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Need advice for going all the way

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#1 Dan Coplan

Dan Coplan

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Posted 10 November 2005 - 02:33 AM

I'm a union operator thinking very seriously about getting into Steadicam. I've been doing a lot of research but need more advice before I pull the trigger.

The two rigs that seem to be worth considering are Steadicam Ultra or Vector and GPI Pro (do you agree?). What are the pros and cons of these rigs - which would you choose if you were starting from scratch? I'd like something that would be just as capable with 16 and HD as with 35 (I shoot a lot of HD but don't want to limit myself to a rig that can only fly lighter HD cameras).

Should I take the full plunge, take out a loan, and go new or save a bunch of money and go used? Is it worth the extra money to go new? Does it make any sense to get some components new and some used? What's the possibility of developing a relationship with someone that doesn't use their rig that often and renting it so I'm not making a huge cash commitment until I know I can generate enough income to justify buying my own and they're getting paid rather than having the thing sit around collecting dust?

Training: I've heard about the 2-day with Tiffen, the 5-day with Tiffen, and the 5-day in Yellow Springs. I've heard Yellow Springs is the best, but they won't have another training until May. I've heard mixed reviews about the Tiffen trainings - some say they're very worthwhile whereas others say don't bother. What about paying an existing operator to be privately trained?

Any and all advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Dan Coplan
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#2 Afton Grant

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Posted 10 November 2005 - 07:31 AM

Hi Dan,

Welcome. Take a day or so to read through the posts here on this forum and you'll find the answers to many of your questions.

The differences between rigs at the high ends like that comes down to primarily personal preference. Which features do you like better? Which suit your needs? They'll all do a great job doing what YOU tell them to - which is key.

As for money, again, it's a matter of your individual situation. If you've got the money to spend, spend it. If not, you'll need a loan. If you don't have a lot of experience with the equipment, perhaps your suggestion on renting would be a good idea. It'll get you in the gear without a great investment.

The workshop is a no-brainer. Take it. 2 days is better than 0. 5 days is better than 2. There's nothing wrong with Tiffen that I've ever heard. Again, it's about gaining as much experience with the gear as possible.

If you're ever working on a show with a Steadicam op present, study them. Become like a frigging wildlife expert. Take pictures, make drawings, take notes. Try not to shoot them with a tranquilizer to get a blood sample though. If it appears they are taking a break and not too busy, introduce yourself. That'll be a very valuable resource, and you'll most likely find him or her to be very generous with information, much like the ops here on these forums.

Again, much of what I just said has already been said in greater detail on past posts. Read those, get your preferences and priorities in order, and good luck.

Afton Grant
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#3 Erwin Landau

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Posted 27 November 2005 - 09:20 AM

Hi Dan,

Firstly: You get what you pay for!

Find the equipment that you like and then figure out how to pay for it. Try everything and anything. Educate yourself on what is out there, once you know what you want, go and get it.(If you can't get it now, put it on a list and work towards it). As they say with all exotic and expensive "toys"... if you have to ask you can't afford it.

It's a given that, if you want to play with the boys in the big Sand box you will have to spend around $100'000.- sooner or later. Better later when the job actually pays for your equipment... but that is not always a given. You have to be able to step on a set, with mostly short notice and have all the toys to get a basic shot off, without running around for days to get all together. Or turn down a job because you have to borrow an Arm but they call you at 11PM for a 6AM call and you can't get hold of your friend that usually lends you his ...

These days they expect that you have everything.... (But lately I'm flabergasted when they pay me full rate and then I get questions as if I own a FF or a Transmitter?????? that's after we talked about money and rental, did get some extra cash when I again rented the Modulus to the company) Anyhow...

It will not be possible at first but trust me you will not miss the days that you had to drive around till 1AM to pick up a carmount for the next days work day...

New or Used... New gives you the piece of mind that it will work on set. Used may or may not. You can concentrate on the shot and not worry about batteries, monitor, screws, will the arm hold for the shot etc...

But then again I own pieces of equipment that are 20 years old and I'm using them still on a daily bases.

Also the moment you walk out the door the equipment lost 20% of it's value... but it will hold that price for many years to come... if bought from one of the big guys. Anything else is scrap metal.

Most important Components: (In Order)

- Vest
- Arm
- Gimbal
- Monitor
- Follow Focus
- Video Assist

The first 4 are for you, making your life easier, the other 2 are for your client and do not improve your operating.

The Vest is the most important part, it's your comfort level... physically as well as psychologically. If you fill comfortable you are at ease and don't think about your vest and that it hurts but rather what you are shooting. It also gives you better odds that you will still be able to walk after your Steadi carriere is over.
I would never ever buy a used Vest. If anything don't save on the Vest. Buy everything used but not the vest. You will see that most Operator over the years updated everything but the Vest. (I had 8 rigs but only 2 Vests). Look for comfort!!!

The Arm separates your movement from the rig. Makes for better operating when you can't see your foot steps in the frame. Look for ease in operation and maintenace. Rigidity and fluidity. Boom range will help in the prevention of lock ups at either end. If you can't reach the end it will not lock and if you reach the end it should not be visible.

The Gimbal again separation. The smoother it is the fewer inperfections will show up in frame. Tilt and Pan. Wippans... smooth. Go for a non tool with intigrated wrap grip.

The Monitor you have to be able to see your Image at alltimes. If you can't see you can't frame, if they don't like the frame , they don't like you... you're back walking the line in your living room.

Follow Focus if the image is soft they will blame the Ist AC, he will blame your FF and if he is the DP's regular, guess who is going home early?

Video Assist... Thanks to Jerry Lewis and alike... the Director strangely wants to see what you shoot, you can get away with only a Transmitter and some handheld TV... but soon they will expect the full package.

Some perls of wisdom: Buy local and if not make sure that the company has an impecable track record in Costumer service and Product. (XCS, GPI, Preston, Walter Klassen, Bartech, Transvideo, Palomar, Lentequip, Steadirig) (My personal favored - No special order)

Sorry for the rant,

Just my 2 cents,

Good Luck (You have my Phone Number)


Erwin Landau, SOC
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