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"Improvising a Solution!"

A simple guide for when the s**t hits the fan, what you can do to keep the camera rolling!

At some point in your career, we are put in a situation where we need to think outside the box to keep the camera rolling. And by ‘outside the box’ I mean using your MacGyver super powers to make use of what you’ve got to bring a solution to the table. By being prepared and always carrying some essential items, you’ll be ready for whatever gets thrown your way.

First of all, the best thing to prevent being in this situation is PREP. Prep is essential because it allows the camera team to prepare for most eventualities when shooting, test the kit works as it should and it’s suitable for the production, work faster because you’ve rigged the equipment or familiarised yourself with how to rig it and keep everything in order, take pictures, colour code it, make a spreadsheet of every nut, bolt and cable so nothing gets lost and you have proof of condition if you do a de-rig day too. There are many more reasons why prep is essential. However, we aren’t always allowed to have prep because of budget or time if a job comes in last minute. Personally, if a production doesn’t have budget to pay for a prep day on shorter form jobs but there’s enough notice then i’ll commit some time to prep for free just so the job runs smoothly. Remember we’ve got enough to think about on the day without adding more complications that could be avoided if we have prep.

Now for the juicy bit... When we can’t have a prep day. You arrive on set, kit turns up, you pull it out of the box and start rigging it and.... ah sh*t, they didn’t pack that one d-tap to 8 pin Alexa mini power cable I asked for which is essential for shooting, back in the days of the Ronin 1 for example, a D-tap to Alexa Mini Power cable really was essential as you couldn't power the camera from the Ronin Sled. What are you going to do? First off (step 1), tell production there’s going to be a delay because of the missing components so they can adjust the shooting schedule and come up with a Plan B, don’t skip this step ever. Time is Money, a lot of money and your head will be on the chopping block if you fail to tell them there will be a delay (If your a 2nd or trainee then co-ordinate with your 1st AC or DOP. Secondly (step 2), Call the rental facility so they can send you one asap. If you are the rental facility (i.e the kit is your own) then what’s your plan B? Other than crying inside for a few minutes because you forgot the power cable you silly sausage. Don’t worry, we’ve all done it. I usually have spares with me, for example, I take a manual follow focus with me as well as my remote follow focus in case it bricks it for whatever reason. Or you could call a rental house and hire one in to cover your ass, Option A is definitely better than option B. ASAP (as soon as possible) to most rental facilities is usually an hour or more though unless you happen to be very close by. This is where your AC MacGyver Skills come in. By MacGyver Skills i don’t necessarily mean building a brand new cable from scratch because that would require you to have a soldering iron, a multimeter, the necessary plugs and cable with you (I tend to always carry a soldering iron kit and spare d-tap plugs but thats because I’m a nerd) but having a few bits and bobs with you means you can build a temporary solution so that an hour delay becomes a 5 minute delay. This will make the HOD’s (Heads of department) very happy and you will be showered in champagne and cocaine.... Haha, not really, but they might rehire you which is almost as good! 17 July 2020

I’ve been in this particular scenario more than once as rental houses churn out gear and everyone makes mistakes, some more than others, cough, Procam, cough, wink wink. The key is, don’t make the same mistake twice! (try not to) (Step 3). After the first time this happened I made a D- tap power cable for each of the cameras I use most regularly e.g. RED DSMC2 cameras, Arri Alexa Mini, Sony Venice etc (You can also buy these cables). Yes there is a cost implication to this and why should you buy a cable that the rental should provide? A valid point, but if you can afford it then it’ll make your life a lot easier and make you look very professional too and it might just get you rehired because you've taken the time and money to be extra prepared so its very worth it. Obviously this is only one common scenario and you can’t do this with certain things like if the camera turns up and its not working in which case you follow Steps 1 and 2 until a new camera arrives but by having essential items and knowledge that allow you to improvise, in an awful lot of situations you will save the production a lot of time and money and thats a good thing! In certain situations you will often have to improvise more or less. For example, I specialise in Minicams and Remoteheads and the level of creativity steps up a notch when you have to improvise solutions for rigging cameras in unusual places like in a microwave or in the back of a milk truck that has no mounting points, but thats part of the fun!

(Above) 1x1 Panel Light Hanging from a rope I rigged up and safetied. Don't Judge, there was no grip or gaffer and we were in a foreign land when travelling was still a thing. It worked and made the DP very happy.

Here is a list of items I always take with me irrespective of role (Trainee, 2nd, 1st or Technician) for those Macgyver situations that could save your bacon too!

  1. Gaffer Tape - If you don’t bring this with you on shoots you are a fool. Good Gaffer tape is stronger than the foundations of a building and it will save your bacon and probably several other departments too.

  2. Bongo Ties / Caravan Ties - Useful for rigging bits to the camera, sound department flipping love them, can be used for holding your sh*t together. Top Tip: Buy Bongo ties from Kippertie, they have 1/4-20 threaded posts on them, great for mounting more than just sound shizzle to the camera.

  3. Power Cables and Adapters - A D-tap power cable for each camera I use regularly and adapters to go from 2 pin lemo to DTap, 3 Pin RS to Dtap and 4 pin XLR to DTap. Why D- Tap? Because they’re very common and most batteries have D-Taps on them nowadays. D-Taps are actually terrible connectors (except for Lentiquip D-Taps) but thats for another blog.

  4. Leatherman Wave / Swiss Army Knife equivalent - You will use this a lot, take it with you everywhere!

  5. Rope - 550 Mil-Spec Paracord is rated to 550 pounds, isn’t expensive and is very handy if you learn to tie knots!

  6. Safety Chains - This is a must in my opinion. If there’s no grip on set then you need a way of securing items to the camera or the camera to a solid object if its hung over something or placed in a potentially dangerous location i.e. above someones head. 17 July 2

7. Magic arm / Noga Arm / RAM Mounts (New Favourite) - For mounting things where you want them on camera or anywhere with a 1/4-20 or 3/8-16 thread. 17 July 20 8. Nano Clamps - little clamps for use with your noga arm for mounting things wherever you can clamp to!

9. Spare BNC cables (of various lengths) - For operator comfort so the monitor can be in just the right place or if there was no BNC cables included in the kit when you didn't get that prep day, very handy to have with you.

10. Dualock / Velcro - pound for pound more expensive than gold but this stuff is magical. Velcro is cheaper but doesn’t mate as securely as dualock but still very good.

11. Multimeter - Have you ever blown up a camera before? I suggest not trying it. If you're unsure of the polarity of a cable, a multimeter is your best friend. Sometimes even a rental house sends out a cable with the wrong polarity and no you can't just plug a 2 pin lemo into a Teradek from a separate bit of kit, you might blow it up.

I also take a soldering iron everywhere with me but thats not as essential.

Any Questions please feel free to ask!

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4 comentarios

Rafael del Campo
Rafael del Campo
31 jul 2020

Great post! I built and sold cables, so usually I’ve cables for all, I think necessary include a Ptap splitter (I don’t like Ptap connector, but work), a XLR male to Ptap female (for take power from battery block) and maybe a small screwdriver set for small bolts. Usually I go too with a gold mount and Vmount plate for take power for any “out of plans” situation with batteries than don’t has Ptap.

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Great tips Zach! Gaffer tape is the strongest thing known to the human race

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Timothy Tan
Timothy Tan
31 jul 2020

Some great advice Zach, being prepared for anything is part of filmmaking.

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Caitlin Brown
Caitlin Brown
30 jul 2020

Great post! I inherited a bunch of filters when I first moved to LA and considered selling them off, but being able to step in with an IRND or an optical flat has actually been clutch. As much as I wouldn't have bought those on my own it's been a great part of my kit

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