FILMMAKER MAGAZINE 2004 - "Line Items"
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Josh Zeman talks to 14 cinematographers, gaffers
and grips about their favorite new gadgets.
Every year equipment manufacturers come out with loads of enticing new gear, but the true mark of any particular
item’s usefulness is the extent to which it’s adopted by working crew members. We asked a dozen grips, gaffers
and d.p.’s to tell us what’s in their kit, their equipment package, or simply their film wish list.
ROB BAROCCI, d.p.
On the One, Club Dread (second unit), Super Troopers (second unit)
There’s this really interesting new piece of grip equipment that I like to use whenever I’m in Miami. It’s a
homegrown, custom item developed by a guy named Evan Nelson called an e-slide, and it’s a metal sliding base
for a camera. It can be mounted on a dolly or on a crane/jib arm (it has a sliding Mitchell plate adapter on linear
bearings), or it can be used freestanding. You can rest it on two stacks of apple boxes. Depending on the position
of the base, you can get lateral or horizontal camera movement just like a dolly on a track. But because you don’t
have to lay track, it’s really quick and adjustable, which is great when there aren’t that many hands on your crew
or you don’t have the time to move the track all over the place. It comes in lengths of two foot, four foot and six
foot. If you’re in a tight hallway and you have to move over a railing it works great. If you’re pushing over a table,
the camera can get right over it. When you have to hold on to an over-the-shoulder shot, the operator can just
make the adjustment rather than the dolly grip. And with the six-foot sliding base, you get more travel than you
would with an eight-foot piece of track because there’s no dolly in the way taking up four feet. It’s a really quick
way to get six feet of travel.
Lowel's Rifa-lite 44 collapsible softlight.
My new favorite light is a Lowel Rifa 44, which is a collapsible Chimera but in an umbrella form. It’s a light and soft
box all in one, and it’s amazingly easy and quick to set up. I tend to use it for an eyelight, especially when you
realize you need one at the last second. The light comes out of the diffuser with a nice wraparound quality
because the bulb is not being projected on the center of the diffusion. It’s being centered because of the shape of
the bulb and the reflective quality of the housing, and the falloff is more gradual and flattering. The front diffusion
is made of spun Teflon glass, so it’s flameproof but has a nice translucent quality. They have thinner diffusion and
other egg crates of varying degrees. You can snap this thing together in a minute because it literally opens like an
umbrella. It’s just a 50-300 watt, soft-light source, but what’s important is the construction and small amount of
space it takes up.
Kodak's Vision2 500T film stock.
There’s a new Kodak Vision2 500T film stock (5229/7229 color negative). This new stock significantly reduces
grain while keeping the same relative contrast as 5279. But one of the places where I’ve seen it shine the most is
in 16mm. It gives a really nice, clean look with soft colors. I’ve shot music videos and docs using it, and I’ve even
pushed it a stop. It looks fantastic.
MICHAEL BARROW, d.p.
I’ve been using the Kamio Ring Light from Kino Flo. It’s a matte box and ring light combined and it runs off of a
battery or a.c. Any kind of ring light is customarily a “beauty light,” and this one is built directly into the matte box
and is one of the most versatile that I’ve seen. Something we make at Xeno Lights is our own version of a Triffid,
which is a frame that fits on a nook light, and it makes your conventional nook light into a very small soft light.
HARLAN BOSMAJIAN, d.p.
Lovely & Amazing, Saving Face
P&S Technik's PRO35 lens converter.
I think the P+S Technik PRO35 lens adapter is the best thing out there. It’s the only way to get 35mm depth of field
while shooting video. I don’t know why, but the prime lenses for video cameras wind up looking exactly the same as
video zoom lenses — you get the same depth of field. But the P+S Technik adapter is now literally changing the
way things can be shot on video. It’s the closest thing to 35mm you can get, and I think that if the image is lit well,
85 percent of the people would be hard pressed to tell the difference. The one drawback is the adapter itself
sucks up a certain amount of light. You lose about a stop to a stop and a half. You have to shoot at a low f-stop,
and if you get past a 5.6, you start to see the glass in the adapter, the mirror that is spinning inside the thing. You
start to see the apparatus that is creating the image. I used it with a Canon XL1 on the Showtime spot for Dead
Like Me, and it’s been airing all the time.
JIM DENAULT, d.p.
Heights, Maria Full of Grace
For me the biggest revelation recently has been DVD dailies. Now we’re not watching dailies on VHS in an old
motel room anymore. Originally, if you wanted something that was at least okay it was Betacam. But now with DVD,
the resolution is about comparable with Betacam dailies, although the color is still more compressed. Another cool
dailies format is the DVHS, the JVC hi-def video system that works on VHS-D tapes.
Arri is coming out with a single-chip HD video camera that is going to make hi-def competitive with film. They are
taking a 35mm camera and putting a chip where the film would be, meaning that the light hits the chip instead of
film, but the viewing system still involves a ground glass and a lens. And the chip is the size of a 35mm frame —
the depth of field is the same. And since it has a single chip, all those back-focus problem are solved. All the hi-def
cameras now are just video news cameras that are made to record hi-def. The way these video-camera operators
work is completely different than a film d.p. But when this thing comes out, it will make hi-def a viable medium for
STEVE GAINER, d.p.
Black Cloud, A Dirty Shame, Bully
Probably the coolest piece of equipment I’ve worked with in the past year is the XR gyrostabilized head from
Wescam. When I was shooting Black Cloud in Monument Valley for director Rick Schroder, the script called for
tracking shots of our hero riding bareback across this rugged terrain. I could have used a Steadicam mounted on
a truck, but then I would have been limited to one height. By mounting the XR on a 17-foot jib arm, I was able to
not only change the height of the camera but also the angle I was shooting from, allowing for some really stunning
moments. Our time was limited due to a dust storm earlier in the day, so I had just three hours to get all the riding
shots for the movie. The Wescam crew was fantastic! Justin Webber and Steve Hertler had the rig up and running
in minutes. I can’t wait to work with it again.
BEN GAMBLE, gaffer
A Dirty Shame, Mysterious Skin
Kino Flo's ParaBeam lights.
The Kino Flo ParaBeams are my favorite new light right now. They’re beautiful and almost as powerful as a 4K Zip
light or a 1,200 PAR bounced. The ParaBeams also come with a silver egg crate rather than the typical black egg
crate, so it doesn’t take as much of your stop away. Honestly, it does the work of four flags and four C-stands. It’s
also a surprisingly cool light that’s very comfortable for an actor to stand in front of, which is important when
shooting in tight, cramped quarters. The technology of the new Kino bulbs is very solid. The color temp is
definitely more reliable, so you don’t have to worry about it going to green. Now you can dim them 50 percent and
they’ll still maintain a consistent color temp.
DAVID GRIFFITH, Hand Held Films camera rental house
Cine Magic in Manhattan makes an accessory called the Snapshot, which is a Mamiya 645 medium-format camera
with a viewfinder hood that mounts onto the lens of a 16mm or 35mm motion picture camera. With the Snapshot
you can simulate in-camera the photographer’s process of taking a picture. This used to be achieved by shooting
with a normal motion picture camera and then putting a matte over the image in post. Now you can go through
focus, see the actual ground glass as well as the focusing center, and record the shutter moving in and out of the
ALAN JACOBSEN, d.p.
Wet Dreams and False Images (doc), Room Raiders (TV), Eating the Scorpion (doc)
Videosmith's Mini Rover camera handle.
One of the best things I’ve found lately is the new Mini Rover handle from Videosmith for Mini DV cameras. I use it
on the Panasonic AG-DVX100, but it also works for the Sony PD-150. It provides a much wider and stabler mass
for shooting, and it makes the camera easier to hold and maneuver, especially when you’re shooting
documentaries. Whereas the chassis used to force your hand into the side strap, these handles allow your hands
to be in a more a natural operating position. It’s also good for shooting extended periods of time or over your
shoulder. I’ll take the set screw off and put two handles on one camera.
Panasonic's TC-7WMS1 7" LCD monitor.
Panasonic has a new HD flat-panel 7" LCD monitor that I love. It’s not only bigger than the Astro but looks better
too. It has a built-in waveform monitor that you can superimpose outside the image area — on the Astro the
waveform kind of overlaps the image. To me it’s really a hybrid of the bigger HD monitors and a typical onboard
monitor. I’ll mount it on the dolly or keep it on a C-stand right next to camera, and it runs on batteries. It’s also not
as expensive. It’s become my high-quality field monitor for documentaries. Of course, the experts say you should
always have a tube monitor when shooting hi-def, but in the run-and-gun world of documentaries that’s just
Dedo's DLH4 dual-lens light.
Also, the new Dedo lights are really great. They’re 200 percent brighter than the original Dedo, with a dimmer
actually mounted on the cord. The lenses are also bigger as well. But Dedos in general are great for many
reasons. They are a small, well-made light with an incredible floor-to-spot ratio and a very clean beam. They also
have very clean fields of focus, cleaner than your average fresnel. And you can project patterns. These new
Dedos use 24-volt bulbs instead of 12 volts, which increases the efficiency in the dimmer and allows the filament to
be more robust. They were also able to make the ballast itself more efficient, and hence a better dimmer range.
Those are brand spanking new and very hot.
MICHAEL MAYERS, d.p.
Bounty Hunter (TV pilot), The Lyon’s Den (TV series), The Education of Max Bickford(TV Series)
Lately I’ve been using a lot of those lightweight zooms that cover 17.5mm to 200mm. Both Panavision and
Clairmont in L.A. have them. Panavision has a 17.5/34mm T2.8 Canon, a 27/68mm T2.8 Canon and an 85/200mm
T4 Leica. Clairmont has a 17/35mm T3 Century and a 28/70mm T3 Century. They’re rehoused still lenses, and for
TV they are just great. They’re not as sharp as the Primo zooms or the Cookes, but they’re plenty sharp and very
versatile, especially when handholding or doing Steadicam. They’re lightweight, and the focal lengths break in
better places than the Arri zoom lenses.
On the show I’m on now, we’re using a lot of Mole beam projectors. They give you the effect of a Xenon projector,
and they are very spotty. If I want a shaft of light going through a window, it’s a great lightweight unit, much quieter
than the Xenons. While the prices may be comparable to a Xenon, they come in both tungstens and HMIs, while
the Xenon only comes in… Xenon. They have a great range, too. On the HMI the wattage range is from 1,200 up
to 12K, and on the tungsten side the wattage ranges from 2K up to 20K. And you can actually dim the tungstens,
which is nice. Also you can hang the units straight down, which you can’t really do with a Xenon.
Cartoni's Lambda tripod head.
The Lambda head, made by Cartoni, is a great new underslung fluid head. It’s easy for operators and assistants
to work with, and, most importantly, it’s much beefier, so you can put a heavier camera on it, which is often
necessary on low-budget shows where you can’t afford a more lightweight camera. Also the drag controls are very
adjustable — a dial-in system as opposed to a screw-in system. There are seven tilt and seven pan settings.
Having a good underslung head is a great advantage because of the awkward spots you often find yourself in.
Trust me, when your camera’s hanging over a building, you need easy adjustability.
MICHAEL OTAÑO, d.p./camera operator
Corn(d.p.), A Perfect Murder (a.c.)
I’ve been using the P+S Technik 35mm adapter that allows you to use 35mm lenses with the AG-DVX100, PD-150
and many other digital video cameras. I’ve been using it with the DVX mostly, and I’m just floored with the results.
Now I have the full spectrum of creative tools that I’m used to when shooting film. It makes the video camera a truly
cinematic tool at low cost. With regards to the actual technology, the adapter incorporates an oscillating ground
glass, which I think was originally designed as a director’s video viewfinder. P+S saw the potential and redesigned
it for the new application that we see here. The first generation had a rotating ground glass, which was
problematic, but the redesigned version with the oscillating ground glass is much better defined. It gives the video
image a grainy quality yet without looking cheesy. It doesn’t look like an effect; it’s real and organic, and for me
that’s the difference.
SCOTT RAMSEY, gaffer
The Manchurian Candidate, The Sixth Sense, Signs
On The Manchurian Candidate, we used a new light from Morpheus, the Panabeam XR2. It’s an automated 1200
watt wash light which was very versatile and much more powerful than the traditional automated lights. Something
else I’m very excited about is the LED light panel from Lite Panels. It’s also extremely versatile, and it’s easy to
hide and generates no heat. It has gel packs that take it from daylight to 3200. The kit comes with two units, and
each unit has a battery that lasts up to two hours. And it can also run off a 12-volt car battery or be plugged into
the wall. It’s ideal for car rigs, it’s a great little eye light, and it will be perfect for use with ENG cameras.
STEVE Ramsey, gaffer
Door on the Floor, American Splendor
J.L. Fisher has a new jib arm called the Model 23. If you need to get the camera high or get a wide range, the
Fisher 23 has a long arm with a range of 6 to 21 feet. It attaches to the center mount of a Fisher 10. For swing
shots you can use a manual operating system, but with the higher shots you’ll obviously need a remote head. It’s a
very nice piece of equipment, and the assembly is quick and easy. You need two people, but it takes only 10 to 15
minutes to assemble. While it’s not necessarily cheaper than a crane, there are some reasons to use this jib over
a crane. Personally, I always prefer to use a remote hothead and a jib rather than a crane. I never like putting
someone up in a bucket when you don’t have to, especially when that person is someone who is constantly
needing to take light-meter readings. And you don’t have to have guys come in and build it, like a crane.
DAVE STERN, key grip
From Other Worlds, The Mudge Boy, Second Best, P.S.
J.L. Fisher's Soft Compound dolly wheels.
On these reality shows, having a light attached to the video camera is a big deal, and LED lights seem to be the
new thing. Lighting companies are starting to stick LEDs on everything. On the show I’m on now they are using
lights off a Web site called ledlights.com.
Dolly wheels: We all know J.L. Fisher. Well, J.L. has a got a new set of wheels called soft compound dolly wheels,
and they are amazing. If your dolly grip has any experience with dance floor work, these wheels can save a lot of
time resetting track. They are the perfect mix of soft and hard to keep the camera steady but still go over minor
JASON VALEZ, key grip
Bought & Sold, Particles of Truth
Golf carts. I’ve found that golf carts work great as camera cars. In many cases they work better. For example, we
gutted a golf cart and rigged two platforms off the front and back respectively. The cart was a four-seater, and with
our new platforms it could handle a cameraman and a boom op. We were doing some shots of an actor running
full sprint. He ran all day; onscreen it was about six or seven blocks. We were able to use our “dolly” for at least 18
to 20 angles. We were able to nail shots because everyone involved with the shot is right there together (d.p.
/camera op/ director/driver/dolly grip). The key is to get a battery-powered cart (better for sound, unless you’re
MOS), have at least three hours to rig out and have plenty of hardware and speed rail. It’s also a good idea to get
two, just in case you run out of juice. Or get a prerigged one — we didn’t know about this beforehand. In the future
I’d rent one from Action Camera in New York.
© 2004 Filmmaker Magazine