Some Camera Car Considerations

This is not a guide to camera car safety, just some thoughts. Camera car drivers are the most qualified for safety considerations and should be consulted before and during a job with your wishes. They can help you save time and probably money if you and THEY know what YOU want. Blocking shots with toy cars can help communications.

Does the camera car driver know what you might be doing? What EXTRA stuff should he bring. Tow rigs, battery packs, generator, communications. Sometimes, for a distant location, some of the "regular stuff" can be left at home.

Do you need to know the specs of the camera car for camera height, lighting unit heights, power sources, reflections in the picture car and rigging points?

Do you need a camera car arm? Do you have enough people? At least THREE QUALIFIED GRIPS, JUST FOR THE ARM. If not, a non-arm car is better, less weight and lower center of gravity.

A Chapman Crane is not a camera car and a camera car is not a Chapman. Both are very specialized pieces of equipment. Don't compromise. Discuss what you want to do with the drivers of each before ordering one or the other, or both.

Do you have the best tripod head for the job? I like an O'Connor 150, some operators like a Worrall type. The bumps from the camera car get transmitted to the camera, especially if the camera is not balanced over the center of the head. Make sure that the O'Connor top plate is balanced "neutral". Consider a heavy Weaver Steadman head.

I like to operate with video assist so that my eye is not at the camera. Radical moves are easier, my body can not transmit motion to the camera and I can judge the shot better for smoothness. The disadvantage is that focus is very hard to judge on video assist and unwanted detail is harder to see on the low resolution of video assist.

Only once did I get an unqualified (and dangerous) camera car driver. Most camera car owners drive their own cars or let their cars out only with only the most experienced drivers. They have a lot at stake.

In questions of safety, the cameraman and the key grip can help negotiate between the director and camera car driver. A driver should not be "pushed" into anything that he feels is unsafe. On the other hand for a new and different shot (if there really is one), the camera car driver can be a little over cautious. This is the fine line in which reason may produce better decisions than threats by the director. A driver pushed into doing something that becomes a problem has to live with that problem for the rest of his professional driving career.

Does the camera car driver have a compact, well-shaded video monitor from the video assist and an intercom to the operator and director? It can be a great aid for him.

Who is supplying communications? Most cars have intercoms.

Getting to ride on the camera car is not a reward but a necessity. Only those absolutely needed should be allowed. Setting the rules before hand makes it easier to say "no" when people are piling on the car. Here is where the AD and the camera car driver have to be firm.

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.