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Skills for Steadicam utilities


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#1 Mark Schlicher

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Posted 01 March 2015 - 08:15 PM

I posted this question on the FB group but thought I'd give it a whirl here, too...

 

If your were faced with having to work with an inexperienced utility (or at least, inexperienced with assisting Steadi) on a live multicam gig, what are the important instructions you would give?

 

This came up for me on a recent volunteer gig--a nonprofit awards show. I was on stage covering winner walk-ups and my utility was struggling. We didn't have rehearsal time. Come showtime, he tried to pull cable from the wings. Nearly tripped me a couple of times.

 

If I had to do it over, I would have insisted that he follow close behind me onstage and keep the cable off the the floor. But it was too late during the show, as one of the senior producers had given him the faulty advice.

 

I did tell him to "watch my feet to help anticipate where I was going next".

 

What else would you tell someone?


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#2 Nathan Chapman

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Posted 01 March 2015 - 08:35 PM

I normally go through and establish a shorthand - brief sentences to cover common situations. Some of my regular ones include:

  • Back to base (we're going back to our staging area)
  • Check signal (for checking wireless video transmission)
  • We're up (the shot's about to start)
  • Take the weight (reserved for emergencies, I've-broken-my-ankle, not just I-need-a-rest)
  • Hold the sled (I need to adjust something on the sled/camera/etc. with both hands, hold it next to my hip for me)
  • MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE! (I'm live on screen and walking towards you, you dolt.)

With my regular assistant, I've also been able to shorten movement directions to simple nods and hand gestures (I'm going over here, over there).


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#3 Robert Starling SOC

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Posted 01 March 2015 - 11:13 PM

Two of the three times I've taken a fall during a show were because I accepted a utility who was not a Steadicam utility. Both were embarrassing, one drew blood and either one could have been physically a life changer.

 

The guys that specialize in Steadi are worth their weight in gold and then some and they are in high demand.  That's why you see the top live ops taking their Steadi Utility with them on every job or they just don't go. It's that important and that's on shows with two days of rehearsals.

 

It happens in the real world but I sure recommend you stay away from it.

 

Robert


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#4 Mark Schlicher

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Posted 01 March 2015 - 11:56 PM

Thanks for the perspectives, Nathan and Robert.

 

To pose another scenario, when working with a Steadi utility for the first time, how do you vet him/her...what might you ask (beyond the obvious "what is your experience") and what do you look for in order to size up their skills?

 

On the few occasions where I have worked with experienced, well-recommended utilities, they were virtually invisible. Seamless.


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#5 Robert Starling SOC

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Posted 02 March 2015 - 12:51 PM

Just in general conversation you can ask them how they got into the business and got into Steadi utility in a non-judgemental way I suppose. That is probably a discussion to have with the Producer before you get on-site first.

 

Everyone including Utilities have to get a start somewhere but there's a time and place for getting started with everything including operating Steadicam.

 

Generally you can assess how they are just in simple things like relocating you, rig and stand to a new location. Are they engaged? Are they attentive? Are they overloaded. Warming up and rehearsals are your next chance to see them at work in a controlled situation. They need to warm up too and sort out their cabling.  Again, at this point you're sort of too late to make a change. However, there could be someone on the crew with more Steadi experience.  It not, the best you can do is work with them on the rehearsals, go slow and give them a chance to learn and digest.  You may not be able to fully commit to all your moves if you don't feel confident in your safety.

 

I'm not sure what to suggest beyond that Mark.


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#6 Andrew Ansnick

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Posted 02 March 2015 - 02:45 PM

Personally I rate them based on their cable art....

 

Attached File  cableart.JPG   101.47KB   29 downloads

 

 

A lot of what Robert and Nathan already relayed is great advice.  Like them, I always try to hire my own utility unless I'm covering another operator on their show, in which case I will lean heavily on the regular Steadicam utility there to watch out for me.  There's a lot they can teach you about the show and no one should loose out on work just because I'm covering for a day.  A good utility is worth their weight in gold and always gets a Christmas gift!

 

Some basic things to remember when dealing with a new utility is PATIENCE AND COMMUNICATION.  They are learning and try to keep that in mind, you may have to coach them along and even show them a few tricks.  This is a great teaching opportunity!

 

Always look out for the safety of you both, they will probably be fully occupied with their over-undering and focused on not getting tripped up in their loops.  I always insist that they be on headset so they can hear what the Director and cameras are saying.  This helps them anticipate my movements before we get a tally.  I am also careful to explain the shots we have planned and some that might come up without notice.  I remind them of the shots as well while we are on air, i.e. what's coming up next.  Hand signals are a huge help when navigating the set or crossing cameras as is a look back to let them know we are about to go.

 

There's probably a whole lot more that I could say on the subject but we are about to start rehearsing here so I'll check back in later.  Hope this helps!


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#7 Rob Vuona SOC

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Posted 02 March 2015 - 06:42 PM

If they can over/under a cable while keeping up with me running, doing 360's around talent and keep me safe from hitting anything or anybody while going up and down stairs all while not tripping me and keeping the cable from being under anyones feet and out of the way of other cameras is the pre requisite.  Thats why we travel as a team !!

 

Mark , Who ever you are bringing through the ranks, keep them on their toes at all times and that way you can stay on your toes.  Its not fun when you go down !


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#8 Henry Gelhart

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Posted 02 March 2015 - 07:10 PM

I recently worked with a utility whose over/under skills were so bad, that no matter what she'd do, the cable would turn into Spaghetti. 

No sense of whats going on around her either.  I had a static shot and she would walk into my rig. During a live show.  In my right ear I heard the director say something along the lines of !@$%##&@%$&@.   We ended up using our A2 as a grip.  Not his job, I know, but far far far better than before. 

 

I'd say over under skills,  communication and camera blockings and anticipating where the operator is moving to next.

And I like Andrew's snake version of the cable. 


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#9 Colin Donahue

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Posted 02 March 2015 - 10:42 PM

Rob,

I see you did not mention anything about "and make sure I don't end up in the swimming pool" :blink:

LOL

 

Colin Donahue


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#10 Kris Torch Wilson

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Posted 02 March 2015 - 11:44 PM

The Utility position is under appreciated. Often times, folks think anyone can do it and that's simply not the case. I work with $100k/year guys that while it may not have been their dream, have become career specialist that are very much the professionals that we claim to be. It doesn't matter if I'm on steadi or doing hand held, if I see my utility run out the wire, and then recoil it to his liking, my confidence level goes up a notch.
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#11 David M. Aronson

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 02:47 AM

I tend to work with the same utility to a point where our comunication is hand gestures and head nods.

When I'm not with my usual, I talk with them about how far they should be from me, how to keep me from tripping, what to do if I do trip, how to take the sled, etc. I explain to them everything I'm counting on them to do and do well.

Make sure they know where to be. I usually tell them to put a white gaff mark on the cable coming off of me and stick to that distance unless their guiding me backwards. Helps keep me from bumping into them.

Rehersals are a must. Walk lines with them, walk around the stage, walk around the crowd. Figure out where any problem spots are going to be.

Get them on coms. Hearing what I hear keeps me from having to cue them too much. I've had a script taped to my back a few times so they can take a peek at what's next while we're off air.

 

At the end of the day, Thank them. They took just as many steps as you did.


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#12 Mark Schlicher

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Posted 06 March 2015 - 11:40 PM

Great stuff, all. Thanks. Curious what you all feel is the optimum (generally-speaking, of course) distance your utility should be from you.


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#13 Daniel Grey

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Posted 18 March 2015 - 05:45 AM

Great stuff, all. Thanks. Curious what you all feel is the optimum (generally-speaking, of course) distance your utility should be from you.

I too would like to know this..

 

Also, can you guys recommend a good Steadicam utility in the LA area? Normally do wireless (Paralinx and similar) but upcoming TV project needs full telemetary and brick building and unfortunately no budget for a high-end RF (RF Central, Link, etc) rig or even a mid-end one (Boxx+AirPaint) so must be tethered.

 

Thanks in advance


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#14 Nathan Chapman

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Posted 18 March 2015 - 08:26 PM

I'll normally keep my assistant right on my back, spotting, or banish them completely. Having said that:

 

I've only worked wirelessly

I've only worked in sport (i.e. heaps of people to thread through, rogue basketballs flying through the air with the greatest of ease, etc.)


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