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Advice for Handheld Work


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#1 John Hoffler

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 01:01 AM

Hey all,

I'm DP'ing a short on 16mm coming up and it will involve a lot of handheld work. This is a student project, so the crew is generally inexperienced and I was curious if you guys had any advice for Operators and 1st's that I could pass down to my crew to make their jobs easier and more efficient.

I read in this month's American Cinematographer that the Operator on Frost/Nixon ties a 1/8 apple box to his waist so when he sits down he has a place for his arms to rest. I'm looking for little things like that to make my Operator's life a little easier...lol...

thanks

John Hoffler
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#2 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 03:55 AM

I read in this month's American Cinematographer that the Operator on Frost/Nixon ties a 1/8 apple box to his waist so when he sits down he has a place for his arms to rest.
thanks

John Hoffler

Are you referring to Andrew Rowlands? I haven't read the article yet, but I know he did that movie. That approach is similar to making a burrito out of a furnie pad or Chris Doyle's approach, which I believe involves attaching a pillow or some type of padding to his stomach for the same purpose. I think I would prefer the latter two since when you sit there is a chance the pancake (1/8th apple) will not settle correctly when you sit and be very uncomfortable. No such problem with a softer platform. But of course, Andrew is a great operator, so I certainly wouldn't question what works for him, even if I may not do things the exact same way.

There are lots of little tricks like this that operators have. The thing is, until you've run into a situation where you need one of those little tricks, it's often very hard to understand exactly what the purpose of that little trick is. So I would say, don't try to mimic what someone else is doing. Go operate and learn for yourself what works for you and what doesn't. The best way to learn is by doing.

Have fun and good luck.
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#3 John Hoffler

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 08:31 AM

thanks Brad. The pillow idea makes a lot of sense.

Sadly, I've never had the opportunity to operate a film camera handheld (yet) and neither has my Operator so I was just kind of fishing for something that may be a common occurrence that I can help him to look out for.

On both shorts I've worked on as an Operator with a film camera the shots were all on a dolly or sticks.

and my mistake... it was Peter Nolan, A-Cam operator on The Wrestler and he was shooting on a 416 which oddly enough we'll be using.

Edited by John Hoffler, 07 January 2009 - 08:34 AM.

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#4 Camillo Foramitti

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 09:01 AM

I would definitely add some extra padding to the shoulder pad. The 416's shoulder pad is pretty hard and uncomfortable when you have a lot of handheld shooting. I can also recommend trying the blue handle rig at your rental house. Many operators prefer it instead of Arri's handheld rig.
If you have the budget you could youse a wireless focus unit instead of a normal follow focus. It makes moving around during shots a lot easier for your operator and your AC. Also make sure that you only attach accessories to the camera that you really need for this particular shot. The 416 is very light but on a long day every single gramme makes a difference.
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#5 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 04:24 PM

Sadly, I've never had the opportunity to operate a film camera handheld (yet) and neither has my Operator so I was just kind of fishing for something that may be a common occurrence that I can help him to look out for.

One common occurrence is bad handheld! But seriously.... Shaky handheld is hard to do well when you want it, and hard to get rid of when you don't. Breathing patterns are important as are soft heel-toe footsteps and bent knees. You also have to remember that (in the case of theatrical release) the image will be shown on a very large screen, so every tiny movement you make translates into a much larger movement when projected. You have to figure out when to be very delicate and when to be a bull in a china shop. Which style supports the scene, story, and look?
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#6 John Hoffler

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 06:36 PM

One common occurrence is bad handheld! But seriously.... Shaky handheld is hard to do well when you want it, and hard to get rid of when you don't. Breathing patterns are important as are soft heel-toe footsteps and bent knees. You also have to remember that (in the case of theatrical release) the image will be shown on a very large screen, so every tiny movement you make translates into a much larger movement when projected. You have to figure out when to be very delicate and when to be a bull in a china shop. Which style supports the scene, story, and look?


throughout the film, the character becomes more and more unhinged. The camerawork begins with a lot of smooth dolly shots and slowly the visual style deteriorates with the character.

We're not trying for a Faux-Greengrass/Bourne style that so many bad student projects have failed at. we just want there to be a little more movement to the frame so that it is off-balance and slightly more frenetic.

no running or long walking takes for them to screw up.

Edited by John Hoffler, 07 January 2009 - 06:40 PM.

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#7 Gus Sacks

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 06:52 PM

I don't know if this is what you're looking for, but when I operate I normally do all of the movement and absorb most of the shakiness caused by walking, etc with my shoulders, as opposed to my forearms, hands, etc. It especially works with cameras that you have to kind of press and cradle into your shoulder...
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#8 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 07:58 PM

First: I can't believe Peter Nolan's shoulder didn't fall off from all those episodes of "Rescue Me."

Second: Just do it. It's 16mm. What are you worried about? That said, if you can get something like the Arri shoulder rig, go get it. Don't be afraid to go hand-held on a doorway dolly if it takes some walking out of the equation.
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#9 Chris Keth

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Posted 08 January 2009 - 04:41 AM

The best advice I can give you from my own experience is to remember and practice the fact that you're not operating with your hands or your shoulder. You are operating with your whole body. Your feet affect the shot, as do your hands, arms, hips, and trunk. Really good handheld operating is a combination of control of all of those parts of your body.

I also suggest that your operator start working out. Nothing like shots where you have to squat and then stand back up at a controlled speed to point out how out of shape you are.
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#10 Daniel Porto

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Posted 10 January 2009 - 08:37 PM

The best advice I can give you from my own experience is to remember and practice the fact that you're not operating with your hands or your shoulder. You are operating with your whole body. Your feet affect the shot, as do your hands, arms, hips, and trunk. Really good handheld operating is a combination of control of all of those parts of your body.

I also suggest that your operator start working out. Nothing like shots where you have to squat and then stand back up at a controlled speed to point out how out of shape you are.


You know its funny because at this point in my life, the only thing I seem to care about is film and improving my skills for it. But at the same time I consider life itself teaching/helping with my understanding of film. I go out with friends to study character and the subtleties of peoples actions, take notice of the 'natural' lighting around me, look around for some good compoistions, look at the designs of some fancy places and even go to the gym for the sake of becoming an operator.

Living life and learning my future trade at the same time! Can it get any better?

Slightly off-topic but oh well.


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#11 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 11 January 2009 - 05:11 AM

It helps if the camera is well balanced. I know the Aaton rather the Arri 416, but it's a lot nicer to handhold if you don't have a lot of accessories on the front eg use a clip on matte box rather than the full production matte box. This gets worse when you're using a zoom lens rather than a prime lens, although the latest primes aren't that lightweight compared to the older Super Speeds.
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