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Shooting In Underground Mines

Published : 15th September 2003


Hello,

I am in need of any advice anyone may have concerning shooting & lighting in actual underground coal mines.

Yes...the real deal!

35mm, sync, needs to be lit, etc....

Cheers,
Jeff Barklage, S.O.C.
US based DP
www.barklage.com



>I am in need of any advice anyone may have concerning shooting & >lighting in actual underground coal mines

Bring a canary...

I think there is a danger with gas, and an electronic camera could theoretically ignite it. Shoot with a reflex Eyemo.

The best advice will of course come from those who have actually done this.

I have however used a reflex Eyemo w/ spring motor and it is indeed an excellent tool.

John Babl



We shot in a series of caves in Germany where the Nazis were building the V2 rockets during the war. We relied heavily on battery powered 200W HMI Pars (ultra lightweight Kobold units) which backlit the exhaust smoke from the generator (diesel) which the cave security team ran for us. Our biggest head was an Arri 575 Par as we had to hike everything long distances over rough terrain. Shot 79 with speeds of course and got killer footage.

Dennis Boni
DP/Steadicam Owner/op
IA 600



Jeff Barklage wrote:

>I am in need of any advice anyone may have concerning shooting & >lighting in actual underground coal mines….Yes...the real deal!

Contact the Bureau of Mine Safety, From I've been told they have a room that you can put your camera in, and it is filled with gas. If the camera does not blow up, then you are supposedly safe.

I think this calls for "brushless" motors in the camera, but I'm not sure these motors are used in the making of cameras anymore (Something about this very issue in Jon Fauer's Original SR book).

Forget the Canary, there is a lamp that senses Gas much more reliably. The flame changes color when there is gas, and not oxygen to burn. Of course, there is a protective grill to prevent explosions, however it is easily damaged, which then allows the special lamp to become a major danger.

(Of all the things to remember from a misguided childhood of visiting museums and the such.)

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



Steven Gladstone wrote:

>Contact the Bureau of Mine Safety, From I've been told they have a >room that you can put your camera in, and it is filled with gas.

I read recently of sound recordist Reg Sutton using a spring wound Maihak tape recorder (mid 1950s) and a spring wound Newman Sinclair camera with sync generator added (but wouldn't that have been a motor, in reverse?) to shoot sync sound in mines for the British mining commission.

David Samuelson might know about this.

Jeff "has several spring wind recorders, and just got a Newman Sinclair"
Kreines



> Contact the Bureau of Mine Safety


Yes, if you're shooting in a coal mine, for heaven's sake, make sure you consult safety experts who really know what they're doing.

I was preparing to shoot a video for a canola oil plant, of all places, when someone raised a potential safety concern regarding a chemical that's used to distil impurities from the oil...The plant personnel seemed to think I'd be all right, but I got the name of the chemical and its typical concentration in the room they wanted me to shoot in. When I tracked down an engineer who was familiar with the systems in such plants, he kyboshed the idea - something about static electricity and blowing up the plant.

I'm guessing he was erring on the side of caution...But when every metal surface in the room is coated in multiple layers of rubber, you get the idea that caution is a very, very good thing.

George Hupka
Director/DP, Downstream Pictures
Saskatoon, Canada



>I am in need of any advice anyone may have concerning shooting & >lighting in actual underground coal mines.

I have done it, it has been awhile ago. I think I recall that we were 8000' down a shaft. They had powered tractor type things that hauled us in. (We even shot sync while travelling down into the mine) The ceiling in the shaft is VERY LOW. Watch your head

They put you through a half-hour safety school before you go down.

We were allowed to take a small quartz kit and stingers. Yes they have 110 power down there (in the US). I think we had a pocket par also. There were not many 110 outlets, so it was a bit of a pain.

It is very dirty. We allowed lots of clean up time. The dust is extremely fine and gets all over (in inside) everything.

It is damp, and if you are near the actual mining, it is dangerous and very LOUD.

Lots of opportunities for shafts of light (backlit through the dust), although we had to work fast and had no grip gear to shape the light.

The lights on the hard hats are kind of cool. They play into shots in many ways (guys walk up a tunnel, and you get them to look around, moving their head-lamps -- makes for a great effect). I lit close-ups with them when I got separated from my crew. They are low in color temp, but it sort of looks right in the environment.

Call ahead and talk with someone at the mine site if possible.

Quite an experience.

Jim Dollarhide
Director/Cinematographer



>I am in need of any advice anyone may have concerning shooting & >lighting in actual underground coal mines.

Turn off your hat lamp while reading your meter and don't let anyone in your
crew look over your shoulder while you do your readings.

A scout with your gaffer and the mines' electrician is in order. Make this person your new best friend, tell him everything you're going to be doing over a nice lunch before the scout and go over everything he needs to do for you during your expensive dinner after the scout. Swag and cases of beer don't hurt either.

Every mine I was in was different with different sets of problems.

Some had 110, in some the lights had to be wired in series, others had step down transformers which were tough to move around and all of them had dirty power which made HMI's unusable unless the were battery powered.

One thing they all had in common was they were low, tight, dark, dusty, dirty, noisy, dangerous places.

Good luck and have fun.

Paul S. Magee soc
Steadicam Owner/Operator
Philadelphia, PA



There are a number of variables involved in filming in coal mines.

The first question is are you working for the mining company or are you using their mines for something else, such as to showcase a mining machine. This may determine the level of co-operation you get. If the mine superintendent doesn't want you there, you may be in for an unpleasant experience. If he is co-operative and enthusiastic, then it can be great fun. Another extremely important factor in the experience is the relationship between labor and management, in other words the miners vs. the company.

Generally the management will try to direct you away from trouble spots.

Underground coal mining is very dirty, very hard, and very dangerous work. If the miners see that you don't mind getting dirty, working hard and sharing the risks -- which you will do simply by being there -- they will be very forthcoming with help and advice and all kinds of stories.

Another variable is the amount of methane present in the mine. Nearly all coal mines produce a certain amount of methane, or coal gas. The concentration of methane can increase rapidly to where the slightest spark can trigger an explosion. As a result, there are stringent regulations regarding what can and cannot be taken into a coal mine and how far.

At the face of the mine where the coal is actually being mined, only electrical equipment listed by the US Bureau of Mines, or state bureaus of mines or certified to be "intrinsically safe" can be brought near. Any battery powered camera is considered to be "Not permissible" unless it is approved, no matter how safe it may be. Think about a Bolex

In other parts of the mine, the restrictions are not as severe, but that depends a great deal on the individual mine. All of these regulations are for safety of the people working in the mines and are the result of many years of bitter and tragic experience. Don't even think about trying to circumvent them.

If you want to film actual mining then it is essential that you speak to the people at the mine and not just the company PR folks. Their job is to mine coal, not necessarily to help you make your film, so getting a sense of their take on the situation can save you a lot of grief.

For your own safety and comfort, try to get a mine that is dry or has a minimum of water and one that is in a "high" coal seam so you can stand up. Also for comfort, see how the miners dress and wear what they are wearing. Learn some Loretta Lynn songs or at least Johnny Cash.

If you have any specific questions about anything, I'll try to answer them.

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP



>I read recently of sound recordist Reg Sutton using a spring wound >Maihak tape recorder (mid 1950s) and a spring wound Newman Sinclair >camera

I served my apprenticeship as an instrumentmaker, producing instrumentation for a lot of industries including mines. The approval certification for use in mines was even more strict then the nuclear approvals!

I think that it may depend on the mine and the geology, with coal mines the main problem is the worry of explosion.( methane gas or firedamp )

I remember ( this was 30 years ago guys! ) that NO aluminium could be used ( it can produce sparks and burns easily in a methane atmosphere ), certain greases and paints could not be used. The whole instrument had to be housed in an explosion proof cast iron housing with sealed threaded lids. No contact switches of any sort could be used, instead we used sealed mercury capsule switches. Anything that could cause a spark was not allowed.

Years later at Cine Europe, we had a few jobs with people shooting in coal mines and they ended up shooting with clockwork Bolexes ( Bolii? )

Good luck and NO SMOKING.....

Andy Taylor
Camera Engineer
Arri Media
Uxbridge
Middlesex UB8 1LX
UK



Jeff Kreines writes :

>I read recently of sound recordist Reg Sutton using a spring wound >Maihak tape recorder (mid 1950s) and a spring wound Newman Sinclair >camera

The sync generator was most likely a spinning-magnet type (like a bicycle
dynamo), which would not have used brushes or any other spark-inducing parts.

>Jeff "has several spring wind recorders, and just got a Newman Sinclair" Kreines>

The Nagra II was spring wound. Do you have one of those?

Dan Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA



Dan Drasin wrote:

>The Nagra II was spring wound. Do you have one of those?

Of course.

I've got a Nagra IIci, an Amplicorp Magnemite spring wind (with huge bolt-on cast-iron flywheel), a Maihak MMK6 (not here yet), and other old machines include a Stellavox SM5 (thank you Brian Heller), a Sony EM2NS Nagra copy, a Stancil Hoffman Minitape, a Bell Cub Corder, an EMI portable, and a Magnasync Nomad (with all accessories).

It's a disease... I won't even start on the cameras.

Still looking for a nice Bogdanowycz Auricon.

Jeff "overflowing shelves" Kreines