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Old October 7th, 2005, 01:05 AM   #1
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Direction of camerawork

In recent years, Steadycam and similar stabilizing equipment use seems to have skyrocketed among DVers and pros. It seems everyone's looking to own their own jib, crane, handheld stabilizer or anything else that would allow them to be mobile while shooting. What direction do you think this will take the film and television industries?

Personally, I think that the value of someone who can keep a perfectly steady shot on the long end of a zoom on sticks will increase when everyone else is trying to walk and keep a good shot. Supply and demand.

As much as I love running and shooting shooting, I think there's going to become an oversupply of steadycam operators in the coming years.

What do you think?
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Old October 7th, 2005, 05:10 AM   #2
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I really don't think so. I think our main job security as Steadicam ops is the fact that although anyone can own a rig, only someone who's trained, who's willing to put in hours of practice, and someone who's willing to always keep learning can fly it well. A true pro operator will never have to worry about job security, especially considering that almost all of the ops that are joining nowadays are just thinking that they can buy a cheap Steadicam copycat, and go and shoot, and be as good as Jerry Holway, Charles Papert, Garrett Brown, or any of the other gurus of this artform. The truth is that without practice, hard work, and dedication, your shots will never look that good. (Oh, and I'm not implying that I'm a pro op, I'm still a beginner, but at least I'm working hard at it, unlike most of the young ops nowadays.)

So yeah, I'm sure that doing ultra-low-budget and student films will be more of a challenge, but the real pro stuff is always going to be a smallish group.

Oh, and for Jib and Dolly ops, those are really going to have a tough time, because they have much simpler machines. Dollys are really seeming to go out nowadays, but Jibs are everywhere. Quite a shame actually, because most of these big swooping Technocrane shots have no motivation and no purpose.

Well, now to get back off my soapbox.
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Old October 7th, 2005, 06:01 AM   #3
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I kind of like shaky shots.
Its not really that hard to hold a camera still, any amount of movement after that just kind of makes it look natural.
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Old October 7th, 2005, 11:50 AM   #4
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Interesting thread.

Mark, there is indeed a near-glut of Steadicam operators in the pro arena now, many lured by the promise of high paychecks and many of those already suffering under the weight of equipment loan payments as they discover that just owning the gear won't get them those jobs (or more likely, keep them the job after they blow the first day). The irony is that rates have come down, and it is only a short time before many productions will be paying the same rates for Steadicam as they do for conventional operating with just a rental fee. As Tom points out, there will always be a demand for top operators on the more demanding shows, but many productions are not as picky and there is a lot of not-so-great operating being accepted these days.

However, the DV market will only have a little bit of crossover into the pro arena. There is a tremendous amount more to being a camera operator in that world than being able to operate a camera.

Tom: I can't agree that dollies are "out"--I see them on nearly every job I go on. In the DV world, dollies are generally used just to make dolly moves as they are usually more cumbersome to work off than sticks, however it is the reverse in the larger format world. Because of the hydraulic arm and ability to crab, these dollies (Chapman, Fisher) are significant time-savers over using sticks; consider how much effort is involved lifting a 100lb Panaflex set-up on sticks to move it 1 foot to the right vs sliding the dolly over, not to mention dropping a few inches (one has to drop three legs of the sticks and then re-level the camera). The rule of thumb is to only go to sticks when you absolutely have to. Also, dolly moves are not always that obvious--sometimes it's as simple as just making a tiny adjustment in the middle of the shot to unblock an actor, for instance.

By the same token, Technocranes are fabulous tools for getting the camera exactly where it needs to go without having to lay track etc. Many Techno shots are undetectable in the final product and aren't necessarily "look at me" sweeping moves. A typical application on a medium-budget show is to have a shot or sequences that can only be achieved with Technocrane which justifies the rental for the day, but while you have it, you can knock off a bunch of other simpler shots.

Kevin, you are certainly not alone--I would say that the "look" these days is definitely handheld. My last two features required (as per the director) the camera to always be subtly moving--handheld whenever possible, and artificially created otherwise, i.e. tweaking the frame around when on a remote head etc. to emulate handheld. It's the fad these days. Personally I'm getting a little bored of it, I thought it ruined "Bourne Supremacy" and it took a bit of pleasure out of "The Constant Gardener" for me.

It may not be that hard to operate a lockoff, but some have a hard time doing so on long lenses (a lot depends on the quality of the head you are using). A really good operator needs to be able to deliver very smooth and controlled results as well as frenetic and choppy when called for.
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Old October 7th, 2005, 01:22 PM   #5
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I would echo Charles' well thought out comments and offer a few additional observations.

If you truly aspire to be a top tier camera operator for motion pictures, you would be strongly advised to learn to operate the Steadicam, which will mean you almost certainly will need to invest in your own equipment. On the last feature I worked on (shooting video camera), the "A" camera operator would work off a dolly most of the time, then switch to his Steadicam rig when the Director and/or the DP thought the shot warranted it. (Not always true. The Steadicam has become a lazy/quicker way to do a shot which could often better be done on a dolly) Or, he might operate the Technocrane. Point being, if he didn't know how to operate the Steadicam, he wouldn't have the job, even though he was often not using the Steadicam. BTW, a jib in motion pictures is not operated by one person, at this time. Usually, the "operator" sits at a remote control and operates the pan and tilt, usually with wheels, like a gear head. His camera assistant sits next to him and does focus and and zooming. (Yes, they do zooms) A grip (team) move the base and the arm.

Again, my point is, in the future I don't think you will be able to move to the top as a motion picture camera operator unless you can operate a Steadicam. You will still need to have the skills to do the other work, but the Steadicam is what will separate you from the crowd (and get you the job.)

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Old October 7th, 2005, 10:25 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert
Tom: I can't agree that dollies are "out"--I see them on nearly every job I go on. In the DV world, dollies are generally used just to make dolly moves as they are usually more cumbersome to work off than sticks, however it is the reverse in the larger format world. Because of the hydraulic arm and ability to crab, these dollies (Chapman, Fisher) are significant time-savers over using sticks; consider how much effort is involved lifting a 100lb Panaflex set-up on sticks to move it 1 foot to the right vs sliding the dolly over, not to mention dropping a few inches (one has to drop three legs of the sticks and then re-level the camera). The rule of thumb is to only go to sticks when you absolutely have to. Also, dolly moves are not always that obvious--sometimes it's as simple as just making a tiny adjustment in the middle of the shot to unblock an actor, for instance.

By the same token, Technocranes are fabulous tools for getting the camera exactly where it needs to go without having to lay track etc. Many Techno shots are undetectable in the final product and aren't necessarily "look at me" sweeping moves. A typical application on a medium-budget show is to have a shot or sequences that can only be achieved with Technocrane which justifies the rental for the day, but while you have it, you can knock off a bunch of other simpler shots.
Yeah, I'm not saying that they are truly out, just that a lot of people (especially newcomers) think that the Steadicam is the end-all of filmmaking. And yes, Technocranes are great, but too often (in my opinion) they're used for no good reason.

(Can you tell that I sat in on Garrett's lecture at the SOA conference? I swear, I'm about to break into some kind of random fit about how I saw a concert on MTV2 where they had 2 Technocranes, which swung back and forth for no good reason.)
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Old October 8th, 2005, 09:57 PM   #7
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"I'm about to break into some kind of random fit about how I saw a concert on MTV2 where they had 2 Technocranes, which swung back and forth for no good reason.)"

Many years ago, before there were jibs on every show, I used to do a lot of crane work; the kind where I say in the seat at the end of a boom arm and operated with the aid of at least one grip on the arm, sometimes two, and sometimes a driver for the base.

A number of people have asked me why I didn't jump into jib work when they came on the scene. The main reason was I just didn't have the fire in the belly for it, and as I saw how it was developing, I really lost interest. You're right, Tom, a lot of it is just random movement for movements sake. I think the nadir was reached when I saw a jib used on a panel discussion on PBS, but there are lots of examples out there every day.

OTOH, jibs do allow for a bit of flash that wouldn't be there otherwise. Certainly there isn't room for the big studio cranes I was operating. And a lot of people are making a good living with operating and renting their own jibs. I just wish I was more impressed with what I see. But I can't blame the gear because I don't like what I see.

How do you all like the Steadicam work on shows like, "Anyone Can Dance"?

W.
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Old October 9th, 2005, 11:04 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wayne Orr
How do you all like the Steadicam work on shows like, "Anyone Can Dance"?
The amount of Steadicam work on eposidic TV programs is beginning to seem excessive. I understand it's often a time saver compared to setting up dolly tracks but the 360 deg spinning walk and talks are getting a little gimmicky. Steadicam is best done as a supplement to traditional camera work and in a manner that doesn't give it away as a Steadicam shot, IMO.

As much as I like the Steadicam, I really like a solid dolly move better. There's just something classic and subtle about it. It also doesn't take that much time to set up dolly tracks with a good grip crew. One time a crew was shooting a Playstation commercial on 35mm at my work and those guys had tracks up in just a few minutes. Of course, right after they were done the director decided not to use that setup!

I can understand the use of Technocranes in a high-energy, frenetic type of show like an MTV concert. It's all about fast cuts, swooping shots and angled tilts so I'd say the Technos fit well with that particular style of program. But yeah, a Technocrane and a 3-axis remote head on a PBS debate would be a bit excessive.
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Old October 9th, 2005, 12:04 PM   #9
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At a live event like a concert it's usually pretty easy to spot which platform is shooting which type of shot, of course. In a feature or episodic television, it can be nearly impossible to identify. Tim points out that he prefers a subtle Steadicam shot to a showy 360 degree wraparound; I've sort of built my career on the former, but the irony is that they go largely unnoticed because they blend in (the ultimate compliment for a Steadicam operator is that their shots are considered indistinguishable from a dolly).

The beauty of a Technocrane for me is simply that it is much faster to use than a traditional jib because you don't have to worry as much about placement, exact location of the fulcrum etc. As those who have built and/or work with jibs know, the shorter they are, the more pronounced the arc of the arm; and the Techno handily alleviates that. To be able to point straight down on the top of someone's head and drop directly in a straight line without having to coordinate dollying the whole rig backwards at the same time is a great time-saver. And a Techno can be a perfect dolly replacement for certain shots--imagine a couple of guys walking down a hallway chatting, then stopping as they approach a dead moose lying in front of them. With the Techno, you retract the arm in front of them, looking like a dolly move the whole way, and end up revealing the moose. No other way to do that shot with dolly or Steadicam (maybe conventional arm on track, if the arm is long enough, the walk is short enough and the track isn't revealed in the final frame etc). It's a great tool.

Last but not least: couple a Techno with a gyro stabilized head (my current favorite is the Lev head), unbelievable for driving/process trailer work. You can replicate the framing of any variety of hood mount or side mount (hostess tray) angles instantly with no rigging, and move between them if desired. Faster, more flexible and much more dynamic.
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Old October 9th, 2005, 02:48 PM   #10
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First of all, just like the Steadicam, a jib is absolutely a gift from the production gods! Depending on length, it can give you a very minimal height of inches and in just a few seconds be 50 ft or more in the air, all without ANY reconfiguring. It can simulate dolly shots, reach over fences, dangerous holes, cliffs, canyons, obstacles, etc.. All of this from one tool! A technocrane is just icing on the cake because of it's absolute precision remote head and telescoping arm. The rigging required for the shots above for scaffolding, Condors, etc. would not only cost more for materials but possibly create longer prep days which means OT and penalties. So, for overall versatility, I think a jib kicks the Steadicam's tail. But when it comes to versatility with mobility, the Steadicam is the tool of choice.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Wills
Oh, and for Jib and Dolly ops, those are really going to have a tough time, because they have much simpler machines. Dollys are really seeming to go out nowadays, but Jibs are everywhere. Quite a shame actually, because most of these big swooping Technocrane shots have no motivation and no purpose.
I am a jib and Steadicam owner/operator and although not as advanced as others I have put in some time and done some nice work. Although I agree with alot of what you said, the part about the jib being simple has to be challenged. I'm not sure if you meant the hardware was simplistic or just the operation was easy. Now, I would agree that jib operating is easier than Steadicam both physically and functionally, but it does have it's own set of demands where successful operation only comes with alot of practice just as with other specialty services.

I agree that uses where the operator has what I call free form such as with unrehearsed events or just getting b-roll as needed is not really that difficult. However, when you are on set and you have a director in your ear from a truck or next to you telling you where to put that camera at a certain time within a scene, hitting specific marks, performing combo moves (panning, tilting, booming up/down or left/right all simultaneaously) usually ALL BY YOURSELF (with video), then you realize how much you don't know if you're not able to do it. Sometimes, I think some of these directors actually think they are using a technocrane with the directions they give and results they want. Some jib operators really are that good though. They can hit a mark or perform a complex move and hit a mark repeatedly like a machine.

One of the reasons that jibs have become so popular, other than the production value they provide, is because they only require one person to build and operate. As described earlier, the bigger or more complex cranes have a small crew of 3-4 and that costs more to operate. However, the grips are usually just pulled from the existing crew so they aren't necessarily extra.

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Charles, why couldn't Steadicam deliver that shot you described in the hallway? It can reverse track and then reveal the moose just as the crane can.

I also agree with Charles that the dolly will definitely be around a while longer. It is much cheaper to achieve a moving shot with $30 / day / section of track (even cheaper depending on package) than to pay $1200+ / day for a Steadicam owner/operator or however the package comes. Use cheap track, a high end but affordable dolly or a cheaper sled dolly and existing labor (grips) to get a similar shot as the more upfront expensive Steadicam package. However, with all of that comes setup time no matter how efficient the grips are because all of that setup time adds up and you could face OT or worse, penalties for the crew and even worse, talent penalties that can get into the thousands for keeping them over the time specified in their contract. Who says being a UPM is easy?

Charles, what penalty do you get, a new accessory for your rig for every hour over 10 or 12? Or do you go for the cash option? Hahahaha!!

If Steadicam is becoming more affordable and if I was a dolly grip or owner/renter of alot of costly dollies and track, I would be getting a bit nervous. I don't think this will be the case. There will always be a need for a simple dolly shot because of what it is, simple. It may not be very profitable to the renters but they'll make something instead of nothing.

Last edited by James Emory; October 10th, 2005 at 10:03 AM.
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Old October 9th, 2005, 04:09 PM   #11
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I should say that I am in awe of really good Jimmy Jib operators when I work with them (maybe one in four would qualify for that). There's an awful lot going on with a one-man band jib, and to smoothly execute a full side to side sweep while backpanning, zooming, booming etc etc all at once and still not hit anyone with the arm--great skill.

I'm more used to working in the traditional configuration (I suppose I can say traditional, although it's only been 20 years since the Louma ushered in the remote head era) where all I am responsible for is pan and tilt, and although I've done plenty of that it's still a pretty good challenge to backpan and/or backtilt invisibly every time. I enjoy it a lot though, perhaps since it's one of the few times that I get to sit down on the job (that, and the crane techs I work with a lot have a similarly sick sense of humor as myself, so the banter over the headsets makes for good times).

James, regarding that hallway shot--have you ever stepped backwards over a moose wearing a Steadicam? Me neither! That little detail was what makes it truly a crane shot as it effortlessly floats over the beast. I did once have to step over an actor lying on the floor (in low mode, no less--it's on my reel) and being a tad portly, it was no simple feat...

You bring up a fascinating argument that I have had time and time again when negotiating my rate with UPM's. I point out that simply by using Steadicam instead of a dolly WHEN APPROPRIATE (and it often isn't), it may translate into tangible savings in overtime, far more than my bump and rental for the day. However, production accounting is not audited in such a way that these types of things are provable or understood on a regular basis. On my last show, I made a point of indicating to the UPM when he was on set how long it was taking to lay large dance floors on days when the Steadicam was not authorized for use; he tried to wiggle out of it by saying that he had worked with faster grips than those (they were doing just fine). It's all snake oil, anyway.

Speaking of which, I should point out that I tend to work far more often with the dolly on dance floor vs track (and when on track, almost always straight; curved only when a circular move is required). I think because DV-oriented dollies lack the steering ability found in the more serious machines, dance floor is not really an option, thus it is assumed that most use of dollies is on track. The advantage of dance floor is that you can make small adjustments to the move between takes or even revise it entirely. It's much more flexible that way. For exteriors, track is much more common as it is easier to level.
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Old October 9th, 2005, 05:13 PM   #12
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Do the jib operators that you mentioned typically use the standard joystick or the power pod?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert
James, regarding that hallway shot--have you ever stepped backwards over a moose wearing a Steadicam? Me neither! That little detail was what makes it truly a crane shot as it effortlessly floats over the beast. I did once have to step over an actor lying on the floor (in low mode, no less--it's on my reel) and being a tad portly, it was no simple feat...
Oh man! I can't believe I didn't think of that, having to backpeddle over the moose. I was thinking that the move was after the moose.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert
....have you ever stepped backwards over a moose wearing a Steadicam?
No, I can't say that I have seen a moose that was wearing a Steadicam.

Sorry, I couldn't resist! :) :O

As far as dance floor, I'm thinking you are talking about a rollout wood type floor, correct? I have seen luan sheets used quite a bit. As for outdoors, are they using those prefabricated, parallel aluminum frames to simply lay track on top of out in LA. I've seen them used alot here on the east side. It's a fast sturdy way of supporting track on uneven surfaces.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert
I made a point of indicating to the UPM when he was on set how long it was taking to lay large dance floors on days when the Steadicam was not authorized for use; he tried to wiggle out of it by saying that he had worked with faster grips than those (they were doing just fine). It's all snake oil, anyway.
Oh yeah, they always know of better crews. Then why aren't they working with them?! I totally understand about budgets and that UPMs have to answer to XPs and higher about expenses. But, I also know that in some contracts XPs and maybe UPMs get to keep any unused part of the budget as a bonus for not going over so they will cut as many corners as possible to pocket more money. How many projects have you worked on where they claimed there was not enough money for this or that in production, only to see money being spent on truly ridiculous and unneeded things. What a racket!! This is synonymous with commission jobs where performance gets results which can be a conflict if abused which we all know occurs with pressure sales and greed.

Last edited by James Emory; October 10th, 2005 at 10:14 AM.
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Old October 9th, 2005, 06:44 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert
I think because DV-oriented dollies lack the steering ability found in the more serious machines, dance floor is not really an option, thus it is assumed that most use of dollies is on track.
A serious dolly, like a Fisher or Chapman, are fascinating machines. The three steering modes are accessed by just a twist of a knob or a pull of a lever and presto, you're making ridiculously tight maneuvers with that thing. And that hydraulic lifting arm is so buttery smooth and it's rigid enough to duplicate a tripod lock off with a huge, heavy camera. I don't work in the film industry, but I can appreciate a fine piece of machinery when I see one!

I think the professional film industry, being a business, will always gravitate towards production tools that help improve efficiency and reduce cost. The examples that Charles and James gave make a lot of sense. If you can reduce setup time and increase creative options then everyone's happy, except maybe the rigging grips who won't have too much to do.

But these are very high-end tools with very experienced professionals operating them and are way beyond the relm of the DV market. To get a little slice of that high-end production flavor, DV'ers go for stabilizing equipment (hence the topic of this thread). To the DV'er, stabilizers offer a way to higher production values without the setup hassles of a dolly or a jib. But in my opinion, limited budget filmmakers should focus more on solid camerawork on sticks and perhaps dollies. Stabilizers require a much greater investment in training and practice because it is extremely difficult to operate a passive stabilizer to a degree that equals the mechanical stability of a tripod or dolly and make the camera work look transparent. And like any skill, not everyone will be good at it. But then again, these are just my preferences for camera aesthetics and maybe others aren't so anal about rock-solid camera moves.
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Old October 9th, 2005, 07:32 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim N Le
Stabilizers require a much greater investment in training and practice because it is extremely difficult to operate a passive stabilizer to a degree that equals the mechanical stability of a tripod or dolly and make the camera work look transparent. And like any skill, not everyone will be good at it. But then again, these are just my preferences for camera aesthetics and maybe others aren't so anal about rock-solid camera moves.
Just little off topic, I am always looking for the answer of the question "How to judge the steadiness of a video?" Do you know the answer?

TIA

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Old October 10th, 2005, 12:15 AM   #15
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Just little off topic, I am always looking for the answer of the question "How to judge the steadiness of a video?" Do you know the answer?
I don't know how others do it, but I just compare it to what a standard tripod or dolly shot would look like. The horizon should be absolutely level at all times, the sides of the frames should not rotate or jitter, and objects being tracked should generally stay at the exact same location in the frame at all times or if an intentional pan is made, the object should move smoothly from one position in the frame to the next. Smooth pan and tilt moves start with a ramp up in speed, continue across with a constant angular velocity and then ramp back down in speed to a stop, all the while tracking the object so that it stays in the desired position in the frame throughout the move.

From a scientific standpoint, shaky video is due to excessive or unintentional angular disturbances and linear displacements of the camera relative to the earth or to the object being filmed. Unless the object is very close to the lens, angular disturbances (rotations) contribute more to an unsteady image than linear displacements because a small change in the angle of the camera causes the lens to sweep a large area in the camera frame. Linear displacements only cause parallax errors proportional to the amount of displacement, which usually isn't much to begin with. This is why gyro stabilized heads only actively stabilize rotations and linear displacements are damped out passively with a mechanical cushion at the head mount. So in a nutshell, if your image is rotating around every which way like a break dancing fool, then it's probably unsteady :)
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