I was shooting all last week on a short film, which partly explains my absence from this blog, but also the film presented some challenges to me, as any shoot normally does. On this show, the problem was the absence of a proper shoulder mount/handheld configuration from the rental house that we obtained the RED. When I asked the guy working for a handheld configuration, he basically gave me two handles and advised against shooting anything more than a few minutes at a time with it. This was after the cinematographer had already told me about 70% of the film was going to be handheld shooting..
Essentially, the handheld unit that was provided to me from the rental house – their only choice – was to have two handles mounted on the rods and to let the baseplate or RED body itself sit directly on your shoulder. Now this normally can be accommodated by simply rolling a towel and placing it under the camera to compensate for the hardness.
However, the DP I was working with explained to me that comfort wasn’t so much what he was searching for with the shoulder mount, but also to help the camera from slipping forward and backward and that the curvature of a shoulder mounts helps to stabilize this movement. And like any good AC should, I told him we’d figure something out.
So whilst he went about looking for a Mantis rig or a shoulder mount for the RED, I enlisted my dad’s power tools and a shopping trip to construct something. If you haven’t realized by now, a lot of my method centers on being resourceful and creative with materials to make something that tailors to your own needs.
With the help of my dad, I took a 1 inch thick piece of board and cut it 9 inches long (the length of the camera body’s bottom). We then took a two by four and cut two 45 degree pieces to create the curves and screwed them on each side to create the curve.
After a trip to Wal-Mart (side story: never go to Jo Ann’s Fabrics where they denied me entrance to the store at 8:58 despite a closing time of 9:00!) I bought some pleather, since it’s easily wipe-able and neutral in color, and some bedding/pillow foam. Cut the cloth, staple gun the foam and voila – I had my shoulder mount.
But that was only half the battle, how was I going to mount it to the camera? I didn’t have the milling ability to make it a dovetail, nor the precision needed to make it screw into the camera. That’s why I always keep a healthy amount of my favorite way to attach objects together in my bag: Velcro.
After messing around with many different places to Velcro the mount, I found a place under the plate that went onto the head just on the dovetail (see the pictures below.) This allowed me to not have to replace the Velcro each time I remounted the camera on sticks because there was just enough clearance to allow the plate to still screw onto the dovetail.
So how did it work? Surprisingly well, actually. It was comfortable enough – though not the most comfortable – and it did it’s job of maintaining better stability with the camera. The DP was pleased with it though his shoulder ultimately did end up still taking most of the weight and discomfort from such a heavy rig.
The only downsides were that after awhile the pleather and Velcro started to get worse for the wear and the foam attached to the wood was starting to depress to the point where it hardly had any padding at all.
But hey – for a week I managed to whip something up on the fly in a night that saved the DP hours of pain and production the cost of renting out something more expensive from a different renter.