Magazine article American Cinematographer

Shooting the Aerial Sequences for "Capricorn One"

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Shooting the Aerial Sequences for "Capricorn One"

Article excerpt

The unusual requirement of having to shoot a subject aircraft either straight forward or straight back required a very special camera mount

When John Carroll of Continental Camera Systems told me in early December that I would be needed on the crew of a new feature slated to start in January I was, of course, happy to again have a chance to work on a movie that was to require so much aerial photography. Little did I realize the enormity of the project that would be needed to accomplish what the director, Peter Hyams, wanted. Right away, though, I knew things were headed in the right direction when I was told I would again be part of the Number One aerial photographic team in the movie industry. David Jones, the world's top helicopter pilot, would be aerial coordinator and David Butler the aerial cameraman. These two have worked together for years and have turned out some of the most spectacular aerial sequences to date. The three of us had worked last year in the Philippines shooting the aerial sequences for the upcoming film "APOCALYPSE NOW". Because all three of us have the first name David, we have to call each other by our last names in order to avoid confusion. After Jones and Butler spoke with Peter Hyams about the last sequence of the film, they found that this was not going to be the normal type of aerial filming. The requirements that Peter put forth were that all shots of the subject aircraft were to be looking either straight forward or straight back, while flying through narrow canyons at anywhere from 70 to 130 mph. Now comes the question: "How to?" We, the three Davids, got together with Bob Nettmann, president of Continental Camera Systems, to discuss what to build and how to build it. We would, of course, be using the Continental helicopter mount because of its versatility and adaptability to different cameras, weights, and mountings, but first we had to know what type of aircraft we should use before we could build a frame to hold it. Mr. Jones and Mr. Butler decided it would be best to use a Hughes 500C because of its speed, maneuverability and the lack of horizontal stabilizers on the tail boom which could get in the shot when the camera was pointed backward. After some flight tests to check for weight and balance, Mr. Jones found that by flying from the right seat and bolting about 80 lbs. of lead to the right skid it would be possible to fly level and have plenty of control, with the entire camera mount and cameraman on the outside of the left door. Nobody had ever tried shooting like this before nor would they probably want to try. But it worked for us and would make it possible for Mr. Butler to do the intricate operating necessary for the film.

Now it was my turn to figure out what type of frame to build that could hold all this weight outside the aircraft. I used aluminum channeling and tubing because of its light weight and strength. With the help of Stan McClain a frame was constructed that would bolt to existing cargo tie-down points on the floor of the Hughes, then drop down outside to form a shelf on which to bolt the camera mount. The shelf was then braced from underneath the belly of the helicopter. Once bolted down, the entire frame became part of the helicopter and was capable of withstanding at least a half-ton of downward force.

Now we had to decide which camera to use. Normally we would have used a Panavision Arri 2C with a 50mm-500mm zoom because of its light weight and ease of loading, but because the Director of Photography, Bill Butler, wanted pin registration on the plate shots that would be done from the aerial rig, we decided to go with Panavision's Mitchell MK Il with 400' mags and the 50mm-500mm zoom ens.

Flight helmets became a must for the pilot and cameraman, not only for safety but to cut down on noise. Because the cameraman was outside, he used an oxygen mask like the type worn by jet fighter pilots. This not only protected his face from flying objects and the cold, but also helped to improve communications between himself and the pilot, because the noise from the wind rush had been almost eliminated. …

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