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Deeper understanding

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#1 Janice Arthur

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Posted 19 April 2015 - 06:37 PM

Hi all;

One of those things that gets discussed among operators but not necessarily on the forum or in words always was how your thoughts and understanding change as you operate.

Typically after a workshop and a few months practice an operator has this "eureka" moment and thinks they have it all figured out. Then a year in another epiphany happens and draws us in further; then the next big understanding happens about three years into wearing the vest.

I'm not sure I can articulate the moments exactly after all this time but I do remember the understanding changing.

What do u guys have to say about it and I'm sure that time frame has shortened now that we all know this stuff so differently.

It would be fun to see if we can put this into words.


Have a good and peace filled year.
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#2 Jarrett P. Morgan

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Posted 19 April 2015 - 07:02 PM

This is an awesome topic idea and I look forward to hearing what all you folks have to say about it. 


I have had a couple of eureka moments, but the most recent of which was after a bit of an email conversation with Larry. Just hearing his take on things and me applying those to how I operate gave me a bit of an "oh! of course I should do this" moment. Really a nice moment to have!!

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#3 Janice Arthur

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Posted 19 April 2015 - 07:19 PM

Hi all;

As I think to the moments from workshops and teaching moments that came to me months later as almost echos I heard myself remembering Ted Churchill sayings pop into mind with no prompting.

So as we go forward those echos are a good and sound way to think of things. What do u remember from workshops?

As I remember specifics I'll pass them on but even now the memory of them makes me smile.

(You bastard, I still miss u.)

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#4 Mike McGowan SOC

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Posted 19 April 2015 - 11:27 PM

I can think of two off the top of my head. 

One was when I finished a shot and realized I had finally 'disengaged'.  I had reached a point (without even knowing it) that I was doing what one of my mentors used to tell me to do, "Michael, you have to disengage from that thing'.  Basically meaning "use the force" or stop thinking about how to operate the rig, just operate. 


The other was precise framing.  I had a camera man tell me I needed to concentrate on being more precise.  I just said, "okay" but didn't really get what he was talking about.  Came to me a few days later on the same show.  At some point it stops being about just getting a shot that doesn't suck or even a good shot but to get a great shot, with exactly the same composition, every take.


The first one requires you to stop thinking about what your doing and the second one requires you to really concentrate on what your doing (at least at first).  Then you find your muscle memory takes over and you just instinctively hit that precise frame without having to think about it.


Cool topic!

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#5 Charles Papert

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Posted 20 April 2015 - 01:22 AM

Even though I don't wear a rig any more, I'm still peripherally engaged in the same mental design process that makes Steadicam interesting, where you decide where the frame should be at any given fraction of a second, how to tweak the other elements in the set or adjust the physicality of the actors to make the shot more fluid, rhythmic or successful. Being removed from the physicality actually gives me more of an opportunity to focus on the results (from the capuccino-sipping comfort of a chair at the monitor), but it does require me to communicate nuances that are often hard to put into words, which is a fascinating challenge itself. I've been working with Rich Davis for over a year now and I think we have our most fulfilling moments together when we collaborate to refine Steadicam shots--maybe he will chime in on this from his perspective?


One recent example was a seemingly simple walk and talk backtracking with two actors. At the end, character A finished her lines and character B threw her a puzzled look. We wanted to go out on that look and have the actors exit the frame to make a better cut to the next scene. Obviously Rich had to slow down as they kept walking to achieve this, but figuring out the exit itself took some experimenting. Having them both exit one way or another seemed like it might have worked but the hallway was too narrow for this to happen without Rich countering them, which drew attention to the camera (we attempted to slowly slide into a rake towards the end of the scene, but it still felt unmotivated). Having them split the camera was too precious. Ultimately, I suggested that Rich slow down during character A's last line and at the point where the 2-shot got too tight to hold, he would gently pan into a single of character B, continuing to pan with them  just long enough to carry the reaction as they passed him. Character A crossed out on the other side of camera but because we never saw this happen in the shot, we didn't have that "precious" issue. Once we found just the right timing to character B out of frame, it all fell into place and seemed like the most obvious thing in the world.


That feeling, when the shot is "just right", is probably the most satisfying eureka moment I can think of. Now that I have worked with a good number of operators, I have learned to quickly identify where they are on their journey to this level:  


1) essentially marching through the set, carrying the rig from A to B  without much thought towards nuance

2) able to sense when the shot isn't quite right but not quite knowing how to fix it

3) knowing how to fix it but depending on their chops, may take longer to get there than we have time for

4) able to incorporate one or multiple notes from me and/or the director along with their own improvements and thus making subsequent takes "just right".


Best case scenario is that they come up with something far better than what I had in mind, which is a win for all!

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#6 karl cresser

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Posted 07 May 2015 - 09:53 AM

Lovely topic Janice.

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#7 Manny Gutierrez

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 11:32 AM

I remember picking up a rig for the first time, and the only thing not telling me to put it right back down was my pride.

Then another operator, kept telling me to keep picking it up,

as often as possible,

until it just becomes an acceptable weight on your body,

and you can actually work on getting decent at it

I had a very strange road into steadicam in that I come from a live, multi-camera background, starting off doing jib, but always salivating at the freedom of the steadicam.

The studio i was working in had a steadicam, owned by the network, but it was barely used, save for music performances.

We had a second hour lunch, for some crazy reason, and I remember exhausting the operators in the studio of their knowledge, and getting in the rig for 2 hrs a day, 4 days a week, just trying to get it under control.

I began observing other nyc steadicam operators, on their shows, which lead to quite a few 'A-ha' moments, from balancing the rig correctly, to tweeking my footwork, and controlling the transfer of weight from one foot to the other.

Within a year of taking other peoples feedback, and a lot of hours in the vest, I was getting to a point where I felt comfortable actually charging people to do this. I had so much respect for my fellow operators I didn't want to jump in until I felt damn sure I wasn't going to discourage a production from using steadicam in the future.

I had some ups,

some downs,

moments where I wanted to just walk away from it, and seriously questioned whether this was a mistake or not.

But then I had someone take a flier on me, gave me a shot, on a real low budget show, and just encouraged me to try new things. 

I was hooked after that, and suddenly I began 'disengaging',

not thinking as much, just expressing...

Suddenly, I began tumbling down the rabbit hole of the desire for perfection and greatness,

every frame culminating to some moment yet to be discovered, but when it hits, it feels like the world slows, swirls, and for a moment there is something that happens...

Over the last few years, I've had a few moments, hard to say what it is exactly, but it just hits me, and its almost like I've leveled up in a video game, and suddenly able to do so much more...

I don't know how else to explain it, but I'm thankful for it.

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#8 Mark Stitzer

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Posted 19 May 2015 - 08:54 AM

I agree with Janice and others that there are moments, or even plateaus when learning to operate Steadicam.  I used an old one my company had for years and thought I had figured it out.  When I finally went to a workshop, I realized I had some poor operating habits and so got knocked down a peg.  The workshop helped tremendously and my setups and operating was immediately better for it, so again I thought I had it all figured out.  I felt comfortable in the rig, I was able to disengage from the rig and my operating felt almost automatic.  Then I had to do some slow moves and longer lens work and quickly realized I had a long way to go in getting the precision needed to be a good operator.  

After some time feeling like I'm stuck at a particular skill level, I'll finish a shot and check playback and realize that I did some good work and I don't even remember intentionally doing some of the movement in it.  It just starts to come naturally.  I'm sure next week I'll have a shot that will knock me back down again, and then I'll reset my level of personal expectations a notch higher and work towards my next "moment".

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