Remember that time when you were filming, and some moron forgot to bring the important thing that the other important thing won’t work properly without? Me too. Sometimes I’m that moron. Sometimes it’s not your mistake, but you’ve got to solve the issue. Here’s a few stories of how we’ve worked around these challenges on-set.

In pre-production, everything is all rosy and beautiful. Every piece of gear works perfectly, cables function flawlessly, and batteries last for hours. “Yeah, that shot setup is no problem, I could build that rig in my sleep.” Once you arrive on set, reality bites. Tripod screws and plates vanish into the ether. Cables commit harakiri. You quickly burn through your camera and accessory batteries, only to find that someone forgot to charge the spares. You forgot to bring an essential screwdriver, or TSA confiscated it before your flight last night. Shit happens. And when it does, and you’re burning through your shoot day, you have to suck it up and find a way to get the shot.

#1 – It’s a Bird, it’s a Plane, it’s Zuperman!
On this project, I was brought in to shoot Steadicam for a live stage event. The client had also hired a crane operator to get some over-crowd shots. Due to a miscommunication between the crane op and whoever was providing the camera package, the crane operator didn’t have the appropriate remote zoom/focus controller for the EX3 camera. He did have a spare external zoom motor and gear, but it had the wrong size rod to mount to his baseplate. He could make sweeping crane moves with the lens at pre-set focus, but had no way to pull off complex compound moves with the zoom motor, or even change focal lengths without docking the crane and making a manual adjustment. This wasn’t really my issue, but during a break at the event, I started digging through my gear bags to try to find a way to help this dude out. After a little trial and error, here’s what we came up with.

It’s ugly as hell, but it worked. Here’s what you’re looking at; I screwed a Zacuto Gorilla Plate underneath the back of his camera baseplate, and then hung a Zamerican arm from the 15mm port in the plate. On the other end of the Zamerican arm is a Zaffer, which is basically just a Bogen Manfrotto Superclamp with a 15mm Zicromount attached to it. The Zaffer is clamped around the zoom motor arm, holding the zoom gear in place below the lens. We then held everything tight to the lens using a zip tie. Like I said, it looks terrible, but it allowed him to change focal lengths and limp throughout the rest of the shoot. There’s a case for carrying spare arms and grip bits.

#2 – The Case of the Missing KinoFlo Parts
We had a sit-down interview shoot scheduled with a prominent Congressman in his Washington, DC office, and about 30-45 minutes of setup time scheduled before he was to arrive. I called ahead to the rental house a week in advance, reserving two daylight balanced KinoFlo fixtures, stands, stingers, and two tripods. I would fly with the camera package (2x DSLRs), and also my Road Rags diffusion and modifiers kit. We flew in the night prior to the shoot, picked up our rental items first thing in the morning, and went straight to the Congressman’s office. As our soundie was setting up his boom and audio gear, I built cameras and started to light the set. Our producer paced around nervously. This was a crucial interview piece we needed for a larger project, and it was a sensitive subject. We needed to be on-point.

As I grabbed a Kino Flo fixture to attach it to the c-stand, I realized in a flash of horror that we had an issue. The Kino didn’t have any parts that would attach to my standard C-stands. Normally you’d have some way to attach the Kino to a stand, either with what’s called a lollipop (which you then secure in a gobo/grip head), or they have a lollipop with standard receiver for a baby head. These Kinos just had the curved part that grip the lollipop, nothing that would interface with our stands. I had overlooked this issue when I quickly checked the kit at the rental house. Meanwhile my producer is still pacing, and the secretary sticks her head in to let us know that the Congressman is on his way. So we had to find a way to get the Kinos on the stands. Here’s a few pics that show how we rigged the fixtures directly to the c-stands.

As you can see, I was able to clamp the fixtures directly to one of the stand stages. It wasn’t super-secure, but it held. This kept me from placing the lights exactly how I would have preferred, but at least now we had lights. I was limited in how I could place my key light, but the Road Rags and Mini Grip Kit allowed me to angle my diffusion and shape & flag the key light nicely. The end result (frame grab above) turned out well, and we nailed the interview content we needed.

#3 – Inversion Therapy
A client hired me to shoot a couple VFX plates. It was a very straightforward shoot…they needed two shots of a 1980′s era cabinet-style television. The kind that sits on the floor. They needed one long dolly push shot in towards the screen, and one lateral slide parallel to the screen. There were of course lots of little details with the location and set-dressing, but that was the crux of this project. My client wanted to use their dolly for the shots, and I would be providing the camera package, lenses and accessories. The camera package was a Sony FS100 with my Zeiss Contax prime lens set. They provided an Indie Dolly, one of those skateboard-type dolly setups, with a portable lightweight track system. It’s a pretty solid dolly system, and the way you get the camera onto the dolly is to put a tripod on the dolly, one leg in each of the dolly’s three arms. I brought my tripod, and also brought along some appleboxes, in case we needed to get low and strap the camera directly to the dolly platform. I neglected, however, to bring straps.

On the day of the shoot while building our dolly, we determined that the lens height needed to be at around 19.5 inches. This was so that we could center the lens height on the middle of the television screen. 19.5″ happens to be far below the lowest height of my tripod, once it was mounted on the dolly. We could have gotten to 19″ with appleboxes, but some moron forgot the tie-down straps! And we had to have straps, since this dolly has a freaking bolt head right smack-dab in the center of the platform. After mulling over this challenge for a bit, I decided to try inverting my tripod head. The tripod was a Libec RS-350 with a 75mm ball head. I hung the ball head upside down between the legs, and tightened down the screw from the top of the ball. After hanging the camera upside down, I was surprised to find that it was quite solid!

There was no way to pan the head, but these were simple lock-off shots so that wasn’t a concern. To level the head, we had to get creative with the length of each tripod leg, but after some careful adjustments we were in business. I ran some rods out the back of my FS100 baseplate, and used a short Zamerican arm to suspend a SmallHD DP6 monitor, and then a short Letus articulating arm to attach a Atomos Ninja recorder to the SmallHD monitor. This is a slightly ridiculous stack of gear, and HDMI cables were all over the place…but it worked. The SmallHD has an option to flip the image, so we were able to monitor right-side-up, and we would simply have to flip the image in post. Most importantly, we were able to get our shots without busting our shoot day. Here’s a few more behind the scenes pics of this setup.

What are some issues you’ve run into on-set, and how did you creatively solve them?


2 Responses to “Necessity is the Mother of Invention (or, Whoops, We Forgot Something)”  

  1. 1 Arthur

    Great solutions; it’s always good to see how people work around issues that come up during shoots

  2. 2 Evan Luzi

    It’s almost guaranteed that something like this happens on every shoot. Like Arthur said, it’s interesting to see how others work around the issues. It also gives me a few more tricks in my bag should a similar problem crop up — especially the low-hanging tripod!

    Good article, Matt.