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The Beast with Two Heads: Giving the DP a zoom control

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#1 Charles Papert

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Posted 29 March 2006 - 01:13 PM

I've just finished up a pilot and wanted to share the unusual working situation we developed.

During my initial interview with DP Oliver Bokelberg, we discussed a visual style that was heavily influenced by early 70's Altman--lots of zooms. The director, Frank Darabont (fabulous chap, real genius) wanted to reference "The Long Goodbye" and other films of that era with a modern-day noir detective vibe. We were carrying some lightweight zooms such as the Optimo 15-40 and the Century 27-80 which both worked beautifully on the Arricam LT (although the Century eventually was disqualified for optical reasons) and I started the show using my Preston gimbal Microforce setup to enact the zooms. Since this was fairly uncharted territory--usually we try to hide zooms, here we were featuring them--it became apparent that Oliver would like having control over at least the zoom aspect of the image. I picked up the Preston Radio Microforce which allowed him to operate the zoom with no tether between him and the 1st AC (the unit "speaks" to the MDR2 independently and simultaneously with the FIZ handset) and we began an interesting journey, the Beast with Two Heads...

At first it seems pretty disconcerting, the idea that someone else would be working the zoom while one is trying to operate the frame around it. Any time I was below or above an eyeline, Oliver starting to zoom would instantly cause the headroom to become an issue. After a while, compensating for this became second nature for me. The spontaneous nature of working this way seemed to create a more fluid and less predictable frame that suited the material. Sometimes Oliver would augment my moves by tightening as I pushed in, other times he would create a mini-Vertigo effect by pulling out as I came to a stop which would give the shot a slightly disorienting feel. The odd thing was that after a week or so it became status quo to work this way and we would rarely discuss what needed to happen from take to take--he'd be off at the monitor working the button and the shot would just land in the pocket effortlessly. We both had a lot of fun with it and the results are really unusual.

This being a pilot, of course there's no guarantee that it will see the light of day, but in case it does I will post airing info on the results.
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#2 Eric Fletcher S.O.C.

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Posted 29 March 2006 - 01:20 PM

With the DP I do HD with most often we do alot of that. some of it is because of the cramped sets and the 40" Sony Valdez and some of it is for effect.

I have been using the Scorpio with two Handsets for the past few years, giving the DP control of the zoom and the Iris full time.

Needless to say it sometimes operating a interesting, especially when you factor in the 5 frame delay on the Downconverter, yet he is working off the real time HD-SDI monitor back at that the DIT station
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#3 Alec Jarnagin SOC

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Posted 29 March 2006 - 10:15 PM

"Needless to say it sometimes operating a interesting, especially when you factor in the 5 frame delay on the Downconverter, yet he is working off the real time HD-SDI monitor back at that the DIT station"

Now that Does get interesting.

Charles, sounds like fun, actually. Keeps you on your toes, anyway. Can't say I'd want that on every job, but it does sound intriguing. The only time I've had a DP improv the zoom is for vehicle mount stuff. Actually, come to think of it, I did a music video a couple of weeks ago that my wife was shooting and she had the zoom control (no need for metaphors here, please). That was an easy one because we think so much alike its just scary!
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#4 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 30 March 2006 - 12:33 AM

Sounds interesting Chas. I had a similar experience on a feature last year (Dirty) that featured zooms throughout. Every take would start pretty much full wide (17.5mm-137mm in S16) and end at the long end of the zoom. We never zoomed out, only in. The same was true when we used steadicam. Since we were doing staccato type zooms by hand when on dolly and handheld, I gave the DP my Bartech iris slider to remotely do the zooms when in steadicam mode. I thought this would appropriately match the zooms that we were doing by hand. My first day, and first steadicam shot, started at the wide end of the zoom, tracking from left to right as two characters enter from the far left and sit at a bar closer and to the right. As the characters sat down the DP zoomed all the way to the end of the lens in one fell swoop! Neither myself nor my 1st knew to plan for this, so I just picked one of the actors and stayed with him, and amazingly my 1st held focus the whole way.
This kind of stuff is a lot of fun. It was even more liberating and fun to know that the DP and Director wanted a searching and imperfect type of look. It really took the pressure off and allowed me to relax and be creative, as oppossed to worrying too much about keeping composition perfect all the time.
It seems like zooms are coming back into fashion a bit lately. I can't really say whether that's a good or bad thing for us as steadicam operators, but it sure makes for some interesting shots and situations.
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