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Old December 21st, 2005, 07:02 AM   #1
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Camera movement dilemma

I am shooting a feature in a few days time. My DP has insisted that he needs a magnum dolly as he said it'll improve the film.

I do expect the film to have decent camera movement. Unfortunately, with our budget, we cant afford a magnum dolly.
We have a platform dolly for now, with jib arm. The rental house said it's good enough for a feature, as more than half of the film is in interior.
But my DP insist otherwise.

I am not familiar with camera movement. But I do need decent movement for the film.

I am not sure who's right. Any advice?
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Old December 21st, 2005, 08:42 AM   #2
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In my experience, which is limited, shots can always be accomplished without fancy equipment. If you can't afford it, and your DP is serious about his work maybe he should invest in one?
If your are doing all the shooting in a few days (how?) maybe you could rent.
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Old December 21st, 2005, 09:34 AM   #3
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The reason that a full scale dolly such as the Magnum (here in the states it's generally a Chapman or a Fisher) is used full-time on "serious" productions is that it is an efficient shooting platform. When you are lining up a given shot, it's immensely faster to be able to roll a couple of inches to the left vs picking up the tripod and moving it (with DV this is admittedly easier than with a 35mm camera) and certainly easier to boom down an inch or two with a hydraulic dolly than it is to drop the sticks down the same amount. Given a smooth floor, making a little adjustment here and there can be built into every shot as needed. For instance, every time you shoot an over-the-shoulder setup, it's great to able to adjust the frame laterally to keep the proper relationship between the actors if they lean one way or another. If the floor is not smooth enough, dance floor (4x8 sheets of plywood) will be used to allow the same flexibility.

A jib arm on a platform dolly will give you more flexibility than sticks on a platform dolly, but not everyone is comfortable shooting off this setup full-time; it's cumbersome and not always that easy to make certain moves with the "floppiness" of the jib arm being a factor. Telephoto shots in particular may suffer from the lack of rigidity in the system. And in any event, a skate-wheel type dolly requires track or pipe that is laid down and relaid for each tracking move which may take longer and be more restrictive.

Not being familiar with your film, I couldn't comment about what is the most appropriate platform to shoot from, but I do believe that if your DP is more comfortable shooting from a hydraulic-arm dolly (as I am), he will be able to deliver the level of work with the efficiency that he is used to. I wouuld have a further discussion with him to clarify his position on the dolly, in which he outlines the exact reasons he wants the Magnum dolly. If his reasoning is simply "it's just better, that's all", i.e. he thinks it's cool and wants a production still of him sitting on the dolly to impress the ladies, then you you should stick to your guns about the platform dolly and jib. If his argument brings up similar issues as the ones I've mentioned, his viewpoint is valid and you have a difficult situation where you might have to squeeze some blood from the stone that is your budget in order to get the film to look as good as you want it to.

Of the low-budget work I've been involved him, I have insisted on a similar dolly for some of it and others I've made do with a simple setup (I own a Spider dolly with Flextrak which I bring along for those type of shoots). I make the call based on the budget and scope of the particular job.

Taking the advice of a rental house over your DP is not recommended for this sort of issue--they want to rent you gear and are likely to be less experienced in the day-to-day issues of using it. If you have faith that the guy you hired has the best interest of your film in mind and is being as budget-conscious as possible, i.e. he is choosing his battles to fight over the gear he needs, not just throwing excessive wish lists at you, you shouldn't second guess him with outside opinions.

Kevin, I'm sure that Michael is referring to the rental cost--a dolly of this stripe is not a consideration for purchase for a film. Very few people own hydraulic dollies outside of rental houses.

Michael, best of luck with this. Your main consideration is how good you want the film to look vs how much you can spend vs how much time you have to shoot it, which is every production's dilemma. Again, if you have complete faith in your DP's level of experience it will be worth it to give him the tools he needs.
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Old December 24th, 2005, 05:02 AM   #4
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Thanks for the feedback Charles.
You describe very well the dilemma i'm facing.

I've persuaded the rental house to rent them to me at a lower cost for the first week. Will see how it goes. If it's really worth it, then maybe i'll have to consider borrowing some money to get it.

Going to be in debt after making this film ...
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Old December 24th, 2005, 05:41 AM   #5
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I know Charles is right about the management issue with the DP.

That said, I happened to have just watched Dziga Vertov's "Man With the Movie Camera" (1929). It has long sequences showing how camera movement was done because the cameraman is a character in the film.

Vertov just put the (hand cranked) camera in the back of an open touring car and chased after his subjects -- other cars and horse-drawn carriages. The results are still compelling and exciting 76 years later.
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