Magazine article American Cinematographer

Steadicam Goes Creative on Low Budget

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Steadicam Goes Creative on Low Budget

Article excerpt

Written and produced by Roy Frumkes

Directed by Jim Muro

Director of photography, David Spearling

Street Trash is a low budget feature shot mostly in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Sixty per cent of the locations were hellish mid-July exteriors at a junkyard. We shot for 14 weeks, two of which were nights. In the course of it we totally disrupted the wrecking yard's business, ran out of money twice, lost every friend we ever had (including each other), and were lucky to have lived through it.

It's a pleasant yarn about two orphans running from the cops, themselves, the mob, drugs, and a crazed veteran and his merry band of militant winos. It also involves a case of polluted booze that causes the unsuspecting bums to melt if they drink it.

There is a myth that the Steadicam is strictly for use in big budget films. The use of Steadicam on Street Trash refutes this theory, as this picture is very close to being the perfect production situation for the use of the device as a creative tool. From a purely directorial standpoint, any time I wanted to move the camera I could - and quite easily, at that. It was terrifically personal, and spontaneous as well as precise.

Each production situation is unique, but a producer always must understand where his bucks are going. As most everyone is aware or has learned the hard way, Steadicam requires a skilled operator. Yet, I've been asked countless times to double up on jobs just to save a few dollars. This might save some money, but actually there just isn't enough time for the Steadicam operator to be fiddling with sashcord or meters. The rig is a complex thing. A shot is a complex thing. A good operator is constantly tweaking his machine, working out his steps to the best possible conditions. There is no easy shot. Steadicam is problem solving, and every time it's up to bat there are new conditions, even from take to take. The delicate balance of the machine is such that "trim" is thrown off when film feeds from side to side in a coaxial magazine, and even a gust of wind can throw a shot into the handheld category.

We promised the producers higher production value via fluid moving shots. There were prolific budgetary problems to look into.

Generally, our camera package consisted of an Arriflex BL and a 2C. Mostly, the 2C remained on the Steadicam. Sometimes, when we needed second camera coverage, I would shoot with the rig hanging on a light stand (as opposed to the Steadicam arm). The Steadicam gimbal fits right over the studded portion of a Lowel lightweight stand, with enough room between the sled and the stand to facilitate panning and tilting. Thus we could avoid breaking down the rig for a quick tripod setup.

When it was necessary to use the BL on the Steadicam, it was worked into the schedule to be economical regarding camera down time.

The 2C, being lightweight, is perfect for the Steadicam. The heavier the camera, the more sluggish it becomes. The 2C we had was suitably outfitted for low mode, which places the camera in an underslung position. This achieves what we in New York call a "roach's-eye view." It's about the gassiest thing that can be done with this machine. In Street Trash we shot a 6fps scene wherein the camera races through a terrain of junk to reveal a melting wino's head still struggling. The first time we tried it, I creamed the video tap when moving through a door. It was Sunday, so we ended up bagging the shot till I could get the tap serviced. The second time took eight hours to set up and execute.

Another budgetary concern was the amount of dubbing and slugging necessary to complete the sound track due to use of our 2C, a synched but unblimped camera. Approximately 40% of Street Trash was shot silent. Screams and even entire lines of dialogue were laid in. Possibly in the near future, a lighter weight, less expensive bumped camera will change this situation forever. Fortunately, the cutting crew did a better job with the sound than I could have hoped for. …

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