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Transitioning from PA to Steadi


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#1 Blair Phillips

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Posted 22 May 2010 - 12:25 PM

I have been working as a PA for over a year and I have recently started working as an AC in the ultra low budget ring in Toronto. I love the look of steadicam work and steadicam ops seem to be the only person on set who's job requires that they be fit. I have some savings that I think could get me on the ground floor in terms of a rig.

My question is this: does being a relative newcomer to film and especially camera work pose a significant barrier to jumping on a steadicam workshop?

I was looking at the one offered by Maine Media. The registrar there saying applicants should have at least 3-4 years hands on with cameras. To be honest, I do not want to wait that long just to give steadicam a try.
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#2 Eric Fletcher S.O.C.

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Posted 22 May 2010 - 12:30 PM

I have been working as a PA for over a year and I have recently started working as an AC in the ultra low budget ring in Toronto. I love the look of steadicam work and steadicam ops seem to be the only person on set who's job requires that they be fit. I have some savings that I think could get me on the ground floor in terms of a rig.

My question is this: does being a relative newcomer to film and especially camera work pose a significant barrier to jumping on a steadicam workshop?

I was looking at the one offered by Maine Media. The registrar there saying applicants should have at least 3-4 years hands on with cameras. To be honest, I do not want to wait that long just to give steadicam a try.



You need to learn the fundamentals of camera operating first, then worry about Steadicam. So yes get a few years of operating under your belt
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#3 Robert Starling SOC

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Posted 22 May 2010 - 11:24 PM

Maybe a Flyer workshop would be okay but one of the biggest things I've seen in the two-day and week long workshops is that a lot of the participants do not know the basics of composition and holding a frame. Not that you can't take the workshop but you'd probably be better off taking a camera operating workshop first.

The Registrar at Maine Media was probably Kerry Curran or one of his staff, follow his advice. At least he's giving you a straight answer instead of just taking your money and giving you the manufacturers pitch to sell you a rig without regard as to whether you can be successful with it or not.

Robert
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#4 Tom Wills

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Posted 23 May 2010 - 01:43 AM

Blair,

Take all that I say with a grain of salt, as I’m quite a newcomer to the world of Steadicam at this point. I’ve only ever taken the 2-Day Flyer/Pilot workshop, and Steadicam isn’t something I excel at, or understand on the level of those who will respond to you, or have responded already. However, as someone who’s in the lower echelons of production, and looking to become a Steadicam operator myself, I can tell you first hand that yes, you not having experience behind a camera will cause you some real barriers to operating a Steadicam.

I took my workshop in 2008. It taught me how to put on the rig, set it up, and handle it in a way that didn’t immediately show my lack of skill with the rig to bystanders (all of which are important points – especially the last!). However, what it didn’t teach was how to create the beautiful shots that the operators who do this professionally can. Fundamentally, the camera side of Steadicam is the art form – the rest is just the mechanics of making the rig do what you want it to. Being able to compose a shot, visualize where things will land in your frame, pick out problems in shots before they happen, and create moving pictures that tell a story is critical. The Steadicam is just a tool in the filmmaker’s toolbox – it’s a way to move a camera freely, but it’s still the same camera, and to do the shots justice, you still need to know that side.

While taking the workshop will give you the mechanics, it can’t teach you shot design, or framing, or how and when to use movement. While I’m sure you could learn all of this after your workshop, it seems needlessly complicated to have to be juggling 2 skills at once when you could learn one at a time, and then have both skills under your belt (and be able to proficiently operate conventionally while honing your Steadicam skills as a bonus!).

I know that when I took my workshop, I was 18, and understandably far from an expert on the camera side. It took me another whole year before I even was comfortable taking my (very small, cobbled together) rig out on even the simplest, lowest budget shoots – because while I then knew how to set it up, I still couldn’t make competent shots with it. I was still struggling with how to compose a frame, how to make something tell a story, and even more with how to work on a set. Even now, my Steadicam shots still aren’t up to my own standards, even though my conventional operating has gotten significantly better. The situation could have been a disaster, had I had loan payments to make, instead of about $4000 of my own money sunk into the rig. If I could do it again, I probably would have waited until I was a somewhat competent shooter at this age before I took my workshop, so I’d have more of an idea of what I was doing. Even now, with 2 years since my workshop, working as a grip and live broadcast utility (and yes, a few really low-end Steadicam jobs here and there), I still feel pretty uncomfortable with calling myself a Steadicam operator, and I think that if I had the solid background of operating, composition, and shot design behind me, I might be able to do a better job.

Sorry this was so long, but I hope it helps. Best of luck, and I hope that you’re able to find your way into this field, one way or another. It’s pretty magical once it sinks its hooks into you.
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#5 Kevin Andrews SOC

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Posted 23 May 2010 - 10:46 AM

I have been working as a PA for over a year and I have recently started working as an AC in the ultra low budget ring in Toronto. I love the look of steadicam work and steadicam ops seem to be the only person on set who's job requires that they be fit. I have some savings that I think could get me on the ground floor in terms of a rig.

My question is this: does being a relative newcomer to film and especially camera work pose a significant barrier to jumping on a steadicam workshop?

I was looking at the one offered by Maine Media. The registrar there saying applicants should have at least 3-4 years hands on with cameras. To be honest, I do not want to wait that long just to give steadicam a try.



Steadicam IS advanced camera operating. Not an alternative to learning how to use a camera well. That's why a lot of these guys have SOC next to their names and numerous credits and awards.
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#6 brooksrobinson

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Posted 23 May 2010 - 12:40 PM

Blair,

I started my career in film as a PA on music videos and commercials. After about a year of this, I started looking to move up the ladder. To me, the most consistently interesting job on set was that of the steadicam operator. It seemed the perfect balance between the physical hard work I had grown up with in sports, and the ability to be part of the creative team.

I worked on a terrible feature film towards the end of my illustrious PA career, but while on it, I met operator Dan Kneece, SOC. Every day I talked to Dan about various things related to operating a steadicam. I watched him whenever possible when he was working. Towards the end of the shoot, Dan told me that he’d be one of the instructors at a workshop in Malibu, and that if I was interested in pursuing steadicam, this was the logical next step.

I took all of the money I’d made on the movie and signed up. There was some bit in the application about needing to have been an operator or AC for a couple of years, but I ignored that. I was the youngest person at the workshop by many years (I was 23) and I had no real experience with modern film cameras. I had decided that this is what I wanted to do, but I wanted to find out if I had any aptitude for it, and if my body was going to be able to handle it. What I learned at the workshop was that I needed to be doing this, and I had to find a way of making it happen.

Along the way, I was told by people I admired to work my way up through the ranks of the camera department instead of buying a rig. They said that nobody would hire me, and it simply wouldn’t work out. I listened to them because I respected them, and I knew there was truth in their statements, but I also knew the opposite could also be true. I figured that by the time I’d worked all the way up ranks from loader to operator, a move some people never successfully achieve, I’d probably be too old to want to strap that much weight to my body and run up sand dunes. For better or worse, I was going to try and make it happen.

I don’t come from a wealthy family, and I certainly didn’t have extra money floating around after two years of being a PA, but I was going to make this work. I was able to convince my father to co-sign a business loan with me, using his home as collateral (I don’t recommend this to anyone, certainly not if you are the father), and two months after my workshop, I was running around my backyard with my new rig.

The first two years were awful, and terrifying, with almost no real money coming in, but large bank payments to make, and the fear of my family being without a home looming in the back of my head.

I decided early on that I wouldn’t take jobs as a PA anymore so as not to send the wrong message, so despite getting calls for PA work, I said no. What I did do, was work on many AFI, UCLA, and USC films for little or nothing to build my experience. Gradually I started working on very low budget features with the help of a friend I met in my workshop who exchanged jobs with me when he was double-booked.

Little by little I started getting better and becoming more confident in my operating. Once I felt good about the work I was doing, I started to contact the producers, directors, and DP’s I’d worked with on the countless music videos and commercials I worked on as a PA. Small jobs led to bigger jobs, and soon I was doing these around the clock (literally in some cases) and just when things seemed desperate, I emerged with a nice career, working with talented people.

I’ve been a working camera/steadicam operator for about 17 years now. I made the leap directly from being a PA to operating a steadicam. I don’t know if I’d recommend this path to anyone, as it certainly isn’t the easiest way of accomplishing the end result, but it can be done with the right amount of tenacity and work ethic. This is an interesting business, and there is more than one path to reach your objective. Good luck in accomplishing your goals, and let us know what you decide to do.

Sincerely,

Brooks Robinson, SOC
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#7 Blair Phillips

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Posted 24 May 2010 - 10:01 AM

Blair,

I started my career in film as a PA on music videos and commercials. After about a year of this, I started looking to move up the ladder. To me, the most consistently interesting job on set was that of the steadicam operator. It seemed the perfect balance between the physical hard work I had grown up with in sports, and the ability to be part of the creative team.

...

I figured that by the time I’d worked all the way up ranks from loader to operator, a move some people never successfully achieve, I’d probably be too old to want to strap that much weight to my body and run up sand dunes. For better or worse, I was going to try and make it happen.
...
I don’t come from a wealthy family, and I certainly didn’t have extra money floating around after two years of being a PA, but I was going to make this work. I was able to convince my father to co-sign a business loan with me, using his home as collateral (I don’t recommend this to anyone, certainly not if you are the father), and two months after my workshop, I was running around my backyard with my new rig.
...
The first two years were awful, and terrifying, with almost no real money coming in, but large bank payments to make, and the fear of my family being without a home looming in the back of my head.
...
This is an interesting business, and there is more than one path to reach your objective. Good luck in accomplishing your goals, and let us know what you decide to do.

Sincerely,

Brooks Robinson, SOC


Well thankfully I do not need to get a loan against my dad's house to pay for it; one tour with the army sorted that problem out.
I have no doubt people have tried this and failed, buts it is good to know it's not impossible.

Yes, I know my first rig will not pay for itself and the first years will be a bitter struggle, I just want to start the struggle while I best able to endure abuse. I am prepared to do all sorts of other work to keep myself solvent for a considerable length of time.

That said, thank you all for the warnings. I am seeking out every opportunity I can think of to improve my camera operating skills. Are there any specific suggestions in this regard?
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#8 Mike Braaten

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Posted 24 May 2010 - 05:17 PM

[/quote]

That said, thank you all for the warnings. I am seeking out every opportunity I can think of to improve my camera operating skills. Are there any specific suggestions in this regard?
[/quote]


Keep assisting. You'll meet people and learn things and make money. You'll collect odds and ends like BNC barrels and tape and lens cleaner. You'll get in with some guys who use you and never want to see you move up, but one or two people you encounter will want you to succeed and, in time, they'll find the right job for you to operate on.

In the meantime while you're waiting for that break, volunteer at public access stations, shoot weddings, shoot high school football, shoot your buddies' bands in concert.
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#9 richard bellon

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Posted 27 May 2010 - 07:30 AM

hi Blair

i think it is a much wiser to be an AC first for a few years and then move up. You will definatly gain a far greater understanding of the way the camera department works especially as it functions as a team. As well as the huge amount of technical knowlege you will gain and the experience it will give you from not always being in cosy surroundings and stuff and gear starts to fail/go wrong.

you will also gain far greater respect from your peers & fellow technicians if you go this route. Being the steadicam operator/cam operator is quite a prestigous position i feel on set and if you jump straight into it you will get shot down alot by fellow crew, maybe not directly to your face but people will talk and i find and had experience with people that have say come straight out of film school and now figure they are the gr8st DP ever meanwhile they dont know shit, this doesnt work as smoothly as you would think as the inexperience shows and they do nothing except piss everyone off.

As the operator you are the leader of your crew and if they dont have confidence in or respect you its not going to be fun.

If this is really what you want to do as a career i strongly advise a few yrs of being an AC.
but pls also buy your rig and train and practice, and do small student feels and freebies and build your reel, so when you are ready for the move you will already have the skill to do so

kindest regards
richard
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#10 Blair Phillips

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Posted 28 May 2010 - 08:24 AM

As the operator you are the leader of your crew and if they dont have confidence in or respect you its not going to be fun.

If this is really what you want to do as a career i strongly advise a few yrs of being an AC.
but pls also buy your rig and train and practice, and do small student feels and freebies and build your reel, so when you are ready for the move you will already have the skill to do so

kindest regards
richard


Rest assured, I will not consider myself above ACing the second I get a rig, far from it. Right now I am volunteering at a local TV station as a camera op and I plan to continue that.

I imagine I will not be flying on anything other the most budget deprived sets in Toronto for a considerable amount of time. I guess when I think about it I am not making a jump straight from PA to steadicam, I am trying to learn steadicam as I transition to Camera.

EDIT: and thanks for the advice everyone

Edited by Blair Phillips, 28 May 2010 - 08:33 AM.

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#11 Kris Torch Wilson

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Posted 28 May 2010 - 01:23 PM

"I guess when I think about it I am not making a jump straight from PA to steadicam, I am trying to learn steadicam as I transition to Camera."

Now you're thinking correctly. Good luck.
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