Rigging Principles

Avoid using large tripod heads because they raise the camera, add weight and can slip during a shot. A shallow ball leveling head is very helpful. Leveling tripod top castings and hi hats can be made into leveling heads. Large split spherical bearings can make adjustable heads. You need a way to attach to Speed Rail (c) pipe or flat plates. Roy Isaia sells my rigging hi hat with a 150-mm ball. 818-752-3104. Some large still ball heads are strong enough for smaller cameras and moderate torques. Manfrotto/ Bogan sells a "Ball Camera Leveler" # 3115 that will handle an Arri II or III without a dovetail, rods and a 6 x6 matte box. The 4 screw leveling heads are the strongest, but not as easy to use as a ball head. With any rig safety the camera too. (Tie off separately to vehicle.)

"See Rig Materials"

Always attach a flat base camera to a flat surface. A bolt can pull the mounting threads out of the bottom of the camera or flat base if there is no support near the threads. Many camera tripod mounting thread inserts are intentionally weak to provide a breakaway feature so the whole camera body is not destroyed if the camera is stressed. Most matte boxes and magazines also have a breakaway feature. Notice how small the screws are on the bottom of an Arri III. Be careful.

Keep the weight and wind resistance to a minimum, use a camera without bridge plate, matte box and rods. Use a lens shade right on the lens. (Try Cokin still filters and matte boxes.)

Use a cheaper camera if you can. Almost no rig needs pin registration. There are straight through video doors for the Arri II C. A Sony Watchman or helmet video viewfinder will work for a viewfinder. Do carefully check with a regular camera door for focus and details you can't see on the video assist. Check stopped down too. Tape the camera door to the IIC.

Neutral density and pola filters on the lens look darker in the eyepiece than the same equivalent exposure at a smaller stop because not all of the light hitting the ground glass is passed through the eyepiece optics to the eye. This happens at large lens openings. Notice how a fast lens doesn't seem to get darker in the eyepiece as you close it down from wide open for a few stops. The calculated light by f-stop does hit the film though. Some wide angle and perspective control lenses are also darker in the eyepiece than expected, especially around the edges.

Another camera peculiarity. You get more depth of field on the film than you see on an Arri ground glass. Trust your depth of field charts and computer. I know, it doesn't make sense. This is true with long lenses too. This effect is different on Mitchell ground glasses, they show more depth of field on the ground glass than on the film.

Attach a rig to the best anchor available. Spread the weight out over a larger area if any panel is weak. Use more separate anchors if any are questionable.

Triangulate. Think about leverage. Acute triangles can create very large forces.

Be prepared for the director to change the shot. Put the talent or a same size stand-in into the shot and have him do his business to discover problems such as lighting and bad reflections.

Keep rig weight to a minimum.

Try one strong support member. Brace and with lighter bracing such as EMT conduit, which will telescope.

Support the camera as close to its Center of Gravity as possible. It puts less strain on the rig and reduces camera movement relative to rig.

Design rigs to make them adaptable for later modification. Make them a little larger with extra holes for adjustability and to save weight.

Safety both rig and camera if possible.

Think about the consequences if the rig comes off. Would it be better to loose the camera and rig free from the vehicle and not endanger the vehicle or life, such as with an airplane rig.

Use qualified aircraft mechanics and get FAA clearance for rigs on aircraft.

Avoid open hooks or "S" hooks, use locking carabineers or closable chain links or bolts with large enough washers.

Use lock nuts, lock washers or double nuts if a nut isn't tightened.

Consider the owner of the vehicle, camera, rig and personal involved. "Well, we got the shot didn't we?" doesn't console a person who gets back a damaged vehicle or tool. "You are insured, aren't you?" is also out of line.

Plan your rigging and prefit the rig if at all possible. A prep day may save many shooting hours. Even if you are not being paid, your reputation and safety is at stake.

Be conservative about rigging time. It always takes longer.

Watch out for gas and brake lines and wiring harnesses in vehicles.

Check for wheel and drive line clearance.

Remind even the most experienced driver about what he is doing. Listen to his concerns. You can build a better dialogue if you explain what you are doing and ask his advice. He may know some tricks that can be of help. He may see problems that you have not thought of. If he is a "know it all", listen anyway, but explain why you are doing it your way. If his way is better, admit it and thank him for the suggestion. Some people with "know-it-all" attitudes really do know a lot, it's just delivery skills that they lack.

Jump on or shake the rig before it rolls.

Plan the right backgrounds for the right parts of the run. Maybe a lighting and stop change might be in order part way through a run and make two or more good shots in one run. It takes time to get back to number one.

Use the truckers hitch with caution. The figure 8 knot is safer and easier to untie than an overhand knot, both can't come apart. The Prussic knot is handy for adjusting ropes.

Plan for what happens when the car moves, the tires turn, people get into the car and for what the car has to do during the shot. A video tap often shows things that you may have not have expected before the car actually moves. Like the driver not sitting like he showed you while sitting still.

Modern cars are lean on metal and get most of their strength by curved metal panels, only trucks and most 4 wheel drives still have frames. There are anchors all over cars, but they are not always where we need them. A variety of clamps, hooks, pads, vacuum cups, will help.

The strongest points are sharp angle bends in the metal and the least strong the middle of panels.

If you spread the load out over some area you are lessening the chance of damaging the paint or denting the metal. When you have new or "peal" paint attachment it is even harder.

Only a few cars have very rigid bumpers anymore. Some times the brackets under the bumper are good points to attach to. Talk to your car prep people or check it out yourself if you can before hand, don't assume. You can make an ass out of u and me.

Fortunately there are some similar shapes on cars that can make one rig useful on many vehicles.

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