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Pointer for ACing steadicam?


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#1 Chris Keth

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Posted 11 October 2008 - 08:58 PM

Anyone have any helpful tips? I haven't AC'd for steadicam much at all, only a few days here and there with an F900. I'll be 1st with a RED doing some walk-and-talks and I'm a little nervous never having done it before with a camera where pulling focus isn't a total walk in the park. :ph34r:
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#2 Alex Worster

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Posted 11 October 2008 - 09:24 PM

If the camera is coming from a rental house then you could put a Cinetape on the camera list, Those make steadicam easier, especially in simple walk and talk situations. I've done some RED steadicam jobs and what's nice is that most people go with the 320 ASA rating making it easier for them to get a stop you can work with. Regardless of the make of the camera I always appreciate when DPs understand that steadicam can be tough and as such make sure to give me a fighting chance with a decent stop. Also, if the camera is not tilting up and down a lot you can use a laser pointer like you would a on a dolly. It won't be as accurate as on a dolly of course but it will keep you in the ball park. Beyond that I usually try and burn into my head what 3', 5' and 7' (or wherever you've got good witness marks on you're wireless unit or the lens if you're looking at that) looks like and guess based on that.

Other than that I would also be interested to hear some tips on steadicam work if anyone else has some.
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#3 Jaron Berman

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Posted 11 October 2008 - 10:28 PM

Well one thing you have working in your favor is that most ops generally try to keep heads the same size in the frame during simple walk & talks unless the DP specifically asks for a change in shot length during the dialog. That means the op will keep you the same distance throughout the meat of the walk and talk.

When the op walks the shot ahead of time, walk alongside him or her as the shot is designed so you can get a feeling for the beats and the natural flow. Look for real-world marks you can use as references while walking. When you get to rehearsals you should have a pretty good idea of trouble spots where the op may have to dance around objects and possibly allow the actors closer in the process. Watch for these kinds of things in body language so you can anticipate these changes in shot length. And good ops can deliver exactly the same shot over and over, aside from changes the DP or director calls out between takes.

Be honest with the operator between takes too. If you need another, he or she should have the pull to ask for it. But most operators will walk the shot without the rig a number of times, walk with the rig, and do rehearsals with actors or stand-ins before ever rolling a take so you should have plenty of opportunities to make mental marks and rehearse the shot yourself. One unfortunate drawback of steadicam is that the operator cannot usually provide you with positive focus feedback during the shot. There is a lot else to concentrate on and also the monitors on most rigs are not (and don't need to be) HD. If the operator is comfortable with it, you may ask to fly the little RED lcd. It's very light and can give you a confirmation of focus when you absolutely need it. This monitor is very easy to velcro to the CF-card slot cover.

This may seem dumb to even mention, but ask ahead of time what WIRELESS focus system you'll be using and make sure you know how to set it up quickly and make adjustments to it when transitioning between steadicam and traditional operating. Most steadicam ops come with their own focus systems but don't be shocked if they have no idea how to use it. ASK BEFOREHAND, and if necessary go to a rental house and learn that system.

There's a theory among indi filmmakers that steadicam is basically only good for running shots outdoors with wide-angle lenses. Perhaps this will be your shot. But steadicam is used in a lot more finessed ways, so get ready for lenses longer than 50mm and subtle moves that don't include running.

The usual (but not the only) position for a steadicam focus puller is 90 degrees to either side of the film plane and a few feet away. That way you can be out of the way for quick direction changes while still having a good view of the distance between the camera and actor. But don't get too comfortable on either side, because as you'll find out in your rehearsals, you'll probably have to dance around to stay out of the way and see. You'll definitely earn your pay pulling for steadicam.

But the best advice I could give as a steadicam op is to call the guy/gal and introduce yourself beforehand. Figure out how involved you need to be with setup and breakdown of the camera as it relates to steadicam configurations. Remember this is his or her personal investment. He or she will probably know all the ins and outs of the rig, the focus system, and where he or she wants you during, between and after the shots. The RED is very unforgiving to missed focus, so it won't be easy. But if you pay attention during rehearsals and walk-throughs you should be in pretty good shape. Good luck, it'll be fun!

Edited by Jaron Berman, 11 October 2008 - 10:31 PM.

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#4 Jamie Metzger

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Posted 11 October 2008 - 10:47 PM

Build 17 has auto-focus. I sh it you not.
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#5 Alex Worster

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Posted 11 October 2008 - 11:29 PM

Way? That would be something, not necessarily a good thing at all but definitely something none the less.

All good points Jeron, thanks.

Another thing I forgot... there are HD wireless video systems like the Wevi Cam which would allow you to have a spotter sitting next to a monitor checking focus for you or, god forbid, you could park yourself in front of the monitor, blasphemy I know but yet another option.

Edited by Alex Worster, 11 October 2008 - 11:32 PM.

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#6 Jamie Metzger

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Posted 11 October 2008 - 11:44 PM

this Panasonic monitor: http://www.bhphotovi...eplacementLink#

has that sweet function where it outlines what's in focus in RED. Very helpful. I've seen veteran AC's using it and loving it.
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#7 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 12 October 2008 - 12:53 AM

Anyone have any helpful tips?


Hands off the rig dude, hands off the rig. ha ha

What kind of remote focus will you have?
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#8 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 12 October 2008 - 03:37 AM

Hey Chris,

Make sure the PL mount on the Red is collimated and keep checking it, as often as you would back focus. As you probably know, the Red PL mount is held in place with a couple of screws (hex, I think) which can shake loose over time. So you go to change a lens, twist the mount and whoops! the whole thing turns in your hand. Not good when you're depending entirely on the lens marks to judge focus... Keep tightening those screws.

Talk to the steadicam op before the shoot and make sure you're comfortable with the gear he's providing (mainly the wireless FF). He will probably also have a wireless monitoring system, so make sure you're comfortable with that. Know where he keeps his batteries. Keep the cradle stand for the rig close by. One thing you can do to check sharps is to have an HD monitor on a stand near the camera and briefly hook up the HD-SDI cable to the camera before a take. Obviously check with the operator and work out a system with him beforehand because nothing pisses off a steadicam op more than being tethered when he isn't expecting it. :) If he has to be tethered for some reason, a good place to run a cable is up the right side of the chest and velcro'd to the back of his vest.

Find out if you're getting a 2nd AC and if not, ask for one. Steadicam is one of those jobs where having a 2nd is critical to helping you get marks quickly, shlepping lens cases, moving monitors, etc. You can't do all that and pull focus too. Sounds obvious, but if you've pulled on steadicam without a 2nd before, you know what I'm talking about. If the operator asks for a tape mark on the floor, put the mark directly under the post, that's easier for him to hit than a mark at his feet.

Borrow a laser distance meter from a fellow AC if you don't have one. Really helpful for judging 10'-25' range. Fight to get a good position where you can see the actors, and if you need time to get some marks, fight for that too. Steadicam in narrow quarters and on stairs is really tricky, it's hard to find a good place to stand that won't be on camera. Some ACs will stand behind the operator and peek over his shoulder. I don't like that very much because you can't see the actors very well but sometimes you have to do it.

You'll be stressed on the day, so do your yoga in the morning, eat a good breakfast, and drink plenty of water. :P Good luck, and let us know how it goes!
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#9 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 13 October 2008 - 04:11 AM

Hey Chris,

Make sure the PL mount on the Red is collimated and keep checking it, as often as you would back focus. As you probably know, the Red PL mount is held in place with a couple of screws (hex, I think) which can shake loose over time. So you go to change a lens, twist the mount and whoops! the whole thing turns in your hand. Not good when you're depending entirely on the lens marks to judge focus... Keep tightening those screws.


Hmm... sounds like a deign fault put in place to keep the video guys who like adjusting their backfocus happy. I believe the original plan was to use shims, rather like the IMS mount for the RED does, but there were requests for the backfocus adjustmemt.
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#10 Chris Keth

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Posted 14 October 2008 - 01:12 AM

Hey, everyone! Thanks for all the pointers. I used a ton of them as I really got thrown into this quick today. Yesterday we did one brief bit on steadicam on wide-ish lenses and at a stop of 4 or 5.6. Today, we ended up turning a day with one 2/8 page scene on steadicam into a day with all but one scene on steadicam.

We had a thing where we circled a heated argument on a medium and two singles. I think that was 32mm and 75mm at around a 4.

Then we did a very dancy sequence. That was on a 25mm at a 4 and had widely varying shot sizes. We had everything from full body to tight single and in between.

Last in the day was some night stuff, wide-open of course (on S4s so it was a T2). One was a pretty simple pull out. The other that was tricky as hell was a very slow push in on someone. It was a 32mm lens and we ended up just under 2 1/2 feet away from him. I think we did 5 or 6 takes of it and moved on so I hope everyone was 100% happy.

One trick I figured out I thought I should pass on. For the really close shots like we did a couple of (where the filmplane of the camera was maybe 2 or 2 1/2 feet away from subject), I measured the camera from front of mattebox to the back of the body. Then I added the distance from the front of the mattebox to the film plane to that. That gives me a measurment that is a really good benchmark because that is the distance to the film plane when there is as much space in front of the camera as the camera is long. It's really pretty easy to eyeball that from a good position. Our eyes are good at imagining halves and doubles and this is just like eyeballing two camera lengths from the back of the body.
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#11 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 14 October 2008 - 01:08 PM

One time I was doing an EPK on a feature set and I saw the focus puller 10 ft away from the camera, working with a wireless FF that was attached to a 9 inch LCD monitor with wireless video tap signal. That is almost like cheating. No idea who makes the damn thing.
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#12 John Waterman

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Posted 14 October 2008 - 10:38 PM

One time I was doing an EPK on a feature set and I saw the focus puller 10 ft away from the camera, working with a wireless FF that was attached to a 9 inch LCD monitor with wireless video tap signal. That is almost like cheating. No idea who makes the damn thing.


I've pulled with one for some super-techno crane shots. It is called the C-motion. http://www.cameracra...ml/cmotion.html
It is a really nice system. If you have a camera that has smart lens and the LDS, the C-motion can display your focus plane and depth of field information overlayed on the video image from the wireless tap. Pretty wicked.
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#13 Chris Keth

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Posted 14 October 2008 - 11:34 PM

I haven't used the C-Motion ona job. I messed with it at cinegear and was impressed. It was more comfortable than a FIZ weight and balance wise, seemed just as robust, and is cheaper if I remember right.

The addon stuff is cool but of little utility most of the time, IMO.
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#14 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 06:45 PM

Cool Chris, sounds like you learned a lot and gained a lot of confidence on this shoot. Did you get to review any of the footage for focus issues?
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#15 Chris Keth

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 06:55 PM

Cool Chris, sounds like you learned a lot and gained a lot of confidence on this shoot. Did you get to review any of the footage for focus issues?


We reviewed some of the footage on set before moving on and it looked pretty good. The night EXT push in had buzzes here and there but everyone seemed happy that they got what they wanted. That was only a 720P HDSDI signal though. I haven't seen any of the full res footage.
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#16 Robert Tagliaferri

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 04:45 PM

I just finished ACing a short film shot in and around toronto. 2 of the 7 days were almost exclusively steadicam. It was outdoors, but the DP wanted shallow DoF so it was all at 2-2.8 split, and alot of it on a 50mm lens. The DP was a focus puller himself so he knew it was tricky, and wasn't upset when I had to ask for another take a couple times. Almost everything came back sharp though :).

In terms of tricks or techniques, I relied alot on estimation, once you have a mental idea of what certain distances are, it's not too difficult to make educated guesses. I also relied on the monitor alot. The talent were wearing jackets with buttons, so for walk-and-talks I took a measurement based on how many buttons were visible. Since the headroom was more or less consistent, I knew for instance if I saw 3 buttons he was 7' away, if I saw 4 he was 7'6", etc. I would constantly be glancing at the monitor to get an idea of the distance and then stepping aside and judging the distance again, and making a guess based on that.

I also often had the operator pause at the end of the take so I could pull the tape and make sure I was in the right area at least for the end of the take.

I also spoke with the production and encouraged them to print more takes then they normally would. I knew it would be very difficult to hold some of the longer shots the whole way through, so I wanted to make sure they'd at least have bits and pieces.

If you know you didn't get something SPEAK UP and get another take. Most DPs know how difficult this sort of stuff is, and they'd rather take 5mins to re-do a soft shot then to not have it in the can. Most operators are going to be sympathetic too, every time the op saw me pull out my 'prayer wheel' he'd let the DP know we needed another :P
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