Tom Ramcigam (magicmarmot) wrote,
Tom Ramcigam


Mind the gap.

Fiendishly I plot. The creative juices are flowing, and the fingers itch to be writing the screenplay. Images flow through my head like Zima through a college girl, and snippets of dialogue and character moments come unbidden into the fray.
The story is near complete. I can see the movie in my head, at least in parts. I know how I want to shoot it.

But it's a goddamn feature. It's 90-120 minutes long, finished. It's going to take money, and time, and calling in a few favors from folks with access to police and rescue vehicles, and things like that.

And I really want to get some other short films under my belt first before I bite off a feature. Crap on a cracker, just shooting a commercial is a bitchy whoreload of work.

(For those of you who do not understand the industry parlance, thats a lot.)

Don't ge me wrong-- I love doing it, and if I was making actual money doing it, I'd be happier than a plastic surgeon at a Hooters convention. But when I'm looking at spending large quantities of moola for the privelege of doing it in my spare time, it makes it a lot more difficult. And when I'm asking people to donate their time and effort only in exchange for the glamourous lifestyle of the indie filmmaker and decent food, it's really tough to get committments from people who actually have lives outside of my petty existence.

A short film may take a couple of weeks to shoot doing mainly nights and weekends. That's a lot easier to handle.

But harder to write.

A feature film has structure. Most often three acts, with a beginning, middle, and end. You have some luxury, you have pacing, you have rhythm that you can develop.

With a short film, you don't have a lot of that. You have to have shortcuts, things that pick up in the middle, things that may not make sense. Every second has to move forward, you don't get a chance to build and lull, build and lull. Everything has to be streamlined.

I love camera motion. The ability to move the camera while shooting, to provide a flying perspective can add a lot of dynamic to a scene that would otherwise be pretty damn boring, or require a buttload of different-angle cuts. And one tracking shot can provide a lot of visual exposition in a short period.

There are a lot of tools to do this. Big budget productions rent a camera dolly/crane, which is extremely heavy and expensive. As my budget is not in any way considered big, I need something different.
So I'm designing my own dolly.

(Ah! says you. This is where that welding thing comes in, right?)
(And I say to you in French, Oui! Mon cher frottage le tet un fromage!)

There are a couple of kinds of camera dolly. I'm designing what is commonly referred to as a "skateboard" dolly, because it uses skateboard wheels to run on tracks. It's a tried-and-true method that is used by the big boys as well.

The problem that I've run into is mechanical. Standard track spacing is 24.5 inches, which is fine when your track is straight. But when your track starts to curve, things get a little weird, and your wheels need to be able to adjust to the curvature by being able to slide farther apart. Trust me on this.

So I could design a dolly that would run on straight track only. That would be easy, relatively inexpensive, and cover probably 80 percent of the things I would need a dolly for.

I could design a different dolly for curved track. Or I could design one dolly that would have adhustable wheels so it could run either on straight or curved track, but not a combination. And that would cover something like 99% of situations and be mechanically sound.

Trying to do one that can run on combination track and still be mechanically sound is daunting.

For a camera crane, the big boys use hydraulics. Absolutely silent hydraulic systems. They are a thing of beauty, and can lift and lower several hundred pounds of camera and operator without a peep.
And of course, that level of hydraulics is way out of my reach. I'm more likely to use a jib arm, which allows the camera to move smoothly (but not the operator). It's a little more cumbersome to use, but it's within reason to make.

I've also done a preliminary design on an electrically operated camera lift, which is a lift-in-place design (straight vertical lift, no arc), but I think the electric motor would be too noisy.

Someday I'd like to design a full portable motion-control camera rig. Someday.

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