by Shane Hurlbut
The MōVI has always been seen as a trick shot device, one that could be hooked up to a rope, lowered out of a window, passed off and then run down an alley, dropped down into a man-hole cover, then passed off to blast out of a subway tunnel, which is then attached to a drone, which flies the device up into the stratosphere. Fun shot, but how could we expand the language of the MōVI to tell an emotional dramatic story about Amanda Seyfried’s character’s past and how it comes back to haunt her?
When I read the script for Fathers and Daughters, Amanda’s character had a very unstable childhood, one that was fueled by her parents dying and then being raised by a drunk aunt who never knew love. That is not something that breeds stability, to say the least.
I always do what I call an “Emotional Breakdown” for my scripts, attaching a camera emotion and a lighting emotion to all of the characters. This is one of my main rules to go by when lensing a film. I believed Amanda Seyfried’s character in Fathers and Daughters should feel like she had no foundation, a feeling of being on sand, not brick and mortar, not stable or sturdy. Our director, Gabriele Muccino, and I were going through our options for this approach. Hand-held came up, but we felt it was too intense for the movie. Steadicam was an option but still not the right energy. I shot a test with the MōVI, which was a device he had not used before. When he saw that energy conveyed in the framing, he was all in.
With the MōVI, I want to show how an artist and a company, FreeFly Systems, collaborate together to change the way a device is used and innovated on a feature film.
We are going to pull back the curtain on how we were able to pull off six pages of dialogue scenes hand holding the MōVI. Much thought was put into this idea, how we mounted it to cranes to smooth them out, how we got into actor’s eye lines without out having to be an operator who stands at 6’6”, how we used a wheelchair that turned it into a 50’ Techno Crane shot. We did all that along with fine tuning the software and hardware to make it more efficient and a little more cinematic in operation. We utilized the compact remote head nature of the MōVI and mounted it to a dolly to get up close and personal, doing this all for the story, for the camera emotion, no tricks, no gimmicks.
Innovation with Freefly Systems
Collaborating with companies that make gear for the movie business is challenging due to the tight time parameters that are always present on a feature. Freefly Systems was a joy to work with because they want to make their product better, easier to use, faster to assemble, etc. When Tabb’s team and my Fathers and Daughters camera team sat down, we had a laundry list of things we wanted to change. Some of these changes required writing new software to assist in pulling off a movie where 80% would be lensed with their gyro stabilized M10 systems. At first, they were surprised by the request. However, they got up to speed quickly and started sending us new innovations that were necessary for our vision.
Getting a shot with the MōVI where you can be in your actor’s eye-line is challenging at best unless you are over 6’3”, or hire operators that are, which is what we did. Luckily, they were not only tall, they were very talented. John “Buzz” Moyer was my A camera operator in at 6’ 5”. Rich Schutte was my B camera operator and he was 6’4”. Height problem solved! But we still needed longer handles so we could easily look down and move around. Tabb and his amazing team built us longer handles so that we could achieve this.
Camera Operators: Left – John “Buzz” Moyer, Right – Rich Schutte on Fathers and Daughters
With these longer handles, someone who is not 6’4” tall can get into an actor’s eye-line or nicely and easily above it, without holding the rig in a very compromising position for stability. We showcased these new handles on the Illumination Experience Cinematography Tour. I expect that Freefly will soon have these available so that you can upgrade your systems.
MōVI Dock for C-Stands
We needed a stand. The one MōVI supplies does the job but accessing it at ground level is not the most efficient way to increase speed or the ability to light with your camera on set. You do not want to always have to bring around tables to set your low stand on. The C-stand MōVI Dock was born. It slides right onto a c-stand or baby stand so that you can adjust the height of where the operator prefers to grab it. You can quickly change lenses at your eye height, balanced with speed and accuracy.
MōVI table top stand
MōVI Dock with MōVI M10
MōVI Dock with MōVI M10 on stand
A software update was needed to get accuracy to our operators. The director, Gabriele, did not want any wishy washy framing. He loved accurate pans, beautiful composition that delivered his vision. The soft stops on Majestic mode with pan and tilt would not work. We needed the gyros to work, but in a way that would snap operation frames into motion. Through many discussions, the new firmware for the MōVI was developed. The soft stops can be pretty much eliminated and much more accurate operation could be achieved, which was huge for us.
We took that new firmware and made the Freefly work with another third party vendor to create a match made in cinematic operation heaven. The Hot Gears digital to analog conversion was born. Mehran over at Hot Gears has really finessed this system to work very much like a remote head so that we could get the accuracy that we expected out of one of these devices.
Shane operating with the “Hot Gears” on a recent commercial
As innovators, many of us feel like our time spent giving advice to companies so that they can make the tools which help tell our stories is a very lonely road, one of being taken advantage of or not respected for what you do and what you give. I have to say that this experience with Freefly has inspired me to continue to give of my expertise and experience if the rewards match. Many of you ask, why MōVI? There are many other gyro-stabilized devices on the market that are far cheaper. It comes down to the team behind the product, the support, the innovation, the forward thinking, the ability to future proof a product. Freefly Systems delivered. A HUGE thanks to Tabb, Denise and their incredible team of mad scientists, customer service specialists and mechanical wizards who have really changed the way I make movies.
On-set in Pittsburgh, PA for Fathers and Daughters