Sunday, April 30, 2006

"The Back Breaker"

( Murman and the "Back Breaker")

As I sit down to write this post, my back is killing me. All thanks to a device known as STEADY CAM. Yesterday I was working on a sales shoot at a local grocery store. I had been asked to work it just after I returned from Italy. How hard could it be I thought. Nobody mentions the "back breaker" AKA Steady Cam.

( Andre F. setting the remote focus puller)

When we launched in 1997 as VTV we had a Steady Cam rig. At the time our news at 5 and 6 was similar to other CHUM casts of the day, lots of hand held camera work, both in the field and on the set. A couple of the studio lads went to train on the rig with one of the foremost operators on the planet. I had hoped to get some "spin off" knowledge from the boys when they returned.
I had only played with one once on a shoot in Florida when I was still with ATV. Mind you, I played. The operator for that shoot in Florida was a fellow named Greg Irvine. He was frequently the go to guy for ATV Steady Cam needs. His camera moves were smooth and with purpose. I always wondered why he was so bagged after a show. Back then I was young and thought I was bullet proof. I figured what a skill to have on the resume: Steady Cam.

When I arrived in Vancouver and found out that our station would have such a thing, I saw my chance to get some practical hands on time. One of the lads that I mentioned earlier went to California to train with this "God of Steady Cam" and when he returned he was only too happy to teach me some skills. Of course the rig was always at that time used for the show and was often impossible to get into the field. But as time wore on the look of the show changed and the rig was used less and less.
That gave me a window of opportunity to use it a bit in the field for EFP shoots and the occasional stand up.
The first time I actually used one, was for a weekend shoot with a show out of Toronto called "Canadian House and Home". When the producer called me and I told him we had one, he asked me if I had ever shot with one before. Well I fibbed, and told him I was an old salt on the rig. Fortunately, I pulled it off, he was very pleased with the work and from then on, I was a Steady Cam Operator.
The thing is, "real " steady cam Operators use this rig often, that's what makes them so good. Some ENG hack like me, would be lucky to get on the rig 10 times a year and strive for being average. However as time went on our primary operator left to join the film world and the secondary fellow was really not interested, so I sort of by default became the "go to guy" when we needed a Steady Cam.( Working the Shot )

As the years wore on, there were less and less occasions to use it. Two weeks during the PNE remotes and then our Nov 11 Special. Finally the rig was sold and our station had a Steady Cam no more. (The story of how it was sold is another story, one I will save for now).
The years after the "sale" when it came to our Nov 11 Special, we would hire a freelance Steady Cam Op, Andre Fernandez. This is the guy who taught me and Andre is always fun to have on a shoot. I kinda miss him around the station, but he is maga successful in the world of Movies and Freelance.

Last Nov 11, Andre was un available, but he rented his rig on the condition that I would operate it. It had been maybe three years since I had done any Steady Cam, so my back would bare the brunt of the pain. It was maybe the toughest hour of physical pain I have ever endured. Man this is a young mans skill, or at least "fit"mans skill.

Yesterday, the "rig" and I had another date. This time Andre came along as a Camera Assist. It was good to work with him again and at least the pain in the back wasn't as bad as it had been in November. But I still required a hot tub right after the shoot. God, I am getting old.
Funny though, I still enjoy operating the rig, even though, the spine doesn't.

(The Crew: Rebecca: Talent, Lorin: Audio, Buffy: Hair and Makeup, Gary T: Microwave Op, Murman: Steady Cam, Andre: Steady Cam Assist, Dave G. Director)

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