One of the hardest things is to realize when something is not working, and to take the necessary time and energy to find a better solution. Oh, how painful it is to interrupt the momentum of a work flow and take a time-out. But ultimately, how much better to solve the problem for good instead of limping by with half-measures and then suffering the consequences later.
We had a video shoot yesterday. It involved Murray sitting on a cart while holding the video camera and rolling down the conveyer belt. Since he was holding the camera, he couldn’t manually brake the cart with his hands, and without brakes, the cart would shoot down the track at an uncontrollable speed. After a ridiculous amount of brainstorming, we came up with a plan: we would build a crank, attach aircraft wire to the cart via a pulley, and a production assistant would lower Murray and the camera down the track, spelunker-style.
In the days leading up to the shoot, we spent significant time on the problem, between ideas, sketches, trial runs, and the construction of the crank. Come shoot time, the cast and crew was in place. Everything was working successfully, except the crank system. The PA managing the crank was viewing a video monitor that beamed the image wirelessly from Murray’s video cart. In theory, it should have worked. In reality, without being able to directly see Murray or the track — which had too many variables to accurately predict through the video monitor system — we’d given the PA an impossible job. So Murray would lurch forward, then jerk to a complete stop, then crawl along at the perfect speed, only to lurch forward again.
It was a three-hour shoot, and one hour into our allotted time, it was clear that the crank system just wasn’t working. We gave performers a break while we tried to come up with a better solution that we could implement in record time. What a relief when we hit on a idea that hadn’t occurred to us before.
Here’s what we did: we disconnected the crank and built a new cart, then attached Murray’s cart to the second cart with a cord, and reassigned our PA as the new “caboose.” We had him travel behind Murray and brake both carts, now that he was able to see exactly what needed to happen and when. With the right tools, our PA was able to sensitively pilot the camera cart with the right timing and speed, which resulted in a fluid long shot (thanks, Camillo!). When we reconvened again, the cast and crew was transformed into a well-oiled machine, and we got 32 usable takes in the can.
Speaking of starting over: the video we’re working on? It’s a re-shoot of The Stepping Up and Going Under Method. We’ve got this great new camera, and the set was still up in our studio, so we decided to get a higher image quality on the video while we still could. In the process of preparing to shoot the new version, we solved several of the problems that had plagued us in the first shoot and re-worked the set. A painful process, but worth the effort.
Here’s an image of the final set: