a photo of your aircraft pin in place? (And how do you post photos in the forum?) I haven’t tried ‘goofy foot’ yet, but probably need to.

I use a VariZoon PZFI Zoom/Focus/Iris Control. http://www.varizoom....vzrockpzfi.html That way I have control from my gimbal, where I mount the controller. The cable is a bit short and stiff, but I wrap it through my fingers as in the Steadicam Handbook and it works ok. It is driven by a little circuit board, so the feel leaves a little to be desired. I definitely prefer a mechanical focus/iris control.

Dave – Thanks for the heads-up! No need to bring the rig and have it sit for a week.

Kevin – Thanks for the tips!
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