Low Budget Western
Published : 10th November 2005
I am currently prepping a low budget western in Santa Fe, and one of my big concerns is shooting running footage with people on horseback. We are going to employ some long lens tricks, where we are panning as they ride in a circle around us (ala that "Midnight Cowboy" opening) and some dolly moves on track up on platforms for walking and talking shots.
There may be a moment or 2 where we can get enough travel out of a riding jib arm that is in town. But, the big concern for me is when we get to real running footage. Some of the terrain will be fine with a steadicam mounted on a stake bed or ATV, but the limited vert. travel of the steadicam is going to find it's match on some of the rougher terrain. So, I keep going back to a gyro stabilised head, but this seems like a very expensive toy for our tiny job. The other idea I have, of a very large crane (of the 85' variety) also seems pretty expensive for out budget.
So, I have 2 questions, am I missing some good low budget solution? And, if I do go a day or 2 w/a gyro head, what are folks favourites for distant, sandy location work?
Thanks a bunch,
Just a point about gyro-stabilized heads - the good news is that they can null out the effects of momentary angular displacements caused by pitch/yaw/roll of the device onto which they are mounted...but the head itself can't fix translational movement...
Let me try that in English :
If your camera is mounted on a vehicle that is bouncing radically up and down, for instance, the stabilised head would keep the horizon pretty much in the same place in the frame that the operator put it, but the rider of a horse in the foreground with respect to which the camera is experiencing vertical movement would be going up and down with that movement.
A stabilized head on a jib arm will help a lot - the inertial mass of the jib arm will soak up some of the vertical movement and slow it down to make it a bit more "counter-tiltable."
Having said that, you need to be very careful when mounting a jib arm on a vehicle - the side loading to the main post are considerably more than on a dolly or track base. I actually worked on a ride film years ago where we mounted a Chapman Hy base on the bed of a specialized tracking vehicle and put a Lenny arm on it arming over the front of the vehicle. We were REALLY rigorous about tying the base off and additionally guying the tip of the post back to the truck.
Obviously, if you were to put a jib arm of any sort on a quad runner, you would be raising the centre of gravity and really tempting fate with regard to an expensive and life-threatening roll-over unless you had really controlled circumstances - this is a good argument for a wider track vehicle.
By the way, unless you totally trust your grip-crew's experience and understanding of the forces involved, err on the side of caution - with this sort of thing, if it looks like it might tip over, it probably will.
I shot a documentary about Cowboys in Texas last year. We shot a number of sequences of them on horseback, at speeds up to a gallop. We did the usual long lens stuff, but the best, most dynamic shots were done out of the side and back of an MPV. We found some good terrain that was not too rough for the horses, and that had a good solid dirt track running through.
I don't know what the soil is like in Santa Fe, but in W.Texas they have a very fine, red soil, which compacts down into a surprisingly smooth surface. With one camera pointing out sideways, and another out the back, we were able to get some great tracking wide shots, and very respectable mid shots.
We could have gone tighter, but as Mark pointed out, even if your shot is smooth, the movement of the rider up and down is very distracting in a close up.
We had no special gear, just sticks and Satchler heads.
DP, Bristol, UK
>,,,,,the limited vert. travel of the steadicam is going to find it's match on >some of the rougher terrain.,,,,,
Isn't there a way to mount a Steadicam (Garfield mount?) onto the saddle of a horse? I'm pretty sure I've seen that in AC, or some kind of Steadicam literature.
What about handheld with a couple of gyros on the camera? If the horses are going flat out the noise shouldn't be a problem.
David Perrault, CSC
If the horses are supposed to be leisurely walking along as opposed to a trot or gallop, then you can easily fake it. This is good for when two cowboys have a conversation while riding along next to one another. Just don't have any background scenery too close or the viewer will notice the lack of travel.
I remember seeing some behind the scenes stills from "Unforgiven" and noting how marvellously low-tech the solution of Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman sitting atop a couple of six-step ladders worked so effectively.
>So, I have 2 questions, am I missing some good low budget solution? >And, if I do go a day or 2 w/a gyro head, what are folks favourites for >distant, sandy location work?
In my opinion, the Libra head is the best of the stabilised heads. Cost is about 1200.00 per day plus a technician at about 550.00 for ten hours. The Libra heads are available for rent from Geo Film. Another option would be to use a Dynalens. The Dynalens is an optical stabilization system that has been around for 35+ years.
Disclaimer: I have no interest in Libra heads but have used them on many projects with great success. As for the Dynalens, I own the only seven in the world that work to my knowledge and am currently developing a new system with modern electronics.
Steve Peterson, 600 AC LA, Dynalens Rentals
Get very close. Use a very wide lens.
Marin County, CA
Patrick Cady wrote :
> So, I have 2 questions, am I missing some good low budget solution?
Just did a quick Google search for it and can't find anything, but I remember reading about the shooting of some John Ford western, (possibly Stagecoach), where they shot these kind of things alongside a railroad track.
A readymade dolly track, if you can find one near your location. Just mount your camera on a flatbed wagon of some kind, and try to rent one of those Suburbans that have drop down train wheels to tow it. Railroad companies is America use them for track maintenance I think.
Keep an eye out for the AT&SF bearing down on you.
Just a thought. It worked for them back in the thirties.
Have you seen the Hovercam www.hovercam.com we have here in the UK? A tiny chopper only 4' long... And save some money to pay for it shooting Techniscope. I've just bought a 2 perf which gives you 2.35 without expensive anamorphics and you only use half the stock!!
Franz von Habsburg
There is a treadmill used for exercising horses on the spot and doing vetinary/performance tests. If it was possible to do this with a rider on board two treadmills could be put side by side and with a blue/greenscreen background get in close for conversations whilst galloping.
The moving background plate then filmed at the location used for the wide shots.
A photo of one in use is at this link, but Google search on â€“ Equine Treadmill - and you might find something in your area.
John Samuels UK DP
I remember a steadi-cam arm mounted (lots of tape) to a saddle in a Clairmont ad from American Cinematographer (cir. early 90's).
Richard W. Gretzinger
Director of Photography
>... where they shot these kind of things alongside a railroad track. A >readymade dolly track, if you can find one near your location.
An excellent suggestion.
Two observations re: this plan:
When shooting on working railroad tracks, you will need a representative of the railroads physically there. to coordinate so that you don't disrupt service or get killed, or more importantly, damage the train right-of way. (from their standpoint, of course)
Those Chevy Suburbans that are equipped with bogey wheels are called "High Rails", and we rented one for a show I worked on in order to shoot background plates. They are owned by various train operation companies - it was a long time ago, but some of the equipment we ran on the tracks came from another company in another state. They normally need a crossing in order to mount/dismount from the tracks - so you need to plan your shots a reasonable drive away from a crossing - because they have to be able to get off the tracks in order to get out of the way of that eastbound freight train full of injection-moulded crap from the port of Long Beach headed for Walmart's distribution centre.
If you go this route, it may not be expensive at all, but depending on track usage, it may be take a lot of time. The phrase that "they" used all the time was "track and time" which just about says it - you have clearly defined shooting windows between scheduled trains, and the rules are very specific about violating that timetable.
You have to leave enough time to get your train equipment to a siding or (in the case of a high rail) to a crossing and off the tracks with plenty of time to spare before the scheduled train comes - so if you can find a place where you want to shoot that is near a crossing or a siding, or is on a rarely used spur, you are much more likely to get permission to do what you want to in an efficient enough way to justify the hassles.
Call Alan at Clairmont - they keep all kinds of neat stuff around in case creative lighting strikes twice in the same place they might have a steadicam post-to-saddle adaptor:
Work: 818 761-4440
(not in any way affiliated, but a grateful customer once in a while)
Anyone with horse &/or off-road truck spot experience see a preferential solution?
On one note, be sure to have experienced horse riders for talent. I realize this sounds obvious but I did a western shoot in Santa Fe and they brought in a NY actor who told them he was experienced with horses. Well... the action called for him to jump onto the horse and gallop away. Once he managed to get onto the horse without falling, the horse did gallop away ending with a great shot. Only the horse had no intention of returning. We had to send out some real cowboys to wrangle them back to set. Boy was that actor embarrassed.
Good luck and enjoy that great South western cuisine.
>There is a treadmill used for exercising horses on the spot and doing >vetinary/performance tests.
Yes, I have seen one of these in action at our local veterinary college, and it would be an amazing way of doing closer shots in front of a greenscreen while preserving the look of horses in gallop...Of course, the drawback is that your actors would have to be decent riders, as for all intents and purposes they'd be riding. (As opposed to using mechanical horses for close-ups, which is naturally easier for the human talent)
I remember reading about the Steadicam saddle...I believe the challenges there are finding an experienced Steadicam op/rider...And getting the horse used to having the steadicam flying beside him!
George Hupka wrote:
> Yes, I have seen one of these in action at our local veterinary college, >and it would be an amazing way of doing closer shots in front of a >greenscreen while preserving the look of horses in gallop.
You can actually see one in action in the film Zebra Stripes.
There's a scene in the film where one of the race horses runs on one of these treadmills. I wouldn't recommend the film for any purpose though.
Mark Smith DP NYC
>'I believe the challenges there are finding an experienced Steadicam >op/rider.... And getting the horse used to having the steadicam flying >beside him!'
Well I used to 'ride work' for a race trainer a while back, but have not done Steadicam yet. So if you want an operator/rider !!
From my experience, I would say that a steadicam fixed to a saddle etc. would unbalance the horse and I would not recommend that.
John Samuels UK DP
George Hupka wrote :
> I remember reading about the Steadicam saddle.... I believe the >challenges there are finding an experienced Steadicam op/rider...
I think the problem with this rig was actually the Steadicam-qualified horses. They had to have their own trailer and their own special diet, they were always showing off to the lady horses on set, and their day rates were outrageous!
Alan Thatcher DP
> I think the problem with this rig was actually the Steadicam-qualified >horses.
Were they also capable of walking on water like their human
>'I think the problem with this rig was actually the Steadicam-qualified >horses. They had to have their own trailer and their own special diet, >they were always showing off to the lady horses on set, and their day >rates were outrageous!'
Good one !!!
John Samuels UK
I just had one of these on set and he ran off with the director on his back, braying in his ear "I can also DP, I can also light" ...and the lady horses we're very impressed with his machinery...
Nick Hoffman NYDP
Just be careful before you start setting up dollies, gyro mounts and lord knows what other shiny metal equipment up next to horses. They can spook easily and I once saw one kick a Mole Baby (the Fresnel, not an infant) thirty feet in the air. "professional" horses that are used to being on sets near equipment are a lot calmer than ol' Betsy from the back 40.
>Just be careful before you start setting up dollies, gyro mounts and lord >knows what other shiny metal equipment up next to horses. They can >spook easily
I had one do just that from the crinkling sound of some aluminized Mylar used as a reflector. Or maybe it was the combination of the sound and shiny surface.
>"...equipment up next to horses. They can spook easily..."
I recall being reprimanded by the wranglers- as a loader/assistant carrying around the slate, if I clicked it haphazardly, the horses that fell would fall and the ones that reared would rear.
Edwin Myers, Atlanta dp
Just saw a picture of a cameraman named Ron Vidor on a horse with a steadicam shooting backwards.
> "Just be careful before you start setting up dollies, gyro mounts and >lord knows what other shiny metal equipment up next to horses. They >can spook easily"
And Polys or other forms of white bounce can really upset the inexperienced horse.
Jens Jakob Thorsen
Director of Photography