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Medical / Surgical Production

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Ben Read
Medical / Surgical Production
on Apr 20, 2006 at 10:32:48 pm

I have a client that I've done some work with, but I've never shot video in a surgerical suite. They're looking for a proposal on a video that includes shooting in that environment and I'm not sure of the requirements. I've seen a million reality shows that include surgery footage so I know it's not out of the question, but where do I start on filming surgery?

There are the standard requirements (releases specifically), but what considerations should I make to accomodate this setting? Does equipment have to be prepared in a certain manner to enter the operating room? Can additional equipment be brought in? Is there any kind of specific insurance needed to film in this setting? What legal hoops are there to jump through? Should I be prepared to have the hospital flat-out refuse this request? Should I look at hiring a videographer that has shot in this environment before?

I really appreciate any feedback you have. This might not be a common request (didn't see any postings here or in other forums), but I hope this helps others as well.

Ben Read

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Jon Zanone
Re: Medical / Surgical Production
on Apr 21, 2006 at 11:31:01 am

There will be patient privacy issues. If you find a doctor who has done this before, you're in luck. You'll need at least a month of lead time. The doctor can talk to the patient, get their buy in and possibly sign a release.

You'll want to talk the OR staff, and find out what they want to do with your camera. Many times, they'll put a surgical blanket or something similiar. You'll also need to position yourself where you are out of the way, or have a REALLY good relationship with the surgeon. They'll want to know where you are, where you intend to go (and may put limits on you) - again, if you find a doc who has worked with a crew before, that's better.

Make sure everyone is on the same page. The hospital staff is most concerned with the health and safety of the patient (rightly so). If possible, observe the same operation (performed by the same surgeon) before you actually start taping.

That's all I can think of on limited coffee...


"The Almighty tells me He can get me out of this mess. But He's pretty sure you're F%$#*D!"

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mark Suszko
Re: Medical / Surgical Production
on Apr 21, 2006 at 10:39:24 pm

There are many technical things to consider. I've only been in these once or twice, but

number ONE is you must stay out of the way of the doctors and nurses, and CANNOT violate the "surgical field", that is, imagine an invisible column stretching vertically from the area they are cutting in, all the way to the roof. You cannot "fly" anything into that "airspace" that might let so much as a dust speck float down into the patient. thi makes lal the camera angles problematic, as you can never get the lens 90-degrees flat onto anything. You may have to shoot from a stepladder to see anything! And that makes it hard to shoot really tight closeups without shaking.

Often the OR requires all items be sterilized, and many cameras cannot be, so they must be swathed in plastic baggies and the like.

Purpose built medical TV cams have made allowances for most of these things, have the right lenses for getting the shot, and are easy to keep sterile. They may even have mounting booms built into the OR for them.

Sometimes oxygen and other explosive anaesthetic gasses are present, so nothing that can spark is allowed, your cables need to be sealed, lighting gear may be forbidden.

Powerful magnetic fields are sometimes present with the use of certain imagers/scanners. These can throw off your picture or sound.

Lighting is really tricky: not only white balance, but the intensity of surgical lights creates an effect where everything else is over-dark but the lit site when you iris down enough to see that site.

Audio may or may not be an issue; depends what the doc is trying to accomplish, and if legal regs disallow audio recordring as potential later evidence of malpractice.

That's just off the top of MY head:-)

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The Matt Hall
Re: Medical / Surgical Production
on Apr 24, 2006 at 4:34:48 pm

One other thing to think about for shooting surgery - what gear to bring depends on what the procedure is. If it's an open surgery you may need to get a shot from above - maybe you need either a crane or a mirror (must be approved by the OR staff of course as it gets in their field). Or if it's a laprascopic surgery maybe you need to bring a deck to record the feed off their laproscopic camera. Also find out how long the surgery will take, to know how much tape stock and batteries to bring. Also think about how the editor will know what they are looking at if you have multiple cameras. I usually have the sound (the surgeon narrating the procedure) sent to all cameras and decks and use that to synchronize the clips.

Good luck,


Matt Hall
Editing, Animation, and Design.

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Mike Cohen
Re: Medical / Surgical Production
on Jun 21, 2006 at 5:43:59 pm

It helps to have a general idea what you are going to be looking at. Having worked in surgical video for 13 years, at first I didn't know what I was looking at. Now I do a little research before a shoot, so I may be able to anticipate something in the surgery. After a while you see a particular instrument come in, and you know what is going to happen next, thus your shot or angle needs to change.
Establish a rapport with the nurses as soon as possible - they will be able to help you position lights and find you step stools. A good rapport with the surgeon helps, so when you ask him to move his head out of the way he doesn't bite your head off!
Or hire me!


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