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Old August 26th, 2003, 12:26 AM   #1
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Shameless, immodest plug for my work on "The West Wing"...!

OK, as the title suggests, I feel a bit dubious about foisting this on you guys, but I recently noticed that Bravo is running reruns of the first season of "The West Wing". I operated (conventional and Steadicam) for two months on the first season, and the episodes I worked on are re-airing this week. The schedule is available here; the episodes I worked on are "In Excelsios Deo", "Lord John Marbury" and "He Shall, from Time to Time", as well as part of "Take out the Trash Day".

I haven't seen them in a long time, but I recall the beginning of "In Excelsios Deo" (which airs tomorrow, Tuesday) had a marathon Steadicam shot in front of the White House Christmas tree that required something like 35 takes--ugh!

Again, I'm not trying to blow my own horn, but I thought some of you might be interested in checking it out. It was an exceptionally challenging show to work on, certainly from a Steadicam perspective--oh, those endless hallway shots!--and if you have questions I'd be happy to answer as much as I can remember (it was three or four years ago now).
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Old August 26th, 2003, 12:32 AM   #2
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Your not blowing your own horn at all, heh.

The west wing is a big deal, thats a huge show, I'd be plugging that nonstop. You rock.

To be honest though, I don't like that show, there's just something about it.... I love pretty much all the other NBC shows though, Scrubs, ER....etc etc...
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Old August 26th, 2003, 12:46 AM   #3
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Charles,
I've never watched the series but will make a point of at least taping it. Thirty-five takes?! Can't you get anything right? <g> Seriously, though, that must have been a real killer. I'm in the midst of shooting something and recently had to run 9 takes of a scene with the camera on a tripod. By take 8 the actors began to flub lines and lose focus. By take 35 they probably wouldn't even have remembered how to get home. I can't imagine carrying a 60 lb rig for 35 takes. Do you recall how long it took to shoot that scene?

BTW, I read that Bravo is paying upwards of $1 mil. per episode for West Wing reruns. Apparently, that's a pretty big bet for a series that features running story lines rather than self-contained episodes.
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Old August 26th, 2003, 02:34 AM   #4
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Thanks Alex. "Scrubs" was the best experience of all of them, that's why I stayed for 2 years on that one (vs. 2 months on "West Wing", for instance).

Ken,

It's funny, I haven't watched "The West Wing" for the last couple of years, but I checked it out tonight to sort of refresh myself to the story lines that feed into the episodes in the next couple of days, and it hooks you right in. Aaron Sorkin's writing is not for everyone, it's definitely stylized a la David Mamet (in that the writing really colors the performances) but it has a rat-tat-tat rhythm that is unmistakably his.

As far as the multiple takes on that one shot, I recall that it had to do with nailing the actor's lines at very specific places in the move, which was one of those circling Steadicam deals. One actor in particular who shall remain nameless (but just happened to be in the "Brat Pack" back in the day) had a tendency to bust the take if he even hinted at flubbing his lines. Thus the many, many takes. I think it took about an hour and a half to get that shot, after a certain amount of rehearsing, lighting etc.
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Old August 26th, 2003, 11:32 AM   #5
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I wonder if thats why the Brat Pack guy couldn't get a raise?
Just speculation.
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Old August 26th, 2003, 12:57 PM   #6
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I never thought much of WW, but I will certainly try to look at your shots. Technically it was always well done.
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Old August 26th, 2003, 10:12 PM   #7
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Hi Charles,

I've never shot a scene using a Steadicam, and would love to hear some of your technique...specifically relating to pulling focus on difficult shots with a lot of motion.
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Old August 26th, 2003, 11:52 PM   #8
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Hi Jim,

Thankfully, the task of pulling focus falls entirely on the 1st assistant (camera assistant)'s lap. With conventional film operating, one is expected to report focus buzzes as seen through the eyepiece but it is a given that with Steadicam or another video-assist dependent operation (remote head, Doggiecam, etc.) the assistant alone is responsible for judging the accuracy of focus purely by feel, Zen mastery etc. It's an incredible skill, the ability to triangulate distances between camera and subject with serious accuracy. Again, since I'm not the one doing it (my focus pulling experience was a long time ago, and for a short time, and I wasn't all that great at it), there's not a whole lot for me to say about it.

Here's one thread where I did touch on some techniques.
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Old August 27th, 2003, 10:32 AM   #9
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<<but it is a given that with Steadicam or another video-assist dependent operation (remote head, Doggiecam, etc.) the assistant alone is responsible for judging the accuracy of focus purely by feel, Zen mastery etc>>

Hey Charles...I guess that's what I was wondering. I'm assuming your shooting 35mm, and was wondering where the 1st assistant was during your moves...focusing remotely? What kind of reference monitoring?
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Old August 27th, 2003, 10:51 AM   #10
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Of course I visted the thread you included after I posted my last question. I'm shooting exclusively with the Mini35 setup on the XL1s. I've always been the irector, but have been having a lot of fun acting as the DP/camera guy this ast year. Of course dealing with the DOF issues is why i was asking originally. You touched on a few of my issues in that other thread...thanks.

One was the advantage of HD with both more inherent DOF as well as accurate field monitoring. I know that traditional video tap with a film camera won't do. That's where the Mini35 becomes such an interesting beast. You have the creative opprtunities of film DOF, but the ability to judge accurate focus with monitoring. Of course that all goes out the window with Steadicam type movement for the most part.

We do some bigger production work, but for the most part i like to keep it smaller for field production...often with just 3 or 4 of us. Sometimes 2. THat's the beauty of this setup...you can shoot and shoot with out the cost and logistical limitations of Film. For that reason I've just put together a new PVM 8045Q setup with David Riddles system so that I can have a real evaluation monitor on a stand with a real hood right there beside the camera in most instances.

Thanks for your input Charles
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Old August 27th, 2003, 10:58 AM   #11
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And one mre thing <g> In that thread you said:

<<I've seen decently lit material shot on an XL1 at 60i with the Mini 35, shooting with very shallow depth of field, and it still doesn't look like film (or even that impressive) to me.>>

I couldn't agree more. Before I invested in the Mini35 setup, I first rented one to test on a commercial shoot last summer, I did some test shots of this football spot shooting straight 60i and in Frame mode. The first thing my assistant (who's spent a good deal of time working in both commercial film and video) said when we looked at the footage back in the studio was that the 60i looked like really good video...nothing more.

He's a snob, and when the Mini35 Frame mode footage came up, he said..."when did we switch to a 35mm camera?"
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Old September 1st, 2003, 04:29 PM   #12
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Hi Jim.

I checked out that Riddle monitor setup at NAB but ultimately decided it wasn't for me...the only type of hood that I've found works in the harshest sunlight conditions is a diagonal Hoodman-type, any straight hood will end up reflecting your own image onto the screen which I find distracting. The work-around is to throw a piece of black fabric (duvateen) over yourself like an old-time plate photographer! Nevertheless, it's a smart system and good protection for the monitor. I have to come up with something for my Sony 8", I just keep carrying it around in the shipping box--ugh.

Regarding your question a while back about where does the assistant work from while pulling on a Steadicam shot; we use a sophisticated multi-channel wireless lens control system (here is the model I use) that allows the assistant to work from alongside the camera to some distance away, useful for remote head crane shots. The Preston FI&Z is the benchmark system; it's so responsive it seems you actually have the follow focus knob in your hand, and it's bulletproof. And it's $20,000...! Oh well. There are other lower priced systems out there (here's one of them that do the same sort of thing.
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Old September 1st, 2003, 06:47 PM   #13
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Thanks so much for the info on the lens control system Charles...exactly what I was looking for. And as far as the hood issue with the field monitor...yes, I agree, and this would make an excellent thread on it's own.

I was really attracted to the quick setup of the Riddle system and safety for a high end mointor in the field, especially using a baby 5/8 mount. it mkes it really easy to move the monitor along with the camera setups.

I alo agree about the duvateen 'tent" I think it's a basic and simple way to cover everything in a pinch under bright light. The other thing I like with the Riddle is having it on it's spring loaded tilt mount in the back of an Explorer with the tailgate down. It's a great shaded shaded environment with the 8045Q plugged into the cigarette lighter. In a lot of setups, this makes for a great little village with a couple of director chairs setup at monitor height.
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Old September 12th, 2003, 07:48 AM   #14
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Charles Papert

I kind of regard you as our resident celebrity. It's funny, but I'd rather ask Owen Roizman, Dean Cundey, Lucien Ballard and/or William Fraker for fifteen minutes of their time over a cup of Turkish coffee to pick their brains about tradecraft rather than fill a book full of autographs from actors and directors. I'd MUCH rather be behind the camera and in the editing suite. Have you ever read any of Robert Rodriguez's empassioned interviews about HD 24p? It's enough to make you stick yourhead out of your tenement window a-la Peter Finch in "Network" and scream "I'm as mad as hell (at film) and I'm not gonna take it any more!" Right now, you couldn't GIVE me a brand spankin' new Arriflex 35. Please pass the Panasonic AG SDX900. Whenever I need a little motivation I just read yoruprevious posts, cousin Charles. Keep it up. In six years when I retire from my regular job, I just might come around begging you for an apprenticeship as tenth assistant cameraman/DP (You MUST try my coffee. That alone is reason enough to offer me the internship! HA!
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Old September 12th, 2003, 07:53 AM   #15
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Charles,

You da man!

I love the amazing steadicam work on "West Wing". I find the show tedious but often I watch just for the camera work. Really great stuff.

Rick
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