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Stedicam physiology:U.N.O has a Steadi MSF and my calves are burning!

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#1 Nolan Beaver

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Posted 02 October 2008 - 12:40 AM

Checking in from NOLA. First a little backstory or :How I became a (beginning) Steadicam Opp:

Last year I was offered DP on a student short. I agreed almost immediately as they had the funding to shoot 16mm. Since projects are so rarely shot on film at this level anymore and the school had a sweet SR16II package that also hasn't seen much action since HD, it was a no-brainer. Really cool script about a girl who is obsessed with buttons called...well..."Buttons". Things were going great. Hooked up with (and went on to date) the cute chick who was doing production design and also starring (for the screenplay that she wrote). Then... I found out that our school had a Steadicam! My first mistake was excitedly informing a crowd of fellow film kids outside about the discovery...a crowd that the kid who was directing this film was standing in. At our department head meeting that night, all he could talk about were justifications to use this "Steadicam" in every scene of the film and we through a few of those ideas into the shot list.
Now some back story on this "Steadicam". I would come to find out over the next two days of research into what this thing that had been hiding in the back corner of our school's equipment room was. At some point during 1998 the director of the film program took a leave of absence. Someone thought it would be great to "modernize" the schools film resources at that time. So they blew ~$70,000 on a brand new Steadicam Masters Film. That was it. The very first kid who checked it out knocked it off the stand while he was trying to balance it...with previously mentioned SR16 in tow. $30,000 total damage. All damage was repaired and into the corner the rig went. Since then, once a year one of the kind steadi pros in town would come a give a 2 day workshop to 5-8 students. Most found the whole thing too confusing and never gave it a second thought. The few who were interested were scared off from further use with the "$30,000" story that was told before every workshop. You can imagine what kind of shape it was in when I pulled out in 2007. The sled lived in its case, so no dust issues. The batteries however, were hosed. Between all four, I had a total of 45 minutes sled power. ALL of the accessories were hiding in a kentucky roadcase. Thus far in my film career, my only experience with camera stabilization had been with one of those "$15 Stabilizer" get ups that you make from gas pipe and gym weights. Not exactly rocket science.
If I was going to use steadicam shots, I had a lot of work to do. We were 3 weeks from shooting. I contacted all the students who were in the workshop that year and none of them felt comfortable enough to do it at all (most were scared from burning real film...) Well, we had a decent production insurance policy through the school and I though I might be able to talk the dept into letting me take a shot at learning this thing so I could op for myself. Found friend who had graduated, but knew enough to show me the basics and that was good enough for the school provided I practice and show the chair that I can use it safely before we shoot. So for 2 hours after class most nights I would go down to the soundstage and practice in the rig with an old betacam head that weighted almost the same as the Arri. By the time we shot, I had built up enough stamina to op for about 30 min at a time with a pretty heavy sled. My legs were killing me all through the week of production. Fast forward two semesters to now. I haven't touched the rig since we shot in December, just haven't had time. This summer, I decided that this was the semester to get really comfortable with a big rig, as I loved working with it the first time. The spring semester is typically when the bigger student films are shot and the ultimate goal is to be able to operate comfortably for a week shoot with a decently loaded sled. I have been getting in about 3 hours of practice one day each week. I am always sore the next day and don't make any real gains the next week. Now bare in mind that I have been paying for school on my own for the past 2 years (first two years were on loans) as a concert audio engineer. On those gigs (jazzfest, voodoo fest, mardi gras, others scattered through the year), I do get a decent work-out humping roadcases around. But that is not very consistent.

THE FIRST QUESTION!!!!! (For those of you skipping the back story)
Do any vets have an exercise regiment they recommend? It is much easier to duck into the gym for 40 minutes than to set up everything to train with the rig. What is going to target the muscles I need the most?

The second question(Series):
So my favor back to the faculty for letting me have such access to the gear is to become basically the steward of the rig. I am figuring out everything that needs attention or repair and they will do what is needed to bring this thing totally out of mothballs and allow other highly motivated students in the future to use this tool that has gone most unused until now. The first problems to tackle are:
1. Batteries. They are shot. One was sent off for recell this summer, but the admins gagged at the $400 to repair a battery that doesn't work with any other piece of gear. We do have plenty of AB bricks. Is there a way to adapt the sled feed off of gold mounts?

2. Kentucky Roadcase: All of the accessories: Charger, cheese plates, power cables, tools, stand adapter, etc... are all sharing the same space in the bottom of a cardboard box at the moment. I can't begin to imagine the system that organizes all of this. School will buy whatever is needed to make it right, I really could use some advice in this area.

Ultimately, most of my steadicam work for "Buttons" was left on the floor. Once the director saw the shots he just had to have from the steadicam and how they really didn't flow with the story, they got chopped. In watching the dailies however, I was very happy with how they came out, as inappropriate as they were. Might get my hands on the out takes for reel material. A few production stills? I'll post them once I figure out how to make that happen in this BB.

This board is an amazing resource! Sorry for such a lengthy post. Happy Flying.
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#2 Felix Forrest

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Posted 02 October 2008 - 03:27 AM

I found working out in the gym a couple of week where you perfrom targeting exercises for back/shoulders/chest and legs works well but don't miss out on your core - it really helps with control. Leg raises, cycling and crunches will help strengthen the core but russian twists are the best!

Russian Twists

1. Lie on the floor (lock your feet under a stationary object and raise your shoulders a
couple inches off the floor to aid movement).

2. Place your palms together, straight up in the air. Your arms should be stretched completely out at a point just below your chin. You may hold a weight in your hands for greater resistence. Typically people use 5-25 pound plates.

3. Rotate your shoulders to the right side. Your hips should stay rigid and your palms should move a complete 90 degrees.

4. Repeat this movement to the opposite side.

5. Continue until failure.

Also - for your lower back - try the 'Good Morning'

1. Hold a barbell with an overhand grip so that it rests on your upper back and not on your neck. Set your feet a shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent while keeping your back straight. Focus your eyes forward.

2. Gradually bend forward using your hips to lower your chest while maintaining the natural arch in your lower back. Keep your head up and maintain about the same angle of your knees.

3. Lift your upper body back into starting position.

And for your legs - squats work well.

1. From a rack with barbell upper chest height, position bar high on back of shoulders and grasp barbell to sides. Dismount bar from rack and stand with shoulder width stance.

2. Descend until thighs are just past parallel to floor. Extend knees and hips until legs are straight. Return and repeat.

Hope these help.
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#3 Frederic Chamberland

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Posted 02 October 2008 - 09:25 AM

As for the batteries, you can modify the sled to accept AB bricks and I would strongly recommend going that road.

You would have to buy an Anton Bauer plate and have it adapted to the Master mount. I found this picture on the steadicenter of Afton 's sled:
Posted Image

The other battery you see in front (left) is the 24v upgrade that Afton actually sells on it's web site (don't think you need that mod done but it is possible to run 24v cameras with this mod)

You could probably do it yourself with a few tools but some people do this as a living, send your bottom sled to David Hable at Cramped Attic and he would do it in a blink with professional results and this would probably cost around one battery recell....

He would also be able to check anything else that would need attention regarding electronics on the sled.

For the cardboard box problem , I would go for a Pelican style case with padded dividers. Simple and protective, you can velcro the dividers anyway you want and if you add or substract things in the future, you can just realign the dividers accordingly.
There is Pelican, stormcase and Nanukcase that will offer an economical and logical solution to your cardboard box dilemma.
I personally prefer the Nanuk ones for their latching system that I find the most ingenious .

Good luck . Your story reminds me mine when I would play around with a dead model IIIA at the back of a rental house here in Montreal and tried to put it together to shoot our school shorts at the time... Must have used a dozen of gaffer tape rolls on the vest and sled to hold everything. You are lucky enough to have a Master sled in your hands , a "real" sled compared to a LOT of "wannabees" on the market today.

Fly safe
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#4 Charles Papert

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Posted 02 October 2008 - 11:46 AM

There's not question that the Masters Film is a heavy rig, but outside of strength training it may well be that your technique is causing you unnecessary fatigue as well. The one thing I took from your story is that you haven't really had formal training and thus it's more than likely that you are working harder than you need to, or something is not adjusted correctly, or your form is off.

If you've been hanging around here a bit you've probably heard the "take a workshop" mantra more than once. It really is crucial for newer operators, particularly with full size rigs. If that's not within your budget (I'm guessing it isn't from your story), perhaps you can convince one of the local op's who do the two day workshops you mentioned to spend a day with you and give you pointers, take you through some drills. You might even be able to work out a barter with them by offering to help them on their jobs; shlep cases etc. Watching a working op go through his paces is a fantastic learning experience and it will likely answer many of your questions.
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#5 matthew pearce

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Posted 02 October 2008 - 12:24 PM

while there is no substitute for a work shop there is also a DVD that tiffen sells that covers alot of the same ground.
I believe its a remastered EFP workshop instruction tape that Jerry and Ted Churhhill put together.

As a fellow newby trying to get in steadicam shape, I found cross training helps but two to three sessions with the rig per week was neccesary to get stronger with out getting injured (rather than one long session a week).
I set mine up at work and would fly it over the lunch hour. For the first 6 weeks I didnt even turn the camera on, I just focused on form and horizen level.
This may be an admittedly slow approach but I've heard more than a few stories about people jumping in super keen early on , developing a bad habit or injury and hurting them selves later on.
good luck
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#6 Dave Gish

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Posted 02 October 2008 - 02:52 PM

Hi Nolan,

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that if you are in reasonably good shape, then you don't really have to work out specifically for Steadicam. Yes, heavy rigs do require some leg and back strength, but if you've worked out before, then you probably already have what you need.

It's more a question of balance. If you can keep the steadicam absolutely still with a very light touch, or even letting go with your hands slightly, then you are in balance. If you are in balance, then your back and legs probably won't hurt so much, and your shots will be more steady. Also, the closer you keep the sled to your body, the less tired you will get.

There's a big clue here:
on page 11:
"I have watched Laurie Hayball (above) strap on a Steadicam that was
perhaps half her weight, without appreciably changing her posture. Before her, a
dozen big guys had struggled with the same rig, grunting and sweating, bending
themselves out of shape trying to adjust themselves to it."

As for cases, I've found good deals here:
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