“Inside West Coast
Customs” is a reality television show that
takes you into the world’s leading custom
car shop. Nothing is prearranged; we capture
shots of the customizing work as it’s
I think the challenge of every reality cinematographer
is to keep the look of the show
cinematic, but without loss of the show’s
integrity due to missed content as equipment
is being set up. You have to work like
a documentarian to get the best shots and
to tell the best story, but that’s the constant
struggle when you’re running around trying
to document something in a “run-and-gun”
fashion. Incorporating a cinematic look such
as narrow depth of field requires a long lens,
which in turn needs stable camera support.
NOTHING BUT SACHTLERS
Sachtler camera support systems have really
made a difference in the production of
the show, allowing me to get exactly the results
I’m looking for. Actually the show is an
“all-Sachtler” production. (I even mount our
time-lapse cameras on Sachtler fluid heads.)
For this season’s shooting I started using
Sachtler’s Ace L tripod system and found
that it offers a variety of advantages.
While it has the features of larger tripods,
it’s physically small, helping me get
into spaces where a larger tripod won’t fit.
The Ace L provides just the right amount
of controls too—three stages of pan-and-tilt
drag, plus a zero no drag setting. I really
don’t need seven or so settings—just
heavy and light drag and the zero setting.
(Zero drag is useful if I’m shooting someone
who’s very far away from the camera
and I’m zoomed in for a shallow depth of
field. If that person should decide to walk
around the car I’ve got to be able to follow
them and still have a stable camera
platform. The zero drag setting gives me
a “handheld” look, but without the jumpiness
that can accompany handheld shots.)
We mainly use Canon 5D DSLR cameras
and the Ace L supports these very nicely.
However, bigger cameras such as Sony’s
EX3 are no problem as the head’s counterbalance
range is quite broad.
HANDHELD CAMERA SUPPORT, TOO
I just started incorporating Sachtler’s
artemis Handheld camera stabilizer into
our production. We’d already incorporated
handheld shots, tripod support for the cinematic
look, and sliders for a dolly look, but
wanted one additional look, the ability to
smoothly walk or “swim” around the car.
The artemis Handheld stabilizer now allows
me to do these sorts of moves.
When we begin our shooting day I can
take one of the 5Ds—usually with a Canon
16 to 35mm zoom lens—balance it out and
have it docked on the table, ready to grab
and go, as there’s no need for a vest with
this stabilizer. It’s definitely changed the
whole look of the show.
Now when I sit back and look at a finished
show, I realize that there’s this “hyper
environment” I’m now taking my audience
into as I have the ability to go anywhere in
the shop with smooth, steady, and floating
Kristoffer May is director of photography
for Inside West Coast Customs. He may
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional information contact
Sachtler at 203-929-1100 or visit www.sachtler.com.