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Hospital No. 6

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#1 chris fawcett

chris fawcett

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Posted 26 July 2005 - 10:12 AM

Dear All,

I just finished shooting a feature-length documentary about an impoverished residential mental institution in the ex-Soviet Republic of Georgia. It was wonderful. The residents, in their mad ways, were among the nicest people I ever worked with?no exaggeration or sentiment?and it was a rare experience to meet them.

I had 2 Panasonic SDX900s. One was permanently on the Steadicam Flyer, and the other was available for tripod use. Both cameras were heavily tweaked in the colorimetric and resolution departments to mimic film gamma, capturing 2.5 stops of overload, and 1 stop of underexposure (contact me off forum for details). I shot in 25p at 50Mb/sec. Sound was expertly recorded by Pepijn Aben in M+S on his Aaton Cantar.

The inadequate timecode board on the SDX necessitated the use of a Lockit box on the camera to slave it to the Cantar. Guide audio (M only) was transmitted by a Micron TX/RX from the Cantar to the camera, and recorded onto track 2. Backup audio was recorded to track 1 from a Sennheiser 416 with suspension and Rycote Softie mounted on the camera. Once the reliability of the Micron link was established (it was faultless), the 416 was eliminated.

A Vocas ZiF100 (with iris box) lens controller was used to pull iris and zoom from the gimbal. It is a great tool, but its large size is a serious limitation. I?ll talk to Vocas about making a stripped?down version for Steadicam use, and report back to the forum.

The SDX + Canon W/A 5.2-47 without viewfinder, microphone, battery, or lens hood weighed a little under 8kg (about 17lbs).
The Betacam-type quick-release plate was replaced by a lighter, aluminium plate screwed directly into the base of the SDX. This, plus the Lockit, the RX, and the ZIF+iris box brought the load up to just over 9kg (about 20lbs).
To insure clear reception, the RX was on the camera (the highest point), but the Lockit was dropped to the monitor bracket. The ZiF was, of course, off sled on the gimbal. Two IDX Endura 80 batteries (sufficient power for any conceivable day), completed the system, which for almost 21 consecutive days of shooting, performed flawlessly.

Before eliminating the 416, docking was tight, due to limited clearance. Afterwards, there was 30mm (more than an inch) of clearance between the sled and gimbal. Performance of the rig generally was improved, partly due to the elimination of the wind load of the Softie, and partly due to the fact that the Flyer had been working at its maximum capacity. The removal of these few grams from the high end of the system made a disproportionate improvement to its handling.

Due to the low total weight of the system, just over 20kg (45lbs), I was able to fill 33-minute tapes without pause, and to fill them as necessary. At no time did the rig feel heavy (except after breakfast, when I had to walk to location wearing it?a first?). Operating around the patients was easy. Documenting with Steadicam seems, in many ways, less threatening than having a camera growing out of your head, and no patient was at any time alarmed or upset by it. I was able to remain open, and smile and shake hands when necessary, even while operating. The ZiF enabled me to hide focal-length changes in moves (remarkably easy), and to pull the 7 stops between inside and outside, and the 1 stop between cloud and sun (once a minute, at times!) with a remarkable degree of success. For close-ups and cutaways, I had to adjust focus manually, with almost zero success of a usable shot.

Compared to the tripod rushes, the Steadicam rushes seem to contain a substantially higher percentage of usable material, and there is a small chance that one 16-minute take may make the final edit, due entirely to its unrepeatable content. I highly recommend the Flyer to anyone using anything up to broadcast-standard video cameras. For those using them exclusively, perhaps something with a little more carrying capacity is preferable. It would be advantageous to have a Betacam plate on the sled, and to use one camera for tripod and Steadicam, without having to strip it down and build it up each change. (Though the 2nd camera was required for other considerations.) However, if this led to a substantial increase in total weight, I?d be reluctant. Any system that would get me to the point of feeling tired, I would not consider for documentary use. Thanks to the agility of the Flyer, I felt able to negotiate awful terrain (building sites, overgrown ruins, etc. without the possibility of a rehearsal), with confidence, even walking backwards shooting unpredictable people. However, on Friday the 9th of September, at 12.05, at the IBC, I?ll be first in line to try on the Archer. (Or will you beat me to it, Mikko?)

I hope this is of use or of interest to someone.


Hospital No. 6 is produced by Egmond Film and Television, and directed by Harrie Timmermans. Possible release: IDFA 2005
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#2 Mikko Wilson

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Posted 26 July 2005 - 02:26 PM

Nice report Chris.
Sounds like a fun and succesfull project! Congrats!

And yes, I do plan to be there at 12:04 (Frank, you'd better bring 2, or there's going to be a fight!) ..i'll msg you off forum about IBC Chris.

- Mikko
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