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SteadiCam in student films


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#1 Michael Nelson

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 07:38 AM

Didn't know where to put this. mods, move if placed incorrectly.

Small bit of background: I am 24, I have a bachelor's in film (graduated 1 year ago), I've been working as a cam op/ AC since graduation, attended the lake arrowhead workshop in the spring to fuel my steadicam interest and it caught fire. I know a local DP who will rent their Steadicam SK and all supporting equipment to me when I need it.

Last week I made a bunch of cold calls to the local universities stating who I was and that I am interested in working on student films as a way for me to get my on-set steadicam experience up as well and benefiting the students because they get the steadicam look in their films and get to learn to work with day players and budget for their services. Most of the department heads were interested and I've booked times to meet with them next week.

I was wondering, what are some key points for me to hit while speaking with them about this deal? I do not wish to make any sort of money on this, I just want the practice and get to a reel going. The one thing I would like to try and get is the cost of the rig's rental covered covered. I can rent the rig for only a couple hundred dollars a day, but I would like to try and get this cost paid for through either the students' films' budget or from somewhere else.

What tips can you all provide me for these meetings?
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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 09:22 AM

Personally I wouldn't even do it for rig hire - I used to do this but the people who can't afford to hire you at reasonable rates now will, by and large, be the same people who can't afford to hire you in future. I find doing freebies to be a complete waste of time, and you devalue the market for everyone else, too. Get paid, always.

In the main, though, I find steadicam works very well in certain situations, but they are situations which tend to be the situations that are rarest on low budget shoots. When you are a big TV show and you have huge standing sets with built-in or unobtrusive lighting, you can wander around and around for minutes on end shooting page after page of dialogue in no time at all, which is a great use of steadicam. Equally, if you can do a full day's pre-rig on a location that looks good from any angle, and light it unobtrusively, you can do the same thing, but on a low budgeter you are likely to find that neither of these situations is available.

The principal problem with steadicam is that people end up designing shots that show everything in a five mile radius and without sufficient resources to make it all look good at once, without enough production design and lighting and time to dress and light these huge areas, you can end up with some really underwhelming material.

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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 09:24 AM

Mention that as well as the fact that you will require the rig to be covered under the schools insurance. But, in reality, most schools are pretty receptive. I still and always will shoot student projects, just because I (mostly) enjoy doing it. I give them a discounted rate for myself/kit and require certain things (insurance from school for everything, a box of joe on set each day, and or course a 50' trailer with an assistant... ok that one's a pipe dream).
Also mention that you'd be happy to help the schools out in showing their students the ropes of steadycam operating, offer, perhaps, to give a seminar of some form (looks great on a resume!) and just be honest with your goals in the matter and you should be fine.
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#4 Tom Jensen

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 11:29 AM

You would probably be better off calling DP's and telling them. There are enough shows looking for Steadicam deals. The problem with student films is that most students don't know what they are doing. Many professionals don't know what they are doing for that matter but on student films, everyone is learning. They take longer and are often very unorganized. At least on real shows, you will have an a DP that knows what the shot is and an assistant that knows what he's doing, an actor you may know, a background that is interesting and many other positive aspects that add production value to your shot. You will build a real much sooner and it will look more professional. Production will cover the cost of your rig. As far as practice. Put the rig on and go. Get someone to walk in front of you. Set up a shot, practice your framing, go up and down steps, get the rig balanced. You can record it on video and critique it yourself.
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#5 Michael Nelson

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Posted 11 November 2009 - 06:39 PM

You would probably be better off calling DP's and telling them. There are enough shows looking for Steadicam deals. The problem with student films is that most students don't know what they are doing. Many professionals don't know what they are doing for that matter but on student films, everyone is learning. They take longer and are often very unorganized. At least on real shows, you will have an a DP that knows what the shot is and an assistant that knows what he's doing, an actor you may know, a background that is interesting and many other positive aspects that add production value to your shot. You will build a real much sooner and it will look more professional. Production will cover the cost of your rig. As far as practice. Put the rig on and go. Get someone to walk in front of you. Set up a shot, practice your framing, go up and down steps, get the rig balanced. You can record it on video and critique it yourself.


I would love to do this, my problem is finding those shows that need steadicam, then getting them to hire me: someone with no reel and little experience. I would much prefer this way, but I don't know how to make it happen.
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#6 Dan Salzmann

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Posted 12 November 2009 - 12:40 PM

My thoughts on this:
Meet and feel out the director and DP - storyboard, screenplay, general vibe.
Get the rental cost and insurance covered.
Find a young 1st AC that needs experience and that you can work with who you can practice with before shooting.
Be selective, do a good job, make sure you get what you need for your reel.
It is good that you want to get experience and are willing to be proactive about it.
Be aware of when you should stop doing freebies.
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#7 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 16 November 2009 - 07:38 AM

Be aware of when you should stop doing freebies.

Good point! The steadicam community is pretty small. If you are doing work for free that should be paid, or offering yourself up for too small a rate on certain jobs, word will spread fast. We all know that you have to start somewhere, but undercutting is looked upon quite harshly (as it should be). Steadicam rates have been brutalized pretty badly in the last ten years, while the amount of operators has grown quite a lot. You do yourself, and all the other operators, a disservice if you go out for a sub-standard rate. Just something to think about in the future.
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#8 Michael Nelson

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Posted 16 November 2009 - 10:08 AM

Thank for for everyone's thoughts. My whole intention is not to work for free, either on student films or on low-budgets/ any other production. I am mainly referring to student shoots and working for a special "student only" rate. I definitely know there is a time when free work is no longer beneficial for anyone. It took me a little while to learn that it's ok to "put a price on myself" and I think I have learned to do that accurately when I AC.

I want to become a part of the steadicam community and add to it all I can!
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#9 Michael Nelson

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Posted 16 November 2009 - 07:40 PM

Well, just got done with my first meeting today and the outcome was less than favorable. To start things off, I clearly outlined my experience in steadicam, my intentions with working on student films, and sited my website to give people a sense of where I'm coming from.

When I got to the meeting the first thing the professor did was eye me over, glance at my resume, look at me again, and say, "well, you're kinda young, dont-cha think?" From them on he explained how he usually hires owner operators that are fairly well seasoned to work on the student's films. He didn't like that I rent gear from an owner/ operator and that I have doing most of my bigger work as an AC and not a cam op.

He said he's keep my resume and contact info on file for smaller jobs.

Makes me want to buy something along the lines of a archer or a clipper!

Oh well I suppose, I've got a steadicam assist job tomorrow with the owner/ operator I rent from and then another meeting with a film professor on Wednesday.
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Visual Products

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

CineLab

Paralinx LLC

Rig Wheels Passport

Opal

Willys Widgets

Glidecam