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Long night ext. steadicam shot - on celluloid...


Joshua Silverlock
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Hi everyone,

I'm prepping to direct a short and the plan is to shoot on film (16mm or 35mm is still tbc). It mostly should be fine, but there is one long steadicam shot written into the script that travels from inside to outdoor london streets.  It's meant to be a fairly long journey that covers a good amount of ground (multiple streets). We're not going to be able to shut down streets, or rent lots of heavy duty lighting gear due to budget. I think it will be something of a guerilla affair. 

Will we be able to get enough light from streetlamps (with careful choreography) and maybe some pushing of the film...? I know we could get away with it on digital but film's a slightly new game to me. 

Are there any low-budget lighting tips people might be able to suggest?

Bottom line I guess is, is this actually possible..? 

Thanks!

Josh. 

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As someone who runs Steadicam a lot, here is what I would do. 

I'd go out there with an operator and figure out the best way to move the camera first. Get that aspect all dialed in and then act out the scene with non-actors with an iPhone or something. Figure out all the timing way up front. 

As Satsuki said, meter the indoor and outdoor lighting to insure you understand the range that works. If your working range is too far off (IE; Dark interiors and bright exteriors) that won't work. With Steadicam, you don't want to be running at F2 because you can't tell if you're in focus or not on the monitors unlike with digital. So you wanna have your lowest stop F4 and stop down when you go outside to whatever the max the lens can do. Some lenses stop at F16, but others go to F22 or higher. So that's something to think about as well. 

For the tech on set, you'll need not only wireless video, but also FF and aperture adjustment. I recommend one person on aperture and one person one focus. Both with monitors would help of course, but not necessary. A good focus puller can get the distance pretty spot on and at F4 even on 35mm, the depth of field won't be horrible if you don't nail it. Again, you won't even know until you get the film back. 

Personally, I would go for 16mm because you can run longer takes, smaller camera, it's more forgiving with focus problems as well. With 35mm if you don't nail it, people will instantly know, but with 16mm, it's soft anyway. The extra run time per magazine helps greatly. As Satsuki said, with 4 perf 35mm, you're around 4 minutes per 400ft mag. By the time you start rolling, slate and go, you've got 4 minutes. If one of your actors goes long or something, you may run out. 

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Thanks so much for this! That's really helpful - especially re magazine lengths. 

I imagine if we're closing down to f8 or more then we'll need a decent amount more light than the streetlights will give us, I'll do some testing to make sure but that's my hunch. 

Any thoughts on what we could do on a low-ish budget, and without exclusive access to the road, to counter this? 

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I don’t think stopping down for more depth of field is very realistic if you’re shooting guerilla style. I expect you’ll end up at T2.8 at the deepest, but more likely T2 or wider. Hire the most experienced focus puller you can afford! 

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I agree, 16mm is the way to go. Use a fairly wide fast lens and you might be able to manage it. Look into the Zeiss Ultra 16 primes, they open up to T1.3 and go very wide - 6,8,9.5,12,14mm.

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25 minutes ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

I don’t think stopping down for more depth of field is very realistic if you’re shooting guerilla style. I expect you’ll end up at T2.8 at the deepest, but more likely T2 or wider. Hire the most experienced focus puller you can afford! 

Yea and on 16mm T2 ain't horrible. Even if it's slightly soft, its not the end of the world with 16mm. 

Oh and yea... #1 crew person will be the focus puller! hahaha 

Tho I will admit, I've learned to keep consistent distance from the subject. Any good Steadicam operator should be able to do that as well. 

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1 hour ago, Joshua Silverlock said:

I imagine if we're closing down to f8 or more then we'll need a decent amount more light than the streetlights will give us, I'll do some testing to make sure but that's my hunch. 

Any thoughts on what we could do on a low-ish budget, and without exclusive access to the road, to counter this? 

I didn't process the "streetlight" comment until now. So you plan on all of this being shot at night? Well, for sure doable, but you'd probably need to really identify what you want lit. One trick is to simply "Hollywood" a light, like a chimera above the actors or even just to the side of them so you have something to help with the faces. You'd be shocked how sensitive 500T is, if you had something to bring up the faces with that was very basic, even a hand held LED light with heavy diffusion, it will help considerably. 

I wouldn't worry too much about the streets honestly, just have some PA's in reflective gear stop the cars as you walk by. You can also time the traffic lights. I've done shots like that before with doorway dolly's on not so busy streets, before I had a Steadicam. I haven't tried that sorta thing with Steadicam, but it makes sense logistically to be able to do it ok. 

In terms of lights on the street. One trick I've done before is park some crew cars on the side of the road earlier in the day and stick a battery powered light behind them facing a building or something, dark areas aren't so dark. But at the same time, typically a city street that's lit, will have plenty of light to see deep into the shot. You won't need to augment much, unless the lights are very spread apart. 

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Posted (edited)

This film I shot 20 years ago with a much older 500T developed in the 90's, after the credit sequence, there is a nice scene shot with entirely available light outdoors at a train station. It was beyond dark, but I somehow managed to make it work with NO pushing of the film stock. (starts around 4 minutes in)
 

 

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2 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

I wouldn't worry too much about the streets honestly, just have some PA's in reflective gear stop the cars as you walk by. You can also time the traffic lights.

I haven’t commented on the safety aspect so far as Joshua hasn’t asked for any advice in that regard, but I feel I need to say something here. 

This is really sketchy advice, to be honest. The chances of a serious accident or traffic incident are not insignificant, with the shot as described. Multiple streets presumably means walking or running thru intersections, which means cross traffic. This is a very bad idea if you have a lax attitude toward road safety, as demonstrated above.

There are ways to mitigate some of the risk, such as hiding cuts and splitting the shot into multiple setups on areas of road that are easier to control. That’s pretty much up to the filmmakers and producers to come up with a plan for that. It sounds like there might not be a lot experience there, though I hope that’s not the case.

But I don’t think it’s a good idea to say in essence, ‘don’t worry about it.’ You should be very worried about it. Safety is ultimately more important than the camera blocking or the exposure.

Also, I have to say, the idea of putting PAs (who might not know any better) at risk like this just to get a cool shot really rubs me the wrong way. Sorry if this offends anyone, but I think it really needed to be said.

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You can absolutely do it. I've shot 500T at night without any externals & pushed 2 stops in development, which is beautiful but pretty heavy on the grain. 

 This interview with DP Helene Louvart has a great example of a creative solution- for the night scenes in the film Beach Rats (shot on 16mm) she had her assistant following the camera with a single LED light.   https://filmmakermagazine.com/104888-when-you-get-on-set-you-dont-dream-anymore-dp-helene-louvart-on-beach-rats/#.YEwqt7RKi9Y

 

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Posted (edited)
16 hours ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

This is really sketchy advice, to be honest.

My assumption is that this is not being done in a busy intersection or street, otherwise the OP would know it's impossible without police assistance/closing down roads. 

So since the OP feels it's possible, the assumption is that the sidewalks/streets in question are not busy. On a street with one or two cars every minute, having 4 PA's go out and block both sides wearing appropriate gear for the 20 seconds the camera goes by, is not the end of the world. Shoots I've been on, have done this countless times, it's never been a problem. I'm simply regurgitating what I've seen done and what works. 

Maybe my assumption is wrong, but that's what I gathered from reading the original post. 

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1 hour ago, Tyler Purcell said:

My assumption is that this is not being done in a busy intersection or street, otherwise the OP would know it's impossible without police assistance/closing down roads. 

So since the OP feels it's possible, the assumption is that the sidewalks/streets in question are not busy. On a street with one or two cars every minute, having 4 PA's go out and block both sides wearing appropriate gear for the 20 seconds the camera goes by, is not the end of the world. Shoots I've been on, have done this countless times, it's never been a problem. I'm simply regurgitating what I've seen done and what works. 

Maybe my assumption is wrong, but that's what I gathered from reading the original post. 

I agree that Joshua and his team are the ones who will have to make that judgement call in the end. I’ve refrained from making comments about the obvious safety issues until now because I don’t know his experience or his personal circumstances, and in a professional forum it’s always best to give the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. But sometimes we forget that it’s not just professionals who are reading and posting too. Not that pros are immune from safely issues either, far from it. 

My concern is less about the circumstances of Joshua’s particular shoot, and more about generalizing that advice to any young filmmakers who may be reading this and are planning their own shoots. I don’t want them to come away with the idea that this is how safety on professional sets should be treated. Because it really isn’t.

Safety is a mindset. You plan for multiple what-if scenarios and have backup plans. You don’t rush safety rigging. It is every person’s responsibility on set to point out safety issues and concerns. And even with all that planning and attention, things still can go wrong. Imagine what happens when everyone just says, ‘screw it, let’s just get the shot.’ People who have that attitude tend to get remembered for a very long time when things go wrong. I know a few veteran crew members who are still furious at Jan De Bont for an accident on ‘Basic Instinct’ that happened while trying to steal a car shot. And that was 30 years ago. 

I say this as someone who has had the privilege of working with producers, 1st ADs, DPs, 1st ACs, and Key Grips who have stood up for me as a young person on set and kept me out of some dangerous situations. More recently, I’ve been the one to have to step in for my crew and nip some bad ideas in the bud. And I’ve also been in a few hairy situations where things almost went very, very bad. I’ve been lucky for the most part. But I’d be a fool to rely on that going forward, and I hope that everyone else I work with feels the same way too. 

There’s a reason that the nearest hospital information is listed at the top of every call sheet, and why production makes you fill out emergency contact paperwork before starting work. Nobody wants to make that phone call, but it does get called from time to time. That is a horrible day, and one that I hope no one here has to experience going forward.

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3 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

I'm simply regurgitating what I've seen done

That sounds like an attempt to avoid responsibility for giving bad advice.

The OP clearly stated that they intended to be working on multiple streets in the same shot, at night, in London. I don't know if you've ever visited, but it's not some sleepy little town with "one or two cars every minute". What you are suggesting is dangerous and illegal.

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6 hours ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

My concern is less about the circumstances of Joshua’s particular shoot, and more about generalizing that advice to any young filmmakers who may be reading this and are planning their own shoots. I don’t want them to come away with the idea that this is how safety on professional sets should be treated. Because it really isn’t.

That's fine, but this is not a professional set. No matter how many red flags you hold up, they're still going to try and get the shot. 

So where I understand where you want to "correct the record" but I think it's pretty safe assume that most humans have the ability to identify dangerous situations on their own. 

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12 minutes ago, Tyler Purcell said:

That's fine, but this is not a professional set. No matter how many red flags you hold up, they're still going to try and get the shot. 

So where I understand where you want to "correct the record" but I think it's pretty safe assume that most humans have the ability to identify dangerous situations on their own. 

I’m under no illusions about what can and has happened in the low budget filmmaking world, I’ve been there too. It happens too often on larger budgeted films as well. That doesn’t mean we should be encouraging more of it. Rather the opposite, which was my point. 

As far as your assumption that film crew members can protect themselves on set while under intense pressure to ‘get the shot,’ always remember Sarah Jones. And frankly if this were at all historically true, there would have been no need for the invention of unions, workplace laws and regulations, the 40hr work week, the weekend, and OSHA...

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On 3/12/2021 at 4:03 PM, Tyler Purcell said:

With Steadicam, you don't want to be running at F2 because you can't tell if you're in focus or not on the monitors unlike with digital. 

This is true. I have experience filming digitally at f/1.8 with focus peaking on and it was still difficult to maintain focus. You sort of have to do several takes regardless of whether or not you thought the take appeared sufficient. It may have appeared to be in focus on a seven inch monitor, yet when you begin editing you realize it isn't quite in focus. That's where the extra good takes come in handy. Then with film it becomes a different story. At the very least his camera will ned an HD video tap or some sort of homemade video tap. He can't control the lighting, therefore he must shoot wide open, especially if the street lamps are sodium vapor so he needs to worry about focus.

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15 minutes ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

That doesn’t mean we should be encouraging more of it. Rather the opposite, which was my point. 

Oh I get it. 

15 minutes ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

As far as your assumption that film crew members can protect themselves on set while under intense pressure to ‘get the shot,’ always remember Sarah Jones.

I make the assumption that during prep, the filmmakers would be able to identify what will safely work. My suggestion was just one of many ways to do it. I'm not the director and I'm not ordering people to do something. It was simply a suggestion that has worked in the past. 

The situation with Sarah Jones has nothing to do with it. There was no human logic used when doing that scene. They also lied to the cast and crew about having permission to shoot on the tracks. They literally set themselves up for failure and it was a horrible/tragic situation. 

15 minutes ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

And frankly if this were at all historically true, there would have been no need for the invention of unions, workplace laws and regulations, the 40hr work week, the weekend, and OSHA...

You're talking about a job. Those rules don't really apply to a few people having fun making something together. 

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3 minutes ago, Tyler Purcell said:

The situation with Sarah Jones has nothing to do with it.

This is exactly the type of situation we are talking about. In the case of ‘Midnight Rider’ the director called for a dangerous shot, and none of the keys put their foot down and said no. That’s how most set accidents happen, someone in charge has a bad idea and no one speaks up. Peer pressure and the hierarchical structure of a film crew are powerful things and not to be underestimated. 

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23 minutes ago, Tyler Purcell said:

You're talking about a job. Those rules don't really apply to a few people having fun making something together. 

Not sure what this has to do with anything?

My point is that all of the worker protections I mentioned (unions, workplace laws and regulations, 40hr work week, the weekend, OSHA) which we all take for granted today only came about because individuals in the workplace were not able to protect themselves. 

Again, replying to this: 

1 hour ago, Tyler Purcell said:

I think it's pretty safe assume that most humans have the ability to identify dangerous situations on their own.

Nobody here is talking about a dangerous hobby like skydiving where people willingly choose to take on the risk for fun. People don’t PA for fun, they’re there to work and learn. And they should have the expectation of not being put in harm’s way while at work. I don’t think this is a controversial statement at all...

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59 minutes ago, Matthew J. Walker said:

This is true. I have experience filming digitally at f/1.8 with focus peaking on and it was still difficult to maintain focus. You sort of have to do several takes regardless of whether or not you thought the take appeared sufficient. It may have appeared to be in focus on a seven inch monitor, yet when you begin editing you realize it isn't quite in focus. That's where the extra good takes come in handy. Then with film it becomes a different story. At the very least his camera will ned an HD video tap or some sort of homemade video tap. He can't control the lighting, therefore he must shoot wide open, especially if the street lamps are sodium vapor so he needs to worry about focus.

There’s quite a bit of depth of field with wide lenses in the Super 16 format.

On an 8mm lens @ f/1.2 (usually T1.3), pCAM says: 

Focus = 4’. DoF = 5’7” - 3’1”. 

Focus = 6’. DoF = 10’6” - 4’2”.

Focus = 10’. DoF = 35’5” - 5’10”.

That’s not too bad, as long as you don’t get closer than 3’. The Circle of Confusion for these calculations is 0.0005”. 

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2 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

Welcome to low budget filmmaking. 

What an asinine comment.

That is exactly the kind of thinking that gets people hurt. There is no shot that is worth risking injury or death to get. It was that attitude that got Sarah Jones killed, and expressing it here, under the guise of offering help, is highly irresponsible and offensive. I sincerely hope you are  not passing on such ridiculous advice to those poor unfortunates you have as “students”.

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17 minutes ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

There’s quite a bit of depth of field with wide lenses in the Super 16 format.

On an 8mm lens @ f/1.2 (usually T1.3), pCAM says: 

Focus = 4’. DoF = 5’7” - 3’1”. 

Focus = 6’. DoF = 10’6” - 4’2”.

Focus = 10’. DoF = 35’5” - 5’10”.

That’s not too bad, as long as you don’t get closer than 3’. The Circle of Confusion for these calculations is 0.0005”. 

Yeah that really isn't too bad. Most Steadicam shots are probably around, say, six feet from the actor. So a four foot depth of field actually gives a lot of room to play. More than one would have expected, or maybe just more than I would have expected. You also have to consider what lens is to be used. It is well known that modern glass is obviously very consistent as it's machine made whereas older lenses are handmade, so I suppose this would fall into what one would probably call lens theory. Sorry Joshua Silverlock if you haven't disowned this thread yet, we sort of hijacked your post, though It's in the best interest of your project I promise! 

*Ignores original post to read all of the overtly entertaining debates*

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