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D.P. Journal

Choice of Equipment

Low budgets - they make you make choices and they make you think carefully about the mix of equipment necessary for a shoot. This, of course was the situation we were in (as most productions are). We knew that we were working within the following parameters:

- Very tight shooting spaces (NYC bathrooms)
- low budget
- could not comprimise quality - this meant quality over substance (more about this later)
- Very small staging areas for equipment

The first problem I addressed was how we would light rooms with dimensions of 8 feet by 6 feet (a normal NY bathroom) and still be able to shoot in every direction. This required us to get the lights off of the floor. Autopoles by Bogen provided us a solution to this. A note here - autopoles are intended to be used vertically and are not meant to hang in a horizontal position so I cannot recommend this technique to anyone else and you are working at your own risk if you use it. Nonetheless, for small units, autopoles provided us a perfect solution. We could hang lights where every we wanted in the bathrooms without worrying about camera angles. Not only did this give us flexibility in hanging the lights but we were able to set up between shots quicker since the lights tended to stay in the same place.

Our grip complement included the following
- lots of maffer clamps (actually superclamps) to clamp lights onto the autopoles, shower doors, medicine cabinets, and anywhere else we could.
- Light stands for the times when we needed a light on the floor
- c-stands, flags, scrims and other lighting controls - Fast flags are a great space saver since you can put flags, scrims and silks on the same frames
- full compliment of gels - theatrical colors for effects but lots of color correction blue (CTB) to match outdoor lighting and some CTO.

Pro-lights - We were deciding between Lowell pro-lights and Arri Fresnels. The obvious choice and advice we got was to use the Arris. We decided against the Arris and cost was only a minor reason. Pro-lights take up about half the space of a comparable arri. This proved to be important to use when putting lights up on an autopole. We needed the couple of extra inches of filming space over the actors heads. In addition, as controllable as a fresnel is, the pro-lights “fresnel like” shadow was just a little softer making it easier to control in the shoebox size rooms we worked in. So pro-lights became our staple light.

Floros - We had a kino miniflo 9 inch lamp kit. This was a lifesaver any time we need a little fill, an eyelight, or a very localized light source. As expensive as this kit is, it is worth every penny. I highly recommend that everyone puts one in their kit and keeps 2900K and 5500K tubes on hand for any situation.

We also used a flolight FL-110 - this is a 2 tube fixture with surprising output and punch I think due to the mirrored surfaces. This was a great fill light in the office scenes and proved invaluable in wide open low key scenes such as at our party scene. It helped bring up the general fill level to good levels for proper exposure.

Open faced - We had a full compliment of open faced lights from 250 watts to 1000 watts. The were very useful on the larger sets and also helped in creating both nightime and daytime ambience.

Chinese lanterns - We had a set of multicolored chinese lanterns with 100 watt lamps which were useful for some lighter fill as well as interesting practicals in the shots.

DIMMERS - Invaluable - you must have as many dimmers as lights you plan on using in a setup. They save time allowing you to adjust each lamp exactly how you need to. I suggest a high quality rheostat dimmer (they dont buzz). Make sure you stay within the wattage limits of the dimmer (you don’t want to start a fire). I recommend the handmade dimmers by Walter Graff. They are very well made and worth the price.

Camera Support
- Primary support was the Cartoni Focus head with 2 stage legs. The Focus head is truly amazing at the price point. Super smooth pans and tilts with fully adjustable drag. The head is truly solid and holds the camera very tightly. The legs had a mid level spreader which was fine most of the time. The only issue was when we had the legs straddling something that was higher then a foot or so - the spreader would get in the way and we would need to use apple boxes to raise the legs.

Kessler Crane - we used the 8 foot version mounted on a pro-vista tripod. I do recommend the kessler - I do not recommend putting it on a pro-vista - it just wasnt sturdy enough so I had to fight wobble in the legs. The crane allowed us to do some really great moves and string together shots. Only issue was that we had to lighten the camera up and take it off the rails and remove the mattebox. The extra weight actually started to bend the camera tray - though when lightened up it worked great.

Fig rig - This was our most used and lifesaving support. Such a simple device allows so much movement. For those that have not seen one, it looks like a steering wheel with a mount for the camera in the center. It could easily handle the full rig (rails, ff, mattebox etc). When mounted I was able to move the camera into places it otherwise would have been impossible. The wider radius on the camera due to the wheel’s wider shape smoothed out camera shake. This allowed us to let the camera “breathe” but not shake. We could keep it alive but not bring attention to the camera shake. In addition, we were able to turn to the fig rig when time was short since it allowed us to move the camera from shot to shot very quickly. The biggest downside of the fig is the need to support the weight with your arms - it get tiresome very quickly and long shots would begin to have some shake near the end. Rest often when you use the fig rig - hand off the camera to your assistant between shots.

Dollys - the most used dolly was our skateboard dolly on pvc pipes. We could get away with this again due to our space restrictions. NY bathrooms didnt allow us a run of more then a few feet. The office bathrooms gave us a little more distance (up to 10 feet). We also used a spider dolly for our party scene which allowed us full 20 foot curved runs. This dolly was rented from Able Cine Tech for a surprisingly good price.

Camera gear
Rails - We used Red Rock Micro rails and baseplate as the center of our rig. To line up our mattebox we also needed one of their shim kits which was relatively easy to install.

Follow Focus - We begged and pleaded to get one of Red Rock Micro’s Follow Focus Units (pre release) but they just werent ready. Initially we purchased a Cavision FF and a geared ring for the HVX. However, the pitch on the gear ring couldnt match up with any of the gears on the Cavision. After a week of trying to solve the problem we had to send the unit back. We turned to the indie-focus. This is a low cost friction based solution. The focus wheel pushes up against the HVX focus ring and turns it using friction. It was surprisingly stable and, although there was about a 2 degree range of play in the control, we were able to hit our focus marks very precisely. The unit sits VERY close the the iris control so getting my finger in there was a challenge and I had to occasionally put the unit back to make an iris adjustment.

Mattebox - We used the Cavision mattebox and french flag 2 stage unit. It was adequete but didnt perform great. The screws and nuts were constantly loosening so we were always repairing the unit. It was a good enough lighting control without excelling.

Filters - We had a set of ND filters (.3, .6, .9). The HVX performs best (resolves most) under 5.6 so we used that as a hard limit and I had these filters on hand to keep us in this range. However, ND filters and gels proved to be problematic with the HVX - but this is a subject for a later entry.

© 2006 In the Can Production LLC
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