Today marked our first big day of exterior shots on farmland to the west of Richmond, VA. The day started with rain, but was over in a mere 15 minutes afterward. It lasted just long enough to get water on our tarps, sprinkle the grass wet, and make the dirt muddy.
But like the stifling humidity of the warehouse couldn’t stop us on Day 4, neither did the soggy conditions of the outdoors prevent us from hopping all over the farm.
With limited paved road access, we had to leave our camera cart and transport the gear – packed as light and tight as possible – with Gator carts and the giant 4×4 pickup that hauls the grip trailer.
I spent the day covered in sweat and bug spray. Last night, the DP and I treated our outfits with Permethrin, an insect repellant made to soak into clothing. I don’t have any ticks on me tonight, so I guess it worked. Most of the crew wore long pants and, while everyone else tucked their pants inside socks or boots, I thought I was clever by using bongo ties to seal my ankles from the ticks.
My method was more stylish.
The Challenges/Benefits of Handheld
Camera-wise we spent most of the day shooting handheld. This was a stylistic choice, but it benefitted the pace at which we had to shoot: having the camera be so mobile and being able to walk into new positions enables much quicker punch-in’s and inserts.
As a camera assistant (AC), though, handheld does pose additional challenges:
- Focus pulling is harder since you have a moving camera and moving subject
- You’re constantly lifting the camera onto and off of the operator’s shoulder (or in our case, an EasyRig)
- Stepping away from the camera to do other tasks can be tough if it’s rested on an apple box (remember our forest floor was wet and muddy)
- Swapping lenses, filters, and other camera adjustments have to be done while up on the operator’s shoulder or while rested on the ground. Neither option provides the same quick, easy access as the camera up on sticks
- During takes, someone has to wrangle BNC cable and you have to be aware of the operator’s footing and your own footing in relation to it.
Of course, as mentioned above, shooting handheld does also have some benefits:
- Sticks plus a fluid head are heavy. I enjoy not having to move them.
- It’s faster to reposition camera for a new shot or an additional pickup.
- You don’t have to worry about keeping the camera level
- It feels more intimate. There’s something about the closeness and dynamic nature of handheld that feels like you’re making a movie. It’s pure vanity, but I like it.
Shooting handheld in the woods posed it’s own unique set of problems as well.
Several times the DP almost tripped over some logs and I had to bat away branches that would side swipe me during tracking shots. I had to be extra vigilant about my footing.
There was a funny moment when doing a reverse tracking shot (the actors walking towards the camera as we track backwards) where the take started going longer than we had rehearsed, but we kept walking and walking. Slowly the grass got taller and thicker until, suddenly, we were having trouble continuing, but the scene was still going. Finally someone said, “Let’s cut please!” By that time, the grass we were in was waist high!
One thing that made our handheld rig easier was a quick-release we made for our EasyRig.
If you’ve ever worked with the EasyRig before, you know how annoying its locking mechanism is, especially with high amounts of tension. Couple that with the fact that our camera’s top handle barely fits within it and we had to make it easier.
The few times we did handheld last week we really struggled getting the camera on and off the EasyRig with the fat top handle to the point where the DP would keep the heavy camera hanging off of them because it was too much trouble to remove.
So I remembered seeing this post on Twitter:
— Jason Cuddy (@jasoncuddy) June 20, 2015
Last week, I ordered one of the Kong Frog carabiners seen in the tweet to ship to our Airbnb. After a stop at Lowe’s, I had a quick-release system for our EasyRig that you can see here:
The carabiner lives on the EasyRig and, whenever you’re ready to go, you snap the carabiner into the eye bolt. When the camera comes off, you squeeze the tabs on the Kong Frog and *boom* it pops out. Here’s a video I made on set showing how it works:
Tomorrow looks to be more of the same style we did today: we had a walkaway at the farm, so we’ll have a faster start being able to arrive, pull our gear, and get to setting up the first shot.
Go, go, go, shoot, shoot, shoot.
That’s what we’ll be doing – fully taking advantage of our quick-release and the speed of handheld filming. Let’s just hope the grass doesn’t stop us in our tracks again.
Day 5 Wrap Out
• There was an absurd amount of insects and spiders crawling over our gear today. At one point, I pulled a slug off an apple box before I sat down on it.
• Before this shoot, I bought a fresh pair of sneakers to make sure my feet were comfortable throughout. I died a little inside today with each step I took in the mud. They no longer look new. Oh well.
• I chose to wear long sleeves today (for tick avoidance reasons) and that was a poor choice. Not even two hours into the day were the sleeves rolled up and serving no purpose other than to make me sweat.
• Meanwhile, my 2nd AC wore a tank top and sweated just as much. It was nice to have a day where we sweated equally.
• A 45 minute drive to and from location sucks, but I’m reminded how my standards have changed: I did that almost every day for Ghosts Don’t Exist, my first feature film.
• The lens flares on these anamorphic lenses look amazing. We took full advantage of the summer sun and blasted it into the lens creating an otherworldly feel for our astronauts.
• A big thanks to the 1st Assistant Director Michael for taking gun safety seriously. He exercised great caution and professionalism in warning us about the prop guns used. It is appreciated.