Thursday, May 12, 2011

The "Big" Rig Dilemma

In the few years since I decided that I wanted to pursue Steadicam as a career, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what direction I wanted to go in, gear-wise. I’ve poured over countless rigs, new and used, read every review I could get my hands on, looked through pages upon pages of posts over on the Steadicam Forum, and done more business planning and financial hand-wringing as is probably sane for a person of my age. This is a struggle that I’ve seen many new operators go through recently – there’s a plethora of gear out there right now, and much of it is coming down in price. Also, with changes in modern production (lighter cameras, new video technology), it’s become increasingly tempting to pick up lighter-weight rigs, which cost significantly less.

So, how did I pick what range of rig to buy? It’s a long story, but it boils down to a simple point - I never wanted to turn down a job because my rig couldn’t do it.

I had owned a lightweight rig for a few years, and not only was I not taken terribly seriously by anyone who knew their equipment, but I also had to be very careful before applying for jobs. I never knew when a DP would ask me to put an extra accessory on the rig that would take me over my meager weight capacity. It’s not a good situation to be in!

Additionally, I found a big bonus to buying bigger, and it’s something I never would have believed until I got the rig. The bigger a rig is, the more stable it is. It’s a simple point of inertia – the formula for the inertia of an object is its mass times the velocity it is traveling at – thus a heavier rig has more inertia than a lighter one, assuming both are doing the same shot. More inertia means that the rig requires much less “babysitting” from the operator, allowing more focus on fine control. It’s a big, big improvement.

Finally, I had to work out what age of gear I was comfortable with. In my situation, it made much more sense to buy a bit older, and get a rig that could actually do everything I wanted. After looking at it, and realizing that I had a lot left to spend outside of the rig, I decided to go for the rig I have now, a PRO I, which allowed me to focus more budget on accessories. Even something as small as cables can add up quickly, when for every cable, you need a spare. On a set, I know I’d rather have a whole bag of spare cables (like when a PA dropped the monitor off my rig a few weeks ago and tore a cable in half) than a flasher, newer rig.

Finally, the dilemma is solved – big rig it is. Now to get back to practicing for the next shoot!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Q&A with Christopher TJ McGuire

Do you remember the first time you saw or heard of the Steadicam?
'Rocky'! .... The inspirational film that motivated most of my Teenager years - I first spied Mr Garrett Brown ringside with the Rig that would change my life!

What was it about the Steadicam that made you want to pursue it as a career?
I was an Athlete at school following on from my Dad - I trained pretty much most of the time and loved the 800m and High Jump - so it was either a job in the Royal Marines or a career pursuing my dream of working in the movies. Steadicam, ultimately allows me to offer up creativity while physically pushed.

What were you doing prior to Steadicam?
I was shooting documentaries for television in the UK - things like; World in Action, Cutting Edge, Dispatches and Panorama.

What were some of the biggest challenges you remember about becoming a Steadicam operator?
Being taken seriously!! I ended up buying my own rig, a SK2 and training myself. At the time I was shooting a lot of performances for a music show, so I was able to earn a decent amount and get paid flying time in the rig.

What are some of the biggest challenges now?
Finding work!!

Did you ever have a "big break" moment? A career event that clearly changed or paved the way for everything to follow?
I ended up shooting a major scene in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" with the Revolution - 4 major characters, 3 minute scene, continual 360's and assorted Lens sizes on each Character! - it knocked the stuffing out of me, but I did it!

From whom do you take your inspiration? Has that changed over the course of your career?
My Inspiration goes back to my Teenage years from my Dad. He used all the 'Rocky' movies and 'Chariots of Fire' to instill physical motivation. It's he who pushed me into the world of movies.


Is there a shot, film, or moment in your career that you can think of as your most proud?
I'm probably most proud of the demo films I shot for MK-V for the Revolution. They we're tough both physically and mentally as I was using a piece of equipment that was completely new to the industry.
On a paid Steadicam gig!!! - I would say I'm most happiest with the opening shot in 'Conan the Barbarian'. It's a huge 360 degree move around a battlefield with lots of Warriors fighting with swords and axes, lots of choreography with stunts and our hero Ron Perlman!

Is there a shot or film you can recall as being your most challenging? Why?
All the Steadicam shots I did on 'Fright Night 3D'!!! It's the adverse conditions I've worked in that makes it all the more challenging! The Tropic heat on 'Streetfighter' in Thailand, -30 degrees / Snow and Ice on 'Whiteout' in Manitoba.
I shot 'Conan the Barbarian' last year in Bulgaria and although tough - highly satisfying!! I love a challenge!!

What work of your peers do you admire?
I have the utmost respect for Garrett Brown especially for his work on 'Rocky'! Colin Anderson is an Operator that I aspire to. He's incredibly focused and makes Steadicam look easy! More recently after seeing 'The Fighter' I have to say that Geoff Haley's work on the movie added to its authenticity, both Steadicam and hand-held!.

Many people will say they've tried on a Steadicam once, and immediately thought, "absolutely not." What do you think is different about those of us that say "absolutely"?
We like the graft!!

Photos courtesy of http://www.ar-mcguire.com/

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Q&A with Dave Knox

Do you remember the first time you saw or heard of the Steadicam?
Well, there was "The Shining", which made a big splash, but I remember seeing "One From the Heart", a Francis Coppola film operated by Garrett Brown around the same time. All the sequences, camera movements, even the sets were designed around the Steadicam's capabilities. Fantastic!


What was it about the Steadicam that made you want to pursue it as a career?
Steadicam seemed to be a mash-up of all my interests and abilities-- athletics, camerawork, precision, control...


What were you doing prior to Steadicam?
I was a focus puller and camera operator on lower-budget features...Toxic Avenger! After I started shooting higher end commercials, and picked up the Steadicam I was able to get a Union card and move up to better features with bigger budgets,



Dave on a shoot with Norma Kamali

What were some of the biggest challenges you remember about becoming a Steadicam operator?
Well, the gear wasn't so good in the early 1980's as it is now. I had to actually go to Europe to get my hands on proper aks- a video transmitter (England), a remote focus box (Sweden). I assembled a whole kit which would enable me to interface with the cameras then in use (Arri 2C, III, BL, SR), including the Steadicam sled for $25K. At the time there were only 2 Lightweight Panaflex camera bodies, and a handful of Panaglides which traveled around from set to set, in constant use. Lining up the gear was the biggest challenge.


What are some of the biggest challenges now?
I have moved on- retired the rig, and now enjoy watching other operators sift through the gear pile, and sweat out the difficult shots!



Dave and Garrett

Did you ever have a "big break" moment? A career event that clearly changed or paved the way for everything to follow?
I took the first workshop for Steadicam training with Garrett Brown in Maine, at which I suppose he saw I had some potential. In the next few years, I got my kit together, and developed as a Steadicam specialist under his tutelage. Garrett sponsored me for the IATSE, and sent the first few jobs my way.


From whom do you take your inspiration? Has that changed over the course of your career?
After Garrett, My next mentor was the DP Adam Holender. He and I teamed up on all sorts of film projects between 1987-2003. Adam really showed me what it meant to organize a film shoot, everything from planning shots and executing artfully-designed sequences to diplomatically working with directors and actors. Some of his best films like "Midnight Cowboy", "Fresh", and "Smoke" will be viewed for a long time.


Is there a shot, film, or moment in your career that you can think of as your most proud?
Actually I consider my non-steadicam work on "The Devil's Own" as a career highpoint. Another great DP, Gordon Willis took me under his wing, and we spent nearly a year together on this film. I shot B-Camera and second unit sequences for Gordon in New York and Ireland. Growing up in North Carolina, and seeing Gordon's films like "Annie Hall", "the Godfather", and "Manhattan" made a big impression on me, and flying over to Ireland with Gordon to work together was the culmination of a long journey.


Is there a shot or film you can recall as being your most challenging? Why?
Running through the obstacle course alongside Jody Foster in "Silence of the Lambs" is the one. Physically demanding, carrying an old Panaglide with early rudimentary focus and video gear, that shot had it all. We did about ten takes, all told, but the sequence really launches the film dynamically.


What work of your peers do you admire?
For Steadicam there's the McConkeys, Jim and Larry...also Will Arnot. In my opinion, there's the top 3 operators in the World right there. Of course, they're pretty popular, and hard to book for your film project!


Many people will say they've tried on a Steadicam once, and immediately thought, "absolutely not." What do you think is different about those of us that say "absolutely"?
Athleticism. I was an Ice Hockey and Tennis player for years, and Jim McConkey was a top level X-Country skier. Will Arnot, likewise excels at triathalons. You don't have to be an elite performer like these guys, but you do have to be somewhat athletic, and on a basic level know how people move through space.


Photographs courtesy of "The History of Dave".  www.daveknox.com

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Q&A with Charles Papert, SOC

Do you remember the first time you saw or heard of the Steadicam?
I read Pauline Kael's review of "The Shining" where she referenced the Steadicam--sounded fascinating to a 14 year old with a developing interest in camerawork. Three years later I found my first copy of "American Cinematographer" with, coincidentally, part one of Ted Churchill's article "Steadicam: An Operator's Perspective", which included the first pictures of the rig I had seen.


What was it about the Steadicam that made you want to pursue it as a career?
After meeting Ted in NYC and watching him work on set, I knew it was the career for me. I loved shooting handheld but was obsessed with hiding my footsteps--this was the ultimate way to achieve that!


What were you doing prior to Steadicam?
uhhh...being a teenager.


What were some of the biggest challenges you remember about becoming a Steadicam operator?
It all seemed incredibly out-of-reach monetarily...simply saving up to take the workshop when I was 19 was a big ordeal. Four years later I was working at a small production company as in-house shooter and editor, and eventually was able to buy the old, stock Model 1 I had first learned on at a rental house. I was located in a remote part of Massachusetts and didn't have contact with many other operators, so figuring out what to buy and how to modify things took much more effort than it does today, thanks to the internet.


What are some of the biggest challenges now?
I think for the newer operators especially in the LA market, competition has driven the rates down so far that it's hard to pay back the investment.


Did you ever have a "big break" moment? A career event that clearly changed or paved the way for everything to follow?
Moving from Boston to LA, I was fortunate to parlay a few referrals from Dave Chameides and Jonathan Brown into a string of features and episodic work that got me established pretty quickly.


From whom do you take your inspiration? Has that changed over the course of your career?
Initially Teddy, and then taking the workshop with him and GB was amazing. GB has always inspired me deeply, on many levels. Larry's work for me represents a gold standard in terms of shot design and execution.


Is there a shot, film, or moment in your career that you can think of as your most proud?
Somewhere between '98 and '04 I was constantly ticking off little milestones here and there, getting to work with amazing people in front of/behind the camera, surviving big one'rs with a lot of pressure, establishing a name for myself. Probably the best moments came from watching my shots in a theater or on TV and finally being satisfied with them!


Is there a shot or film you can recall as being your most challenging? Why?
There were a few (especially on ER, West Wing etc) that were challenging on a survival level; getting to the end of the one'r without forgetting "what's next" or collapsing. At the time, the stairs shot in American History X was purely diabolical. I hate stairs.


What work of your peers do you admire?
There are many, but I like to single out the guys who have quietly toiled for years without getting the lion's share of attention or adulation but regularly turn out shots that are amazingly refined and clean. Chaps like Dave Chameides, Bill Brummond and Geoff Haley come to mind. There's just a degree of finesse there that's above and beyond and they rarely get the recognition they deserve.


Many people will say they've tried on a Steadicam once, and immediately thought, "absolutely not." What do you think is different about those of us that say "absolutely"?
Deep-seated masochism is a good starting place.
The joy of Steadicam is that you get to be a one-man band; it's an amazing device for self-expressive purposes. The fact that it always challenges you, inspires you to do better; it's so engaging.


From charlespapert.com
Papert was bitten by the filmmaking bug as a teenager and after a brief stint at NYU film school, he began his career in earnest. Several years shooting and editing local commercials and corporate videos for a small production company was a great introduction to working fast and lean and producing surprising results. He became a well-known Steadicam operator in the New England market, then moved to Los Angeles in 1997 and began working primarily in features and episodic television, racking up an impressive set of credits as both operator and DP.


In 2001 he co-created “Instant Films”, a 48-hour filmmaking festival which to date has generated over 200 films, all made over a weekend, Papert having directed 12 of these.


With his extensive experience in both the top of the industry and the indie filmmaking world, Papert has developed a well-rounded sensibility with an eye to all facets of production. Working fast and creatively are among the key assets he brings to each project.


In the past few years he has found himself on the forefront of the DSLR “revolution”, working alongside several of the pioneers of this exciting new technology.

Q&A with Amando Crespo Gonzalez

Do you remember the first time you saw or heard of the Steadicam?
Yes... at 1988, I couldn't understand how a camera could fly over the set...


What was it about the Steadicam that made you want to pursue it as a career?
I think that Steadicam loved me... It was a "love story" ...


What were some of the biggest challenges you remember about becoming a Steadicam operator?
With my old III-A my first work with a Arri BL-4


What are some of the biggest challenges now?
..to be proud of my family, my girl friend Anita (well knowed steadicam "amateur" girl operator at Spain)


Did you ever have a "big break' moment? A career event that clearly changed or paved the way for everything to follow?
..yes!.. But never fall...


From whom do you take your inspiration? Has that changed over the course of your career?
Charles Papert


Is there a shot, film, or moment in your career that you can think of as your most proud?
No... I have more shoots. Long and longest..


What work of your peers do you admire?
"Ugly Betty" by Charles Papert and EMERGENCY


Many people will say they've tried on a Steadicam once, and immediately thought, "absolutely not." What do you think is different about those of us that say "absolutely"?
...Sense of humor about it?...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Angenieux Introduces New Lightweight Zoom

With the Steadicam in the back of their minds, Angenieux unveiled its newest lens in their line of lightweight zooms at the NAB convention in Las Vegas. The 45-120 weighs in at 4.3lbs and is only 8 inches long from the PL mount in the rear to the 114mm front element housing. Joining its lightweight predecessors, the 15-40 and 28-76, the new lens completes a DP's need for a substantial range of focal lengths, and a Steadicam operator's need to not carry around a 2 foot long, 12 pound piece of glass on the front of their rig.

Although rod support is an option, these lightweight zooms can easily fly unsupported, with a clip on matte box, allowing for a Steadicam setup to be built without heavy sliding base plates and studio matte boxes - saving many unnecessary pounds.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Steadicam faces its toughest competition yet

After nearly 40 years as the dominant tool in the competitive Personally-Wearable-Motion-Picture-Camera-Stabilization-System market (PWMPCSS), the Steadicam gets thrown out of balance - both static AND dynamic - by a product that can literally fit in the palm of your hand.

Enter The Steadiglove.  Using ultra top secret, proprietary technology, the Steadiglove looks like nothing more than a full fingered bicycle glove that you could probably buy at any bicycle or hardware shop.  Unlike the Steadicam, which employs Newtonian laws of physics and brilliant mechanical design to isolate the movements of the operator from the movements of the camera, the Steadiglove works by simply putting it on your hand.  The result is an image free of all undesired vibration.

Upon seeing the new product for the first time, the Academy Award winning inventor of the Steadicam, Garrett Brown stated, "I can't believe I never considered a simple glove would be easier to use than 75 pounds of metal strapped to the operator's body."  He then buried his face in his hands and wept a little.

When reached for a counter comment, the creator of the Steadiglove demonstrated its versatility by placing his thumb to his nose, wiggling his fingers, and making a raspberry sound.

As of now, the Steadiglove only comes in a right-handed version.  A model for southpaws is said to be under development, but will take much longer to release, primarily because nobody cares about lefties.

The Steadiglove can be seen in action below.

The Steadiglove from Reel Vision on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Steadicam brother Richard Steel dies at 40

As his career was taking new and exciting turns, Steadicam Operator Richard Steel of Lasswade, Scotland - just outside of Edinburgh - was killed in an automobile accident Wednesday morning.

Richard graduated Stevenson College in the UK in 1988 with a degree in Audio Visual Communications.  Shortly after, he worked as an AV technician for Market Factor, a company in Edinburgh providing technical support and audio/visual solutions.  In 1994, he became a founding partner of The Media Factory which went on to become one of the most successful multimedia production houses in Scotland.  In 1999, he left his position as a corporate entrepreneur, and became a freelance cameraman and Steadicam operator.  Since that time his clients have included the BBC, Sky and ITV.  To continue his education, he attended numerous classes and workshops, honing his craft.

Those who knew him describe him as a fun individual, who worked hard to get where he was.  For the last couple years, he got to realize one of his dreams, working as the DP on a feature film entitled "Electric Man".  Richard had just completed the final grading on the film a few weeks ago.  The film is scheduled for release this year.

One can get a small taste for Richard's good humor by browsing his website.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Q&A with Alec Jarnagin, SOC

Do you remember the first time you saw or heard of the Steadicam?
I was just out of college. I met Charles Papert who was DPing a corporate shoot.

What was it about the Steadicam that made you want to pursue it as a career?
The magic and physicality of it.

What were you doing prior to Steadicam?
I was an electrician. I wanted to become a cameraman. I was working in a kalideoscope factory.

What were some of the biggest challenges you remember about becoming a Steadicam operator?
Being able to afford it. Getting yourself known – figuring out how to publicize yourself. Getting to know other operators.

What are some of the biggest challenges now?
Longer format jobs put you unavailable for long periods of time and take you off the radar of many jobs.

Did you ever have a “big break’ moment? A career event that clearly changed or paved the way for everything to follow?
DP Tom Houghton offering me a job on “Love Monkey”. It paved my way into episodic work.

From whom do you take your inspiration? Has that changed over the course of your career?
My wife, Garrett, Charles, and young students. They aren’t jaded…the sky’s the limit…no obstacles…they have pure excitement.

Is there a shot, film, or moment in your career that you can think of as your most proud?
A lot of moments for different reasons. “Rescue Me” oners were the most rewarding in their sheer physicality and logistics. I felt I was really able to tune into the look of the show and elevate it.

Is there a shot or film you can recall as being your most challenging? Why?
The hardest shots are frequently the ones that initially seem to be the easiest. I’m proud of the “Levis” spot – watching it come together exactly as I’d planned was great. I’d visualized it in prep and then “connected the dots” on set.

What work of your peers do you admire?
So many. Larry, Garrett, Charles, Jimmy Muro… The opening shot of “Bonfire” is operating at a different level.

Many people will say they’ve tried on a Steadicam once, and immediately thought, “absolutely not.” What do you think is different about those of us that say “absolutely”?
A love for physical and mental challenge. Steadicam is a perfect hybrid of the two. We continue to roll up our sleeves and humble ourselves with this instrument.

As a Director of Photography, Alec has photographed projects for: MTV, CNN, PBS, The History Channel, National Geographic and Discovery Channel. In addition, Alec has lensed numerous independent projects including the cult classic short film that helped launch AtomFilms.com: Bobby Loves Mangos. As a Steadicam Operator and/or Camera Operator, Alec has worked on a variety of feature films and television shows such as Gossip Girl, 30 Rock, Rescue Me, Canterbury's Law, Sex and the City, Third Watch, and Chappelle's Show. Select feature film credits include: Joel Schumacher's Twelve starring Chace Crawford, Emma Roberts, and Rory Culkin, Bart Freundlich's The Rebound with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Justin Bartha, Michael Corrente's Brooklyn Rules with Freddie Prinze, Jr., Alec Baldwin and Mena Suvari, Merchant Ivory's Heights with Glenn Close, Kevin Bacon's Loverboy with Kyra Sedgwick, and the New York action unit of The Bourne Ultimatum with Matt Damon.

Alec regularly lectures about camera movement and offers Steadicam demonstrations at NYU. Alongside Steadicam Inventor Garrett Brown, Alec has taught weeklong workshops in the art of Steadicam. Alec is honored to serve on the Board of Governors of The Society of Camera Operators, as well as being an active participant in The Steadicam Operators Association, the Steadicam Guild, IATSE Local 600, and to serve as a moderator for SteadicamForum.com. Alec currently resides in New York City with his wife, Jendra Jarnagin, who is also a Cinematographer.