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Rookie Mistakes

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#1 Afton Grant

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Posted 24 October 2005 - 08:40 AM

Out of sheer curiosity, and admittingly a desire to never become an example of any sort, I'd like to find out what some of the common rookie mistakes are when working - setup, operating, everything. I'd imagine stuff like not clamping the gimbal completely before uprighting the rig, or unclamping one of the post clamps only to have the bottom sled crash to the ground. Misconfiguration of cables perhaps? Anyone have anecdotes?

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#2 Matt Burton

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Posted 24 October 2005 - 11:11 AM

Hi Afton,
Their are loads of do's and don't's but it's normally something learned the hard way that sinks in the most.
Here's a couple i learned the hard way.
1- never use bad allen(hex) keys to tighten bolts on post (leads to striped heads and drill outs).
2- Allways make sure every bit of camera is sercurely fitted before balancing (obvious! but when your in a rush it's surprising what you can miss out, like a viewfinder or light).

And then their's people who go out and get £40.000's worth of steadicam without ever even holding a camera but i won't go into that.

And the list goes on......

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#3 Charles Papert

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Posted 24 October 2005 - 11:16 AM

I would say the most aggregious are:

Taking too long to set up (holding up production)
Forgetting to patrol the set for flags and lights etc. that won't be obvious in the monitor, but will show up onscreen
Excess tweaking and fiddling between takes
Requiring too many takes to get the shot
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#4 Howard J Smith

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Posted 24 October 2005 - 12:28 PM

Hi Guys

I agree with the other points.

I would say a big mistake that I see a lot of, is standing around with the kit on for want of a better word 'posing' and by the time they want to shoot they are worn out.

My personal fav. is knocking the directors teeth out with a swinging arm - see above - this happened (thankfully not to me)

Also NEVER do a running shot without checking the route first WITHOUT the kit - I have seen people go down on a patch of oil, or a pot hole.

Fly safe - enjoy and remember the best word you can say is "no" if you are not sure, better that, than hurting your slef and smashing all the kit...

Take care
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#5 Tom Wills

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Posted 24 October 2005 - 01:58 PM

As to knocking people's teeth out with the arm, well, me being the newbie that I am to this field, the first time I flew the full rig, I ended up putting a dent on a car when I was setting up too quickly, and fogot where my arm was when I span around to put the sled on. Definetly not fun. :P
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#6 YecidBenavides


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Posted 31 May 2006 - 08:40 PM

Hey Everyone,

I know it's been a while since anyone writes in this one, but still...I laughed out loud on reading some of these, so here are some to add to the list:

1. Scraping the wall (or the carefully painted doorframe on a set) with the arm

2. Don't go without a spotter...especially on a demonstration. (The story: Miami, finishing a successful demonstration of the rigs we manufacture. Had an HD...I forget the model...on it and on the last sprint, went from carpeted floor to slippery tile and tried to turn. Needless to say, my feet went from under me, the bottom of my sled crashed to the floor and broke the battery base off, the bottom of the stage where it meets the pole broke off, and the camera flew and rolled 3 times before it stopped....so did my heart.

I must admit that was one of the worst experiences in my life altogether. I used to brag I didn't have really embarrasing situations in my life, until that day. Cool part of the story is the people were so impressed with how the rig worked, that the first thing they were worried about was if I was alright and if the rig was fixable. They didn't say much about the camera...just picked it up and ran to the editing suite to see the footage...it was awesome, but it contained the whole flying (and I don't mean with the rig) and the camera taking the three rolls...took me months to get over it... so moral of the story....SPOTTER ALWAYS!!!

Yecid Jr.

P.S. After that I also sent a note to our shop to reinforce the heck out of the places that broke...they did...not that I plan on falling again.
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#7 Frederic Chamberland

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 10:18 PM

Not reading the call-sheet...

3 stairs to go up following the actors with a full load (535), after 5 takes, director says : " Let's do the reverse now..." that meant preceding them, mix of DJ and climbing backwards. I froze halfway tru on the second take. My legs gave up on me. Gave the sled to the grip while trying to climb what is left on my own, director asks me what can we do and I answer "...you can do anything you want but you will do it without me..." ouch...
Let's just say I am not credited in that film. That was my first real job with a rental rig on a big movie of the week. I stepped away for 2 years before buying my own equipment and came back from dust.

This experience is my worst of all time on a set, there is still a couple of technicians who witnessed that stellar performance and just tease me sometimes with it.

read your call sheet. I do .
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#8 RobVanGelder


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Posted 31 May 2006 - 10:40 PM

When I was a focus puller i assisted an operator during a shooting at the National Symphony Orchestra.
We did this beautiful move between the violins, everything dandy untill he scratched the invaluable Stradivarius violin of one of the players.......... Ouch
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#9 Lohengrin Zapiain

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 10:57 PM

Oh yeah... and there is the most common one:

Not negotiating your rate properly (just because you are so exited about finally working with your rig for the first time... and the second ... and the third... and so on)

Loh "don´t work for Pizza and beer please" Zapiain
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#10 Dave Bittner

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Posted 01 June 2006 - 08:25 AM

Other than my infamous collision with the beautiful cuban dancer, I once ruined a critical shot by allowing myself to do a shot against my better judgement, pushing against the limits of exhaustion. It was a simple two-shot, preceeding a couple of actors on a paved bike-path next to a lake. Rolling hills made the shot trickier, but the clincher was that they were going to be jogging. If I'd known ahead of time I would have insisted on a rickshaw or even a small dolly, but there we were, ready to shoot, all eyes on me.

Now, I hate Don Juan. I've always preferred back pedalling, even up stairs. (GB and I once had a "spirited" discussion about this at a workshop...) So I did the rehearsal back pedalling, and quickly realized that I wouldn't be able to do multiple takes running backward with a full load. Okay, Don Juan it is. Unfortunately, because of my dislike for Don Juan I hadn't been practicing Don Juan much. We did several takes, I was ready to collapse when we were done. After each take I asked the director what she thought, if the shot looked good in the portable wireless monitor I provided her. "Great! Let's do another!" was the reply. (How many time have we all heard that one?) It turns out she really wasn't paying much attention to the monitor, and was watching the actors. When they got the footage back my headroom was all over the place. We're talking really, really all over the place. Disaster. And the crazy thing was that during the shoot I never had any sense that there was a problem, in retrospect because I was bordering on collapse the whole time. Poor judgement on my part, I'm afraid.

Lucky for me I also have folks here who can do visual effects, so we were able to do some surgery on the footage and make the shots usable. But that client never hired me again for steadicam, and I don't blame them.

The moral of the story: Don't be so cocky that you think you won't need to use a particular set of skills. Up to this point I had been fine backpedalling all over the place, so my Don Juan got rusty. (After this situation, guess what I spent a lot of time practicing?) I also physically pushed myself beyond the point I should have, letting ego get in the way.

And when Garrett tells you it's important to keep your Don Juan skills sharp, that you never know when you'll need them and there are situations where it's simply a safer alternative, DON'T ARGUE WITH HIM! He's got a bit of experience at this game, and knows what he's taking about.
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#11 BJMcDonnell SOC

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Posted 02 June 2006 - 09:52 AM

As for "SPOTTERS", make sure it is someone who has spotted steadicam before. I was working on a AFI thesis project a few years ago and I had a scene where I had to run backwards with our actor. There were two paths to take, the right path and the wrong path. I checked the area where I had to go beginning in the grass and then going onto a asphalt street. The right area had a nice paved street where as the wrong area had a few pot holes in it. I showed my "SPOTTER" where to lead me and where not to take me. Sure enough on the second run my spotter led me right into the (Kenny Loggins style) DANGER ZONE!
Well I remember like everything got ramped in film, I stepped in a hole and I felt myself going down. I put the rig way out in front of me and my shoulder took the hit on the concrete. My rig and the moviecam compact were OK but I was bleeding pretty good from my shoulder. I think the worst broken part was my ego. My spotter had no prior experience spotting and he just let me go. So now I choose more carefully who is spotting me and how fast I have to run backwards or if I can use a rickshaw.

The second thing you want to make sure before any job which newbie ops forget is to make sure you get a certificate of insurance for your gear no matter what. Alot of people forget about getting that and it will save you if anything gets broken on set. I was on a feature where the B cam op tried to get the camera off my sled without loosening the bolt that secures the dovetail. He snapped the little finger switch right off my rig. He did not tell me about it untill I got to the bar where everybody was drinking and he was drinking heavily because he was scared to tell me. Good thing I had production give me the certificate of insurance and three days later I had a new clamp from GPI shipped to me.

BJ McDonnell
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#12 Charles Papert

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Posted 02 June 2006 - 05:07 PM

How about this one--being really enthusiastic and "selling" a great Steadicam shot to the director without being aware of the consequences to others in your department or even others that may ultimately bone you.

For instance: time is running out before lunch and a "quick" insert is needed--the AD asks "can we get it? can we just shoot it on the Steadicam?" and the DP looks at you and you say "yeah! watch this!" because it will make you look like a hero. So the 100mm goes on the rig and you are shooting a closeup of an ant crawling in a guy's hand (I'm making this scenario up by the way) and you are feeling great about how steady the shot is and how good this is making you look. Meanwhile, the guy's hand is moving around a bit, and the AC is gritting his teeth and frantically tweaking the focus--and then the director asks the actor to start with his hand out and bring it up into frame. After a few tries, they cut and the DP asks "how was focus"? and of course you shrug and look at the AC, and he shakes off the sweat and says, "uh--I feel good about it" and you go to lunch. A day or two later, you find out the shot was NG for focus, and it goes back on the call sheet for another day.

The solution here was to stand up for the assistant (who probably should have stood up for himself) with the DP and remind him that there is no way that anyone can assure that the focus was good if you do it on Steadicam, as opposed to having your eye in the eyepiece if you had taken the extra 5 minutes to do it on the conventional camera. If the DP says "what the hell, let's try it anyway, we can always re-shoot it" and the director agrees, you are off the hook. The other scenario ends up with the assistant resenting you for selling them down the river, which won't help your working relationship any.

Other variations on this: creating a shot or variations within the shot with the director that will cause lighting issues with the DP and not checking with him first (obviously not a good person to piss off); not informing your AC of your intention to change up the move from take to take, so he has no chance to prepare for your apparently spontaneous push in to minimum focus; not letting sound know that you will be making a previously unscheduled tilt up (resulting in a boom incursion); etc.

The overriding moral is: communicate with everyone who can benefit from knowing what you have in mind. You'll get the shot in less takes, and it keeps things happy on set. And in the first example--when you have a say in the matter, knowing when NOT to use Steadicam is as important as knowing when to use it.
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#13 thomas-english


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Posted 02 June 2006 - 06:37 PM

wake up with the producer on the second day of a feature
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#14 Sean Jensen

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Posted 03 June 2006 - 07:40 AM

Hi All!

I think the biggest mistake that can be made is - going out before you are ready. I'm talking about big gigs. Many operators want to get out there right away to start paying for their huge investments. But, if your skills are not up to it, you can seriously hurt your future career. You have to hone your skills somewhere, and that's what student films and freebees are for. But you've got to be on your game for the big shows.

When new steadicam ops or even people who are thinking about buying gear ask me for advice, I say "practice, practice, practice and don't go out before you are ready."

There was a guy I told this to and he didn't listen. A director pal of mine worked with him on a TV show and told me that after five or six takes of a shot he said "OK...moving on". Not because he was happy with the shot but because he knew it wasn't getting any better, and in fact, the shot was getting worse.

This operator doesn't work much any more. So much for that big investment.

We all have to remember that when we show up on set, all eyes are on us. We are supposed to know our job better than anyone else and when we screw up, for whatever reason, this can cost production thousands of dollars. It's very easy to get a bad reputation.

So, practice and don't go out before you are ready.


Sean Jensen
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#15 Michael Stumpf

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Posted 03 June 2006 - 10:50 AM

Along Sean Jensen's point is this too:

Claiming you are an "A" Camera Operator when you have NO real experience
as an "A" Camera Operator!!!
Or your only experience as an "A" camera operator came on a couple 1 camera shoots that
were all ultra low budget jobs. This does NOT make you an "A" Camera Operator!!

For the newbies (less than 3 years of full time operating/steadicam experience) trying to look good by stating you are an "A" Camera Operator when you've never really been an "A" camera operator on any project
with more than 1 camera or on any project that had a real budget with experienced cast and crew members will only get you in trouble and show most of that cast and crew (director, producer, and DP in particular) that you lied and they can clearly tell you are not an "A" camera operator. This also applies to the gearhead/technocrane, etc as well.
Stating you are experienced operating them when you've really on practiced with them or done ultra low
budget jobs where the shots weren't hard doesn't mean you are proficient with them for a "real" job.

Sadly there are a quite of few guys who make the above claims. We all hear about them throught the grapevine from producers, directors, and DP's later on, and the stories are often not good.

Like Sean stated, as with the Steadicam, don't go out trying to sell yourself as being all that with all the
gear when you are a newbie ( first 3 years fulltime work in the profession). Most of the time, you'll only
be fooling youself and/or other newbie people in their professions.
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