Hellooo, Dolly!

The sleek Eagle I in repose. For the money, this little dolly
will give you the ride of your life.

MOTIONCAM USA. As with most
of the MM staff, I’m not only in love with the moviemaking business,
I love the ingenuity inherent in the process itself. As I’ve said
in previous columns, I’m partial to a camera that moves in and
around the action–a style not always easy to come by for the budget-lite
producer. Steadicam operators can only get as high as they can
climb, and dolly and crane shots are time-consuming and unidirectional
or circular at best. These popular camera platforms, the mainstay
of the industry, have limitations. For directors with a penchant
for dramatic shots, MOTIONCAM USA, in Castaic, CA, (808) 295-0707,
has a unique alternative that allows your camera to go where it
hasn’t gone before.

The MOTIONCAM is a small, remote- controlled helicopter that looks
like a prop in a James Bond movie. But armed with a gyro- stabilized
35mm movie camera, this is one very clever concept. Scale model
remote-controlled helicopters have been around the movie business
for well over a decade. Usually they appear in front of the camera,
crashing into mountains or each other. MOTIONCAM’s tiny chopper
puts the camera aloft for an incredible bird’s eye view of the
action as a camera platform, not a prop.

A recent Ice T music video aired on MTV which featured some MOTIONCAM
shots through the windows of a highrise. Included in the video’s
final edit were shots of the MOTIONCAM copter hovering outside
the window looking in at Ice T and company.

The helicopter can carry a 25-pound payload
and the company offers several interchangeable camera mounts
(call for details). Most
customers opt for the MC 351 camera with a video assist which holds
a 200-foot daylight film spool. The MC 351 has a crystal sync motor
and can run from four to 64 frames per second forward or backward.
Lens mounts for the camera include BNC, PL, and NIKON. The airborne
time limit on this tiny titan is about 25 minutes per tank of gas.
A B&W video assist signal is microwave downlinked to a ground
monitor for the pilot, director, DP and camera operator to get
the shot; all functions of the MC 351 from aperture to zoom are
controlled remotely.

The MOTIONCAM platform can be rolled 360 degrees on its optical
axis, and pan and tilt functions add to the palette of achievable
shots.

With a top speed of 50 mph the helicopter can move the camera
along with most high- speed action shots, and for chase scenes
between tall buildings this should expand your possibilities.

Plan on spending about $5,000/day for this
pint-sized pilotless wonder, and while this may seem expensive,
consider using it for
your "money shot" and what it could do for your production
values. The cost of a real helicopter, stabilized mount, pilot,
and camera operator per day is staggering, not to mention the liability
risk and the hassle of acquiring permits to fly over congested
areas. The MOTIONCAM can take you downtown, and with a little room
it can even fly indoors. This is one piece of gear I can’t wait
to use on a production.

JBK Cinequipt. I have a couple of Arri S cameras that I
use a lot for music videos, shorts, etc. With the recent addition
of a TOBIN crystal sync motor to these tried and true cameras I
find I’m using them more than ever.

Since Arri no longer makes the ‘S’ cameras, finding accessories
(other than those originally offered by Arri,) is difficult, at
best. JBK Cinequipt in Tucson, AZ (520) 327-0913, sent me a catalog
of some of the nifty gadgets they manufacture, and although not
exclusively Arri-oriented, their product line offers a number of
items which increase the utility of my ‘S’ twins. Tilt plates,
quick-release camera plates, follow focus, hand- held support,
and a matte box holder for use with an Arri 6.6 matte box are just
a few of the items in their catalog.

They also offer a CCD eyepiece (B&W video tap) for 16 & 35
mm cameras that mounts onto the viewfinder port. Introductory price
is $890.00 and will undoubtedly be a big hit with low-budget feature
makers.These folks also specialize in the repair and servicing
of Mitchell and Arri 16 and 35 mm cameras.

FILMLOOK. Aspiring moviemakers often cut their teeth in
video, but the problem with this format, of course, is that shooting
anything in video still yields a video look–hard edged and soap
opera-like. Well folks, times are changing and advanced technologies
have created a way of processing high quality broadcast video so
as to look like, I hate to admit it…film.

I’ve been reading about companies for the last year or so that
are taking video and giving it a film look–that lush, emulsified
texture that separates cinema from daytime TV. I recently called
Robert Faber, president of FILMLOOK, Inc., in Burbank, CA (818)
841-3211, and asked for the scoop on their patented process. First
of all the type of video format you use is important. To yield
the best results, use a 3 CCD broadcast-quality camera. BetaCam
SP is a popular format and should yield beautiful results if normal
video levels are maintained with good exposure control during taping.
Use of 8mm/Hi-8, VHS/SVHS formats are not recommended. Any optical
filters that would be used for a film camera should also be used
during production, and use of the video camera’s high-speed shutter
should be avoided.

The process of giving videotape a film look is a videotape to
videotape digital transfer process. For ‘made for TV’ projects,
commercials, home video markets, or many projects with a high shooting
ratio, this definitely is a process worth considering. The cost
is a bit steep ($85.00/min. for the first 30 minutes, with a 10-minute
minimum) but the results are really quite startling. Not only do
you get instant dailies without the cost of processing and one-light
prints, but the editing process is quicker and should be far less
expensive than film editing.

The demo reel that Mr. Faber sent me made me a believer in the
medium. To see what FILMLOOK offers, watch The John Larroquette
Show. The show’s producers are committed to the process, and even
music giants like Prince, and The Rolling Stones are using FILMLOOK’s
processing in their latest music videos which, you guessed it,
were shot in video.

With a choice of 24 or 30 simulated film frames per second while
rendering your video- tape with film texture, film gray scale,
and color, the end product is almost like the high-priced spread.
For about $9,000.00 you can make your 90-minute video feature look
like film, and a shot at the lucrative video market might be on
the horizon. Transferring the end product to film will not yield
a film-quality product, however. If you want a film print you still
have to shoot in film.

I’ve already begun pre-production on a feature (to be shot in
BetaCam SP) in which I plan to use the film look process on the
final edit. Until I saw the FILMLOOK demo reel I wouldn’t have
considered this. Granted, my video feature will never see the big
screen, but the video stores are full of features that have never
seen a box office debut. Give FILMLOOK a call. It could help make
your feature a reality and even get you a studio deal. Stranger
things have happened.

FIRST LIGHT VIDEO PUBLISHING For those
of you who want tips from the pros on how to light, film, write,
direct or accomplish
about any task on a movie set, you can go to school, take seminars,
or call the folks at FIRST LIGHT VIDEO PUBLISHING, in Venice, CA.(310)
558-7891. They’ve got a catalog packed with how-to videos designed
for the avid moviemaker. They sent me the KODAK Cinematography
Master Class Series of videotapes to review and, in a word, they
were spectacular. I sat in awe at the set lighting brilliance of
Dean Semler (Dances with Wolves), and John Seale (Dead Poets Society)
as they recreate scenes from these movies and explain in great
detail their techniques for dealing with difficult lighting situations,
while maximizing the number of takes each shooting day. My favorite
in the series was ‘Shooting for Black & White with Allen Daviau
and Dennis Lenoir." Allen Daviau, who shot such greats as
The Color Purple, and Bugsy, shows in detail how the early masters
employed the tricks of the era in creating cinema masterpieces.
This entire series is about eight hours, and I found myself looking
at several of the tapes two and three times. They each contain
a wealth of information for the serious moviemaker, with 3-D computer
animation used to illustrate the techniques employed by these masters
of the craft.

In addition to the 30-plus page catalog of "how to" tapes
for moviemakers, the folks at FIRST LIGHT also represent the AKELA
and LOUMA cranes. I’m a great fan of both of these cranes. The
AKELA can reach out to 85′ with a 100-pound nose load. The LOUMA
crane features automatic backpan compensation (SMARTPAN) which
pans the head in the opposite direction of the crane arm movement.
This keeps the framing on one point as the arm swings left and
right, resulting in smooth crane pans without an operator having
to manually pan the camera as the crane arm swings. You can rent
a LOUMA crane system for about $4,000 per week, and with its 25-foot
arm you can capture a lot of action (including reversals) with
a single camera setup. This rig can really save you money and time
if properly used.

TROVATO MFG., INC.: My old friend Joe Trovato (TROVATO
JIBS) has been busy at his Rochester, NY, based company, (716)
244-3310. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday this guy got an Academy
Award for special achievement in the movie industry. Sure he makes
some of the best JIB ARMS around, but he continually keeps refining
and adding to his product line. Brand new is a PEDESTAL which can
be dolly-mounted or placed on his newly-designed STUDIO BASE. Designed
to accommodate his jib arm line-up, this is a beefy steel pedestal
which, like all of the TROVATO products, is beautifully crafted
at an affordable price.

Joe has also come up with a basic HI HAT and a MITCHELL LOW HI-HAT
which are also affordably priced and superbly manufactured.

For those of you requiring heavy duty precision jib arms, Trovato
manufactures the QUATTRO series JIBS with MITCHELL RECEIVER HEAD.
The QUATTROs will handle just about any camera and are designed
for the rigors of repeated use on feature films.

I talk to Joe about once a month by phone and am always impressed
at how dedicated he is to finding simple and exquisite solutions
to camera platform problems. When he finds a void in the platform
market he works out an engineering solution. Such is the case with
his new TROVATO CAM JIB, which is designed to handle nose loads
of 50 pounds. As always, TROVATO will make custom jib arm lengths
for a nominal charge. If you see a void in the camera platform
market, call Joe. This guy and his company are truly amazing.

Until next time…stay in focus. MM

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