Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996

Crash Camera

Published : 16th August 2003


Recently a production rented an effects camera from us. At the time, they discussed the parameters of the shot and we sent them the package they needed. An experienced assistant familiar with the gear went along to handle the camera.

Somewhere along the way changes were made and the parameters of the shot changed. The final setup wound up putting the camera at great risk of getting trashed. It was really a job for a crashcam like those hardened Eymos that Clairmont has.

Sure enough they had a wreck and trashed the camera and the stunt driver. I don't think they got the shot either.

Here is my question to the group at large...At what point do you decide that the risk is too great? How would you react if the day player AC made a stink about the potential damage to the equipment?

Marty Brenneis
Camera Engineering
"We make it, you break it"



>Somewhere along the way changes were made...the shot changed.

Marty,

What I have done in the past is very politely point out that there is a problem with this set up as the insurance you have will not cover this type of set up. "Apologies to the production but insurance was organised based on the information the production initially supplied". Of course if the production wants to fully insure the gear themselves and supply the relevant documentation they can use the gear.

This way you can blame the insurance people as you would "love" to go ahead but those nasty insurance people won't let you. By seeing to be flexible on the use of gear if they insure it you are seen to be reasonable. In future your on set assistants should call back to base for guidance when put in this situation.

Tom "get a lawyer son, a good lawyer" Gleeson D.O.P.
Sydney Australia

http://users.bigpond.net.au-gleeson



John,

An AC bud of mine was on a shoot where they put a 435 and an Arri3 on a roller-coaster. After two laps of the 'coaster a bunch of screws on the 435 had come loose, one dropping into the spinning mirror shattering it. The screws holding the base of the Arri3 came loose and broke. The retaining ring holding the front element of the 10mm Zeiss in had backed out and the front element just barely escaped disaster. Imagine explaining all that to the insurance company.

Rod Williams
Motion Picture First Camera Assistant
Petaluma, CA USA



We've also had some screws come loose on an old wooden roller coaster (metal wheels on metal track) Didn't lunch the camera, but the mag tried to escape when the screws holding the latching mechanism vibrated down and into the body.

Bigger picture, this is a tough question... people at the production end tend to think that they have paid to do what they want with the gear and that it is insured, so they "own" it for the time period, but I work with a lot of one-off cameras - vista vision high speed cameras and the like - which, if destroyed, will never be replaced. At some point, the money you get back from insurance will not cover the loss of the tool.

I would think that if you stick to your guns and refuse to let someone use a piece of equipment that they have rented, you leave yourself open to litigation ...sort of an issue of "prior restraint." At the very least, I would think that you would have to give up any rental money for the day if they insisted - you would have "breached contract" in their eyes.

Has anyone seen an example of a rental contract which allows "prior restraint" in the case of unsafe use of equipment?

One issue is clearly that of a camera mount where the camera might break loose and injure someone - at that point, the owners of the camera are exposed to liability. Another is issue is the mounting of a camera on any vehicle or attached to any person where the presence of the camera affects someone's ability to control a vehicle or affects the vehicles operation - some wing mounts can upset lift enough on one side of an aircraft to render it dangerous to fly, for instance.

Mark Weingartner
LA based
(used to mount cameras on experimental planes)



Marty Brenneis wrote :


>How would you react if the day player AC made a stink about the >potential damage to the equipment?

The A.C. is an integral component to ANY Film Shoot. They are there to safeguard the image, the film, and the equipment. Given enough access to information, they will SAVE the production money. Most productions seem to consider the A.C. as a Specialized P.A., that they can get to work for a half day, doing an 8 hour check out of gear. Asking Production for a copy of the boards, so to be better able prep the gear, and get what is needed seems to lead to the A.C. being questioned as to why they needs to know what is going on. Whether this is an attempt to save money, or a lack of understanding of the Position by production (The D.P, or even the A.C. ) I leave to you to determine.

Politically, it can be tough being a day player.

In answer to your question, You never TRY to kill the camera.

Steven Gladstone
Cinematographer - Gladstone Films
Cinematography Mailing List - East Coast List Administrator
Better off Broadcast (B.O.B.)
New York, U.S.A



>I don't know, but what was the outcome of that case in France (an >operator died along w/ the camera in a bad crash

Alain Dutartre was a focus puller, and I think that's what he was doing when he got killed. Another person was injured on this stunt.

The case was in the news a few weeks ago because the producer had to testify at trial. From what I remember, the head of the stunt department initially
took the responsibility, but his lawyer may start to investigate the prep time (before principal shooting) production had initially allocated to his department. The case is far from over and seems rather complicated.

I don't think the director was held responsible.

And nobody ever mentioned anything about the camera.

Leo Mac Dougall
AC Paris



Marty,

I don't know if you remember me, but I've worked with your camera equipment, both as and operator and as an assistant, so I'm familiar with the equipment and its specialized nature. Being a motion control specialist, I 'm also familiar with productions who want to push the envelope with this kind of equipment.

I've been pondering this same question for some time, and I've added a clause to my rental contract the specifically requires that crew personnel using my equipment be specifically qualified to use it, and that their qualifications be approved by my company. This approval usually means that I must check them out personally, so the customer just accepts my recommended technician. It seems to me that you have a similar situation where you recommended specific assistants work with your gear.

I'm considering going farther with my requirements, maybe as a published guideline, maybe as an addendum to the contract, where I reserve the right to refuse to subject the equipment to certain environmental hazards or environmental extremes. The final determination of whether a given condition is too "extreme" would be first determined by said "qualified" technician, and secondarily backup up by me.

Now, one problem I see with this approach is that it seems to me that deals are made and contracts are reviewed and signed by someone in an "ivory tower" office, and the details of the agreement may not make it to the decision makers on the set. So, I'm beginning to ponder adding an additional sign-off form to the contract, stipulating that all people directly involved in making decisions that could place the equipment in peril have been informed of the "final say" provisions in the contract, and the authority the "qualified" technician has in determining this final say. This form would identify to the rental house who the director of photography, director, producer, and production manager are, and would require their signed acknowledgement of understanding of the policy.

Of course, this kind of document would not be a binding instrument, and could not be used to hold any individual liable for damages, but it certainly would allow the vendor to know which creatives/producers show disregard for equipment. It could also help pass the responsibility the assistant assumes in telling them they can't use the equipment in such a manner to the vendor (we the renters) while still preserving his authority to do so.

Again, this is only something I'm considering doing, as I too am always looking to protect my unique equipment. What do you, and others on the board think of such an approach??? To me, it gives notice to the "powers" on the set, identifies those "powers" who show disregard for the safety of the equipment (allowing we lessors to choose whether or not to rent to them again), and it deflects some of the flack from our valuable allies – the assistants -- and places it back on the lessor (where it truly belongs...).

It's one thing to risk total destruction of something like an Arri 435, of which there are hundreds of copies, and is easily replaceable. It's quite another to risk destroying a piece of equipment of which there are fewer than 10 copies (or maybe only 1), and in turn risk destroying a rental company's primary source of income, or a specialty organization of a unique tool.

What do you and others on the board think?

Don Canfield
Gear+Rose Motion Control
New York
www.gearandrose.com



Hi Don,

To play devil's advocate, your scenario is a good one, but some might hold the AC responsible if s/he LETS the camera do a stunt shot and it gets damaged. Unfortunately there is always a long blame storming session after any accident.

There is an attitude that I have come across many times, "It's only a rental, who cares if we trash it." That may work for a 435 or G2, but no one is making Eymos or Mark2s anymore. And you just try and get Greg to make another Beaucam.

I feel quite lucky to work with a small group of assistants who consider our cameras to be their personal equipment.

Marty Brenneis



If your instinct tells you that the equipment is at risk, I always do a thorough check of the client's insurance status. If everything is absolutely covered and I am not dealing with anything irreplaceable, I rent the gear and sleep easy. What presents more of a quandary to me is what constitutes normal wear and tear. I always treat rental equipment as if it were my own and consider it a matter of pride to return it meticulously packed. Unfortunately, I have often received gear back in my shop which was obviously handled with little care, and repacked by Assistants that never learned the basics. I have even included photographs showing how everything is to be packed...

Dennis Boni
DP/ Steadicam owner/op.
IA 60