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First day on professional set as Steadicam operator

first day newbie steadicam pilot being prepared professional sets

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#1 Jon Smith

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Posted 07 December 2013 - 12:36 AM

I have been working with the Steadicam Pilot that my school purchased fairly consistently for a few months now and one of my professors has recommended me to a colleague who is producing a film. I have only ever worked on student film sets and my training was fairly rudimentary so I have some anxiety about being on a professional set as an operator. I was wondering if anyone out there had some suggestions for the questions I need to ask before filming, preparations that I need to make with my rig before filming and while on set, good workflow for when I am on set, any faux pas to avoid, and a good workflow for breaking down my rig after filming has wrapped?

 

any suggestions will be greatly appreciated!

 

-Vertullo 


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#2 Dave Gish

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Posted 08 December 2013 - 12:32 AM

Make sure you ask some questions over the phone as soon as possible, before the shoot date.

The first question is "what camera are you using?". A Steadicam operator is a camera operator, so make sure you know the camera inside out. For shoots where I haven't used that particular camera before, I always download the manual and spend time going through it. There are 3 areas in particular you need to pay attention to:

1) Weight. If the camera + battery weighs more than 8 pounds, the Steadicam Pilot probably won't work. Remember, the 10 pound weight limit doesn't include the battery or inertial weights at the bottom. Also, any other camera accessories add to the weight (rails, matte box, filters, etc.). Conversely, if the camera is too light, you'll have problems with balancing and/or stability. For this reason, I bought 8 extra balancing weights:
http://www.bhphotovi...nce_Weight.html

2) Video output. Make sure you know how to get video from the camera to the Pilot's monitor. You may need to buy a special adapter cable to do this, or possibly a small battery operated converter box. I have 3 or 4 adapter cables for various cameras. If the camera comes with the adapter cable, don't assume they will have it on set.

3) Focus. The Pilot's weight limit usually doesn't allow a wireless follow focus system, so if you're flying a DSLR, you need to be aware of focus issues, and how to resolve them. In other words, you basically need to let the DP know that they can't use longer lenses and that they need a good deal of light to get more depth of field. For ENG cameras, this isn't as much of an issue.

You also need to ask about sound. For productions in the Pilot range, they're often used to just running the boom mic cable directly into the camera. For a light rig like the Pilot, operating with a wire is a challenge. The slightest tug on the wire will affect the stability of the shot. Also, its easy to trip over a wire, especially when you're completely dialed into maintaining framing and stability. For this reason, I've actually purchased a sound recorder to run 2-system sound. I hate wires.

When you get on set, if you haven't used that camera before, ask the DP to familiarize you with it. Better to look a little stupid than to risk ruining a shot. Most DPs I've worked with appreciate you taking a minute or so to double-check the camera setup.

As for on-set etiquette, just use your best judgment. As a Steadicam operator, you're allowed to say what you think might look better or worse based on your experience, but some directors/DPs are more open to suggestion than others.

Hope this helps,
Dave

Edited by Dave Gish, 08 December 2013 - 12:36 AM.

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#3 Victor Lazaro

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Posted 08 December 2013 - 01:49 AM

Also ask about the location and the shots required. 

Is it indoors, or outdoors? Is there any stairs? Tight corridors? What's the weather like?

Are they planning on strapping you to the back of a car, rollerblades or helicopter. If you feel like a certain shot might be a challenge or dangerous, speak up. See with the DP. You are allowed to refuse a shot if it is dangerous, in that case best option is to offer an alternative shot that will not risk your health.

Wear good shoes, maybe a backup pair if your feet hurts and bring a second T shirt and maybe a third. I change shirt at lunch and at wrap from sweating in the vest.

Depending on where you are prepare for cold weather (layers) cutout gloves. The metal center spar on the vest can become really cold if you are not insulated enough.

Mark the shot without the rig on and look around for anything that could trip you. Also look around for spacial markers if you need to walk backward.

Don't hesitate to ask questions. If you don't know, don't assume.

Don't forget that you are not just carrying the camera but also framing, look into adding a sens of aesthetic to the shot, while watching for headroom and horizon.

Stretch before and after the shoot. Every athlete do it, why not you. Nothing major but a quick and dirty stretch can make a difference.

Don't forget to have fun.

 

Also Change your screen name to your full name. That's the rule on the forum.


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#4 Jon Smith

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Posted 09 December 2013 - 12:45 AM

 If you feel like a certain shot might be a challenge or dangerous, speak up.

bring a second T shirt and maybe a third. I change shirt at lunch and at wrap from sweating in the vest.

 

Glad to know that it is acceptable to speak up about things I might think are dangerous, I was asked for a shoot the other day to run full speed with an actor down a muddy hill and had reservations about it but didn't say anything, I ended up falling but saved myself and the rig. As far as the sweating issue is concerned, I have noticed that it is an issue, I will start to pack a bag with some extra shirts before shoots. 

 

Make sure you ask some questions over the phone as soon as possible, before the shoot date.

The first question is "what camera are you using?".

 

I will call up and double check the camera, but I believe it will be either a Red Epic, or a Red Scarlet. I am going to try to get access to the Scarlet that my school has to get used to the interface and practice different movements before I need to do them on set.

 

Thanks for the advice!


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#5 Dave Gish

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Posted 09 December 2013 - 01:14 AM

I will call up and double check the camera, but I believe it will be either a Red Epic, or a Red Scarlet.

The body alone weighs 5 pounds.
http://www.red.com/p...rlet#tech-specs
http://www.red.com/p...epic#tech-specs

With a lens, Red battery and other basic accessories, you can easily exceed the Pilot's weight limit. If your Pilot uses AB or V-Lock batteries, you may be able to power the camera from the sled using the right power adapter cables. I would check this out immediately. Better to turn down the gig than to show up and not get it to work.
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#6 Alan Rencher

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Posted 09 December 2013 - 01:41 AM

Keep in mind that the Pilot's wiring may not be able to support the kind of current draw that the Red will pull.
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#7 Brian Freesh

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Posted 09 December 2013 - 02:57 PM

Glad to know that it is acceptable to speak up about things I might think are dangerous, I was asked for a shoot the other day to run full speed with an actor down a muddy hill and had reservations about it but didn't say anything, I ended up falling but saved myself and the rig. As far as the sweating issue is concerned, I have noticed that it is an issue, I will start to pack a bag with some extra shirts before shoots. 

 

Safety first.  Always and forever. You're not saving lives, you're making movies. Never do something unsafe, and never feel out of line for saying no to something unsafe. If it ever gets you fired or loses you a job, you don't want to work for those people anyway. Is your paycheck worth a crack on the head? The best way to approach safety concerns is to offer solutions, rather than flat out refusing.  If you can offer a solution to achieve the same thing, or a similar thing, you'll get more respect and often be thanked.

 

I once refused to sit in the passenger seat of a car that the actor was driving (no process trailer), at night on a terribly lit street, with a light on the hood to light the actor. While it was a quiet street, it was also a dark street and the actor was blinded by a light that blocked most of his field of vision anyway.  Everyone, including the actor, was cool with this setup except me and the 1st AD.  It was easy for me to step away because the DP was willing to take my place.  The director was furious with the the AD.  A lot of that had to do with the AD being terrible at his job, I feel like the director just didn't believe in the AD to be right about anything.  But the AD didn't back down and I supported him. In the end, I was able to convince the director that even if the risk was minor, it wasn't worth any risk because the street was too dark to see anything on camera, so you couldn't tell the actor was actually driving anyway.  Might as well do it with the car not moving and lights swinging past, you'd get the same or better shot.  With that in mind, it was easy to see that we should do it on a well lit street on a future date, with no light on the hood.  That's exactly what we did, and we were glad we did because we got so much more production value. I offered a safer solution that would have resulted in an equivalent shot, and one that resulted in a much better shot. Two options that the director was able to pick from as an alternative.  The director appreciated my input and is so much happier with what we got. And I didn't get hit in the face with a camera with the force of an airbag!

 

It's up to you to decide what is safe for you to do on set.  The AD should have your back and should have already eliminated any safety concerns.  But it is always up to you to do only what you are comfortable with.


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#8 Victor Lazaro

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Posted 09 December 2013 - 03:14 PM

Your health and the heath of others is the most important thing on set. A minor injury can turn out to be dramatic for us since we use our bodies to a high level. The reason why people will hire you is for your expertise. In doubt, ask on your coworkers what they think, you can also ask here (the forum).  Accidents do happen, even on big sets with a lot of precaution.

I remember also someone telling me about a risky shot story where the director was angry that the operator refused to shoot a car stunt in a dangerous position. The operator then said. I'll do it, only if you (the director) stay right next to me. (If the person who told this story is here please make sure I got it right)

It's easy to send people do risky things with a simple order, it's another thing to be brave enough to do it. Speak up, and offer alternatives.

 

As for your shoot on Red. Try to see if you can have a camera test day with the given camera. The accessories that go with it (baseplate, rods etc...) might change from one package to another and might be the difference between wether you can fly the rig or not. Is your monitor HD or SD? You may have to rent a Downconverter (Decimator 2, Blackmagic or AJA) that you'll have to power as well. Ask what mattebox they have, you will not be able to carry a full studio mattebox with a swing away, too heavy, you may even have to fly without a mattebox at all, in which case you can tape the filters to the lens (like this 

 

The more you know, the more you prepare, the better you will be on the day of.


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#9 PeterAbraham

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Posted 26 December 2014 - 06:47 AM

Always have loved this down and dirty " daisy petals " filter gag. It won't work in the extreme cold or on a damp or rainy day, the tape will likely fail. But it is the secret to removing a huge clunky heavy matte box.
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#10 RonBaldwin

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Posted 26 December 2014 - 01:12 PM

Back to what Brian said about safety first...shooting in cars driven by anyone (especially actors preoccupied with dialogue/light/marks/cues) can turn ugly fast. What if someone or something unexpected runs out into the street in front of the car? What if a car runs a red light. Sitting sideways or backwards in the front seat of a car can be deadly. Think about the airbag going off and breaking your back/neck instantly. These are things nobody considers until it's too late.
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