An Acceptable Sequel

31 Jul

I saw a bunch of excited posts recently about a sequel to Edge of Tomorrow, the criminally-underrated, modern sci-fi classic that came out in 2014. Most seemed to be stemming from comments Tom Cruise made (here talking about sequels to pretty much everything) with no details, of course, except that he wants Emily Blunt in on it.

If you didn’t ever see Edge of Tomorrow, stop reading and go watch it. Suffice it to say, I preordered it on BluRay, and when I rewatched it at home, it made me excited about movies. I can’t overstate how awesome it is. If you need to, borrow it from me. I’ll be here when you’re done.


So now that you’re back, I won’t be spoiling anything.

Anyway, Tom Cruise saves the world, and gets the pleasure of meeting the woman he’s fallen in love with for the first time all over again. Who wouldn’t want that? It’s a pretty perfect ending (heard some people didn’t like it, obviously those people are tools.) Bam. Black. Fin. We’re past the edge of tomorrow and into it fully, and Cage doesn’t have to die anymore. The world is safe from the Mimics!

The only sequel idea that I think would be acceptable, given how the story ends, is as follows:

So you’ve got a massive, international military force, armed to the teeth to fight an enemy they no longer need to fight. The whole beach invasion for which the armed forces have trained is a NO-GO, because it has gone.

But now the world must deal with two things.

First, there is no common enemy to fight. The troops split up, deactivate, and return home–albeit probably a hero’s welcome, to a world freed from an invasion that would have destroyed it. And now you’ve just sent home battle-ready troops to countries who will very quickly remember all the terrible, horrible things they were doing to one another before the Mimics stopped their warring. World War III, pretty much guaranteed, and if it’s not atomic, it would be mano-a-mano. Fields of soldiers in exo-suits fighting each other, Rita swinging her sharpened helicopter-rotor blade through waves of Chinese or Iranian mechs.

Second, and much harder to display on-screen, is the fact that we are not alone in this universe. I just recently read through Rama II, the sequel to Arthur C. Clarke’s excellent Rama. The second chapter spends pages describing the social and economic impact of the fact that, for the first time, humanity had proof that they were not the only beings in this universe. In the world of Edge of Tomorrow, how will humanity treat it, once the initial shock has worn off? Does the regular population realise the implications of the “alien” part of an “alien invasion”?

So what does this sequel look like? A political thriller? A gritty war film, where brothers-in-arms become enemies-at-hand? Perhaps Brendan Gleeson’s General Brigham tries to make a power grab, and attempts to rule Eurasia with the military he now commands. Rita and Cage somehow end up on opposing teams, forced to fight in a battle that does not have a reset function.

I trust Chris McQuarrie–he seems like a cool guy, and Jack Reacher is great too, so he clearly knows what to do with Tom Cruise.

I also think it’s hilarious that many of the people who whinge about Hollywood’s obsession with sequels are now the ones salivating at the thought of Edge of Tomorrow 2: Edgier.

Will I see it? Probably. Will it be as described above? If it is, I’d at least like partial credit. Does it need to happen? Absolutely not. Tom, Chris–if you’re reading this, please don’t retread these already-worn steps. Make another balls-to-the-wall action movie, use mech suits, whatever, but just leave MAJ Cage to smile at SGT Vrataski, with the knowledge that he lived through hell with her and can still love her.

Flycam Flujo: Follow-Up & Summary

17 Jun

Apologies if this is a repeat of previous information, but some of it bears repeating.

The Flycam experiment has essentially ended, as I’ve taken it almost to its breaking point and back. More importantly, I just bought a new arm, so that kinda kills the all-Proaim-testing part of it. I will still have to have an adapter made in order to use that arm, but it’s a Glidecam, which I know works, so it’s not an unknown quantity necessarily.

Flycam Flujo ModdedSo how did the Flycam Flujo do? The maiden voyage (well, maiden series) saw it handling a C300 rig pretty regularly, including an unnecessarily heavy “low-mode cage” that damn near killed it. By the end of my run on the season, I had my transitions to and from Steadi down to five and two minutes, respectively, but that isn’t necessarily the Flujo’s doing. I used it effectively and without any equipment-related mishaps (several operator-related ones notwithstanding.) But there are a lot of things that need fixing.

The biggest problem with the entire system is the arm. At some point, probably eight months after buying it (and after about four months of constant usage,) the bearings in the arm started to break. Currently, one of them is completely gone–it must have fallen out on set, and I have no idea when that happened–and the one directly across has shattered. I currently have a steel bolt through the arm where the two bearings are missing, but it’s not the same thickness as the bearings were, and consequently throws off the angle of the first part of the arm pretty severely. Visual inspection reveals that there are several other bearings on the verge of breaking.Modded J-Box

The breaking bearings are probably a fault in the manufacturing, but the entire arm being twisted is not. It’s hard to tell, but the entire arm has torqued ever so slightly outwards, probably because it had a great deal of weight on it. The twist causes the sled to move forward, which makes the operator have to lean back, and down that road lie tears and pulled backs. Varying reports list different weight capacities for the rig, and while my setup was on the heavy end, I’m fairly certain that anyone putting anything on this that was smaller would have a bear of a time figuring out what to do with all that extra inertial energy in the arm. The single-point tension adjustments are very nice, but like many things on this rig, are cheap screws and begin to strip and get loose over time.

So the arm is a serious problem in the long run, even with the modifications I made. The different sizes of post actually helped a considerable amount, and I’m going to have to figure out a way to get that same flexibility in my new arm.

Marrying the HDMI and power with electrical tape.

Marrying the HDMI and power with electrical tape.

The vest is still atrocious, and the sled’s problems were well-documented at the beginning of this series, which is good because I no longer remember what they were. I’ve made quite a few adjustments to the sled, and am currently wiring a new post cable (specifically, HDMI-and-power-tied-together cable.)

But one thing that has absolutely worked is the idea of flexibility. I had the posts and socket-block adapter made so that, when the time came, I could swap an arm, sled, or vest without any other issues. The annoying note here is that I bought a used Glidecam V-25, which actually does have an issue, in that its connection to the vest is incorrect, and I’m having to have another adapter cut at a shop, but that’s only a minor thing. The bones of the system are solid enough to support something like what I’ve done, but it only worked because I have a serious background in this stuff, knew what I wanted, and had operating capital to get it.

All in all, I would not in the least recommend this rig to anyone. It’s been a great deal of trouble, and while it did land me a great job on an amazing set, it’s brought with it a great deal of stress and heartache as things that I shouldn’t have to worry about begin to fail or break.

Writing. Well, not just this writing, but, like, writing writing.

17 Jun

I spend a lot of time on the road in my current job. It’s wonderful and terrible–I love spending time travelling and seeing different places, interacting with local crew members, trying different restaurants (on the company dime), but I hate the time I lose with my family, and not being able to take care of things at home. But I’m inclined to complain, regardless of how awesome it is–I mean, I’ve been to the Cotton Bowl, Women’s Final Four (3rd one), and College World Series just six months into this year.

But part of my job involves a lot of sitting around. Press conferences happen after a game is over, which means I have to sit through a game before I get to do anything, and even then I’m mostly just babysitting DVD recorders. So in order to not feel like I’m wasting all my time, I’m trying to write. Not blogs, but screenplays.

I’ve been a writer longer than I’ve been anything else, really. As much as I brand myself a Steadicam op or tech, I’ve been writing and reading heavily since elementary school, whence I wrote a 60-page “Star Wars” novella (which I’m sure my mother still has a copy of, somewhere.) Writing is in my blood, from both my parents, and is also something I haven’t done a whole lot with. Well, not counting the writing classes in college. Or in grad school. Or my thesis. ANYWAY…

I’ve finished the first draft of my first, unbidden, original screenplay. I’m trying something different this time: I actually wrote a first draft, where in the past, I constantly rewrote and edited, so my first drafts were never really “firsts”–more along the lines of 2nd or 3rd. It’s been very difficult for me to not do that, but I kept reading tweets and suggestions to just finish a first draft, and you’ll “feel accomplished.” I did and I do. I also have read that “writing is rewriting” and thought I’d give that a shot, considering that it’s never something I’ve done either. It’s the conflagration of talent and hard work–I need to get the latter under control, because the former will only get me so far.

So if, in the future, you’d like me to read something of yours, or would like to read something of mine, please reach out to me. I’ll try to be fair and balanced, and I’d hope you could do the same for me.

DIY Distro

7 May

DSLR batteries are simply not suited for live video. It’s enough of a power suck just to do Live View–having to run the extra processing for recording drains them even quicker. As I started to get into shooting motion pictures more often, and began adding equipment to my setup, I realised that power was going to be the major stumbling block.

My initial solution was a generic power distro from China, found via an eBay search (picture above from when I sold it, for which I replaced the V-mount plate with an AB.) Didn’t go for the cheapest, but didn’t want to drop more than $200 on what looked to be the same thing, just with a “Lanparte” sticker on it. Came with two coiled connectors, as well as a dummy LP-E6 battery for my 5D2. Both coiled cables died shortly after I started using it, so I ended up buying some speaker wire and connectors from RadioShack in order to make my own. While the speaker wire was a bad idea (not very flexible) it worked well enough. The outputs were all center-pin positive, and that’s what mattered.

As my gear acquisition began taking leaps forward, I started finding all the annoying little bits about the power supply. There were two different sizes of power connector (5v/7.2v was 2.1mm, 12v/15v was 2.5mm,) the battery plate was facing the wrong direction (I had to pull it towards the camera to remove it, which limited how close I could put it to the body,) and in general, I didn’t really need the exact voltages as much as I needed outputs (and I needed them to be the SAME SIZE. Ugh.) It also had an HDMI splitter built in, but I never used it, because (a) it was on the inside of the rig, (b) I didn’t want to bend my HDMI cables out of whack, and (c) my DP4 has a loop-through, so if I was using HDMI outs I would hit that first.

So I threw something together in SketchUp, based around straight-up wired-to-downconverters stuff. The Chinese power supply was built around a circuit board that handled all the voltage regulation, which is fine for what they were doing (especially with the HDMI splitter.) But I don’t have the time or expertise for those, so I went to the same DC-DC buck converters I used for my Steadicam build. I wanted to have three voltages: 12v for bigger cameras and accessories; 5v for any HDMI or USB stuff I wanted to add (like my Nyrius wireless transmitter and/or an SDI to HDMI converter); and a voltage that could be adjusted at some point. This is future-proofing–I hope I won’t always have a 5D, and if I get another Canon (aiming for a C100) then I can turn that output up to 8.4v to power it. The outputs come in four flavors: 2.1mm coax, 4-pin LEMO, 2-pin LEMO, and a 4-pin XLR. This is for the outside possibility that I use this on a RED Scarlet or Epic that has an XLR-to-LEMO power cable.

This post is just how I did it. If you’re interested in building one, or having me build one, please get in contact with me, but I would love to see you do it on your own. Basically, I’m giving you an idea to start from.

Materials:

  • Aluminum enclosure – this I chose because it was deep/tall enough for a 4-pin XLR. I probably could’ve found a better one that was smaller, but there are a ton of these on Amazon, and I haven’t done the amazingly in-depth research that would require. If you’re not using an XLR connector, you could get a smaller box.
  • LED Display – Not necessary, but nice. I’ll explain why below.
  • DPDT Switch – if you’ve got the LED display, might as well roll with this too.
  • DC Step-down Converters – the 5-pack is a great price. I’ve used these for a dozen small things, and they’re very solid.
  • 15mm Railblock – I like the “lightweight rail block” from SmallRig.
  • Screw terminals (these were bigger than what I had in mind. I would suggest finding a smaller one–see below.)
  • V-mount battery plate – because I have V-mounts. If you have Anton-Bauer/gold mount batteries, use these.
  • 2.1mm jacks – at the very least, these are small and let you put more of them in. You could add any other plugs, but I’m not sure where you’d buy ’em.

The idea of fuses was introduced somewhat after I started working, and maybe I can do that in the future. I’m out of space on the Version 1, but maybe a V2 will add that.

The DPDT (double-pole double-throw) switch & LED display serve a dual-purpose. I have one side set to see the incoming voltage from the battery–this gives me some warning about when I should change the battery–and the other side is the output from the variable voltage converter. This lets me see what it is before I plug a camera in, but also lets me have a display so if I need to adjust in the field, I don’t have to pull out a multimeter.

I marked out the hole centers, and drilled each first with a 1/4″ bit. After that, I used a step bit to cut each hole to the required width–each style of connector needed a different size hole. Ideally, I would’ve had precise punches, because the nature of the step bits can be very rough as far as precision.

The holes for the switch and display were a pain. I basically marked them out, cut a hole in the center big enough for my jigsaw blade, and cut them out. My marks must have been way off, because I spent the better part of two hours one day with a rough file, widening the holes and flattening the bumps so that those components would fit. And now that they’re in? They ain’t ever comin’ out.

Pro-tip: solder your connectors BEFORE you install them. Even if you waste a bit of cable, it’ll be worth it in the long run.

‘Nother pro-tip: look ahead to where you’re drilling. The second-to-top hole cut through one of the screw holes in the box, so the nut is kind-of at a weird angle. It’s managing to hold the jack in, but it’s a dumb mistake to make.

You can see the large amount of space that screw terminal takes up. It’s distributing my incoming voltage and 12v to the connectors as well as the switch, while the variable voltage is wired straight to its ouputs and the switch. I haven’t done enough research to know if it’s okay to run a common ground between all of these (which would save a lot of wiring) but I went ahead and kept it all seperate.

The buck converters are being held in by 3M Command strips, as is the terminal. I’ve used that solution for other projects, and so far haven’t had any failures.

So hopefully this will be a starting point for you. I’ve got some spare parts lying around and might actually build a second, smaller distro, with more/better pictures.

Two [Career] paths, diverged in a wood…

7 May

I’ve been thinking about this one for a while, and a recent post on social media prompted me to write about it.

A fellow I follow mentioned that he was finishing his second day as a PA on a large set. This was his first time in such a position. What confused me, though, was that he brands himself a cinematographer, and seems to do most of his work as such.

Everyone’s career path is different, obviously. And the titanic shifts in the industry in the early- to mid-00’s have promulgated the idea that anyone with a camera can be a DP, and anyone who makes a short film is a director. The idea that you need to work your way up the ladder has gone by the wayside, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing.

I’m old fashioned, and have a strong sense of authority (hence my joining the military) which, I admit, can hold me back sometimes, but also has helped me immensely in adapting to new environments. Knowing who’s in charge, and where your boundaries are, is key to not overstepping and/or pissing off someone in a superior position. But being in lower positions, and seeing how those in authority act, has given me much more insight (with a much lower risk) than otherwise–had I been thrown into those authoritative positions without that experience, I’d be the one making the mistakes that someone else would learn from. Having worked as a PA on film and a runner/utility in Live TV, I’m much better prepared to work at a higher level, for two reasons: first, I know what is required of people in positions under mine, which helps me respect what they do; second, I can use my experiences to help with scheduling, workload, or any number of other things that I need to worry about at that level.

Perhaps this is just me, grasping at some nostalgic idea, but I don’t think that everything about the past is wrong. Have people gotten stuck on the ladder? Sure. If we can jump up a couple of rungs, should we? Why not. But consider what you’re missing.

Courtesy

4 Apr

    

I wanted to talk about something that, while being relatable to pretty much every circumstance in daily life, hits me particularly hard in both the broadcast world and on any set.

There are a litany of quotes about time that I will not get into here, but while it’s clear that we all feel different ways about time, there’s no doubt that time in general is expensive. It’s one thing you’ll never get back (even if you have the receipt) and, depending on the time of day, can be very costly. When I worked on A Haunting, anything over 10 hours was costing the company time-and-a-half, which adds up very quickly. But it’s not my job to worry about time: it’s my job to get the job done.

There’s a general feeling I get, from various interactions with the rest of humanity, that it’s better to do stuff quickly (perhaps it has to do with the aforementioned value of “time”) and this usually comes at the sacrifice of doing that stuff correctly. Even when there is no direct benefit to being done early, I’ve seen people haphazardly throwing cables into cases unwrapped, putting lights into cases still hot, and chuck stands into a truck with loose knobs and no organization.

Here is the problem: just because you’re “saving time” now does NOT mean that you are actually saving time if the job isn’t done correctly. That cable that you wrapped and threw in there will have to be unwrapped and untangled by someone; that hot light might fit in there fine, but will start to heat the case, which will eventually warp and possibly break; that stand with a loose knob could fall on someone’s foot, and the ten seconds you didn’t take to check the stand will cost someone several hours in an Emergency Room.

At the root of this is a philosophical issue–the lack of empathy that seems to have swollen into a tumescent cancer, that prevents people from thinking of anything outside their own little sphere. The previous paragraph’s “consequences” are all impersonal. In particular, the rental house (or the EIC of the truck or kit) will be the ones untangling, which will cost them time. The person with the broken foot might be on your crew, or might not be–maybe it’s a swing shift pre-lighting, maybe it’s the student who checked out the equipment and is returning it early Monday morning.

Point is: take a few extra seconds or minutes now to do the job correctly. Coming from someone who is usually the one on the back-end, dealing with all the jobs you didn’t do, it’s a much better way to be.

New Camera Rigging

30 Jan

Not sure why I feel the need to continually change and adapt what I have to work with. Recently, I’ve had to make changes in order to use new equipment appropriately, but it also spurred me into doing a thing I’ve been wanting to do for a while–creating my own power distro. So I’ve finally gone and done it. Here’s a post with the summary of my new changes, and a partial review of some of that new gear.

Shown with my handheld addition and my new power distro.

Shown with my handheld addition and my new power distro. The handle is an old Bolex grip that I’ve adapted to a rosette, with a quick-release attachment for the 15mm rails. It’s pretty sweet–used it on A Haunting every day.

Fotga DP3000 Baseplate

Note the base of the C-shape bracket in the rear-middle there. This required flipping the bottom 15mm railmount on the bracket.

As I realised with the Lensse follow focus, the P&C Gearbox cage wasn’t a correct lens-height from the rails. In order to correct that, I purchased the Fotga DP Series 15mm Rail Rod Support, which included two 12″ 15mm rods and an adjustable height baseplate. The 5D2 needs it to be at the top stick, which is fine, and it also gives more screw points undermeath (the P&C had one row of 1/4-20’s, which created a lot of flex.) This plate will let me put any number of camera bodies in here too, where the P&C was pretty much just DSLR’s–I did use a BMCC once, but had to turn it around backwards so I could get to the connectors. I also had to use an SDI-to-HDMI converter in order to use my HDMI-only monitors (SmallHD DP4 and AC7.) The AC7 can be upgraded to put SDI into it, but that’s $300 I haven’t needed to spend yet.

Fotga Cage Top HandleLosing the P&C meant losing a handle on top, as well as attachment points for monitors and my EVF support. The FOTGA DP3000 C-shape Bracket Cage from Amazon for $83 is the replacement. The bracket is a pretty strong aluminum, and even though it flexes a bit, I think it might have been designed with that in mind–the flex actually straightens out the top bar, where it’s a little angled-in when just resting. I also have a great deal of weight on the bottom (when I have the mattebox and power distro) as well as my Solid Camera EVF support on top, and this thing handles it like a champ. I might eventually get a second one for a big rig, and connect the side-rails, but that’s not really in my future–I like the size and compactness of the rig as it stands.

My main complaint with the top-handle is that it is more permanent than I’d like. I’d rather be able to quickly turn it around–for instance, if I take the mattebox off when I’m shooting inside, my rig becomes very back-heavy. If the handle is pointed forward of the center of gravity, the rig will be much harder to hold. I might put a thumb-screw or something in there to let me flip it easily, but that’s not high on my priority list. For the most part, I’m planning on having the mattebox on most of the time.

Custom Power Distro The big black box on the back is a custom power distro I just finished. I’ve used a generic Chinese one for three years now, and while it’s been pretty solid, I’m looking forward and thinking it’s not going to be a great solution. This will tide me over for quite some time, thanks to the flexibility I’ve built into it–the previous distro was not adjustable in terms of its voltages. On the left side, I have 2.1mm jacks with 5v and 12v available (5v for any HDMI solutions, like a splitter or an SDI-HDMI converter); on the right, I have more 12v via a 4-pin LEMO and a 4-pin XLR (for big cameras) as well as two outputs coming from a variable voltage down-converter. Most Canon DSLR’s run on 7.4-7.8 volts, and the Cinema EOS series runs on 8.4 DC-in. I would very much like to get a C100 at some point in the future, so this will let me incorporate that camera into my setup without buying any more new equipment. I’ve also put some velcro on the inside, for attaching anything I need without a cheeseplate setup (e.g., Bartech WFF receiver, aforementioned converters, etc.)

Side note: something that I didn’t foresee happening until I built it and put it into practice is that my ear/head would be right next to the power outputs. The current 2.1mm jacks I have stick out about an inch, and it’s kind of annoying to have those jamming into my ear. As soon as I sell my old setup, I will have to get some right-angle connectors and remake all my cables.

My favorite part of this setup is the top. Power Distro InsidesI have a DPDT switch on the right connected to the display on the left. In left position, it tells me the output from the variable voltage converter (so I don’t have to put a meter on it if I’m changing the voltage in the field); in the right position, it tells me the incoming voltage from the battery mount. My previous system had a frustrating habit of shutting off (losing battery power) in the middle of when I most needed it, without a good way of monitoring the battery. Now I can check the voltage constantly, and when I don’t need the display, I can switch it to the middle “OFF” position for no green numbers.

(I might do a post specifically for the distro at some point, but now is not the time. I built it in SketchUp, but the practical putting-it-together was very different–not sure if I should revisit the original document. If you’re interested in owning one of these, I’d be happy to build it for you, with either V-mount or AB Gold Mount.)

Rig with Lensse and Solid CameraFinally, the last piece of my new setup actually began on the old P&C gearbox cage, but has been adapted to this. The Solid Camera EVF Support, here holding up my DP4, is a really solid piece of kit (no pun intended.) The knobs have a cam inside that will hold the EVF in place nicely, but can be rotated and put in any other position with minimal effort, even with one hand. Before, I used an Israeli arm/strongarm to position the DP4-EVF where I wanted it, and that was a major pain–if I pushed too hard with my head, or even just slung the camera at an odd angle, the arm’s screw might come loose from the attachment point, and the monitor would swing away and put the rig off-balance.

Solid Camera has a dovetail to attach to 15mm rails, but I didn’t want to spend the extra money on that, so I took a jigsaw to a piece of 6061 aluminum I have. It took upwards of 40 minutes to cut (anyone who knows, please tell me why it was so damn hard to cut that aluminum!) but I tapped some 1/4-20 holes and now have a great top-rail solution with this cage.

It ain't pretty.

It ain’t pretty.

The only bug-a-boo is the size of the handle–it’s pretty cushy, which makes it hard to slide mount on, but once it’s on it’s there to stay. Again, if I had an easy way of taking the top-handle off or flipping it, this wouldn’t be an issue, but oh well.

Hopefully, this is the end of my acquisitions for a while–I don’t really have the money, and also have been pretty judicious about building some future-proofing into the setup. I also don’t have any shoots planned until after April, so I won’t really be able to go crazy with anything until then.