How camera operators can perfectly balance their equipment to effortlessly capture the action
Whether in broadcast studios or OB units, camera operators need to deliver shots that are of the highest cinematic quality but in increasingly challenging environments. They must dolly, focus, zoom, pan and tilt smoothly using cameras weighed down with monitors, large zoom lenses, focus assist devices and thick cabling. Not only that, but operators need to be able to capture action that’s fast and complicated too. It’s a situation Paul Maibaum ASC had to consider seriously whilst shooting a new comedy series for ABC called Baby Daddy.
The show follows three single guys living as room-mates in Manhattan, New York, who find themselves collectively thrust into fatherhood when a baby is left at their doorstep, the result of a one-night stand.
“The members of the cast on Baby Daddy are young and full of energy. The scripts call for scenes with a lot of movement from the actors and no matter how well rehearsed the operators are, there are always surprises”, says Maibaum, Director of Photography.
“On one episode entitled ‘On The Lamby’ Emma, the baby in Baby Daddy loses her well-worn stuffed sheep affectionately referred to as ‘Lamby’. The boys try to get Emma to sleep but she has never been able to do so without this stuffed animal. The boys go into a panic trying to find it. When one of them finds it, they toss the hapless toy like a football from one to the other in order to get it to Emma before she has a meltdown. The scene is staged as if the guys are throwing a football, diving over furniture to make catches and they ultimately succeed in getting Lamby into the crib with Emma. In this scene all four operators have to follow the actors as well as the small stuffed sheep as it is tossed around the set. The action is fast and furious. The wing cameras with long focal length lenses have to capture the action as well as the center cameras with wider focal length lenses, and since a real baby is part of the scene there isn’t the luxury of having a lot of re-takes” explains Maibaum.
Fluid heads for precision adjustment, perfect balance, and flawless performance
To capture action like this Maibaum and his team use four Panavised Sony F3s on Vinten Vector fluid heads and Vinten pedestals. “In my estimation, the success of the operator’s execution of these shots within a scene like this greatly depends on the kind of equipment that is used. This is where we all can count on the Vinten heads to perform.”
For Baby Daddy, the cameras are not only loaded with monitors, large lenses, accessories and cables, but eye-lights mounted above the camera lenses too. It all adds up to a sizeable weight. “The Vinten Vector fluid heads can be so precisely balanced that the operators not only achieve very complicated shots, but in addition, they whip the cameras across the set on cue, to capture a close-up of an actor as he enters through a doorway or appears suddenly upstage from a back room. I have not seen another piece of equipment perform as flawlessly as the Vinten Vectors,” Maibaum observes.
David “Boomer” Dougherty, Maibaum’s Camera Operator on Baby Daddy echoes Maibaum’s sentiments. He is a firm believer in the Vectors. “The fluid head, with its precision pan, tilt and fulcrum adjustments, becomes an extension of your being”,he says.
“The most difficult shots on this show are always rising or sitting actors, and the fluidness of this head makes the action effortless. I tend to set the pan and tilt at a tighter setting than most, yet I can still whip pan and make delicate moves without having to change the tension. I am a real stickler about balance of a camera. When I set the balance and fulcrum, the camera comes in to its own zero gravity and I love that kind of precision. Whether I am zoomed all the way in on the lens, making a dolly move or holding a wide shot, I can trust that the Vinten Vector fluid head is always there to give back what I put in” Dougherty concluded.