Magazine article American Cinematographer

Mitchell Insert Systems CAMERA CAR

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Mitchell Insert Systems CAMERA CAR

Article excerpt

In the past few years there has been a rash of behind the scenes accidents on several Hollywood productions, and the outcry from press and politicians has been loud and far-reaching. This is not to say that moviemakers have traditionally disregarded safety precautions when planning their films-but there has been a tendency to regard the socalled "freak" accidents as, in the words of stuntman Bob Rose, "the breaks of the game."

These recent tragedies have made it all too clear that even the best planning can be inadequate, and along with the hue and cry from outside the industry, there has been a growing concern among the people who work in movies and television that something more must be done to safeguard the lives of film crews.

One of the manifestations of this concern is the camera car designed and built by Mitchell Insert Systems, Inc. It is, according to its owners, the first insert car to be built completely from scratch, and it was planned with an eye" to creating a vehicle that would combine workability with builtin safety features.

The MISI-I, as the car is known, has seen service on four features and a number of commercials since it was first introduced in January, 1982, and the reports have been positive. It has more than met the expectations of Brianne Murphy, ASC, who is most directly responsible for the new camera car, but who modestly steps back when asked about it.

"Visually, it speaks for itself," she says, "and for me to say anything else would be to knock the competition. We've used the other cars for years, and they're good-it's just that it's time to make these vehicles safer."

Warner Brothers production manager Robert Grand, who recommended using the Mitchell Insert car on NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION, is less reserved: "I thought it was the best camera car I'd ever seen. The safety features have been needed for a long time, and this is the first car built from the ground up with the idea of using it for making movies. I'd compare it with the Panavision cameras that revolutionized cinematography. I think it's great."

Victor Kemper, ASC, who shot VACATION, is equally pleased: "We gave it a hell of a beating, and it really did great. I liked it a lot."

The idea for the car grew directly from two camera car incidents-one tragic, and one nearly so. In 1980 Brianne Murphy was to be the director of photography on the BREAKING AWAY television series, and she wanted to take camera assistant Rodney Mitchell with her to the Georgia location.

"Ordinarily I wouldn't be able to take someone from Hollywood, but because we were going to be shooting in the South I thought it was important to have a black on the crew, and the Chicago local agreed. I called Rodney and told him about the job, and he was really pleased. He'd been working on "Dukes of Hazzard," and he wanted the change. He said, This job is killing me.'"

"The next morning he told everyone that it was going to be his last day on 'Dukes'-and then the accident happened." The camera car in which he was riding overturned, and Rodney Mitchell was killed.

Later, when she was shooting BREAKING AWAY in Georgia, there was a near miss when the two stars of the series were riding their bikes. The cameras, mounted on the front of the car they were using, obscured the driver's view, and he had trouble seeing what was going on in front.

"The boys were playing around, and Sean Cassidy fell off his bike. We were so close-there wasn't time to do any more than yell out to the driver. He managed to stop-but it was a matter of inches, and we could have killed Sean Cassidy."

Because of her close association with Rodney Mitchell (Mitchell Insert Systems, Inc. is named in his memory), and because of the close call on BREAKING AWAY, Brianne Murphy began to think about building a safer camera car.

"I remember thinking when Sean -went down that it would have been good if the driver had had a periscope-and that led to the video surveillance camera that we built into the car-but our other consideration was to lower the center of gravity to try to eliminate the possibility of the car's tipping over. …

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