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How much cinematic freedom to steadicam operator?

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#1 Jad Meouchy

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Posted 04 February 2008 - 06:57 PM

I'm an indie filmmaker now diving into narrative work, and was wondering what degree of cinematic freedom I can/should hand off to the steadicam operator. Is the operator concentrating only on operating, or can I encourage improvisation? The shots are storyboarded of course, but every time I've allowed room for experimentation on the judgment of the cam operator, it has worked out well.

Whoever executes the shot, especially such dynamic ones, seems to have the best perpsective for capturing the subtle variations of the scene from take to take. In my ideal world, the steadicam operator would take as much liberty in preserving the integrity of the take as he/she would in following the script. When the actors deviate, can I expect the steadicam operator to follow?

Edited by Jad, 04 February 2008 - 06:58 PM.

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#2 Charles Papert

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Posted 04 February 2008 - 07:28 PM

Interesting questions Jad.

Some operators feel their place is to keep their mouth shut and do the shot. Others get involved in the shot design and take on a great deal of responsibility into nuancing the shot. This is fine because certain directors and DP's prefer one or the other type of operator.

However, accommodating actors when they make little changes in timing or performance is something the operator should do automatically. Steadicam has the unique ability to make lightning fast adjustments, so the operator should know to maintain the proper relationship between actors in an over-the-shoulder for instance, or know how to work with the actors on typical issues such as stand-ups/sit downs.
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#3 nealnorton


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Posted 05 February 2008 - 10:39 AM

Hi Jad:

The Director and Cinematographer set the ground rules on any given job. I try to provide the level of input that each person wants and needs. I have worked for directors and DP's that allow me to take a viewfinder, put down marks and run the set - then they maybe 'fix' any areas they don't think works for them. I have also worked as an almost purely mechanical 'neck down' operator for people that set the marks, talk to the actors, describe the composition and basically use me like a robot. Pretty funny when being a 'robot' how often the Director looks for feedback/affirmation after a take is printed!

Most jobs are somewhere in between and many require a degree of negotiating skills - especially when the DP and the Director have conflicting views. I think it is an art to satisfy both your DP (who probably hires you) and the Director (who very likely can fire you) when they are not agreeing 100% of the time. Sometimes it is best to approach the DP when he/she is out of earshot of the director and then present an idea about how to block a scene. Many DP's are threatened by an operator with too many good ideas! Giving the DP a chance to present an idea to the Director can be a big positive - you get the shot you like - and you are a 'team player'.

When the work involves safety issues such as vehicle mounts or dangerous situations, then the whole dynamics of the set change and I pretty much make the decisions about how the work is accomplished. Still need to satisfy the Director and DP but not at the risk of injury. e.g. "hey just jump on this forklift and we'll drive you all over the place!"

It is more fun to be involved in the design of a scene/shot, but some Directors and DP's just don't want that input.

Good luck,

Neal Norton
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#4 Alfeo Dixon SOC

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 01:02 PM

Keep in mind also that the DP and Director have been scouting and talking about how to cover the shoots needed weeks before you are there. Before that, the Director has been working with the story board artist to architect the film by laying out the ground plans of what is truly needed to convey the story.
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#5 Mike McGowan SOC

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 11:01 AM

It depends a great deal on the Director, the DP, and the project.

One one end, I've worked with camera men that were almost totally involved with lighting and wanted (expected) me to set the shot with the director.

I've worked with camera men and directors that were involved with lighting and actors so they wanted me to design the shot myself.

On the flip side, I've worked with dp's and directors that all but operated the shot for me, "pan left, tilt up a bit, let them grow on you here, then pull back, now tilt down to the feet, et, et, et".

From the camera man and director's perspective, it depends on how good your operator is. A top of the line operator with years of experience and a great eye might just have better ideas about the shot than you do. It would be counter productive for the final product to micro manage the shot too much as you would likley end up with a less quality shot than if you had left it up to your operator.

This is one reason that many camera men use the same operator on all their jobs, they get into a system of who does what and the process becomes more organic, more efficiant and generally works better.

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