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Stairs and the demanding Director/ DP


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#1 JamieSilverstein

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 05:14 AM

So here I am, working on this show with Russell Carpenter. You know Oscar winning DP, shooting a $10 million picture in nyc ......... The show has been tough going for many reasons, very few of which have had to do with me or my assistants, but it has been a hard show none the less.
The day is about shooting Jessica Alba and Terance Howard running away from the cops through a hospital. We get to a point where she has to run down one and a half sets of stairs only to find cops on the bottom of the stairs, and run up them at full speed again. Up and down a set and a half of narrow steep metal stairs at full tilt..........
Now I suck at Don Juan when it comes to stairs, and tried to do the shot backwards, Knowing full well that I was going to break my neck if I wasn't lucky. Needless to say, I suggested that we change the shot. I guess my questions are these;
1) have any of you done that type of shot, and if so tell me?
2) are any of you really that good at DJ to run full tilt down stairs and hold a great frame? and then run back up those same stairs. Backwards?
3) I told the director and Russell to break the shot into several parts and work it that way. This is the first time that I have had to admit that couldn't do a Steadicam shot and I was totally uncomfortable saying that (my own fault and weakness)........... What would you have done?
We got the shots, the director and Russell were happy. (I haven't been fired)

Guess I'm going to practice more on those stairs again. Only this time at full speed. Oh and by the way, Jessica Alba is as fantastic and fantastic looking as you might imagine.
I look forward to your comments and thoughts
Peace
Jamie.
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#2 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 09:15 AM

For what its worth Jamie i think you made the right call. Running down stairs is not something id ever want to do either; ive only been asked to do it once so far and responded in the same manner you did.
Maybe if i had a lightweight running rig id give it a shot but not with a full 35mm package. Would also depend on the angle of the stairs and the size of the steps; not all stairs are equal:) In your case you used your best judgement to do what was safe AND you helped the director and DP to cover the scene in the best way possible given the limiting circumstances - id call that a good days work.

I remenber Chris Haarhoff recounting a horror story about running down some stairs on the old forum a while back - maybe he can chime in?

cheers,

Edited by Stephen Murphy, 19 December 2005 - 07:12 PM.

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#3 RobVanGelder

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 10:11 AM

Running up the stairs, yes, I would try, but i know it can be a very close call as I once feld my toes touching the edge and was just able to correct.....

Running down and backwards is a no-no for me and I would strongly suggest, but as political as possible of course, to change the shots as you did, a very wise decision.

Falling down from stairs will not only damage your rig and camera but very likely your body, it´s just not worth it, in my opinion.

When this can be done in a controlled manner (normal or slow speed) it´s a different story, but the action you describe was clearly high speed.

You did fine here, no need to feel guilty.
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#4 thomas-english

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 10:48 AM

Would there be a way of sorting this shot out with advanced notice?

I did a "crane walk off" type shot a little while ago... but instead of a crane a load of chippies built this mad steep wooden freestanding staircase. there was big joists in the top of the warehouse and I wore a rockclimbing harness and had a couple of people feed the rope out as I ran down these stairs. they unclipped me at the bottom to continue the shot. it was though with the aaton 35mm. I wonder if something like this could be organised with regular stairs. I guess so much depends on the location.

thomas
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#5 RonBaldwin

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 11:20 AM

most of the camera crew I'm with on grey's anatomy were with Russel on True Lies, T2, Titanic, and Monster-in-law (I think that was the one). I've heard many funny stories. I know he's used Jimmy Muro alot in the past. He's a fast runner -- just watch the bts on Any Given Sunday. Jim's running full tilt chasing football players with his prototype SK and magnesium camera.

Stairs are always dreaded. I occaisionaly do stairs and suck at them as most of us do. With fast shots on stairs (as well as running with the rig) I feel close to death and barely in control. I did some full tilt running in don juan friday night for about 2 hrs and this old man is still feeling it! I stripped the camera of the kino, the cine-tape, and the sled of one battery -- shaved off about 5 or 6 lbs. That helped alot...but it still sucked.

Ron B
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#6 nealnorton

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 11:47 AM

Running down stairs seems like a great way to end the day early.

I have no doubt there are operators that can do this type of shot with some confidence - but I am not one of them. Very scary.

If I have to attempt this sort of thing (I can't talk my way out of it) I do the following:

Work with one hand on a bannister or railing and slide that hand along while shooting one-handed. I know it isn't really precise but I'm in survival mode.

Show the actor the minimum close distance to come to the camera. Some actors will actually pay attention to this while others (Denzel Washington for instance) will run over you -really. Explain that it might seem really slow but that if you come closer than "X" feet the shot is over anyway.

Give yourself the biggest head start the Director will stand for. Maybe he/she will actually buy into the concept that having the actors closing on the camera makes them look faster.

Start really really slow. Do the first rehearsal with second team if at all possible at half speed and come up to speed incrementally as everybody involved learns where to be- especially your spotter(s).

Count the steps. I count them out loud while working out the shot. It helps me both with the steps and with the timing of the shot. As the rehearsals/takes get faster just increase your cadence.

Keep the number of people involved to as few as possible. Grip/spotter, focus puller and you - explain/plead with the sound guys for a wire rather than a boom mic. No a.d. or off-camera actors, etc. and hope the D.P. will go without a basher (gaffers/electricians are focused on lighting and they want to ocupy the same space you do). As the number of people involved increase, the chances of an accident increase as well.

If your shot looks too slow and boring, The Director might re-think the whole thing and go with something safer. It is also possible that you suprise yourself and end up with something pretty cool.

Take care!

Neal Norton
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#7 Howard J Smith

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 03:35 PM

Hi Guys

I totally agree with you all, Stairs AHHHHH!

But in my younger days, the worst shot I ever did on stairs was a full out run chase scene down a sprial staircase at a tube station in Don Juan with a Moviecam, the worst part (as Neal pointed out) is counting the stairs, as these were 10 stairs then a landing then 10 stairs etc all 170 of them. And I had stunt men falling down the stairs as the actor I was filming was pushing them, he was running 2 stairs at a time, so I had to not only get out of the way of the falling stunt men, but also get them in shot. The film was called "Honest" - it did not do very well, but I did some very fast don juan running that day. (totally f***ed the next day!)

I just took my own time and to be fair they did offer not to do it if I was not comfortable, but I just spent about 20 minutes building my speed up, slow then fast, then fast but looking over my shoulder then slowly with the sled and then balls out! I also wore a lot of pading the stunt guys gave me for my fore arms and elbows etc, just in case.

And the shot that almost finished me off, on another picture (The Parole Officer), running Don Juan full sprint up a stair case with a Millenimum (Not XL) with Primos etc, 17 times for the actor!

It is like drugs - Just say NO!.

Have a great holidays
All the best
Howard

Edited by HJS-MK-V, 19 December 2005 - 04:00 PM.

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#8 Marc_Abernathy

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 06:50 PM

nealnorton,
funny you mentioned denzel washington.. in "out of time" when he was running up and down the stairs towards the end, there was a shot when the operator bumped the Rig (or it got hit) and the frame jarred..


jamie, i think you handled that well. im sure this big $hot DP could have gotten any number of Ops to do it in his original way but seems he went ahead with your direction and it proved to work. in the end, the viewer wont know that it was changed and im sure the editors will edit the scene in such a way so that the end result will still be the same.

...and you get to go home at the end of the day safe and free of any accidents..

how many times have we shot feet and feet of footage only to have seconds of it make the final cut?
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#9 Alec Jarnagin SOC

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 09:40 PM

Jamie,

Like many things in life - its about communication and presentation. You presented your case well and communicated your reservations and you lived to see your children that night.

God speed, man. I look forward to sipping a coffee with you and catching up when our schedules permit.
Very brave posting, by the way.

Peace.
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#10 IanMcMillan

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Posted 20 December 2005 - 07:51 AM

Hey Jamie,
I can only agree to what has been said before and one other comment. Wait for the cut. It will not be one shot. So mny Dir and DPs want the whole thing in one and that is partly understandable, but even they know its going to an edit.

All the best

Macca
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#11 Jon Myers

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Posted 20 December 2005 - 02:29 PM

If I know that I need to go up stairs quickly or do a fair amount of running I do one of two things. I either mount the camera backwards on the dovetail plate and reverse the image in the monitor (so that I can see the monitor and where I'm going like normal) or I just swing the monitor around (I use an LCD) over the batts (I use an XCS Ultimate). You can also buy one of Howards monitor brackets that you can mount 2 monitors on. Hope that this helps next time.

Jon
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#12 Imran Naqvi

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Posted 20 December 2005 - 08:17 PM

I recently had a day on a low budget feature shooting on S16. The director wanted a full run out of a bedroom down 4 flights of stairs 150ft down a corridor into the kitchen in the basement (it was a stately home) in DJ. I spent a while walking it out taking my time to look at it right. I had a grip that totally had my back.

The DP and director wanted this shot at 5 fps so I was also wearing the speed ramp box.

The camera crew took a little while to set up and so the director wanted to roll on straightaway, I said I would prefer a rehearsal but what can you say? So we did it. It looked crap, the actor whom I'd asked to help me a little by being aware and not closing in too close and hugging the wall rather than the bannister did the opposite of everything I asked.

Director took one look and decided I wasn't going to get it and wanted to do it handheld.

The kicker? The DP was ramping up and down from 25 to 5 fps during the shot, the first time he ramped up from 5 to 25 he did it so hard that it tore the perfs in the film and the shot was un-useable. So I had to sit there for the rest of the day beating myself up over a shot I shouldn't have done, without a rehearsal and which was un-useable for tech reasons.

And I still had to stay for the last shot of the day which was another run down stairs this time only down 2 flights and a follow. We nailed that on the 3rd take and I felt a little bit better when I left but that first shot still bugs me.

I will definitely know better next time...
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#13 geoff shotz

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Posted 21 December 2005 - 01:17 AM

jamie- i had a similar situation on a low budget feature several years back. it was one of those features that promises to have a moviecam sl and when you show up it's a bl4(not kidding). i had a shoot em up chase scene down several flights of stairs that was just wrong on so many levels. so i had the same discussion that you had about quality and safety and provided an option that worked well. my staircase was a switchback style that had large landings. on some i would start a level down from the actors and converge on them. i would run up the last few stairs to the landing where we would meet and i would hinge them around and follow them back down a little ways, letting them fall away. on some i would let my full tilt running actors just grow on me around a corner as i did my best to back down half a set or so of stairs. i too keep one hand on the rail at all times and i never do dj, so it is backwards or nothing. on the last flight they overtook me and i hinged them around and descended on them into a lockoff. it was very dynamic and way bettter than the original idea of lead/follow/shoot feet. this only was possible because i was able to convince the dp and dir that the dynamic of the stairs would play better this way and quietly point out how it might cut...all without stepping on anyones toes. that is the really hard part. when i saw the final cut, they looked like they went down 2 flights of stairs. short chase scene, but it's still on my reel. i think you played the situation really well. in the end, that's what will get you the call back because it's what allowed you to do the job to everyones' satisfaction.

geoff
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#14 Charles Papert

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Posted 21 December 2005 - 01:54 AM

I'll be selling my SL Cine camera pretty soon--5 lb body, unbelievable for running or stairs work--anyone interested, drop me a line.
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#15 JamieSilverstein

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Posted 23 December 2005 - 12:42 PM

So here I am, working on this show with Russell Carpenter. You know Oscar winning DP, shooting a $10 million picture in nyc ......... The show has been tough going for many reasons, very few of which have had to do with me or my assistants, but it has been a hard show none the less.
The day is about shooting Jessica Alba and Terance Howard running away from the cops through a hospital. We get to a point where she has to run down one and a half sets of stairs only to find cops on the bottom of the stairs, and run up them at full speed again. Up and down a set and a half of narrow steep metal stairs at full tilt..........
Now I suck at Don Juan when it comes to stairs, and tried to do the shot backwards, Knowing full well that I was going to break my neck if I wasn't lucky. Needless to say, I suggested that we change the shot. I guess my questions are these;
1) have any of you done that type of shot, and if so tell me?
2) are any of you really that good at DJ to run full tilt down stairs and hold a great frame? and then run back up those same stairs. Backwards?
3) I told the director and Russell to break the shot into several parts and work it that way. This is the first time that I have had to admit that couldn't do a Steadicam shot and I was totally uncomfortable saying that (my own fault and weakness)........... What would you have done?
We got the shots, the director and Russell were happy. (I haven't been fired)

Guess I'm going to practice more on those stairs again. Only this time at full speed. Oh and by the way, Jessica Alba is as fantastic and fantastic looking as you might imagine.
I look forward to your comments and thoughts
Peace
Jamie.


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