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16mm Steadicam Suggestions (Equipment, Workshops, Etc)


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#1 Ben Russell

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Posted 22 March 2008 - 12:06 PM

Greetings from Chicago. I'm a film professor and experimental filmmaker living in Chicago with a question about an upcoming project... I just received a grant to make a 16mm documentary of sorts in the jungle wilds of Suriname, South America, and I would like to shoot this film entirely with a Steadicam. It's not practical for me to hire an operator (nor economically feasible) and while I don't have much interest in working as a Steadicam Operator per se, I do need to get some training and practice using a Steadicam rig with a 16mm camera before my month-long mid-September shoot.

While my selection of available equipment is a bit limited (Arriflex-S, Eclair ACL, CP-16) I'm curious as to what sort of gear I would need for this shoot AND what 16mm cameras are ideal for such a thing.

Assuming that I will take a workshop between now and then (any suggestions?), does it seem feasible to expect that I might become proficient enough in such a short amount of time to take this project on?

I apologize for my general ignorance of All That Is Involved, and I greatly appreciate your feedback.
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#2 Afton Grant

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Posted 22 March 2008 - 01:34 PM

First, please change your username to your full name. Forum rules.

It is possible you will know your way around the equipment come September if you get in a workshop and a lot of practice. Proficient? I don't know. Totally depends on you. Proficient enough? Also depends on your standards.

You might want to re-ask yourself why you would like to shoot it entirely on Steadicam in the first place. If the answer is you like the look of Steadicam, you must realize that the "look" you have come to know in movies and television has been brought to you by your friendly neighborhood veteran Steadicam operator with years of experience. These aren't folks that just picked up the rig a few months ago. Point being, if you take upon the role of operator, you may or may not get the results you hoped to get.
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#3 Ben Russell

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Posted 22 March 2008 - 02:45 PM

Thanks for the quick response - do you have any thoughts on the specifics of 16mm cameras and gear that I inquired about?

As for training and the Steadicam Look, while I can't imagine that my few months of training would get me anywhere near the technical prowess that such operators as Tamas Nyerges, Greg Schmitt, or Matias Mesa possess, I do have practical and (more importantly) conceptual reasons for needing to use this particular mode of address.

Your point is well-taken, however - if you know of anyone who wants to work for a month in a South American jungle village with only their travel and expenses paid, please send them my way.
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#4 Jess Haas SOC

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Posted 22 March 2008 - 03:36 PM

From the 16mm cameras you listed I would go with the Eclair ACL if it is in good enough shape to be reliable for the project you describe. As far as rigs go you may be able to get by with a Steadicam Flyer or something in that class but I would personally prefer a bigger rig as it allows a bit more flexibility. You are also going to need some sort of remote follow focus.

As far as getting proficient in time I would say that by the end of the shoot you would either be very proficient or have given up on the idea of doing it all steadicam. You will be new enough that the quality of operating would change drastically throughout the shoot. Taking a workshop ASAP would of course be mandatory if you are going to try to do it.

I think your best and actually least expensive option is going to be to find a newish steadicam operator with their own gear who has some experience but it still willing to do the shoot for just the experience and some sort of equipment rental. I am actually going to send you a pm about that option right now.

~Jess
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#5 paul magee

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Posted 22 March 2008 - 05:05 PM

As a former ACL owner I would be hesitant to take this camera to a remote location to make this kind of film. I use to fly my old ACL with 200 foot mags and a prime lens on an early SK and it was a great little running rig but I would never dream about taking it on the road as a 1st unit camera. The knock on most ACLs was that they were not designed to run a 400 foot mag. The early motors were underpowered and would burn out and the lollipop mirror would fall out of sync. All of the video taps are after market products which work well for an owner operator but would hardly stand up to the rigors of extensive travel or the rental market.

The ACL is a great OWNER/OPERATOR camera but my personal experience with it was to not trust it as a primary camera in a distant location. If you can't get an SR or XTR go with a well maintained and recently overhauled CP 16. It's an easy enough camera to do minor fixes on the road provided you bring spare belts and fuses. I'd also bring a spare video tap just in case.

Have fun

Paul Magee
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#6 Jess Haas SOC

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Posted 22 March 2008 - 06:10 PM

A few years back I was using the ACL very extensively and the particular camera that I was using I would not hesitate to take on the road. It never had any problems with 400foot mags probably because it was a newer model with a suitable motor and I never had any problems with the mirror. I don't think the owner even had any 200ft mags. I never flew it on a steadicam but it seems like it would be a suitable camera.

All that being said a well maintained XTR or SR would of course be far superior. I would hesitate to take a CP-16 since in my experience even well maintained ones tend to have problems. I used one on a shoot once and when it went down we scrounged up an XTR. Despite using the same lenses there was a noticeable difference in quality of the footage mainly due to superior registration.

~Jess
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#7 Mike McGowan SOC

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Posted 22 March 2008 - 10:04 PM

I'll throw in my devils advocate point of view.

For background purposes, I've shot on distant locations with 35mm, 16mm and video equipment. I've been operating a Steadicam since 1998 and working in the motion picture industry (and in the IA) since 1992.

I agree 200% that I would find (and there are plenty of them out there) a new operator with his own gear who would love the opportunity to use his equipment and refine his skills in a real world environment. It sounds like you are going to be the director and director of photography? That is a pretty full plate without trying to operate one of the most technically intricate pieces of motion picture equipment made. I'm not trying to discourage you in any way but if you have the budget for a plane ticket, a hotel room and some food, find a new Steadicam operator with his own gear.

As for the camera, I'd hesitate to take the top of the line 416 with all the bells and whistles if I only had one body. It's maybe unlikely that it will break down, but if it does??????

If it were me, I'd shoot this project on video. HD, mini dv. Take 2 cameras (heck, take 3). Don't worry about film stock, how much you can shoot, changing bags, airport X-ray, ect, ect, ect. You can probably get a few Panasonic HVX 200's or a Canon XL-H1's or Sony HVR-Z1U's from a variety of sources. I don?t' believe the romance of film in this particular situation out weight?s the merits of video.

If you must use film, try for an SR or SR2 (and see if you can get a back up body).

My humble 2 cents.

Mike McGowan, SOC.
www.mikemcgowan.net
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#8 Ben Russell

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Posted 25 March 2008 - 12:34 PM

Thanks again for all of your feedback - the consensus here and elsewhere is clearly that I shouldn't expect to shoot this project myself (did I mention that it's going to be all long takes, a la SATANTANGO?). Wishful thinking on my part, coupled with a keen interest in learning some new technologies to move my own film practice forward... I've got a bit to think about and more than a bit of planning to do, and I've been fortunate to get a number of off-list responses that I can hopefully work with in the future. I'll keep all y'all apprised as the shoot day draws closer.

PS - the ACL-1 had problems with the power supply, couldn't draw enough to run a 400' mag, but (as Jess notes) this problem was solved with later models. Regardless, I'm going to try to find an SR...
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