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Safe car interiors while driving


Michael Nelson
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What are some techniques to get a shot of the driver of a vehicle, while driving, from the front passenger seat? In the past, I have seen camera operators sitting in the front seat, camera on their shoulder, facing backwards. It's a great 3/4 shot and avoids anything too profile-y, but it's not safe by any means. No seatbelt, back against the passenger airbag, I hate to even think about what would happen if there was a collision of sorts while shooting.

 

So, what are suggestions for achieving such a shot and keeping everyone safe?

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The safest would be to use a process trailer, if you can't afford that a car mount (hostess tray or hood mount) is a good option, although it could be argued that it is inherently dangerous for an actor to split his/her attention between acting and driving. That's not to say it isn't done all the time.

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I should have said in the original post that this is for a reality show with me in the front seat shooting a contributor as they drive from point A to B.

 

The camera for this particular shoot is the F800. For smaller, prosumer cameras I'd just sit in the seat, turn the LCD around, and place the camera up on the dash. Not so easy with an ENG camera.

 

 

You might have to put on your big boy pants or grow a pair. Do you want to get the shot or not? Sometimes you have to take a risk.

 

If the choice is to "Put my big boy pants on" (sit backwards in a seat while driving and assume the risk of death in a car accident) or ask around to find a safe way to do things, I'll take the latter. I'm in this industry, and even moreso, this life, for the long haul. No dumb unnecessary risks need be taken...

Edited by Michael Nelson
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I have to side with Mike about the safety issue vs getting the shot. No shot is worth your life or ending up in a wheel chair for if it can be avoided. I'm the cam op he mentioned riding backwards in the car with a full sized camera on my shoulder because a 3/4 profile looked better than a full profile. In hindsight it was a very unnecessary risk given that the driver/talent was a bad driver to begin with.

 

We recently had an accident out here in LA involving a helicopter, cinematographer, pilot , and producer (I think). I'm sure they took more precautions than I did and tragedy struck.

 

Point is we are not saving lives we are making entertainment and it's not worth it to put yourself in harms way if it can be avoided.

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It depends on your car, but we managed to rig a Arri 16BL to take shots of the driver from inside. It helps if you remove the front passenger seat, but there's a range of offsets that would allow the camera to be set up closer to the windscreen. A smaller camera is perhaps the best method, there's a full range now available.

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hi tom,

it may have been said in jest but if i was on set and heard anyone make a reply like that to someone expressing concerns about safety, i would approach the producer and insist on their instant dismissal.

if they were not dismissed i would pack my gear back in the truck and drive away.

 

everyone on set has the right to express concerns about safety without recrimination.

 

cheers,

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'll say if you don't feel safe doing something, then don't do it. But, I feel like I've seen this countless times with Alexa's, 35's, s16mm cameras on the shoulder in the front seat. I've done it myself more than once with no second thoughts. On my current job, we are carrying a "lightning detector" and an anemometer to insure the safety of the aerial lifts. No one had anything to say about the camera going hand-held in the car.

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  • 1 month later...
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It's not out yet, and lord only knows when it will be out-- i'd not bank on it anytime in the near future; maybe fall/winter before it starts to trickle out. Else, might be a fun choice... like a go-pro with some control-- especially paired with some of the pretty remarkable M43rds lenses which are out (the F.95 for example)

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Guest Jackson Blake

Seven Pounds is astounding for car rigs. Does anybody know how these are done or more about the equipment?

I'd like so much to know more about how car rigs are achieved.

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Seven pounds is nothing -- there are 35mm zoom lenses that are heavier than that. Most car rigs are pretty secure (they have to be) using steel pipes (speed rail) and/or plates, plus ratchet straps, hooks, etc. (with rubber mats to protect the car). A 35mm movie camera can be 20 to 30 pounds or more sometimes.

 

You can see a hood mount here:

http://www.msegrip.com/matthews-car-mount-rigs.html

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Guest Jackson Blake

Oh I actually meant the film called Seven Pounds ;) starring Will Smith.

 

Thanks for the link.

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Sadly, especially in reality this is so common it's basically expected. And because it's "reality" in general you will have zero time or budget to do it safely, not to mention well. That said, it seems you know ahead of time that 1) it's happening and 2) what camera you're supposed to use so hey - that's something!

 

Most reality shows carry a smaller camera for such situations because let's face it - the weight of an F800 isn't bad, it's the fact that with the lens, brick, hops, etc etc etc the camera is about 3' long head to tail. I've done it countless times, and actually started putting in my deal memo "absolutely no car interiors" because it sucks so bad. The is no way to sit in a car with the cam on your shoulder and not cause yourself physical pain, not with an eng camera. Because the height of the handle, it'll hit the headliner of the car and all the effort you put in to steady it and smooth out the car's movements with your body will be null - you'll be bouncing around hitting the headrests, windshield and ceiling. And in general, reality producers picture in their minds shots from movies that were done on process trailers. Safely. With time to rig and consider safety. Usually they;re not picturing the lens 9" from the driver's face (where it'll be when you're backed against the window) bouncing around like crazy in profile and far below eyeline. :)

 

SO.... it's a good idea to temper expectations immediately about what the shot will ACTUALLY look like handheld from the passenger seat on the shoulder. When you begin the conversation with content discussions, you have more ability to collaborate on reasonable solutions than if you start with "my leg will go numb after about 8 minutes and then I'll start yelling obscenities every time the camera smacks me in the head." That falls on deaf ears in most cases.

 

If you're able to get a small cam that more or less matches your primary, one thing I've done a lot of (because again - this happens in a "hurry we need to follow this" sort of fashion) is to buy a couple bags of uncooked rice and a thick ziplock bag. Basically an adjustable cinesaddle - set the cam on the dash and jam it as far towards the windshield as possible and hold one bag aganst the dash under it - like a wedge - and if you can put the other bag on top. If you keep pressure forward, it'll essentially lock to the motions of the vehicle which eliminates camera shake because the driver's seat and the dash/windshield should all be bumping/vibrating together. But this requires a small camera with some kind of LCD you can rotate towards yourself - or put a small LCD in your lap and cable it to the cam. The advantage of doing it this way is that 1) you're sitting in the seat the way it was designed so your limbs don't go numb and your back isn't hunched the whole time 2) the camera is a LOT farther forward and more frontal on the driver - and if it's too frontal you can slide it out toward the passenger door - but you have CONTROL over the angel 3) the footage is usable because you're not bouncing around like crazy or yelling obscenities over the audio

 

Again - if you explain that more of the footage will be usable and you can shoot for longer - you can win most arguments for getting gear thats closer to the correct tool for the job. And if you can't, and you're forced to use the 800, at least get a battery plate w/ 4-pin xlr and long audio cables so you can drop all that stuff on the floor and make the camera 6" shorter. The difference in DOF between being really close and wide on the normal cam and being 3x as far away on a longer lens with the smaller chip cam is a wash. Good luck and whatever you figure out, keep it in your bag of tricks because this is a daily thing in reality. Somehow.

Edited by Jaron Berman
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