Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Hostess Tray Flexibility


I'm shooting a project that will involve a lot of hostess tray work and I haven't used it much. We're getting a Matthews Hostess tray rig and we're looking for interesting angles. I'm curious: once the rig is on the car window, is there play to lower the camera (if you want to shoot a little angle up and not just dead on head height)? Is there any play left or right? Is that just defined by the width of the car window how much I can slide the camera and/or tray around? Are there any rigs (maybe even speed rail options) that could allow me to put the camera more frontally on the people in the car beyond the profile view?

I'd appreciate any input you could give.

Thanks so much.


Eric Lin

A hostess tray is limited mostly by the lens height of the camera ( a small DV camera can mount lower than 35mm camera ) and by the car's geometry...depending on what focal length you have forgiven field of view, you may find that mixing it up a bit gives you a frame with too much car in it, and if the car is light in color or has chrome trims on a daytime shoot, it often just looks weird ( to me ). A car rigging specialist likely has a hood mount and lots of extra speedrail and cheese plate to get the lens into those places the tray won’t venture.

But the dead profile or sidelong two shot of driver / passenger is probably most common for a reason.

Royce Allen Dudley
Studio City, CA, USA

>>…is there play to lower the camera?,,,,, Is there any play left or right?
>>…Are there any rigs (maybe even speed rail options) that could allow me to put the camera more >>frontally…

I think any decent Grip is going to say: "Where do you want the lens?"

Then they will put it there. There are always a few compromises with car shooting - sometimes it's safety, sometimes it's aesthetic and sometimes it's just a practical choice.

The use of hostess trays is a lot less common than it used to be. They don't make much sense on a trailer. And letting an actor drive with a Panaflex hanging out the window just doesn't seem to appeal to very many producers these days. Maybe here and there on a tow-dolly?

Using a hostess tray with an actor driving is just not very safe. I think the reality is that Production Managers and Producers don't want to risk threatening their standing with the insurance carriers. Not to mention the safety and security of bystanders - which is an insurance issue that mandates the expense of lane closures, police escort and traffic control.

But rigging the camera where you want it should be business as usual for any decent Key Grip.

David Perrault, CSC

>>But rigging the camera where you want it should be business as usual for any decent Key Grip.

And therein lies the key to good crew management: hiring people who are better at their jobs than you are, telling them what you want, and getting out of their way.
Art Adams | Director of Photography
San Jose, CA USA

Hi Eric,

I could go on for a while about hostess trays, but I do like them and think they're one of the easier car mounts to use. I have some pics of a low-budget rig on my website (go to Photo-journal and look at the pics from 'Blues'. Hostess trays are easy to rig, get the deluxe model which has a lot more flexibility to raise and lower the tray.

You can even go to low-shots looking forward over the tires or turn and do a rear looking shot really easily. The other important accessory is a ball-level mount for the camera. You can quickly level the camera, and this bolts between the hostess tray and the bottom of the camera. Also, I always carry a spare quick-release or touch-n-go plate (Baker plate?) so I can clip the camera off the tripod onto the rig without having to bolt into the bottom of the camera.

Ratchet straps are what holds this rig onto the car, and that's what will slow down your height adjustments -- you have to loosen the ratchets to change the height of the camera. But you could set the height of the camera before tightening the straps. We also used C- arms and gobo heads to stabilize the rig. Allow extra time to rig these things -- they'll always take a little longer than you think, even if you get some pre-rigging done. We had a couple of motorcycle cops to keep us safe.

The biggest downside is going to be motion vibration when you're moving. You can't get rid of it completely. I've suggested trying Final Cut Pro's SmoothCam plugin to minimize it in the past, but am not sure if they took my advice or how it worked. Find the smoothest road you can -- this is key!!

Also, watch out for weird flares, make sure your matte box is taped up and no flares can hit the lens or filters. Or remove your matte box all together to reduce wind drag (but maybe use a rubber lens shade for the flare). It's hard to keep them from shooting in any direction the car's driving, so this is where getting the right image and exposure can be difficult.

Will you have a process trailer? Shooting dialogue? How are you lighting the actors?

Good luck and have fun (and be safe!),

Graham Futerfas
Director of Photography
Los Angeles, CA

Thanks for the feedback all. My regular key grip is a car mount fanatic but I just want to make sure I can talk about the shots with the director and not promise something I can't get on a low budget project.

The hero car will be towed (for actor's safety) but not on a real process trailer. We'll still be using car mounts. There is dialogue and we'll have lighting rigged to the car. So, safety-wise and shooting wise, I insisted that at least the car be towed so we can do some work and get some decent results.

Thanks for your photos and input, Graham. It's helpful with pre-visualizing what we'll be able to achieve.


Eric Lin

>>I just want to make sure I can talk about the shots with the director and not promise something I can't >>get on a low budget project.


I know that this "sounds" like an obvious recommendation, but it has happened to me in the past with regards to mounting a camera on a car mount, so, let's just cover all of the bases.

There is indeed a lot of flexibility with placement of the camera on the car mount, but make sure that you have the correct attachments to rig the camera on. ?For instance, make sure you have enough "raise" so that the pin under the head of your camera is not scratching against the car (this has happened to me). ?Make sure that you have the correct ball mount adaptor to make it work (has happened to me).

The worst thing is to rent the car mount and be ready to rig up the shot and be missing a crucial piece of equipment for rigging the camera onto the mount. ?

As long as you have all of the right rigging equipment and camera adaptor equipment, you'll be great.

David M. Brunsman
Phone: (818) 983-9901
"We're all losers. A winner is just a loser? Who tried one more time."
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