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Shooting on a Radio Tower


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#1 Marc Shap

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 09:36 AM

Hi, Im a shooting a low-budge Independent feature, a good deal of the film takes place on a free standing radio tower, I believe the tower were using is some 200' tall. My question is, whats the best way to get an operator and a camera up that high. I realize e can shoot lower, and still have a great effect, but there are several scenes that take place on the top deck of the tower. We want to try and avoid green screen, and make the hights as "real" as possable.

Ive looked into aerial lifts, and the tallest, Ive found is 125'. Any suggestions? I suppose a crane with a basket could work?

Thanks,
Marc

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#2 Alessandro Machi

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 10:25 AM

Hi, Im a shooting a low-budge Independent feature, a good deal of the film takes place on a free standing radio tower, I believe the tower were using is some 200' tall. My question is, whats the best way to get an operator and a camera up that high. I realize e can shoot lower, and still have a great effect, but there are several scenes that take place on the top deck of the tower. We want to try and avoid green screen, and make the hights as "real" as possable.

Ive looked into aerial lifts, and the tallest, Ive found is 125'. Any suggestions? I suppose a crane with a basket could work?

Thanks,
Marc

www.marcshap.com



A long time ago, I read a news story about someone who worked at a radio station and as a gag they climbed the radio tower to stop the signal from being transmitted. Kind of a dumb gag actually. The gist of the story was that the guy may have sterilized himself in the process. I have not researched whether or not that is an urban legend, but it does seem ironic that it would take a lot balls to climb one of those and yet you get what you pay for.
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#3 Eric Dinger

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 02:07 PM

If it's an active tower, and if you don't know assume it's active, stay away, sterility isn't the biggest risk they pose, electrocution is. Have you contacted the owner of the tower? You should, unless you have contacted the owner of the tower, and know for sure it's turned off, and have the owner or one of his techs come out and show you and make it safe, I'd stay away from it.

Note I'm not a radio tech, and the only advice I'm giving is to stay away and call the owner.
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#4 Dan Goulder

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 02:25 PM

As an FCC license holder, I can tell you that the transmitter needs to be dropped well below 1,000 watts during tower servicing (A 200 ft. tower typically carries a lot more power than that.) I assume this is not a guerilla shoot, otherwise positively FORGET IT. Furthermore, I wouldn't send anyone up the tower who isn't qualified to be up there. As you mention this being a low budget shoot, I hope you're not planning on shooting amateurs on the tower who're just looking to burnish their "extreme" cred.

On the otherhand, if you're using experienced professionals, good luck with your shoot.
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#5 Hal Smith

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 02:48 PM

Hi, Im a shooting a low-budge Independent feature, a good deal of the film takes place on a free standing radio tower, I believe the tower were using is some 200' tall.


What's the details? AM, FM, Cellphone??? What type of tower construction? And where do you want to shoot? All of those details can greatly affect just how easy it will be to shoot on a tower. I've got still film of myself 650' up in the air in OKC. I rode up the winch cable wearing a full OSHA harness accompanied by a professional tower climber at the completion of the tower being built and while it was still rigged.

Either post or PM me the details and I'll try to help. My "day" business is radio broadcast engineering and I can probably help you pull it off. There are FCC and OSHA hoops to be jumped through to work on a tower but it's done a thousand times a day around the country by the professional tower firms.
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#6 timHealy

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 03:18 PM

Hi, Im a shooting a low-budge Independent feature, a good deal of the film takes place on a free standing radio tower, I believe the tower were using is some 200' tall. My question is, whats the best way to get an operator and a camera up that high. I realize e can shoot lower, and still have a great effect, but there are several scenes that take place on the top deck of the tower. We want to try and avoid green screen, and make the hights as "real" as possable.

Ive looked into aerial lifts, and the tallest, Ive found is 125'. Any suggestions? I suppose a crane with a basket could work?

Thanks,
Marc

www.marcshap.com



The highest aerial lift I have used was 170' and I think the manufacturer does have a 220 footer. The vendor was Blakely in Westchester county, NY but I forget off hand who the manufacturer was. Was it Condor?? I seem to think it was a Canadian company. Anything 150' and over was a truck mounted unit.

best

Tim
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#7 John Sprung

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 04:05 PM

The best thing would be to work with one of the tower engineering construction and maintenance companies, like Kline or Stainless. They know how to do it safely. Ask the tower owner or their engineer if there's one they use. That way you get somebody who already knows this particular tower. You have to deal with both weight and wind load. Hoisting a big silk up there could be more wind resistance than some towers can take.

In AM radio, there's generally a big insulator at the base, and the whole tower is hot -- it's all antenna. Most everything else operates at higher frequencies/shorter wavelengths, so the tower merely supports small antennas, maybe 5 - 30 ft. high. That this one has a platform indicates that it's probably not AM. Is it a candelabra design, with room for multiple antennas? One of those $15 non-contact power testers, the ones about the size of a big sharpie, will light up and buzz in your pocket if you're too close to the RF.

You'll need harnesses for everybody who goes up there. There are cheap rescue-only type harnesses for about $70, but they're damned uncomfortable if you have to load them. Better to figure on paying about $200 to get something you can hang around in all day -- a work positioning or climbing harness. Google "VER Safety" in Burbank -- that's where I got mine. Also, tie off everything you take up. Even if a dropped tool doesn't kill anybody or get broken, it still costs you tens of minutes to get it back up.

Storyboard carefully and work out your angles. Do as much as you can using the bottom 15 ft. of the tower to double for the top.


-- J.S.
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#8 Hal Smith

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 04:27 PM

The best thing would be to work with one of the tower engineering construction and maintenance companies, like Kline or Stainless. ..............
You'll need harnesses for everybody who goes up there. There are cheap rescue-only type harnesses for about $70, ...........

A local firm will be more cost effective. Kline, Stainless, ERI, et.al. work mainly on major installations and it's pretty pricey to bring them into town. I use firms based in OK exclusively to 1000'.

Rescue harnesses are not approved by OSHA for occupational tower climbing, only for rescue. My OSHA approved full harness rig with impact absorber, etc. cost me close to $300. OSHA requires training, it's pretty minimal for a worker, and more extensive for a trainer. I believe you could have crew and cast trained as workers provided there was a trainer present. There are undoubtedly some different OSHA rules and exemptions for stuntpersons but that's not my area of expertise.

The type of RF on a tower MAJORLY affects what safety provisions are required. There's a world of difference between a full power UHF TV station, high power FM, low power FM, AM, Cell site, etc. What is safe around a cell tower is suicide around a UHF TV antenna. I just had a crew replace the lights on a 805' tower belonging to a client here in OKC. The low power FM could stay on the air at 1/4 power, the 100kW FM at the top (my client) was reduced to 5%, and the 2.7 megawatt (!) UHF TV had to go off the air - period.
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#9 Marc Shap

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Posted 20 April 2007 - 10:57 AM

Its a free standing tower, in non-operation. Its actually a training tower, at a tower company. They have a hoist system, which will work, but it is time consuming, and not very portable, if we want to shoot around the tower. It also doesnt reach the top deck of the tower, it reaches, just under it, which poses another problem, since we have several scenes on top of the tower. Everything is through the owner of the company and there will be osha trained employees there to help out.

Thanks for all the advice, Im sure will figure out something.

marc
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#10 Hal Smith

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Posted 21 April 2007 - 03:27 PM

Everything is through the owner of the company and there will be osha trained employees there to help out.

That's great to hear, I and a couple of others obviously feared a less than professional approach - but I am so glad I for one was wrong, very wrong.

WRT getting up on the platform. I've seen mini-cranes (possibly shop, not commercially constructed) that crews use to swing gear up to, and onto, platforms. I've emailed my Customer Service rep at Tessco.com to ask if they know of a commercial source for mini-cranes.
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