Steadycam Testing

During the film shoot on Sunday, only one of the two stablizing rigs I made got used at all. The other one, the so-called Dabble-Steady, sat locked to a pole. Since it was a dry day today, I got on the filming bike and rode around to give it a test . One of the videos is below, and thee are a few others at my youtube page.

Looks okay. I like the results well enough, and I probably should have used this one on Sunday. However, I’m not sure how much different the video would be if I just held the camera by hand. Not sure if it’s worth the effort and stares.

On Location

I had been watching the weather forecast for a week or so, hoping for one clear day. January in Portland is a dismal time of year, and it piddles cold rain almost all the time. So when I saw an opening, I scheduled the shoot with Andy for Sunday the 13th, and hoped for the best. What we got was actual sun — almost too much sun. It was really bright, and people couldn’t stop saying what a perfect day it was.

Andy, Dabble Rig, Bolex
  Andy holding the Bolex mounted to the “Dabble Rig”

I met Andy under the Hawthorne Bridge at noon, sweating from the strain of pedalling the rickety old Free Spirit, my filming bike, and loaded down with two rigs and a bag full of supplies. I had baked homemade chocolate chip cookies for the “crew” and dipped in right away as we discussed the day’s shooting.

Things got off to a good start. A dozen or so lycra-clad cyclists were meeting for a team ride near us, and I managed to get some footage of them… from behind. (Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.) I rode after them as they left, and pedalled furiously like Pee-wee Herman to keep up on the Free Spirit. Suffice it to say that onlookers were amused.

Then for several more hours, Andy checked the light and wound up the Bolex, and I rode off on thrity second jaunts while the camera recorded. Every time I sat still, someone would come up and ask about the camera. The first time it happened, Andy said, “That’s going to be happening all day,” and damned if it didn’t. I commented that I should buy a cheap, broken Bolex and carry it around just to meet guys.

As I mentioned, I carried the camera, mounted onto a “Dabble Rig,” my own version of a Fig Rig, on my bike. Actually, it just sat in the front basket, resting on a folded blanket. (That’s how the pros do it, right?) There was a lot of shaking and sliding, and I’m a little worried about how the film will turn out.

It was such a sunny day that throngs of people were out. The Esplanade was bustling, and that’s just what I was hoping for. That’s what the film’s about, really. I think I got some good stuff.

Fig Rig, Steadycam & Free Spirit

On Saturday, in preparation for shooting, I built two types of camera stablizing rigs and finally repaired an old women’s bike, charmingly called the Free Spirit. I would theoretically be filming while riding that and holding one of the rigs with a camera mounted on it.

The Fig Rig
Andy told me about this thing called the “Fig Rig.” Basically it’s a large loop with a camera mounted in the middle. The theory behind it is that the wider your grip, the less impact your shaking and wobbling make in the picture. So you hold onto the outside of the loop with both hands, and the video turns out a lot smoother. I myself wasn’t sure I’d be able to hold that while riding a bike, but Andy, the Director of Photography seemed really into it; so I tried to find DIY directions online.

Fig Rig
  Above: a real Fig Rig

At Instructables, I found this:
Build a PVC Fig Rig

And also another version of the same thing:

After much consideration, I opted to use my own design, which does not look at all the same, but is based on the same principle and works just as well. Go me! The cost was about $15, but would have been higher if I had needed to but the hardware — the bolts and wingnuts and such. I already had those.

This is my version, which is made of 1 1/4″ PVC and has a wooden platform. Future modifications will probably include a top bar and a touch of paint, though those would both be for entirely aesthetic reasons.

My own bersion of the Fig Rig
  The Dabble-Rig, my own version of the Fig-Rig

The Steadycam
I was also interested in trying something called a Steadycam, which is really just a long pole with a camera at one end and counterweghts on the other. Somewhere in the middle there should be a handle. There are numerous videos on YouTube of homemade Steadycam footage, including a few instruction videos, but I created my own version entirely based on the image below.

  Click for bigger.

I tested it with a heavy old video camera, and it seems to work well enough. However, I still havn’t perfected the counterweight system yet. It cost under $10 to make and went together pretty fast.

  The Dabble-Steady, my own version of the Steadycam.

I plan on fully describing the design and construction of these two devices over at Daily Dabbler. I’ll post comments with links when I do.

Sketch Videos

What do you call videos that you take in advance of a filming to plan your shots?

I rode down to the Esplanade this afternoon to take some planning shots — some “sketch” videos. All bundled up in fleece, I rode the same section of path over and over, holding up my vintage digital camera, trying to see the image on the screen and still get the shot, bumping down slick wet ramps and braking with just one hand. And it was raining too. And there were, perhaps, eight thousand lunchtime joggers in my way.

Unfortunately, the CF memory card on this camera holds only 16 megs of data; that’s about 2 1/2 minutes of video. I kept having to delete videos in order to keep working. In the end, I came home with some ideas, but only four short clips, which I then edited to be even shorter.

I posted them over at youtube in case I needed to get feedback from my DP. (That would be Andy.)

The Esplanade Film

About half the time I get on my bike, I end up on the Eastbank Esplanade, the multi-use path that hugs the river across from downtown Portland. It’s a destination more than anything else. But it’s also got views of the city, the river, the bridges, and people too. Plus it’s right where everyone crosses the river; so you’d see the Esplanade even if you didn’t ride on it. It was one of the first things I noticed when I moved here, and one of the things that I still think is great about Portland.

Underside of I-5

So I circle the Esplanade; I enjoy the views. I check out the butts of the other bike riders, and I run into people I know. I watch the fire dancers practicing along with the drum circle. It’s good exercise and good social study. Other cities have their equivalent to Central Park; this is Portland’s. And I’ve always wanted to capture the experience of my rides there.

Eastbank Esplanade

That’s my goal, to capture that experience — my experience — of riding and seeing. But it is also to at least partially explain the Esplanade itself and demonstrate it’s role in the life of the city.

And I have to do all of that in, like, three to five minutes.

Eastbank Esplanade

Future Developments

My original concept was of a sort of montage of views and scenes and experiences from throughout the year, but since I’m only going to be shooting in winter, this will be a season specific film. Possible future developments might include other season specific films, or possibly just one more from a warmer time, say, the flesh-baring months of July and August. However “Winter” turns out, I could still rework that footage into something more broad and take the time to refine my concept throughout 2008.

Eastbank Esplanande

Education of a (Wannabe) Filmmaker

Back in November some time I was chatting with a friend & filmmaker Mike Justice. He needed to get his publicity juggernaut up to speed — put together a website, apply to festivals, yadda yadda. I’ve been patiently learning about film stuff from my various friends and paramours for a year now. I traded work for Digital Video & Final Cut Pro lessons from Andy Blubaugh, and I “acted” in two of his films too. Sat in on a lighting class, stuck stickers on promo DVDs. Anything I could.

The one thing I didn’t really know about was the whole film festival thing, and so I asked Mike to take me on as his intern so I could learn. To my surprise, he agreed. He had no qualms about telling somebody else to do his work for him. Since then, I slapped together his film blog, helped with his publicity materials, prepared lists of festivals for consideration, and of course did all the same stuff for myself along the way.

Over the holidays, hearing of my internship, such that it is, two people pointedly asked, “So when are you going to make a film?” I told them both that I didn’t really know when, but I more or less knew what. I figured I’d make my little bike-slash-esplanade film that I’d been ruminting over for years now. It would be good practice.

And then fate intervened. Just before the new year, while updating my date book, I noticed that Portland’s Filmed by Bike festival deadline was still months away. If I tried, I could whip something together and submit it. It would be the perfect way to get me started. I mentioned it to Andy, and he enthusiastically offered his help and some free film to boot. So here I am about to start my first film ever on 16mm, with a film blog and a list of festivals where I can submit my work.

The only thing left is to actually make a film.

Hello world!

John Wilmot, filmmaker?

Am I just another hopeless dilettante trying his hand at film? Well, maybe. Either way, you can read all about it here.