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#1 MikeB


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Posted 18 June 2004 - 01:24 PM

Just found you guys and thought this might be a good place to start asking. I've looked through various posts and archives and haven?t found info for me problem yet?but maybe it?s in one of the earlier archives.

Okay, so I work in an educational setting?which means never enough time or money (We want it perfect/we want it cheap/we want it tomorrow dammit!) and using the Steadicam is only a small portion of my duties here. We have a Steadicam VideoSK using a JVC DR-DV5000 camera. When I arrived there was nobody who could show me how it to use it correctly?.so basically it?s been pretty much a ?Doctor, Doctor, It hurts when I do this!" / "So don?t do that.? affair. And there?s little chance of sending me to a training workshop unless it?s cheap (no, I mean cheap) and in the Midwest.

That being said, after 6 months of off and on training, I?m using it in the standard fashion (eg cam to the left of the body) and am fine when pointing the camera forward?(outside of the shipboard rocking..which is slowly dissipating) However, when walking forward, shooting backward, I am developing a pain in my right hip/lower back whenever I use it. I try not to rotate my body too much?I have tried doing a sort of angled walk?which sometimes works..and sometimes hurts.

So my question is: Does this sound like I?m supporting it incorrectly, or just that I haven?t used it enough to strengthen the muscles needed. Or aliens?it could always be the aliens.

I appreciate any help offered. Even links to technical pictures of folk using it right.?just about everything I?ve found is more for the pretty than the helpful.

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#2 Michael Stumpf

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Posted 18 June 2004 - 01:35 PM

If you are walking forward but pointing the camera backward, that's called operating "Don Juan" style. It's about the least favored method of operating. And most ONLY use it if they have no other choice.

It requires you to twist your body a bit to operate, and that may be the cause of the pain for you. Sounds like you have two choices:

1. Stop operating Don Juan
2. Stop operating all together.

Why do you operate Don Juan? In your situation, are you not able to just walk backwards? This, of course, often requires a "guide" in the form of a grip to make sure you don't back into anything or if you trip, he'll keep you upright.

If you are getting serious pains from operating in a certain situation, I wouldn't do it. It's not worth seriously hurting yourself and/or crippling yourself for life.
Figure out a way to take a training course if needed. They aren't cheap. I don't know what they cost now, but it's well over $2,000 just for the class, not too mention accomodations for a week.

Until then, avoid Don Juan position, if that means talking to the higher ups about changing the shot for personal safety and comfort, do that!
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#3 MikeB


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Posted 18 June 2004 - 01:56 PM

Groovy, thanks for your prompt reply. Mainly this is done for safety reasons....because we are always (always?) always understaffed, there just aren't enough people that we can drag out and have 1 extra to pull cable and spot me.

As long as I'm not doing it (or learning it) wrong, there are ways of working around these problems.

Thanks again.
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#4 MikeB


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Posted 18 June 2004 - 02:03 PM

By the by,

Where for comes the name Don Juan?
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#5 Alec Jarnagin SOC

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Posted 18 June 2004 - 04:08 PM


There is an old saying in the biz that I have found to be 100% correct:

Good, fast, cheap - pick two.

As for your pain, it sounds like you may be experiencing it when the sled is farther from your body (which you may be doing while you are shooting Don Juan - as for the term, see other strands as it is a current topic on this forum). Does the rig run away from you in a side to side fashion? If so, you may find that you are having an easier time man handling it back into place while operating in the missionary (shooting & walking straight ahead). But when you go to Don Juan, the pain starts as you are letting the rig slip farther away. This is because the angle of the arm is not set correctly, but there is one big problem here. The SK arm does not have an adjustable socket block, so I don't know what can be done about it - maybe adjusting the vest a bit. SK owners please chime in.

Good luck.
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#6 jay kilroy

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Posted 18 June 2004 - 07:43 PM

You really really need to take a workshop. It's the best thing for anyone. You said you are in an education setting. Not really sure what that means but maybe you could look up Peter Abraham, he is starting some "Workshops on Campus". He is tailoring these workshops to colleges and thier production classes. Look him up on this site or www.steadicam-ops.com I also suggest everytime you put the rig on, you tell the person in charge that you need a workshop. You know what they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. make enough noise and you might get the grease.
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#7 PeterAbraham


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Posted 19 June 2004 - 05:41 AM

Thanks Jay !! Yes, the website is almost up but not quite. Those curious can email me at: peter@on-campus-steadicam-workshops.com MikeB, it sounds like my program would be perfect for you.

Now, as for the O.P. I'll once again stand outside the room stamping my foot and insisting that Don Juan does really have its place at the table. I do it, I love it, I do it frequently. I always have. Here is what really got me to a place where I felt I could Don Juan with impugnity and not have my frame suffer.

It's something Garrett said to me when I trained with him, and something I've mentioned a lot to people I train. We are watching the edges of the frame. That's our job. If Al Pacino delivers a stellar performance, that's lovely. If his acting sucks eggs, too bad so sad. How does that affect our work? Not one iota. We're working the frame edges, from morning till midnight.

If I approach my work in this manner, that I am focused most heavily on the frame edges, then I am freed from the worries of having my monitor slightly blocked sometimes when I am in Don Juan. Not flying blind- that's lunacy. But as one shifts and moves sometimes I'll lose a corner. So what? Who knows? The practice it took early on to be able to not only Don Juan carefully and cleanly on The Line, but moving down steps or around corners has paid off in spades.

If moving slowly, backing up with a spotter is fine if one wishes to back up. I would offer the thought that backing up very rapidly or over uneven terrain ( curbs, stairs, impediments ) becomes an awful nightmare.

Early on I was not flying in the Sweet Spot well enough when in Don Juan- something I highly suspect is the problem with our visitor who has started this thread. Here is what I suggest to you , sir. Turn off your monitor. Put on your Steadicam, making sure that you have taken the time to adjust the vest and arm socket block so that the rig hangs effortlessly in the proper place. If you are flying the rig cleanly in one position, it stands to reason that you can do so in the other position.

This brings up a position I've been paying more and more attention to in the last few months when I've taught workshops. For lack of another term I am calling it the Linear Tracking position. You're not in Missionary or Don Juan, you are in fact flying the rig in front of your body, and the lens is pointed directly off to one side or the other. Dealing with this kind of a shot is something we all do a lot, and don't really address as a separate kind of operating even though I feel it is in many ways. Like doing stairs, half the time you're golden and half the time you're fucked. If you operate normally with the rig on the left hip, then you turn the rig so that it's facing off to the left and bring it around in front of you. The arm is out of the way, and it's very comfy. If you're unlucky, you have to do a linear tracking shot pointing to the right, and then the arm is folded back on itself and doesn't feel quite right. In this situaion, I simply go backwards and keep the rig facing the way that feels best. Backing up in the linear tracking shot position is also a dream because in stepping backwards you reduce the chances of kneeing your battery. In doing a linear tracking shot, I draw the rig in very closely. ( This is typically not a running shot, although I saw an incredible behind the scenes shot of an Op running full bore next to a moving subway car, doing a linear tracking shot ). You run the risk of hitting your knees into the sled, but aside from that life is beautiful in this position, and the physical strain is greatly reduced because the rig is so close. Just something else to ponder. :)

( Aside from thanking Jay for the props, I would beg you to attend a Workshop very soon. You have to get training in early on, or you risk developing bad habits that you will struggle to overcome for a long time. Check out the Workshops Forum in this Message Board for info. There's a 3 day Ithaca Workshop in August that's a good one. ).

Now you have your rig on, you are standing in Missionary. Facing forwards, camera facing forwards. Turn the rig around, so you are in Don Juan. Still no monitor. For the moment, divorce yourself from worrying about the image, since right now it's your undoing. Walk the rig around. Think about how you are moving. What are you doing differently? Perhaps you are reaching your arm around to grab the gimbal in a way that is forcing strain to transfer diagonally to the opposing hip socket? Might be. Anyway, walk the rig for a few moments. Then stop and spin it around to Missionary Position and walk it around again. Why does that feel better? What are you doing there, that you are not doing in Don Juan? Or, that you are over-doing in Don Juan? Even lacking formal training, you're smart enough to micro-manage how your body is working with this machine. Try to suss out what the differences are in your work.

To me, there is virtually no difference but for a bit of an arm angle alteration. I tuck in my elbow so my arm doesn't block the monitor, and have learned to operate cleanly with my hand resting into the gimbal at a slightly different attack angle than I use in Missionary. Otherwise, operating is operating. Doing a lot of Don Juan has forced me to trust my fingers- if I am framed and lose view of a bit of my monitor well hell, as long as my hand is clean and I haven't moved anything awry, the shot will still be clean a split-second later when I regain full view.

Garrett shows this wonderful trick that I will pass along- it never occurred to me to try this till he showed us. ( Frequently the way this stuff goes ).

We have enormous peripheral vision to the sides, much less so from top and bottom. If I am in Don Juan, instead of rocking my head to and fro from looking at the monitor very directly ( a bit of a neck twist there.... ) to checking out where I am heading and then whipping back again, I've been trying to do what G.B. suggests. Drop my head down do my nose is basically facing the battery. Straight down head angle. I can now either glance to the left to see the monitor, or glance to the right to see where I am headed. It works very very well, and eliminates one source of strain that is unique to Don Juan operating.

Good luck !

Peter Abraham, E.M.T.
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#8 Charles Papert

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Posted 19 June 2004 - 08:26 AM

Not to sidetrack too far from the issue at hand, and certainly not to detract from all of Peter's sound advice:

I wish I could say otherwise, but I have on a few occasions found running in the "linear tracking position", even in the comfy rig-facing-left position, to actually be quite dangerous in that all of the rig is in front of the body, and if one is to stumble the slightest bit during a fast run, it will be harder to draw it back in than in a standard or Don Juan situation where the weight can be jerked back to alongisde the body. Even though there is no closer you can get the rig to your body in rest position than that flattened sideways position, it's a whole other animal when you are bent forward in a tipped and flailing pre-fall. This is based on experience, sadly; I have gone down twice in this fashion (once due to an aptly named "chuckhole" in the grass, another on a slippery wet manhole cover). After the second fall I vowed to always use a spotter with this sort of running shot and haven't dumped the rig since (about 7 years, knock on wood).
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#9 Larry McConkey

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Posted 19 June 2004 - 08:59 AM

Nice lesson Peter! I will try out the GB technique next time myself... I have heard him talk about it and rarely think to use it in the heat of the moment. I would add one thing to your suggestions that I think is fundamentally more important than anything else in operating the Steadicam, which is balancing the rig with your body. The proof that you are using your body to balance lies in the ability to walk in Don Juan, or any position at all for that matter, without touching the rig with your hands. If you can't do that, there is no reason to worry about ANYTHING else!! You will no doubt be fighting yourself, pulling the rig with your hands one way or the other to counter what your body position is doing, and there will be lots of pain and strain as a result, in addition to a frame that refuses to settle down.

My recommendation is to first set up the rig for correct body posture. I think it is a very great mistake to simply adjust for what is often called the "sweet spot" because that often is simply the posture you have spent the most time using, whether it is the right posture or not. A far better way is look in the mirror as you balance the rig with your body. It should be virtually straight, without any bending at the waist either front/back or side/side. If you see any bending at the waist, adjust the arm until you can balance the rig (no hands remember!) and your body is in a straight line through the waist. You will be leaning over slightly from the ankles to compensate for the offset weight of the rig, but no bending at the waist. Now get used to that posture - it will serve you well not only for an individual shot, but in terms of your overall health longterm, I should know... Now get used to this posture and soon it will develop the feeling of being in the "sweet spot" but you will also be in the right body position.

This is where it gets tricky: If you do this in the missionary position, it will not quite work out if you shift the rig to the opposite side. This is because of bending, twisting and slipping of the vest/harness, connecting hardware, and the arm itself. You will need to bend at the waist slightly to compensate, so if you are going to do a long shot with the rig on the "wrong" side of your body, you might want to adjust for that position to get back to a straight posture. For Don Juan, this should not change from Missionary as you are simply panning the camera to face backwards.

[As a side note: It actually does come into play whenever the rig is moved even slightly from the position you trimmed for, and this has caused me to spend lots of effort to keep the rig in this standard position as much as possible during my shooting (a significant part of the extra effort needed to fly the rig away from your body is due to this "slop" or bending and twisting) and to look for ways to avoid the slop from the beginning. Some of you may remember the Seitz arm mods I engineered with John back in the day... this was to control the twisting inherent in the Model 3 arms (still happens to all the arms I have seen to date) to avoid the too-early demise of the trunnions, but also to reduce operating effort. It is the reason I modified my front mount vest so extensively to keep it from shifting on my body as I moved the rig around, and one of the reasons I now prefer the back mount which reduces this movement even more. All this to point out that I take the problem seriously and there is a reason for that...]

I think trouble often comes when we are straining to see the monitor for whatever reason: sometimes it is simply because of concern over framing, sometimes it is because the monitor is hard to see (as in Peter's posting). Whatever the reason, we tend to lean over towards the monitor and that makes the rig want to fly away and we compensate by pulling back with our arms. This leads to the worst possible body posture, and results in big increases in effort, strain and framing disasters! Use Peter's advice and don't worry excessively about seeing the entire frame at all times. Trust that if you are balancing the rig properly with your body position very little is needed to keep the frame where you want it, and only small corrections of pan/tilt are needed. Otherwise you are endlessly correcting and overcorrecting inputs from you incorrect body position. Turning off the monitor while rehearsing a move is another excellent piece of advice from Peter's post. In fact, I don't doubt that many, many times when you are feeling overwhelmed with the difficulty of a shot it would be radically improved by turning off the monitor!! If you don't have the courage to try this one during an actual take, at least rehearse one that way while recording and watch the playback. I predict you will be amazed at the improvement if you haven't tried this out before. At the very least do some training this way, concentrating on body control and just positioning the camera is space as you go through a shot.

One last little trick. If you are doing extensive and fast Don Juan, particularly when running and/or negotiating complex stairs with many changes in boom/tilt as you and the actors hit landings at different times, you may want to try spinning the camera around but leaving the rest of the rig in the normal position. This leaves the monitor facing forwards which is much easier to see. Now the tricky part: the tilt will now function backwards from what the way you have trained yourself instinctively to do, i.e., tilting UP on the rig when you see too tight headroom on the monitor results in the camera actually tilting down, which is very, very confusing. It is possible with enough practise to work this out, but in the clutches of panic you may well revert to instinct and go the wrong way. Try flipping the monitor top/bottom. It will look weird at first, but everything works the way you expect it too - just try to keep reasonable headroom at the BOTTOM of the frame. My brother taught me this trick - and it has worked in several radical situations.

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#10 MikeB


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Posted 20 June 2004 - 02:09 AM

I just wanted to say I really appreciate the informative and helpful advice here...some forums get quite tetchy when it comes to new folk asking old questions. I look forward to next week when I can try some of these suggestions out. I also want to say that the Newbie Forum is a fantastic idea...I have, and will have many questions that I'm quite sure I wouldn't want to waste anyones time with on the main boards. But now there's a world for green ol' me.

Good, fast, cheap was in reference to what the clients always want, but I have found the same, Alex. And by educational I mean I work in a University setting producing training, promotional, and educational videos for various departments on campus. Which is where comes the money issue....'cause nobody's got any.

I started out using a mirror to check my posture, but haven't done so in a while. I'm know that I'm tilting though as I was thinking about ways to add extra weight to the right side of the vest to balance out. This was (is) the thing I was (am) (what day is it?) having trouble with whilest operating Don Juan as I have to really tilt to keep the camera balanced. Now that I know you're supposed to stand normally, we'll figure something else out...I hope.

As an aside, I don't know if this was the best way to learn, but the thing that helped me the most (I assume...maybe I was just shooting myself in the foot) (or would that be the hip?) when I was starting out was walking around not touching the rig at all. I simply navigated the studio and hallways using my body position to direct the camera. It was all very Zen realizing when the camera started to fly away on it's own, you had to find your center and not lose control (i.e. chase it down) This also involved a vocal discourse between myself and the rig...which at times became quite heated...and occasionally sexual in nature. I found it all to be quite enlightening. Surely there are essays out there comparing this to Aikido.

This also came into play recently, when going off of suggestions elsewhere in this forum I switched the rig to the other side of my body (goofy foot?). All was quite funky until I let go, walked the halls hands free, and regained my center once again.

I also want to thank Peter & Bill for information about future workshops. We're understaffed, but it's not an impossible sell to my boss..the trick is her boss. I will give it a fight as folk here seem to view participation in a workshop not so much as helpful, but more as a moral imperative.

Thanks once again.
Have a good one.
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#11 PeterAbraham


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Posted 20 June 2004 - 07:55 AM

Oh dear me. You've gone and become a Goofy Foot?

I'm so terribly sorry.

I can't have anything more to do with you.

What a sad, tragic thing you've gone and done.




Talk to you soon, Mike.

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#12 Marc_Abernathy


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Posted 20 June 2004 - 02:09 PM

larry or peter/anyone,

do you guys have any comment on using two monitors on the rig. the other one being used for DJ.

i rememeber a posting about this in the old forum a couple years back and someone even posted a picture of one such setup. the reviews were mixed from what i remember, so i thought to bring this up since we are speaking on operating DJ...
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#13 Ruben Sluijter

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Posted 20 June 2004 - 04:54 PM

do you guys have any comment on using two monitors on the rig. the other one being used for DJ.

Hey Marc, I know this trick has been/is used by some operators and why not.
Ideally you'd use a really light monitor, LCD type, so as to not add too much weight.
I'm thinking of getting the new Flyer monitor for just that purpose (I'm sure those who've seen it will agree that it's surprisingly well in daylight!) as it's real light and doesn't draw too much power.

The only problem you might have has been covered by Larry earlier (the mirrored image problem) and his solution sounds interesting to say the least, certainly worth a try.

So why not try it, at worst you'll add a little weight to your sled and end up not using it and relying on your main monitor.
No big risk in my opinion.

Peace, Ruben "Can always use the second monitor for Baywatch re-runs" Sluijter
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#14 Howard J Smith

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Posted 20 June 2004 - 06:15 PM


I find that 'DJ' is one of the single most important 'tools' in steadicam operating.

We have a Dual monitor arm, for using 2 monitors and it is so useful, when switching in shot you do need the flip and reverse scan (as discribed by Larry - hi how are you?). (as we built into the new MK-V/Hummingbird LCD monitor) - When in DJ the monitor facing forward is in reverse scan, but Larry's Idea (of having it upside down as well) sounds very interesting and I must try it next time I get chance.

The new V2" Gimbal we designed has a longer handle which also helps overcome the loss of the picture in DJ. And the new monitor has a mass that allows for the monitor to be further away from the post. Which give an overal more comfortable operating position.

I had a very full shoot day (many moons ago) with an old 3a and it blew up on shot one so I had a choice no more steadicam or go blind - I chose to go on and I have to say it was some of the best stuff I had ever done - so liberating and a turning point for me.

And as with Larry's and Peter's other coments. (good stuff guys)
Even now somedays if things don't feel right I will try and look at my setup in a reflection - a window or something to check I am standing straight - I found this very useful when I switched over to Walters stunning back mounted vest.
Also setting the sled to sit with you (no hands) is also vital for a comfortable and good shot.

Fitting walters vests at shows it is amazing how many ops have 'the lean' I have to keep saying stand up straight, they say I am - but they are miles out.

If you have 'the lean' you will know as you will get a dull ache in the low back on the opposite side to the sled, as your muscles try to hold you straight.

Hope this helps
All the best

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#15 WillArnot


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Posted 21 June 2004 - 11:17 PM

See my response in "Approaching this shot" in General Discussion for more yap on Senor Don Juan. I responded there to alot of the good information here from Larry and Peter.

OK. I copied it to here as well.

Picture this: the sled does not deviate from it's path of movement. The sled should stay on the exact same line while your body 'dances' from one side of the camera to the other. To do this effectively you will need to employ Larry's advice of controlling the mass of the sled with your body as it travels from one side of the camera to the other during the switch.

In this way, if the sled is well balanced, the frame should stay exactly the same while your body moves around the sled, WITHOUT your hand touching the post. As Peter pointed out so well, understanding what the sled is doing vs. what your hand is doing vs. what your body is doing is very important to understand in order to correct / improve your technique.

You mention the position of your fingers, and this is an important point that I don't feel has been talked about much. Alot of people are taught to operate with their fingertips in order that they don't over 'muscle' the operating hand and learn finesse rather than a 'heavy handed' approach.

For me, this technique led me to less operating control and bad habits. I prefer what one might call the 'full fisted' grip w/ my operating hand. Even tho the whole hand is wrapped around the post/gimbal, this is deceptive, since 85% of the real control comes from the thumb and forefinger (the two you would put together to sign OK). These two are butted up as high as possible on the gimbal. Why?? because that is where the CG of the sled lies, and therefore where I will least affect the roll axis, and where I can make nice flat pans. Think about it .... unless you fly a completely 'neutral' drop time (ie. bottom weight is same as top weight) then being slightly bottom heavy means the CG is just below where the yolk of the gimbal meets the pan axis bearing. In this manner I find that I have more finesse with the bottom 3 fingers gently wrapped around the whole post than I do with having just the finger tips. The finger tip method means I have to drop my thumb more down the post away from the CG in order to oppose the pinky finger which plays a larger part (and in my opinion, less accurate) in controlling tilt and roll. And that means I have to move it back up to oppose my forefinger to make a good flat pan. I find I have much more control going around a corner fast with the flat part of the length of my fingers than I do with just the tips.

Your preference. This may spark debate ... just chill, there are many ways y'all.

However... what to do with your grip of choice while making a switch to or from DJ.?? Firstly, as we know, learn to do this with no hands to learn what the sled does on it's own. Ideally nothing, and the sled is still over the same point on the ground b/c it is YOU that has moved around the sled, NOT the sled that has moved around you (ie. a symptom of muscleheads w/ no finesse). UNLESS of course the shot REQUIRES the sled to move AS you are making the switch. ie. an actor steps sideways let's say. The point is, is that Howard and Larry's advice basically means that you have to operate less than you think, even though your body has just made or is making a big physical movement. This is the beauty of Steadicam. The sled is isolated from our bodies, and will do amazing things if we don't screw it up and over-operate. The answer to what to do with the operating hand is therefore, 'AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE'. If it ain't broken, don't fix it. Right? If the frame is there, don't try to adjust it while switching. Physically... you can just totally loosen your grip and 'walk' the hand around the post without actually influencing it. This ironically is what is known as having 'touch' or finesse. ie. we are touching the post (barely, if at all) and not influencing the frame...but the hand is there & ready should something unexpected happen.

So... remember your workshop??? Put the 'X' on the wall and put a line on the floor in line w/the 'X'. Now put the X in the crosshair and walk up to it. LOCK OFF. Now lean back a little, the sled will start to move away from the X, now keep the sled over the line as you hustle your feet to catch up and now dance around to the other side of the line/camera. Remember Larry's advice: "Speed Kills". Practice this SLOWLY with CONTROL.

Foot work, Foot work. When I used to play alot of Tennis, I learned this. Foot work is EVERYTHING. If your feet aren't in the right place then you aren't properly balanced, now your body is working harder and is less efficient at controlling the sled, so the operating hand now has to do more to control the sled, So the framing suffers. It's all connected and you gotta start at the basics and work up. Remember what Peter said. Analyze every element of your move.

Turn the monitor off. Get those feet moving. And let GO!!!!

Have fun.


-Having re-read this post it occurs to me that alot of this Don Juan thread is contained in General Discussion under the thread "Novice Question: My hip's gone all funny"- and I was incorporating my response to info in that thread too. Apologies for any confusion.
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