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Long Lens On Stairs

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#1 Joel San Juan SOC

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Posted 26 March 2010 - 12:51 PM

Hi All,

What was the longest lens you have operated with leading an actor up / down the stairs?
Would like to get some advice because the longest I've done is a 35mm lens up some really steep
steps on a MCU and it was already some trouble for me. Still a newbie.

So now the dp on an upcoming job wants to do some really close up work up the stairs with an 85mm
leading the actor and am not really sure if am up to it. Also the location starts with 10 steps up,
a sharp turn to the right on a landing, then a sharp turn to another flight of 8 steps, a landing
and another turn to the right with 15 steps. Damm...

I've done quite a bit of long lens on the ground but just that once on stairs.
Usually its advised that for long lens work we either have to extend the sled and spread the
masses out to make it more angular resistant. Or also slap on the antlers.

However, for stairs, if i extend the sled too much, I might hit the steps with the
bottom of the sled and with the sled long, its also difficult to tilt for headroom.
Antlers won't help for my situation because i have to get thru some really small door frame
at the top of the stair way.

Have you ever had to deal with this situation? If so, could you give me some insight?
I was thinking of being on high low mode but the actor's pretty tall and when i get to the
top its gonna be hard to frame him for a close up..
Cam's gonna be an Arri 535b. I understand doing a profile close up in this situation makes more
sense but the dp's quite insistent on a frontal.

Your help will be very much appreciated.

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#2 Fabrizio Sciarra SOC ACO

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Posted 26 March 2010 - 01:37 PM

Hey Joel,
I wouldn't worry much about the 85mm on stairs, subject is gonna fill up the frame, equal less visible lines :)(and mostly blurred)

Instead, I would worry much more about the 535 on the stairs, you could easily end up tired even before to start shooting. Not saying you're not fit of course, but that pig isn't really a nice camera to fly on stairs.
If I were in your shoes, I'd rather ask for a different camera set up for that particular shot, but that's me...

...And yeah, I wouldn't extend any of the post on stairs, the shorter you keep the sled the less is going to be the chance to have it on the knees....although with that lady on, I don't really know how short you'll maybe able to keep the post. Longer arm posts may help to keep the bottom stage a bit further, but it's up to the framing required for the shot of course.

Wish you best of luck, let us know how things will be

Edited by Fabrizio Sciarra, 26 March 2010 - 01:38 PM.

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#3 nealnorton


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Posted 26 March 2010 - 04:25 PM

Hi Joel:

The part that might not work at all with an 85 is keeping the actor both in frame and outside minimum focus when you make your turns on the landings. Obviously you will be fighting to stay away from the actor and he will still be coming up as you make your turn. Really depends on how small/tight your landings are. This also makes the focus puller hysterical because they will be unable to see the camera and the actor - make sure you have a cinetape/panatape with remote to the 1st. If the actor is really 'game' you can try to teach him a set distance from the lens and have him try to maintain that distance even if it requires a little stall. Some actors can't do this and others just won't "cause thats your problem". Could take lots of attempts and really will depend on how willing the director and actor are to do 20 or 30 takes/rehearsals. If the 3rd rehearsal is still a hash and the director goes Cameron on you then chances are sticks will be soon to be seen on the set (or maybe a more realistic lens choice).

I remember some superhuman/brilliant Larry McConkey stair work where I read/heard/imagined that he turned the monitor bracket around so the monitor bracket was under the mag instead of the lens and then reversed the scan on the monitor. Of course even if that story is real and not imagined, thats Larry and not a regular hacker like me! Still might be worth asking around or even giving it a try at home and see if it works for you.

Best of luck!

Neal Norton
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#4 Joel San Juan SOC

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Posted 29 March 2010 - 04:57 AM

Hi Guys,

Thanks for the insight and advice.
I tried every means possible on shoot today and I screwed it up big time :(
The sticks came in. I managed to get a master on the 35mm luckily (on take 4) but
with the extended sled and the heavy ass camera, I really really couldn't
handle the 85mm... I just keep losing him at the landings..

What would you have done? And whats the longest lens you've tried on the steps?

Thank you again for your replies, much appreciated!

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#5 Mike McGowan SOC

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Posted 29 March 2010 - 08:24 AM

Just me (and mostly because my don juan sucks ass) but I would walk up backwards. I get a good grip (the dolly grip usually has the best sense of these things) and i have them 'dolly' me up the stairs. This approach doesn't work well for everybody as walking up stairs backwards is not super easy.

To be honest though, the 535 would make that shot pretty tricky for anybody.

my 2.
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