Getting older, making life easier
I'm getting old.
Like it or not, I will hit the big 5-0 next year and will have been doing basically what I'm doing for half my life. I still love what I'm doing, but I've gradually discovered I don't like the way that I do it any more.
When I was younger and had more energy and enthusiasm I was a sucker for equipment and gear... the bigger, badder, and heavier the better. Even just five years or so ago (aside from the great images) one of the silly things I loved about our then-new camera rig was that it just looked so badass... big and black and heavy and intimidating and just looked impressive on a set or on location (I loved shooting 35mm, too...still do... even though the camera bodies are practically made of cast iron).
It didn't bother me at all that our new "lightweight" camera weighed north of 25 pounds when fully rigged.
It bothers me now.
I've finally realized that every production doesn't require a grip truck full of enough gear to produce a feature film. I think I used to believe that, but it doesn't.
We're a tiny company. Usually there are only three of us on a location crew, and while I always direct, DP, and camera op... I lug my share of heavy gear myself as well. I'm tired of doing that, and definitely don't do my best work when I'm physically worn out.
I've made a third-quarter resolution to go lighter, easier, and leaner-and-meaner. My goal is "less is more," and strive to create the same (or better) quality productions in an easier and more nimble way. I'm really tied of loading and unloading heavy gear... and while our place is in a decent-enough neighborhood, it is metro downtown and we don't feel comfortable leaving gear loaded overnight (and our studio is usually too full and cluttered to drive inside onto the stage), so there's a lot of loading and unloading for location shoots.
My probably overly-ambitious goal is to get the size, weight, and volume of our production equipment down to a third of what it is now.
We're taking baby steps. The first one is to move to the Canon C300PL, which should be delivered any day now. The body on this camera weighs less than the battery on the camera I'm hauling now. Of course when rigged out that weight will grow, but it will still be far less than the anvil I carry now.
This camera is much more light sensitive. I think I can still effect good and interesting lighting without a dozen heavy instruments and dragging HMI ballasts around. I can foresee using LEDs a lot.
Support equipment will get lighter, too. I love my Oconnor tripods, but the head alone on the one I use the most weighs 15 pounds. I can get away with less now.
We've sold our crab dolly. It weighed 660lbs. And it could lift an engine block (no exaggeration). No one needs to do that any more, there are much easier options (I've become a big fan of lightweight sliders).
I've been taking mental inventory when going on shoots for a while. "Do we need a boatload of heavy C-stands?... or can we take just four? Are those heavy junior stands even gonna leave the truck? Do I need four Hollywood frames?... when's the last time I used more than one? Do I know I want a crane shot?...or can I leave the jib at home?" At the same time I don't want to cut myself short, with that "Man, I'm wishing I'd brought...."
So... just curious... is anyone else doing what I'm doing, trying to get lighter and more nimble? I find myself fighting the "We've always done it this way, it's supposed to be like this to do it right" mentality with myself.
And... anybody doing anything else to make production life easier that I haven't thought of?
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Hire more interns?
OK, more serious answer; I'm lobbying for 2 pieces of gear that might make life easier for me. One is a heavy duty Sachtler monopod with the standard betacam type quick-release plate on it. I do a lot of ENG work as well as even type work where the camera has tow ander a large trade show floor or a ballroom or a large factory floor, and I wanted the additionl stability of a tripod, without the bulk and weight to haul around.
I'm also asking santa for an LED-based multicolor PAR can light that has built-in DMX mixing controls. This is mostly for splashing color on walls and accenting small areas and never again begging for some new gels. The things are darned cheap at Markertek.
Something else we're exploring is sending our footage long distance over bonded 3g wireless from the field. Basically an uplink truck in a box you clip to the camera battery. This is for getting the shot back to the shop hours earlier than driving it back, even going live from the field when desirable.
I will resist the DSLR trend as long as I can. I LIKE the shoulder-cam form factor and I like a camera that is "all there" and not a science fair erector set project full of flakey add-ons and hacks that's like an IKEA assembly nightmare, every time you take it out. And Japan is listening: more and more cameras are coming out with DSLR sensor type funcionality in a shoulder-able form factor, with proper audio inputs and etc.
Hate to say it man, but as somebody with 50 already in the rear view mirror, and some education in physiology, one reason why stuff feels heavier is that we're getting weaker.
Lighter gear will help, but strengthening your core will help a lot too. I'm a big fan of squats and deadlifts with lightweights, but have also found that stretching, all by itself, makes a big difference. Even if your job mostly involves sitting in a chair.
I'm just saying.
Vice President, Editor-in-Chief
Wow, I used to sit all day riding Elemack dollies but I don't think I've seen one for 15 years, or an O'Connor 100 for that matter. I come from the days of low ASA and grew up with big ass lights but now the brightest fresnels I take are 650s unless I think I will be throwing background patterns. Also, even though you have the C300 which will be great in low light, there is such a demand from clients for a more natural look, our training of highly stylized production lighting is now outdated, so you are right to pare down. Unless you are creating moon light on a night exterior I can't imagine even needing junior stands and what they support. It's a shame you can't just drive into your space because the unloading after a long day is such a drag and crew are often in OT. Perhaps that's where you start, downsize the truck, I imagine you're in a 4 ton? Go to a cargo van with a rack and don't accept passengers.
From what I gather you are more into spots and that's an end of the biz unfortunately where clients expect a lot of gear for any contingency. I used to have full size Chevy cargo vans, then went to an Astro, then a Suburban and now I am in a minivan (that holds more than a Tahoe or Pilot). Also, I drive alone and use the cargo rack sometimes. I never thought I could squeeze into something so small but it is configured as a puzzle and if necessary I will have crew members meet me at my place and put some gear in their car. Reducing the size of my vehicles, (and when the airlines cracked down on weight and excess baggage), that's what got me started. My point is, necessity is the Mother of Invention so a smaller vehicle makes you adapt, like RVing. I will query the client a lot about what to expect and that way I don't have to "load for bear" like I was trained to do.
I am older than you so I have made a fetish over miniaturization and reduced weight. For instance, although I have C-Stands I only bring them out if I know there will be situations that require their unique characteristics, otherwise I just throw loose arms and gobo heads in the stand bags and make instant C-Stands on location. I have a dozen shot bags but usually now bring just one or two for safety, their needs are met by using heavy tool bags, etc. as ballast. I no longer bring lots of rolls of gels and such, instead I have pre-cut squares. I used to pack large Pelican cases and now I have moved to tight fitting cloth cases to save space (the crew knows better than to drop or throw my gear) and I use Pelicans only for air travel. My dolly is 12 pounds and sets up on PVC pipe in 30 seconds, better than the sliders. So there are a zillion ways to save space and weight. Another weight loss trick: I use a Kino Flo Diva light with interchangeable daylight bulbs for all my talking heads so...NO MORE HMIS FOR INTERVIEWS! I have a zillion more... Nowadays I like to think of myself as a lean and super efficient operator, I can work quicker. By being lean and mean I give the editor a LOT more set ups and focal lengths than they are used to which makes them and the clients happy. So you reducing size and weight will really help in other ways besides saving your back.
My two cents: Besides my on camera LED I am not a fan of them so far, except they last longer on batteries...
That sounds a lot like what I'm trying to do, and we're getting there.
It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks, though. For example, I LOVE daylight lighting and it would be awfully hard for me to give up HMIs completely. I'm trying to learn to pare it down though, and ask a good strong "Will I really need this today?" before every load out.
Ned didn't sound like a fan of the sliders, but I find them easier and faster as I have begun to use them more. We rarely used our BigAss9000 crab dolly (it actually was a McAlister, similar to the Fisher10 but about 50% heavier), so I won't miss it. We also have skateboard-wheel deck and spider dollys that we can use... yeah I use PVC pipe too and even built a jig where I could heat/bend PVC to make my own perfect curved track (a lot harder than one might think at first). But still I've found that 95% of the time I can get away with a slider move which, at least to me, is much easier/faster/lighter to set up.
It's hard to give up the C-stands, too, so versitile although heavy... so my goal is to carry fewer of them. Although just today I was on location and had brought one fewer C-stand than I actually needed and was grumbling at my mis-estimate.
It's a learning process for sure.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Had an idea....Ask a younger, highly experienced, DSLR DP, who grew up on only small everything, someone who is a friend or freelancer you use, give him a clipboard and a beer and ask him to go through your studio and write a list of what he thinks you should put on Ebay and Craigslist. I suggest this because it is very hard for you to part with items that that made a lot of profit in the past, have strong positive memories of shoots and good times, items you worked hard to save for, and maybe, just maybe you may need sometime. The young DP who came up in the biz lean with high ISO will look around and see museum pieces.
I know this will work because I married a woman who never wants to get rid of stuff because she may need it. Plus the longer you keep old gear the less you can get for it. I have gotten rid of anything I haven't used in a couple of years. It helped that we downsized our house when we became empty nesters, like the downsizing of my van, the garage space forced me to miniaturize.
[Ned Miller] "Ask a younger, highly experienced, DSLR DP, who grew up on only small everything, someone who is a friend or freelancer you use, give him a clipboard and a beer and ask him to go through your studio and write a list of what he thinks you should put on Ebay and Craigslist."
Good idea. Except in my case the one young fellow like that I know (well, the one who is really good and I really trust)... well every time he comes to our place he'll spy some piece of gear and say "Oh man, I need one of those!" He might have the opposite effect...ha. Good idea, though.
[Ned Miller] "Plus the longer you keep old gear the less you can get for it."
Ain't that the truth. Since I plan to be downsizing my principal camera rig I went looking today to see what I could get for my P+S Technik lens converter, which we wouldn't be needing anymore. It was a little disheartening to see them going for $1300 on eBay... when we bought it for ten times that much. Ah, such is life though, and it at least has paid for itself many times over. Our 35mm cameras are worth a fraction of what they once were, too. So's our Steadicam, as people don't need to fly heavy cameras anymore. Now I'm just depressing myself. At least the primes keep appreciating, but that's about it.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Big "me too" on everything in this thread.
Here's the core of the modest wisdom I've accumulated over the past 5 years or so.
I thoroughly embraced DSLR. Like it or not, it's 80% of the image quality at 15% of the cost and weight. It requires more concentration to shoot double system, and it's a hassle to run and gun with, but I'm really tired of depreciating expensive gear - A $3500 - $4k DSLR with lens can be covered on a few decent sized jobs and then it's returning significant profit every time you take it out. Rigs north of $10K and even more north of $50k simply have to go out to earn their keep very regularly to make economic sense - while that DSLR can sit for 6 weeks while I'm doing a complex edit and I don't feel like I'm leaking value hour by hour.
When I moved to the DSLR, I started matching everything else to it. I went through four different tripods. each progressively lighter weight - until I figured out a new system for camera rigging that works for me. I move my camera differently now then I did 5 years ago since I'm no longer runing a 30lb camera on a 20 lb tripod/head. It's easier to slap the DSLR on a slider or on a small pan/tilt head on a tall stand and execute a sweeping panorama inside a retail store. I simply couldn't do that with my prior cameras.
I'm using LEDs and fluorescents for most of my location lighting now, primarily because with a fast lens, the DSLR is light efficient that I'm mostly just splashing fill on people or for area attention, not actually illluminating the scene since the DSLR's chip can produce a damn good basic picture in nearly any type of existing light.
Grip is still important, even critical. But I'm leaving, for example, my large C-stands, Grip arms, and Mathews cloth flags behind and using smaller roller stands with lightweight arms and foam-core for flagging.
Nearly everything I take into the field is selected for weight efficiency. I have 3 Bogen stacker stands that are really small, but can still hold a 600 light LED with a V mount battery and be stuck anywhere in 5 seconds. That means all the stingers and power stuff stays behind as well.
I invested in a really a nice Kata Roller coffin bag a few months back that now holds 2 600s and a 100 LED panels for keys and rim, it also holds an a Arri 150 as a shapable highlight, one or two Lowel Totas for broad area fill, a few stingers for the tungsten stuff - the stacker stands, my Marshall Monitor and all my wireless and wired audio in one wheeled bag. One Pelican 1650 protects the camera. One long zipper bag has the tripod, slider, and some misc grip stuff.
That's about it for a typical location shoot for me these days. 3 bags, total weight for all three is probably 70 lbs fully packed.
Is it perfect? Nope. But with just this I can usually get pretty damn good broadcast quality shots from anywhere - and I don't break a sweat on load in or load out.
Sometimes I miss having more gear for when those "special circumstances" come up. But I can usually make things work and get a darn good picture even if it's not as "perfect" as I'd like.
I simply have to accept that because it's harder and harder to find clients who are interested in paying for "perfect." Instead, they're delirious with 70% quality at 40% of the price.
The trick is to work hard to NET more on the smaller gross than I was when I earned 3 times the money, but was spreading it over a 6 person crew and a week of studio post overhead.
For me, what's critical is the ability to expand and contract my operations to match the job at hand.
I have to be able to scale up or down rapidly. Both with people and gear. Thats why I'm still hanging on to more of the "old" gear than I'd like. I want to be prepared if the boats start rising.
But the past years has definitely been more "mobility" than "fixed base" oriented. So my kit has changed accordingly.
I've even done a little fantasizing about tricking out a small RV as a self-contained mobile edit studio for the new era. We'll see about that over time.
I'm still holding onto my haybarn conversion private studio for now. But there's more dust on my small forrest of C-stands then before. And I expect my trend to smaller, lighter and easier to schlepp, to continue.
For what it's worth.
"Before speaking out ask yourself whether your words are true, whether they are respectful and whether they are needed in our civil discussions."-Justice O'Connor
oh, shut up you old whiney babies. I am 56 years old, and will be 57 in January. Do you think I like lifting up 80 pound APC UPS, and 16 bay drive arrays by myself. Do you think I like running cables thru the ceiling, getting fibreglass in my lungs? You just keep doing it - you keep making money, try to live a nice life, and one day, on the set, on the job, you will keel over and die. Your wife will inherit your money, marry a guy 20 years younger, who will live off your hard earnings. That's what happens, and everyone will say "boy Todd was a great guy, wasn't he ?"
Bob - when you look down your family tree have you found any that came from Yorkshire?
"you try to tell the young people of today about that, and they won't believe you". Is the end line of this very funny video. But it's true.
I have always loved Monty Python, and their smart ass humor. I try to emulate this in my smart ass posts on Creative Cow (often to the horror of many readers, that are truly insulted by my comments).
So as I watched this very very funny video, it showed a group of men who were successful, relating how they worked their way up from "licking the road with broken glass", and "living in a shoe box with 150 other people". While it was hysterically funny, there are many people, including me, that came from very financially poor backgrounds, and worked their way up (and continue to work hard) and perhaps that turns them into curmudgeons, but when you know that you can succeed if you work hard - even if you had to go thru the events described in this video - then you ultimately sit around smoking your cigar, eating caviar, while making fun of others.
Thanks for posting this.
I love Python, and I particularly love this sketch for similar reasons to you.
As much as I can hear my Dad (and Grandads) in the sketch, I know it is true!
Now this is what I'm talking about... the new C300PL finally arrived late Friday. Here is is dwarfed by the 24lb beast I usually wag around every day...
Of course it will get bigger when tricked out with the things it needs to be a day-to-day workhorse, but will still be a fraction of the size/weight I'm used to.
What little I was able to play with it this weekend, I'm inclined to already give it my "phenominal" label. What I'm most stunned with are its low-light capabilities, which are nothing short of amazing... so I think my days of lugging around HMI ballasts will be fewer, too (except interiors fighting windows, etc.). I think we'll be moving primarily to LED lighting, which will eliminate carrying big stands and and miles of heavy stringers as well.
We're workin' on it....
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
26 pounds, eh? I feel for you, son. How soon we forget...
Of course, that's without the 1K light, the lead-acid battery bandolier for the light, the "portable" Umatic recorder on a shoulder strap, in a porta-brace bag with extra nicad packs, and the tripod. I used to carry all of that to shoot ENG back in the day, the reason I have a permanent curve to the right in my spine...
You kids today, with your dinky little SLR's.... pshaw.
....where's my belt onion?
Oh I recall those days all far far too well. Remember, a zillion years ago I actually pretended to be be a journalist and was a TV news guy. I had a sign on my desk that said "I'm not a journalist but I play on one TV," until the news director made me take it down.
The massive amount of gear and weight was just unbearable.
Now, full disclosure would require me to admit that I was a reporter and did not have to shoot or lug gear myself... the photographers did that. But... I would have to see them do it (hard to avoid it), and it was pretty brutal. I'm just now getting over it.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
I got back into production in my late 40's and took a hint from still photographers, lightweight, compact, folding, everything! I usually shoot alone and use 2 DSLR's CFL's in umbrellas or lightweight softboxes and a few LED lamps. All my gear is sized for the DSLR, no O'connor 100's! or Crab Dollies for me. I started shooting with a Bosh/Fernse, then an Iki 79D, and a 1" portable recorder, I think my entire lighting kit weighs less than that recorder.
All my cases roll or I have 2 hand trucks, I lift nothing I can roll and don't work 10~24 hour days, ever. My longest "day" decades ago, was 36 hours, that was stupid, but at the time I didn't know any better. Today, if I have a 4~6 hour "day" of production I'm done, as I generally work alone this makes sense for me, if I had a "crew" I might plan a longer shooting day if needed, but would make sure I'm lifting as little as possible during the day. You have to last physically or you are out of business. I also hike, cycle etc to stay in shape, and have a back-brace handy whenever I have to lift cases. Everything helps.
This would nake a nice mobile arrangement.
While not yet a geezer I have changed a few things. No more red-eye flights home. Air travel in general takes a lot out of someone of any age. Early in my career I would go from the red-eye straight to the office and work all day. In your 40's that's not so easy.
As for gear, we try to rent things like light kits or even the whole shebang locally. Advantages aside from not carrying heavy cases are no baggage fees, no worry about baggage handlers breaking something and of course you can rent the latest camera if so inclined without having to keep buying gadgets. We have a small closet for current gear and a larger basement closet for old stuff. Anyone need a 1" machine?!
This year we had productions shot on a C300, an F3 and various P2 cameras and recorded to KiPro and PIX 240, and we didn't have to buy or maintain any of them. Clients hire us for our expertise, not our gear.
My two cents.
[Mike Cohen] " Anyone need a 1" machine?!"
The library of congress. Seriously. They are seeking out all manner of machines so they can have access to their catalogues as the machines age. I'm going to donate my machines as we move them out of production.
Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Editor, Colorist, Director, Writer, Consultant, Author, Chef.
HD Post and Production
Biscardi Creative Media
"This American Land" - our new PBS Series.
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