by Paul Basta
WEST LOS ANGELES, CALIF. As a multicamera operator, it is my job to listen carefully to what my director of photography and director want from a shot and then execute it. "I can't do that" will never come out of my mouth, no matter how difficult the challenge may be.
When I'm using a pedestal camera, it's always with a Vinten head, or head and pedestal. My relationship with Vinten goes back to shows such as "Alice," "Family Ties" and "Growing Pains."
IT'S ALL IN THE EQUIPMENT
Paul Basta As an operator, one's reputation, professionalism and craft are directly affected by the quality of the equipment used. I can honestly say that my job as an operator is enhanced with good equipment. Conversely, sometimes with inferior gear there is more creativity used in concealing equipment problems than in shooting the performance. The test of good equipment is reliability and exceptional performance during the pressures of the job. That's why I rely on Vinten. Once the camera and lens configuration is properly matched to the head and is balanced, it's ready to perform and remains reliable throughout the show.
GOING FULL CIRCLE
I can't tell you how many times I've relied on Vinten (I love the Vector series of pan and tilt heads) to get me through a shot that isn't always a "normal" multicamera set up. I had one of those "you want to do what?" moments that I'd like to relate. The idea was to do a 360 degree circle around the actors, who were in the middle of the room. We were on a multicamera stage with the studio audience as the fourth wall.
"Okay," was all I really said (as I gulped). I drew a chalk circle about one-and-a-half times the width of the Vinten Fulmar pedestal around the actors. I then put the pedestal into "steer" mode and placed the steerable wheel on the chalk line. I set the height of the shot to favor the kiss that the script called for and locked the center column off. This shot required a person for pulling and steering the pedestal and camera around the chalk circle at a set speed.
Next, the cabling had to be dealt with in such a way that, as I unwound myself at the end of the 360, I didn't trip over my own feet or the cable, and that there was enough room for Derek Lanz, the video utility person, to move. Then there was the adjustment of the viewfinder and the shortening of the control handles on the Vector 950 head. I made sure the camera was totally balanced and "nulled out" by using the Vinten adjustable perfect counterbalance function. And then I took a deep breath.
We practiced a few times to see where the problem spots were. Lights were adjusted to cover the "fourth wall" so that we weren't shooting off the set. Once I set all my focus marks, we rolled tape. The control and dexterity of Vinten equipment made the shot possible. I could not have done the shot with the finesse it called for with anyone else's head. I wouldn't have tried.
Paul Basta is a founding member of the Society of Operating Cameramen and a 30-year veteran cameraman. He began his operating career on "Sanford," and won an Emmy for his work on "Family Ties." He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional information, contact Vinten, a Vitec Group Co., at 888 284-6836 or visit www.vinten.com