I have a long term project that began as a photo essay, ‘The Cider Makers’, some examples of which you may have seen on this website already. It has since expanded into a documentary film project with friend and colleague Jill Furmanovsky, and we have been interviewing subjects that have been touched by the lives of Frank and Harold Naish, the brothers at the centre of the project.
So, on a mild late October Sunday, (yesterday as I write this), I drove out to one of the Naish orchards to get a little bit of footage of the apple crop while some of it was still attached to the trees, to use as a filler or introduction clip to the film. A while ago I bought a ‘Road Jib’, by SlideKamera, a Polish company, which I had seen at BVE (Broadcast & Video Expo) in early 2015. For the price, it struck as being sturdy and well made, with good chunky components, yet quite compact and transportable – a well designed bit of must have kit for any aspiring independent filmmaker. So far, I’ve only had the opportunity to use it a couple of times, so I was looking forward to getting some high production value clips in the orchard, the camera majestically but gently sweeping down (or up) through the apple tree, from the apples on the ground to those up in the bows.
Stability seems to be the biggest issue with crane shots – especially when they are done slowly and fully extended, as any hesitation or movement is somehow amplified due to the clip perhaps being studied for longer and therefore more closely. A faster track, say for some action in the frame, might be more forgiving as the jerks or wobbles will be less obvious due to what is happening in the shot and the speed of movement of the crane. I’ve come to realise that getting it right involves more than simply lifting the jib up and down. Especially if you also want to introduce some lateral movement to pan the camera during the vertical movement. I always appreciate good crane shots in films or TV dramas, and particularly the skill involved where the crane is also tracking and panning at the same time as rising or lowering during the shot. You don’t hear much about crane operators in the film industry, but I think they are highly skilled – imagine how easy it would be to mess up a shot of say, a car arriving somewhere and the driver getting out and walking to a spot where the camera must arrive at head level for a close-up, having started high up as the car approaches, tracks backwards and down, then follows the actor as he/she walks into the finishing marks. Executing a simple shot in an orchard brought home to me how much care and skill it takes. The clip below is not quite there – a little jerky to start, and the panning movement slightly unsure and hesitant, but hopefully, there are other takes I will look at in due course that might be better. Of course, the big boys have motorised cranes, with motorised camera movements, remote focus pullers and so on, while I have a simple rig made for dslr work, but nevertheless…….