An Aside from a [not-current] Freelancer

18 Jan

I have had a weird stigma attached to me from high school onwards. I was inextricably involved in music–I lived it and breathed it, looking forward every day to 4th period band, loving marching season, getting to play string bass in the orchestra and electric at church. Often people would say “wow, you’re really good! We should play together!” or “let’s put together a show sometime!” to which I would always enthusiastically respond in the positive.

But nothing happened, beyond my close group of friends (who became the members of the pop-rock band I was in.) Everyone would get other bass players, or ask a friend they knew, or something else. And when I asked why, they would say “I just assumed you were busy.”

This carried through to college, only now instead of music, it became film. My dorm-hall brothers would all traipse around campus, shooting weird funny videos, but never inviting me. A student would put together a huge set and maybe as an afterthought, ask if I was available (usually on the day-of.) When I would bring it up to people I knew, the answer was the same: “I just assumed you were busy.”

Grad school had its share of similar circumstances, only there I was married and living off-campus. Also, I worked in the equipment office, so I would often get clued into things happening around the school, which would often lead to me getting myself involved somehow. But quite a few times, fellow students from my classes would have big sets or group studies without me, and when asked, they always “assumed you were busy.”

Maybe this happens to everyone, and I don’t know it. But it’s happened to me enough now professionally that I feel something must be wrong with people’s perceptions of me.

I generally try and ask everyone I would conceivably want to work with, whether or not I know they are busy. This industry is built on relationships–maintaining them is just as much a part of it as withholding taxes and buying new gear. I hope to never be at the point where I have to say ‘no’ to everything, but I also hate that I don’t even have the opportunity to say ‘yes.’

Maybe I’m whining, but I feel so strongly about this that I can’t let it slide. Always ask. Even if that person says no, ask again on the next one.

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Generic Mattebox & Follow Focus

16 Jan

Something I think I’m going to do, when I have the time and capital, is continue what I sort-of started with my Steadicam venture, in that I’m going to buy the cheap stuff and review it. I feel like I’m decently qualified–I work with a lot of professional-grade equipment, and am pretty good at analyzing design and features. I’ve also been through a few shows in my limited time, so I can predict how something will act decently well.

I’m also annoyed when I can’t find good reviews of this stuff online, so hopefully this’ll help somebody out in the future.

Anyway, the first two items on my new list are a 4×5.65 swing-away mattebox, and a dual follow focus system from “Lensse,” a manufacturer of which I was unaware, until it appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. These are both cheap–the mattebox was $168 and the FF $199, both with free shipping. The Lensse was on sale at the time–I believe it retails for $349, and I probably wouldn’t have just bought it for no reason if it had been that price.

Lensse Case Closed

The Lensse Dual Follow Focus popped up on my newsfeed sometime before Christmas 2014. I ordered it sometime around New Years, and it showed up January 12th (through TNT, a shipping company I’ve never encountered before, and shipping from Ankara.) I must have missed the picture of the case on the website, but my first impression was “wow, what a neat little case!” Each component has its own slot, which is nice.Lensse Case Open

The first thing I noticed was the heft and weight of the thing. I had read on the website that it was anodized aluminum, but I didn’t realise it would be quite so dense. My comparison is an O’Connor follow focus that I used on A Haunting–same low profile, direct drive, and ability to quick-release from the rails (something I don’t really need, but is neat.) The O’Connor’s weight is listed at 1.23 lbs/0.56 kgs, which is actually the same weight for the Lensse (I weighed it on a postage scale), but the O’Connor just feels a little lighter. Not sure if it’s a lower profile, a longer bridge, or just a different grade of aluminum, but the Lensse just feels a lot heavier.

The Fotga feels nice for someone my size, where the Lensse is just a little on the small size.

The Fotga feels nice for someone my size, where the Lensse is just a little on the small side.

The second thing is the size of the handwheels. I’m coming personally from using my Fotga DP3000 (reviewed here), which is all plastic but still really solid, and I also have big hands naturally. The Lensse handwheels feel relatively tiny, especially coming from an Arri FF-3 (the big follow focus that Regent had) and even the aforementioned O’Connor.

I don't know what that's actually called. You can see the mark doesn't extend over the marking ring, so you'll be a little less precise.

I don’t know what this post actually called.

The third thing is the lack of anything extra on the secondary handwheel–it’s literally just a wheel. The white marking ring will slide on, but there is no post or anything to mark it by, so it’s kinda pointless from an AC’s perspective. On the other hand, from an AC’s perspective, you wouldn’t necessarily need two wheels (unless there were some crazy stupid camera move?) so you could just switch the primary wheel to either side of the unit.

As far as the action goes, it feels very good. The aluminum teeth are quite sharp on all of the areas where they intersect, and the gear wheel is well built. I removed the screws for the hard-stops because I don’t use them, which lets the rings rotate freely–I’ve had this problem on a Fotga DP500II before (also used on A Haunting,) but it’s more of an annoyance than anything. Really, the only issue is with the focus mark post thing–the little metal spike doesn’t actually reach the marking disk. You can see it from the side, but it’s not nearly as helpful as even the Fotga’s arrow mark, and certainly not as nice as any of the [more expensive] FF’s I’ve used. But as with the mattebox below–we’re at that level of budget. $200? Even list price $350, you’re still getting a pretty good deal.

Focus blockA fourth thing (four? wow) is the height of the focus gear. I have yet to reconfigure my rig to get my lens to the proper height, but this is a problem I dealt with on the O’Connor (which was rigged on a C300 using still photo lenses)–the gear barely touches the focus ring of the lens. It’s a very low profile unit, which is fine, but the gearbox must be jammed almost under the lens to interact with the gear. This puts the handwheel very close to the rails, though a workaround would be to flip the unit so the gearbox is on the opposite side of the handwheel. As of mid-January when I asked the company, they are in the process of designing an arm for use with the Lensse, which would eliminate that problem and also open the unit up for use on much larger or smaller lenses.
Handwheel attachment knob Rail attachment knob

One major complaint: the knobs here are a joke. They are small and plastic, and though the screws are solid, it’s very difficult to tighten or loosen some of them. In particular the screw on the “quick-release” portion (which, incidentally, is not a very quick release–it’s not spring loaded, so you have to loosen it all the way in order to get it on or off) is nigh impossible to operate, especially for someone my size with the aforementioned large fingers. Once they’re locked, they’re fine, it’s just getting them there that’s tricky.

12mm square holeMinor complaint next: the square hole on the handwheel was just a millimeter too thin to truthfully seat the speed crank I have, which means it may not handle anything else. Of course, I only have what I have to test with, so it’s possible that it will accept “industry standard” (meaning, not-also-from-China) but it’s still something worth mentioning. Now, as you can see from the image, it fits enough–I can still get the functionality out of it. However, if this were a whip, and I walked away from the rig for a moment, it’s entirely possible that it would fall out.

So I’ve yet to field test the Lensse–will update this post when I’ve done so after next weekend. But my general impression is that it’s a nice, professional-looking follow-focus, well built, with a few quirks and quibbles. As with everything that’s cheap, just remember: there’s usually a reason for it.

Lensse Follow FocusBoth the mattebox and the follow focus highlighted a problem with some camera rigs: they require the lenses to be at the industry standard height from the rails (supposed to be 85mm from center of rods to center of lens–Duclos Lenses has a great post about that.) This required me to do some serious rig reconfiguration, which I suppose is my fault to begin with, but also highlights the issue with the P&C Gearbox cage in this configuration. You can see the height of the lens in relation to the bridge there, and just know that the bridge actually would run into the focus gear on my lens. Luckily, the focus gear was in a position that didn’t require me to get drastic with my build, but if you have anything close to what I’ve got, you might have to get a camera riser to use these pieces of equipment.

Next, the mattebox. The box listed it as a “Digital Juice” but I’ve seen practically the same mattebox (in pictures, anyway) from a variety of other sellers for a variety of prices (anywhere from $149 to $499.) Whether or not the others are the same ones with different stickers is something I suppose I can’t contest, but they look awfully similar.

Cut on the EyebrowOne thing I had read about in various reviews of the others is that there were scratches already in place from the box opening, and sure enough, there was a huge slice across the eyebrow.

Other than that, I didn’t notice any big problems right out of the box. The look and feel is very similar to the RedRock microMattebox that we had at Regent for our BMCC rigs–the comparison had been made before by a friend, but I didn’t think it would be as accurate. I think the main difference is in material of the mattebox itself. This would also affect the weight, obviously.

The mattebox comes preassembled, with a single hard-matte that clips into the front. The whole thing is a mixture of plastic and aluminum–some things that should be one are the other, but overall the design is solid. The hinge mechanism is clearly a lower-grade material, one which I’m used to dealing with on my Flycam–I know the feel of that stuff by heart now. But I don’t think it’ll give me any problems until much further down the road. The eyebrow and side-shades are individually wrapped, and may require the screws to be put back into their holes, but if you’re not an idiot, this should be fine.

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I have an empty Pelican 1600 case that I’ve been meaning to work on for a while, and this gave me a perfect excuse to create a “cinema” case for my equipment. I pulled the bottom foam from the mattebox’s box, and used some corrugated plastic to create the dividers on the right. I’m actually really happy with how it’s all turning out, though I haven’t run it through the ringer yet.

Filter traysThe filter trays are plastic (probably should be aluminum) but they work pretty well so far. I’ve read a lot of people distrusting the plastic, but we’re at that level of budget here–for under $200, it’s what you’re gonna get. Strangely, the “hard mattes” for the 4×4 filters (seen on the left) are aluminum–I could see those getting bent during handling, but I think they’re thin enough that you could probably bend them back without too much stress. Obviously, with some wide angles, you’re going to run into problems with that matte, but you’d run into that problem regardless because of the smaller filters. Eventually I might get to where everything is 4×5, but 4×4 is what I mostly have right now. Plus, they work well with my other filter system (a LEE screw-on system) so…

So there you have it. I will be adding updates hereafter as I start using these things in the field.

Update the first:
Used both over the weekend for a commercial shoot–what ended up being a very fast, hit-the-ground-running, already-an-hour-behind commercial shoot–and was very pleased with the performance.

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The Lensse was fine for the most part–no problems like I’ve had with some other FF’s (namely my D|Focus.) Occasionally, the handwheel will work a little loose, but that could have been because I was taking the rig in and out of my car every hour. Also, if the unit has been sitting still for a certain amount of time, it will be very hard for the first turn–not sure what’s making it do that. It could be my lens, but I never had that problem with the Fotga or O’Connor. Other than that, no issues this time around.

The mattebox did pretty well. Often when sliding filter trays in, the top latch would catch, and sometimes the filter would get out a little, but it was never in such a way that would have broken anything. The foam inserts for keeping light out aren’t really matte black, so they reflect a little light back, but this is only a problem if you’ve got a lot of flaring (i.e., you had the sun in your shot, which I did at one point.)

A mild annoyance (and, as yet, not a functionally-challenging one) is that the mattebox isn’t on the optical center. I’m trying to figure out how to compensate for that, perhaps with a new aluminum plate for it, but I knew this was a possibility–several reviews on Amazon brought that up. But again, $168. Not expecting great things here. In general, the mattebox would bounce and flex while moving the camera between setups, but didn’t really do that during any shots.

Update the Second: here is the mattebox from the front. You can clearly see how far off-center it is from the rig. When I can make some better measurements, I will probably make some cuts and move the screws over.

So far off center. So far.

So far off center. So far.

 

Pardon me while I have a strange interlude.

13 Jan

(Which is a line from my 2nd favorite Marx Brothers movie.)

Anyway, a friend asked me to share a recipe on Facebook. I didn’t want to take up space in the comments, so I thought I’d do it here. It’s a recipe for “vegan bread” which is very versatile–I’ve made rolls, loaves (mini and full), and even hamburger buns, and had great success. I have even made smaller rolls, which I put into a pie pan and froze for a later date (similar to “Mrs. Schubert’s Dinner Rolls,” though the results are hard to replicate.) It’s a bread on the sweet side, which is fine by me. It’s “veganness” or “veganity” (Vogonity?) doesn’t matter a whole lot to me, but it does make it dairy-less, which is cool.

2 c. “tepid” water (I usually put a cup of cold and a cup of hot)

1/2 c. sugar

1 1/2 T. active dry yeast

1 1/2 t. salt

1/4 c. vegetable oil (though I’ve found that full olive oil makes it lighter)

6 c. all-purpose flour

1. Dissolve sugar into water (as much as possible), add yeast. Let it sit ’til it’s frothy (about 20 minutes.)

2. Mix in salt & oil. Fold in flour 1 cup at a time; once all flour is mixed in, dough should be pulling away from the walls.

3. Knead dough on a floured surface until a smooth ball, then let it sit in a PAM-sprayed bowl for at least 1 hour, or until doubled.

4. Punch down; split into loaves/rolls/whatever and knead a little.*

5. Cover and let rise.**

6. Bake at 350-degrees for 22-25 minutes on the middle rack.***

* = if you’re making the “buns”, basically just make a dinner roll, then flatten it between your palms and put it on the pan.
** = I have found that the longer the rise time, the lighter the bread and the better the texture. I usually let it rise for at least an hour in its final form. The only issue is that sometimes the loaf rises enough that it won’t fit between shelves in the oven.
*** = Obviously, baking times differ. I use Pampered Chef stoneware loaf pans that my wife bought me for Christmas of 2013, and they cook pretty evenly with only an 18-minute cook time. But whatever you do, please put the bread on the middle rack. If you don’t have the room, then use two racks to split the oven into thirds, then at the halfway mark switch whatever’s on the top to the bottom, and vice versa.

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What we should learn from Sarah

12 Aug

As an engineer, my task is to figure out “why” (why isn’t this working correctly? why do I need to build it this way?). I have spent a lot of time on the little things, determining reasons and excuses for what goes on in my world–partially to satisfy my own curiousity, and now to prepare myself for the inundation of that same question by my child(ren) in the future. But there’s one “why” that I’ve been struggling with for a while, and it’s a very serious one.

For those who don’t know, Sarah Jones was a Local 600 Assistant Camera in Georgia. It’s past-tense because she was involved in a…well, in a very bad situation on a train bridge. I don’t say “accident” because that implies there was no one to blame; blame has been placed, trials have been had, and those deemed responsible are going to jail. There are countless posts about how the problem is bigger than just the producers and director–as an AC, Sarah had many people in the chain-of-command above her who should have spoken up about the lack of safety and precautions. No one should have been hurt that day, because someone should have stuck up and said “this isn’t safe, we shouldn’t be out here.” But no one did. Why?

Dozens of posts ensuing after the tragedy followed the lines of “it’s just a movie, it’s not worth your life” and “no shot is worth dying for.” And at their core, everyone agrees with that–to give your life for your art is damn poetic, but also insane. And to bring a whole crew with you wouldn’t be poetic, it would be psychotic. But that’s at a very deep level, and I don’t think people are learning that there’s a trickle down effect.

I was on a shoot recently, as a favor to a friend. It was a no-budget narrative music video–no doubt promising “exposure” for everyone involved, but I couldn’t care less; the director wanted to work with me before I moved to Kentucky and he to Florida. I hadn’t been very involved with pre-production, but what little I saw from texts and emails was that it was a mess–talent and locations were falling through right up ’til the shoot, and of course there was no money, despite this being a decently successful artist who has paid top-dollar for videos before.

Day 1 went smoothly from my standpoint, but the cloud over the producer’s head was a cemetery location. No cemetery they had called would let them film for free, or at the least without clearances and insurance. Hence, the decision was made to shoot it “guerilla style” at a cemetery nearby. At this point, I’m already committed, so I make my objection clear: “I do not want to go to jail.” Assurances were made that we would be in and out quickly, it was only a couple of shots, yada yada yada.

The morning actually ends up not being that bad, but as we are going back to our cars, police pull up! Turns out that there’s a drug problem in that area! And a groundskeeper, who was a former addict, had phoned in some “suspicious activity”!

The situation is explained, the police are pacified, and we are on our merry way. Turns out that we were at a “public cemetery” anyway, and it wouldn’t have been a problem to shoot there at all in the first place, had we just alerted someone at the office that we were there.

This may seem like an enormous distance from Sarah’s death, but as I’ve been thinking about it, I realise it isn’t. The idea and act of doing something without permission is what’s at the heart of both situations, and the sickening reality is that we aren’t getting any better.

I read several articles recently about drone usage. From what I understand, there are scores of drone operators around the country, getting paid to operate drones for film shoots, and doing so illegally. This is the same root issue–without permission. Here, the stakes are losing your equipment, and getting slapped with a fine; in Sarah’s case, the stakes ended up being much higher. The core issue is the same: damn the laws and do it anyway, either because permission would be too expensive, or impossible to obtain. After all, it will only take a few minutes–what’s the harm?

I understand the appeal when you’re young, before you know the rules or when you have some overriding reason (e.g., an assignment for school.) The change-over needs to happen when you start even acting like a professional. In the case of our music video, I told the producer afterwards that if the artist doesn’t understand that we needed more money for insurance or for proper permits to film at a location, then there’s a deeper issue–someone who isn’t aware of the impact their decisions have on others.

If we can get to the core issue of our artistic desires–namely, that we want to make our art as excellently as we can, whether to glorify God or to serve our own careers–then we can realise why we think we can shoot a scene “real quick” in a cemetary, or a dream sequence on a railroad bridge. And it will take a conscious decision to deny that impulse, and it will be hard, but if great art were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.

Applebox sets

4 May

Appleboxes were a revolutionary thing for me when I first encountered them. Just blocks, basically–blocks with handles, industry-standard sizes, and any number of applications. If you’re familiar with film sets at all, you know of appleboxes, and you’ve probably sat on one or two in your time. More than once have I wanted a few around the apartment for various projects–a footstool, a place to let something dry, whatever you need done.

For "Swing-X" in summer of 2013, I built two sets for the production. Saved us a great deal of money, and we used them every day.

For “Swing-X” in summer of 2013, I built two sets for the production. Saved us a great deal of money, and we used them every day.

A normal applebox set (like the one from Filmtools) will cost you around $150 with shipping. Now, they look very nice, and are made by cabinet makers, which gives them precision corners and dimensions. However, if you’re willing to sacrifice perhaps a little precision, you can make your own appleboxes that will be solid additions to your kit. The cool part about the plans I have is that, if you so choose, you can make as many as four full sets of boxes for around $130.

Shooting "Swing-X" with said appleboxes in play.

Shooting “Swing-X” with said appleboxes in play.

Final note before starting: the plans I have are a little different construction, with a unique sort-of asymmetrical way of being put together. If you don’t want to do it exactly the way I have, there will be another set of plans available that have standard cuts on them, and you can use those dimensions instead.

Materials
– 2x 3/8″ x 4′ x 8′ plywood
– 1x 3/4″ x 4′ x 8′ plywood
– 1x 1/2″ x 4′ x 8′ plywood*
– Liquid Nails
– Brads (I used 1-1/4″, but 1″ would work better)

Tools
– Table saw (or something you can cut long, straight lines with)
– Drill***
– Hole saw (1-1/4″ and 1″)
– Jigsaw
– Brad nailer
– 12″ Clamps (optional)
– 90-deg. corner clamp (optional)
– Router**
– Minwax for finish (optional)

* – the 1/2″ plywood is for pancakes, which are technically 1″ thick. However, you will have some extras from the 3/8″ plywood, and again, if you don’t mind a lack of precision or exactness, having those pieces of wood will be plenty.

** – if you’ve used a router before, then I suggest having an edge of 1/8″ to 1/4″ on your top/bottom pieces, and using a flush cut bit to give it a nice finish. If you’ve never used a router before…maybe don’t worry about it.
*** – the drill is for cutting holes in the sides and center, but if you’re making the full lot here, you will have problems with your drill overheating. If you have an area outside, and can use something heavy duty like a big hammer drill, it will make things much easier.

For this plan, we are using 3/4″ plywood for the walls, and 3/8″ plywood for the tops and bottoms. Pine plywood will suffice, but don’t be alarmed when you can’t find it in these dimensions. Most stores will carry 23/32″ and 15/32″ instead of 3/4″ and 1/2″ (respectively), but in my experience the boards vary enough that the nominal width is close enough. You could use 1/2″ for the side walls, but I think the 3/4″ adds much-needed heft. These are heavier than standard boxes, but…well, beef up.

Plans

3-4 cuts asymmetric

Full cuts stepped

Full hole marks

Half cuts stepped

2x 2-4-38 cuts (this is an alternate set of cuts that lets you use 2′ x 4′ x 3/4″ pieces for two sets)

3/4″ cuts symmetric (these are if you don’t want the asymmetric design in this plan–the only difference is the middle pieces are boxed in by the long sides)

3/8″ rips** (this is also the plan for the 1/2″ rips for pancakes, but take 1/4″ away, so you’ll have two long 20″ rips, and then several 12″ rips)

1. Ripping the plywood
The first step is to make some large, long cuts that run the length of the plywood. This is going to be easiest with a table saw, but you could also use a circular saw with a guide.
The 3/4″ plywood needs four large rips, and then a series of smaller ones.

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Go ahead and glue the pancakes together. I clamped mine all together in one big stack. The Liquid Nails should be enough to hold them together. As I mentioned earlier, using 1/2″ plywood to get a perfect 1″ thick pancake is optional–you’ll have some leftovers from the 3/8″, and you can either leave them seperate or glue two together to make pancakes. On Swing-X I just left the 3/8″ pieces alone, and used them as is a lot–just having little pieces of wood for whatever was a nice thing. Update: the Liquid Nails will NOT be enough, after a few uses. You might have to get some 3/4″ screws or nails to keep ’em together.

2. Mark and cut your holes.
Tedious, but it’s gotta be done. The holes for the middle piece are absolutely optional, but if you want to run a stinger or anything through the applebox, you’ll be better off making at least one.

The inside piece is between the left side and dotted line on the right.

The inside piece is between the left side and dotted line on the right.

Use a 1-1/4″ hole-saw or spade bit at each center mark, and then use a jigsaw to cut straight across. You could use bigger if you want to, but it will look enormous on the half boxes.

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The quarter boxes will need a 1″ hole cut, but it would be easier to wait ’til they’re already put together. They will not need holes on the center wall of the box. Watch where you’re nailing on the quarters–don’t put a nail right through where you want to drill! If you’re using a router, specifically the round-over bit, wait to drill that hole until after you’ve routed–otherwise you get these funky divots when you route.

3. Put it all together!
Arguably the most simple part, but probably not going to be a walk in the park.
I put Liquid Nails everywhere I join wood–it may lengthen the amount of time I spend working with the boxes, but once it locks in, it’s solid and not budging without a massive shift in temperature or inervention from the Almighty.

A model of the full box construction with the cuts--notice the overlap on one side.

A model of the full box construction with the cuts–notice the overlap on one side.

Keep an eye on your alignment, if you've already cut your holes, so that the short side is butted up against the long side (bottom of picture.)

Keep an eye on your alignment, if you’ve already cut your holes, so that the short side is butted up against the long side (bottom of picture.)

The asymmetry if this design means you need to keep an eye on your handle placement. If you’re forward thinking, make sure that the pretty sides are all looking out. Here’s where you can use the clamps if you want, but I found it time consuming–it was easier for me to just squeeze it together and nail, letting the glue fill the gap.

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When you are ready to put the tops and bottoms on, pick one corner and get it aligned. Keep the adjacent sides flush while nailing by moving the board around–you’ll spread some glue, but that’s okay. This will give you an overlap on the other two sides, but we’ll take care of that in the next step.

4. Finish it!
At this point, you’re done enough–after the glue dries, things are probably good to go.

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But! If you’re like me, you don’t want your work to look subpar. (Personally, I don’t see anything about “DIY” that means it has to look DIY.) The best thing to do, through the whole process, is keep an eye on any nasty knots or breaks in the wood, and make sure these are put on the inside, and don’t necessarily write on the wood in Sharpie [like I did] if you can’t hide it.

First thing is to take a flush-cut router bit and run along the top and bottom sides. This will take care of any overlap. Next, switch out to a round-over bit, and run along every side that’s exposed. (On Swing-X, when I had time, I did this to all of the handles too, front and back, but it’s not completely necessary.)

If you’re feelin’ frisky, go get some stainable wood filler and fill in any brad holes and big gaps in the seams. Then, once it’s dry, go over everything with some medium grit sandpaper, especially the areas you just cut with a router.

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Finally, take your Minwax and stain the suckers. Obviously, follow the recommended warnings on the material (i.e., DON’T DO THIS INSIDE YOUR LIVING ROOM) and make sure you keep things clean and clear. Use the brush to take care of any drops along the top or bottom. If you need a place to dry them, you can always run some rope through the handles and hang ’em from a tree or post or C-stand. Or, you can use an Origami shelf, like the one I’ve been using for my camera cart.

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This is a cherry stain, which I picked up on clearance at Home Depot. In the future, I’ll probably try and get some kind of “golden” or even a much darker stain.

The bottom two shelves are the end result of this DIY. The top shelves are sets of nesting appleboxes, which I have in a different post.

Flycam Flujo, The Overhaul: Final?!

16 Mar

I just wrapped my first week as an operator on a docu-drama show, shooting in the Hampton Roads area. Two days later, I’m not aching anymore–Days 2, 3, and 4 all found me spending almost all day in the rig. But damn it feels good to be operating all the time! And I did well enough to be offered the position for the rest of the season, shooting ’til October.

So the burning question: how did the Flycam Flujo perform on its first professional gig? The answer: meh.

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The one major issue I had was that nothing seemed to stay set. I would balance the rig, check my drop time, and when it came back down, it was out of balance. I’m thinking, based on some things I’ve seen online, that the gimbal handle is not at all aligned. The unprofessional nature of the rig means that I have no ability to adjust the thing if it isn’t aligned properly, so it’s just something I’ll have to live with.

But just as important, and just as frustrating, was the fact that the entire top stage was loose. I tightened every nut that I could, and still the entire assembly would shuck and jive. Thankfully not during a take! Just enough during setup to give me far less confidence than I wanted.

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The materials are cheap–this we all know–but cheap materials can sometimes do great things! Just look at Ford cars. [rimshot!] However, where the cost always becomes a factor is the materials’ ability over time to maintain its function. Here, I fear, is my Flycam’s Achilles–this thing will not last for a very long time, especially if I keep putting it through its paces on this show. Several key adjustment points were stripping out, particularly the side-to-side adjustment on the top stage. Not the threaded adjustment rod, though: just the knob which adjusts it, which is threaded onto the rod and has a tiny set screw, which I’m fairly certain is responsible for the stripping. The clamp that holds the bottom stage on was not staying tight either, and I’m afraid to crank down the screws on that too (see prior.)

Because of the nature of the show, they were looking for considerable amounts of low-mode. To that end, I determined that I needed to make a low-mode cage that I can also use in the future as a weight cage. Because I didn’t mind the weight (and I had less than 12 hours) I went to a machine shop and had a couple of plates of stainless steel cut, then stopped at Lowe’a and bough 3/8″ all-thread and some 3/8-ID tube.

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This setup, according to the manufacturer, should be well within the weight limits. Perhaps for the arm it is, but the sled itself was really having problems with the great weight. For the next show, I should have my post cable up, which will let me keep weight off the camera by letting me power the Bartech through the J-box. I’ll still probably have the battery on the back for counterbalance handheld. The whole weight cage thing was last minute, so it’ll be very refined by the time I get back in the rig.

Side note: this plate sucks. Notice how only one hole actually lines up?

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The arm is still holding up, but I’m watching a few screws on it start to tweak and bend. I’ve really pushed it to the limits here. But the additional pins I had made saved me several times, as we got stuck in low mode but needed to raise the camera. I think the parts I had machined are now the strongest parts in it!

I want to talk about how bad the vest is, but it’s been so long since I used a real Steadicam vest that I can remember what it’s supposed to feel like. However, because of my socket block adjustments done to the arm, I can upgrade or rent a different vest anytime, which, given the pay increase from this show, could be sooner rather than later.

The final problem: docking. Or lack thereof–the bracket that comes with the Flycam is an utter farce. So, as you can see from some pictures, I had to build and balance at the same time, sitting on a baby pin (with the 5/8″ insert created for my sled at the machine shop.) All was fine until I needed to put the thing on the arm. Then it became a silly exercise in patience: I’d have to lift the sled with my left arm, holding the handle with my thumb, and then move the arm underneath with my right hand, trying to dock without looking too much a fool.
If I had the low-mode cage on, I had to have an assistant lift the cage so I could get it up high enough. On Saturday morning, my left deltoid was absolutelu destroyed–it took two days to stop hurting.
The only solution is to bite the bullet and go big: as soon as I get back, I’m going to buy a Gorelock 2 docking bracket. It’s worth it, and I can keep this for future rigs, while just buying a new docking ring.

So it seems like this experiment has come to an end, or at least, the end of the beginning. Is this rig workable? Yes, with heavy modification. Some days, I almost wished I was using a Glidecam, but only because of the reliability it has over the Flycam. But here’s what’s important for me: when I got the call about this show, and I told them I was a Steadicam operator who owned a rig, it gave me an opportunity to prove myself. By the third day, I had been offered the position for the rest of the season, even though I’m going to miss three shows. And most importantly, I actually had the knowledge of my equipment to get the job done, despite setbacks in the field.

Will I start upgrading as soon as fiscally possible? Abso-friggin’-lutely.

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Flycam Flujo: The Overhaul, part 4

10 Mar

So! Long time, no post. Little update: I’ve just landed my first big gig as an operator. I’ll be 2nd camera/Steadicam on a TV series shooting ’round here, potentially through October.

The rig is ready to fly, though still solving some issues with the post cable wiring–specifically, that it doesn’t exist yet. However, the show is shooting on Canon C300’s, so I don’t have to power the camera through the sled, and really only need to run an HDMI cable for signal, so we’re good to go.

Today I got back the parts from the machine shop, and boy are they sweet. I had the post/arm assembly remade, and the real socket block mounted so I could use it on any standard vest.

Old socket block:

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New socket block:

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Old arm post:

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New arm post:

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I also had two longer posts made (an 8″ and 12″) so I can put the sled up higher.

The arm now has a permanent fitting in it to adapt it to 5/8″:

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Needless to say, I’m excited. Camera tests tomorrow morning in the studio, and I’ll have the rig up to make sure everything is hunky dory.