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Keeping It Small

  • March 15, 2010
  • Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Keeping It Small

I have been doing research on other sites recently and checking out the monster camera configurations that people are creating.  I question if that is the right path based on the two things attracted me to this camera; the filmic looking sensor and the size.

I saw one the other day that was bigger than the Genesis and that baby weighs in at 45-50 lbs in all. In  film the camera is huge and I have been in the mass moving business since I started in 1986.  The Canon 5D Mark II inspired me to throw out the mass and really break all the rules.

Man cam in minivan
Man cam in minivan with backpack on the floorboard
Studio hand held mode in Washington
Studio hand held mode in Washington
Studio hand held in Cambodia
Studio hand held in Cambodia
Motorcycle Stripper
Directors Mike McCoy and Scotty Waugh on Motorcycle Stripper
Man cam with DC-3 Flyover off the Horn of Africa
Rudy Harbon lensing with a Man cam with DC-3 Flyover off the Horn of Africa
Rigged stripper on diplomat's car in Phnom Penh
Rigged stripper on diplomat’s car in Phnom Penh

My camera is still very small for Studio hand held mode, Man Cam, and even smaller for Action Cam mode.  Keeping it simple is our motto at Hurlbut Visuals and one that the Elite Team members believe in as well.  What is the smallest, most compact set-up that delivers the story?

When I shot “Into the Blue,” I asked a lot of experienced cinematographers about their experience with shooting on water and what made them the most productive.  I listened to all of their advice and chose a hybrid route by using some of their ideas mixed with my own. When I discussed my plan, a few of the naysayers said that my set-up count would go down by 75%.  I was also told that Mother Nature would challenge us everyday. Unfortunately that would not be an option for us.  Our budget was tight at 53 million for 60 days of shooting topside and 99 days underwater. It seemed impossible to pull off the director’s vision.

So, we came up with a new master plan that we put into action.  Director John Stockwell loves to keep his crews small and intimate with the flexibility to change at a moments notice.  Having a large crew would not make this movie a reality, so what we opted for a very large camera pkg. that fit into one Catamaran. 45 people and one boat made the entire on the water sequences of the film.   If it was blowing hard and we could not go out, we tucked into a bay and shot to get the day.  Not a huge flotilla to navigate and anchor.  Just one camera boat, a picture boat and a few running support boats for divers and lunch.  We started at 28 set-ups the first day, and then ramped it up to about 35 to 40 a day.  This was ground breaking! But it was a very similar concept; lots of cameras ready in every configuration, small crew, small footprint. That equals speed, creativity, and the ability to capture serendipitous moments.

Our 10 1st Unit camera pkg. consisted of 1- Arri 535B on a 30’ Technocrane, 1- Arri 435 camera in a AquaCam housing on a 20’ Foxy crane that had a moving fulcrum to submerge the housing, 2- Arri 535B cameras in hand held mode, 2- Arri 535B cameras in Studio mode, 2- Arri III cameras in Underwater housings, 1- Arri 435 for slow-motion work, 1- Arri 535B on the Steadicam.  This was all on the deck of a 45’ x 14’ Cat, that had below storage bays, a head and two supercharged Honda 350 outboard motors that blasted this baby across the ocean at 25 knots fully loaded.

Big glass no gack
Rudy Harbon with big glass no gack

I am sharing this with you because it worked well. Now, it is your turn to make the decision for your shoot and it may have a variety of different solutions.  The same holds true for a smaller production. This camera can be huge. I chose to do it with glass but not with all the other gack.

There is one critical question to consider. Do I need to make the camera look like an impressive movie camera for me to be taken seriously?  The answer is NO!  If we are going to embrace this new technology, everything has to change.  The way we work will become more efficient; video village shrinks, people start to trust, re-invent, think out of the box, force their hands.  If we want to achieve this we all have to NOT function like it is business as usual or the camera will blow up to what I see on all the web sites. It is the monster of all monsters with cables, adapters, converters, switchers, battery packs, wireless transmitters, etc.

I worked on all the Navy spots without a video village because the agency watched the playback on my lighting monitor when the directors were happy with the performance and the shot.  If the agency wanted something different, we delivered it and then moved on.  The end result was increased productivity. What shows up on the screen increases in a cheaper, more eco friendly way.

Though it is not always possible, try to start with the simplest set-up and build from there. If you need an on-board monitor so that you can broadcast a signal, put it all into a backpack: an Anton Battery pack, MDR, video converter, cinetape, wireless video transmitter, or a hard line that comes directly out of your back, not near the camera.  Get another Marshall monitor with an Anton Battery back and run a hard line to the director first, then if you have to go wireless, again put it in the back pack. Just remember that adds time and things can fail, so the more you add the more it can go down.

Try out this idea, you go from Studio hand held mode to Man Cam by just plugging in cables to the camera, so you go onto a head where your back pack hangs on the dolly or your sticks.  If you need all this stuff, just don’t put it on the camera.  I would love to see your configurations that inspire and create.  Send some pictures!

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