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First experience on a professional set


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#1 Jonathan Parris

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 01:48 PM

I have only been operating a Steadicam for a few months now, and a couple of days ago, I experienced my first day of shooting on a professional music video ($40k budget). The director had wanted me for just one shot in the whole video. They were shooting the performance section of the video that day, predominantly on RED, though they had three DSLRs to get some specific footage. I was originally told that all he wanted me to do was a rotation around the artist as he performed at a mic on a stage. Even though I'm very new to operating, I was confident in being able to make that move without a hitch.

As I read on this forum consistently, things rarely go as planned, and this was no different. Mid-day, the director pulled me off to the side and said my shot was up next. He led me to the "green room" offstage, which was nothing more than a stairwell that doubled as a storage closet. The shot would start with the artist looking out the stairwell door, and lead him up to just offstage, where I would stop and the camera would pan as he passes by and goes to the mic. Seemingly straightforward, right? Well, add to that the fact that the "green room" has stacks of junk (since this is an on location shoot), there are power cables draped across the stairs to the stage, there has been no lighting done to the offstage room, so I have to run the lens wide open just to get any exposure (which of course shallows the depth of field more), my focus puller has never run wireless focus before and we have no time to set marks, there is a 4ft kino box on the opposite side of the stage that I must frame out (while on a 28mm lens), and I must also avoid getting much of the audience in the shot, since I don't need to let on that we only have 20 extras. On top of that, the director wants to continue to roll his other three cameras wandering about in the audience, and I must stay out of their shots as well. There was no time to clear a good path in to offstage room, or to light it, or to move power cables and the kino. I had to run it all as is.

For the seasoned pros, I'm sure this is an easy shot. I'm not quite there yet though.

The first take started off great and I made it smoothly to my stop and pan position. As soon as the artist passed by me though, he bumped my monitor and threw off the shot.

The second take faired better, but I was running it Don Juan up the steps to my stopping position, and the artist moved a little to my right. Trying to hold my framing, I caught my left shoulder in the bottom corner of the shot (28mm lens, remember).

That was it. The only takes production had time to get. At this point, I'm not even sure either of the shots will be used in the edit.

That leaves me wondering; are seemingly unplanned, unprepared-for shots like this everyday occurrences in this career? Is there anything I can do to prepare so that shots like this can be more effective for the story and yet not slow down production with trying to make needed changes? Also, how do you prepare yourself to better understand a director's vision for a shot from start to stop when he is rushing through the walk-through and has no time to explain how the shot is supposed to feel according to this point in the story line?

Below is a rendering to give a better sense of scale to the setup I was working with. The red line is the artist's path, and the operator characters represent my start and stop points.

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#2 sebastien BARBARA

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 02:57 PM

likes you were here above all to impress the client, don't you think so ? :) The shot, as you present it, was not supposed to succeed, IMO. I am sorry for you, you were not lucky for your first job, mine was like yours but it is surely the faith of us newbies: we are as nice as veterans in our vests but cheaper and more patient (ignorant) with low low low-end productions:)
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#3 Joe Lotuaco

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 03:31 PM

I have only been operating a Steadicam for a few months now, and a couple of days ago, I experienced my first day of shooting on a professional music video ($40k budget). The director had wanted me for just one shot in the whole video. They were shooting the performance section of the video that day, predominantly on RED, though they had three DSLRs to get some specific footage. I was originally told that all he wanted me to do was a rotation around the artist as he performed at a mic on a stage. Even though I'm very new to operating, I was confident in being able to make that move without a hitch.

As I read on this forum consistently, things rarely go as planned, and this was no different. Mid-day, the director pulled me off to the side and said my shot was up next. He led me to the "green room" offstage, which was nothing more than a stairwell that doubled as a storage closet. The shot would start with the artist looking out the stairwell door, and lead him up to just offstage, where I would stop and the camera would pan as he passes by and goes to the mic. Seemingly straightforward, right? Well, add to that the fact that the "green room" has stacks of junk (since this is an on location shoot), there are power cables draped across the stairs to the stage, there has been no lighting done to the offstage room, so I have to run the lens wide open just to get any exposure (which of course shallows the depth of field more), my focus puller has never run wireless focus before and we have no time to set marks, there is a 4ft kino box on the opposite side of the stage that I must frame out (while on a 28mm lens), and I must also avoid getting much of the audience in the shot, since I don't need to let on that we only have 20 extras. On top of that, the director wants to continue to roll his other three cameras wandering about in the audience, and I must stay out of their shots as well. There was no time to clear a good path in to offstage room, or to light it, or to move power cables and the kino. I had to run it all as is.

For the seasoned pros, I'm sure this is an easy shot. I'm not quite there yet though.

The first take started off great and I made it smoothly to my stop and pan position. As soon as the artist passed by me though, he bumped my monitor and threw off the shot.

The second take faired better, but I was running it Don Juan up the steps to my stopping position, and the artist moved a little to my right. Trying to hold my framing, I caught my left shoulder in the bottom corner of the shot (28mm lens, remember).

That was it. The only takes production had time to get. At this point, I'm not even sure either of the shots will be used in the edit.

That leaves me wondering; are seemingly unplanned, unprepared-for shots like this everyday occurrences in this career? Is there anything I can do to prepare so that shots like this can be more effective for the story and yet not slow down production with trying to make needed changes? Also, how do you prepare yourself to better understand a director's vision for a shot from start to stop when he is rushing through the walk-through and has no time to explain how the shot is supposed to feel according to this point in the story line?

Below is a rendering to give a better sense of scale to the setup I was working with. The red line is the artist's path, and the operator characters represent my start and stop points.

Posted Image


Do you know what software was used to create the rendering?
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#4 Douglas John Kropla

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 05:01 PM

Hey Jonathan,
I have a dvd that interviews the best cinematographers in the business. Cinematographers Style is the dvd. One interview in particular, or two actually talk about the importance of the word no. They say the word no is more important than the word yes. The cinematographers I speak of are Gordon Willis and Vitorio Storraro, hope I spelt those right. I think this may have been one of those times when you as the op should have brought all your concerns up with the director or D.O.P and discussed with them the problems as you saw them. And if at that time they still wanted a bad shot then maybe you say no. Its a great dvd and I recommend it to anyone starting out. I can't tell you how many times i've watched it. My two cents, for what it's worth.

Just wanted to add that not every situation is the same and discussion usually will lead to a better shot in the end. That is after all what everyone wants.

Edited by Douglas John Kropla, 24 September 2010 - 05:04 PM.

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#5 Jonathan Parris

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 09:17 PM

Do you know what software was used to create the rendering?


I used Maya. I was so frustrated when I got home, it helped me to rebuild the situation in 3D so I could figure out what I could have done to make it better.

To Douglas, thanks for the DVD referral. Also, I did voice my concerns to the director and his response was, "We don't have time to change anything, so just figure out a way to make it work." Five minutes later, we were rolling.
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#6 Brian Freesh

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 09:29 PM

"We don't have time to change anything, so just figure out a way to make it work."


Ha! What a contradiction. The second part of the sentence gives permission to ignore the first. I would have said okay, and asked the AD to get PAs and/or art dept to remove all the crap in the way. It's a safety concern anyway, and the best reason for you to say no. A few hands could have moved the stuff very quickly, certainly within 5 minutes, probably less than 2. I probably would have tried to scooch the speaker and the drums as well, just enough so the singer has more room to clear you so there is no bumping.

In the end, with 4 cameras rolling at once, there won't be long enough sections of your shots used to even tell they're moving. They'll cut it to pieces, even if the lighting, move, focus were perfect.

You did the best with what you had and you walked away unharmed and with 2 useful takes. I call it an overall win.
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#7 Douglas John Kropla

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Posted 26 September 2010 - 06:11 PM

Do you know what software was used to create the rendering?


I used Maya. I was so frustrated when I got home, it helped me to rebuild the situation in 3D so I could figure out what I could have done to make it better.

To Douglas, thanks for the DVD referral. Also, I did voice my concerns to the director and his response was, "We don't have time to change anything, so just figure out a way to make it work." Five minutes later, we were rolling.


Wow, well then you did what you were suppose to do and to the best of your ability. I agree with Brian. As for what you could've done, well, next time:) Definitely get the DVD and the handbook and the EFP DVD... There is so much information in the handbook, it's a great read. I'm still waiting for a workshop to come back to Montreal.
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#8 Jonathan Parris

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Posted 26 September 2010 - 06:28 PM

Thanks for all the words of encouragement! It is nice to hear that this situation wasn't the norm. Hopefully that means that operating experiences can predominantly go up from here. I do have the EFP DVD and the handbook, both of which I study extensively. They have been what got me to this point, but there's just no way for them to describe every situation and how to deal with it. That is why having this forum is such a great addition to both of those sources! Thanks again!
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#9 Janice Arthur

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Posted 26 September 2010 - 06:38 PM

J;

Sounds like you did your darnest to make it work. Good for you. (They'll zoom in past your shoulder and use that shot.)

Your orginal question? What to do differently?

Now you know the speed at which you'll have to think on your feet and have some of those moves down cold, you now know what to practice and really get down predictably so that those "curves" they throw out don't distract from your operating.

Second, If it was me and he said do all that and by the way keep out of the other cameras! I would "try" to stay out of their way but hey I've got about 10 things going on here. You do your shot as best you can and forget them. Of course you wouldn't tell him that. Poker face practice. "yes sir I'll stay out of those shots too."

If its a "live" multi-camera thing you can't do that but a music video and limited time/takes/etc. he's asking too much.

JA
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#10 William Demeritt

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Posted 27 September 2010 - 12:51 AM

Is there anything I can do to prepare so that shots like this can be more effective for the story and yet not slow down production with trying to make needed changes?


I think this statement is contrary to good operating. As the caretaker of the vision the director is entrusting to you, I think it becomes my job to quickly tell people what needs to be fixed. If I notice problems, I mention them immediately. If the problems are ignored, or impossible to correct, I suggest ways to fix them (add a beat to the actor's movement, give a reason to recompose, motivate from somewhere else, etc).

Ultimately, I don't see recommendations for things that need to change in order to successfully execute a shot as things that "slow down" production. Everyone on set has a common purpose: get the shots needed. That work needs to take place, and it's a lucky day when you never need to change anything from take to take.

Assert yourself, tell them early and quickly what needs to change to fix the shot. You're the caretaker, so it's your responsibility to spot when lights are hung too close to the shot, the trucks are visible, maybe the extras need to find another staging area for this shot, etc. If they are absolutely unwilling to make the changes, then go ahead and do the shot, and you'll do your best to fix it.

As for "seemingly unplanned, unprepared-for shots", that's when you still gotta be on point. Some of the coolest shots I've done were sudden ideas. Encourage that kind of collaboration, and offer easy ways to make the shot go smoothly. Stay on set, know the blocking, interact with your G&E brothers early when you see a dangerous light, etc.

Lastly, some directors are just small, frustrated bundles of energy, and they want to get you on the same page. My mantra: "what's your action and your cut for this scene?" I've had directors try to race ahead and explain the blocking of the entire scene, and compress 3 scenes into one description of camera movement. Just bring them back: "Ok, we'll get to that, but I really want to make sure we have this scene blocked. So, here's my 1, I move, turn, come around and land here, step forward, lock off for the dialogue and you say cut. Right? OK, that's one scene, now what's next?..."
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#11 Ken Nguyen

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Posted 27 September 2010 - 12:23 PM

Jonathan,
I may be different from other, and might offend union people.
I handle thing differently.
After a walk through with the director, I will clear my path with my assistant.
In your case, it wouldn't take more than 2 min. to get the path clear.

When the director sees you clearing the path, he will understand and wait.
Others see you clearing the path, will jump in and give you a hand.

Cheers,
Ken Nguyen.
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