Editor’s Note: Continuing with Part 2 of Cinematographer, Steadicam and Camera Operator Massimo Bordonaro’s review of the Panasonic EVA1 (you can find Part 1 here), Bordonaro returns to describe his use of the popular camera on the short film “Sheela” for UCLA, where he served as the Steadicam Operator. In this article, Bordanaro will speak of his experience using the EVA1, but delve even further into film history, his own family’s legacy in filmmaking and much more.
Project: Short Film “Sheela” for UCLA
Camera: Panasonic EVA1
Format: MOV 4:2:2 10-Bit Internal Recording 4096 x 2160 at 23.98 fps (400 Mb/s)
Lenses: Canon primes, 24mm, 35mm and 50mm
Wireless Focus: DJI Focus
Wireless Video: Teradek Bolt 600 in a gold mount sandwich
Power: Gold Mount
Steadicam: Tiffen Steadicam Phantom V, G-70X Arm and Ultra2 Vest
Massimo’s Role: Steadicam Operator
I’ve been on some pretty awesome projects. And this one definitely gave me a chance to engineer a perfectly balanced Steadicam rig, play with the Panasonic EVA1, put mechanical engineering and isometrics to the test, and throw in a little bit of history to get all the shots we wanted. You’re going to learn a lot of Movie Magic history in this article, as seen through the eyes of my family. Let’s rock!
Ever heard of it? “Standi-Cam” is the most physically taxing form, and incorrect use, of the Steadicam ever devised. Garrett Brown, who invented the Steadicam, wanted an easier way to move the camera without the hassle of using a dolly. In a rush? No time for a dolly? Keep it on the Steadicam. “We need to get a quick insert. Let’s just do it on Steadicam.” Or even better, the director wants the “handheld look” using Steadicam. In other words, he/she wants me to stand there perfectly still, with 60-80 pounds of gear strapped to my body, literally, for 3 minutes, then push in 2 feet? I don’t think so!
Producer Mohit Soni told me about this project, and I fell in love with it right away. Given the situation, the “look” our Director Nimra Khan wanted and confined space of the set, I kind of had the idea I’d be Standi-Cam for most of a 12-hour day. Normally, I’d say use a Garfield mount (invented by Jesse Garfield at Cinema Products) on a dolly in conjunction with the Steadicam arm and post, taking the weight off the operators body, and call it a day. In an effort to hone my skills, advance Women in Film (as our director is female), and because I knew we were using the Panasonic EVA1, I just had to take this project.
Wait a second. We are evolved humans. We create and use tools. Is there anything out there which would lighten the load, since a Steadicam system without the camera can be upwards of 40-45 pounds? Thank Panasonic for inventing a camera to make my job easier. The EVA1 is a great tool for Standi-Cam situations, because it can be lighter than other cameras like the ARRI Mini or Red Epic when built out. The lighter the camera rig is up top, the less weight you need below to balance out the Steadicam. And balance is everything.
Now retired, my father Umberto was an I.A.T.S.E. Local 44 Propmaker. As a little pipsqueak, I remember hanging out in the Cabinet Shop at Warner Bros. with my dad, and learning about woodworking, miniatures, and blowing stuff up. My dad built the french doors that were blown up in “Batman Returns” (1992) from balsa wood; and used bamboo leaves from the Warner Bros. jungle to visually mimic marijuana leaves seen in Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke” (1978).
One of the earlier memories I have as a child was visiting my dad on the set of Steven Spielberg’s “1941” (1979). I vividly recall entering a sound stage, and seeing a HUGE miniature model of Hollywood and the 1/4 scale plane John Belushi flies in the movie. Around the same time, my dad also taught me about balance. It involved crafting a pyramid-like object out of pine, and using a separate rectangular stick, balanced on top of the pyramid, to demonstrate the fulcrum point, static and dynamic balance of the stick. I was getting my first Steadicam lesson, and didn’t even realize it.
Over the next 10 years or so, my dad taught me about framing, composition and movie making on both an 8mm Sears Roebuck & Co. C/131 (model 836 – 91310), and a 35mm Minolta Hi-Matic 7. I still have both cameras in case you’re wondering. Score! On a trip to my dad’s home town as a child, Racalmuto, Sicily, one of the highlights was filming some historical footage of the Regina Margherita Theater, also known as the “Teatro Comunale.” My great-great-uncle Gaspare Matrona, the mayor of Racalmuto from 1872-1876, commissioned, and built the Theater. It was there that I fell in love with tungsten. Light and shadow came together like waters from two different rivers. The soft fall off, fugetaboutit! No wonder why Leonardo Sciascia also loved Racalmuto.
The camera on “Sheela” had to be about 3.5 – 4 feet off the ground for most of a take, with a slight push in after. Using the skills my father taught me about balance and composition, I sat on an apple box, in a slightly leaned back position as the Steadicam post counterweighted me forward. In this position, I was able to pretty much barely touch the post, and “float” the camera in what I call “free suspension.” This allowed me to stay in good posture, and literally rock my upper body forward to get the shot without having to push the post further away from my body.
There were a couple of engineering challenges on this project. One of them was that I had to be able to get the shortest Steadicam post possible in order to get the lens to the correct height for the shots. How did I know how to do all that? It’s genetic, sorta. My mom’s side of the family is from Longi, Sicily. Ahem! This is the same town that The Russo Brothers, John and Anthony of Marvel Franchise fame, are from. Name drop! And I do want to work with these guys someday. Call me.
And what a knockout she still is! Born in Longi, Sicily, my mom Rita is an active I.A.T.S.E Local 706 hairstylist. She’s been nominated for 3 Emmys (Outstanding Achievement in Hair Styling for “Moonlighting,” “Murder She Wrote” and “Star Trek TNG”), and is also a former Miss Riviera Beauty Pageant winner. Rita got her big break dayplaying on “Fantasy Island” (1978), then later did her first feature, “Private Benjamin” (1980). Among many early childhood memories I have, my mom introduced me to Cinematographer Eddie Rio Rottuno on the set of “Voyagers” (1982-1983). Eddie let me look through the eyepiece, and spin the wheels to frame up a shot. This should have been my first IMDb credit. Right?!
My great-grandfather, Don Emilio Bellissimo (1869 – 1950), was a genius, born in Longi during the Second Industrial Revolution. He was the only person in town who owned a tripod, used alchemy to pack his own phosphorus for flash photography, and pretty much is the great-grandfather of Photoshop. Since electricity was unavailable in Longi at the time, he used the sun through an ingenious system of mirrors and a magnifying glass to “dodge and burn” photos. He would also use a stand-in to place himself in a photo, later cropping out the stand-in’s face for his own.
Don Emilio Bellissimo was also an expert watchmaker, able to understand the intricacies of mechanical engineering to fix just about any clock on the planet. During Allied bombings of Messina, Sicily during World War 2, the town’s bell tower (“Il Campanile del Duomo di Messina”) was damaged. The complex clock inside the tower is famous all over the world for a lion’s roar sound effect, roaring 3 times at 12:00 noon. During World War 2, the U.S. Army “recruited” my great-grandfather under the cover of darkness, and with heavy military secrecy, for a very special purpose. Wait for it.
It was widely known that General George Patton had a HUGE ego. He made a bet with British General Bernard Montgomery that the U.S. would beat the British to the town of Messina, Sicily, known famously as “The Race To Messina.” Since the U.S. beat the British to the outskirts of Messina by several hours, my great-grandfather Don Emilio Bellissimo was brought in to wind the clock tower forward to ring as if it were 12:00 noon at the moment the British were entering the designated meeting spot (at approximately 11:00am). With the Commander of the British Force, Brigadier J.C. Currie in his midst, the lion roared, and General Patton proclaimed he was “The King of The Jungle.” The senior British officer walked over to General Patton, shook hands, and said: “It was a jolly good race. I congratulate you.”
Needless to say, my great-grandfather shared the U.S. Army’s sense of humor during rough times. On “Sheela,” I thought of how Don Emilio Bellissimo would have engineered the Steadicam rig, and kept morale up amongst the crew. You don’t understand how much of a good time I had cracking jokes with Script Supervisor Riccardo Iacovelli, Production Designer Caterina Piccardo and especially our sound mixer James Salini. And because I had engineered the Steadicam rig to be so compact, in such a tight space, James was able to get up close and personal to our talent with his boom mic. I try to make everyone’s job a bit easier.
These days I pride myself on being a “camera stabilizer technician” when it comes to balancing cameras on a wide variety of tools we have at our disposal today, including Steadicam, Easy Rig, Movi/Ronin, drones, etc. Using my great-grandfather’s approach of seeing the big picture, when I’m designing a camera rig to be fully built out, I lay everything on the camera cart, and use as much space as possible. Then relying on my dad’s balance lesson, I want to see and feel every little piece for weight and fulcrum points, and how each component interacts with everything else. A lesson to other Steadicam operators, doing this will seriously cut down on vibration.
I always tell people that “The work I do is like making sausages. Every little component comes together to make one homogenized unit.” Since I didn’t want to have to deal with plugging and unplugging in the viewfinder for any changes, I decided to mount it on the left side of the Panasonic EVA1 using an Ultra Lite arm. This kept the viewfinder flush with the body of the camera. To balance out the viewfinder, I mounted the wireless DJI Focus on the right side of the EVA1. Then, a heavy Canon prime lens up front meant that I needed the Teradek sandwich plate in back.
To achieve static balance with the camera rig on top of the Steadicam, I only needed a single Anton Bauer Dionic battery opposite of my 7-inch Marshall monitor. I credit the EVA1 for making the entire rig light. And this both helped make the Steadicam post as short as possible, and myself able to do Standi-Cam for most of a 12 hour day.
So I have a Marshall 7 inch Steadicam monitor which I will use until it basically shines its last light. Even then, with the Canon glass, the image was super clean in Rec 709 from what I saw in the room. I can only imagine how gorgeous it must have looked on the bigger 17 inch monitor at Video Village. We were shooting daylight interiors most of the day. Distance to subject was about 5 feet to 8 feet. Color temp was set to 5000 Kelvin, and ISO set to 800.
Most of the day we had a nice big window diffused with some chiffon curtains, sending soft light in as our key. Light meter read f:4/5.6 split on the key side, f:2.8 on the dark side. Lens set to f:4 for 85% of the day. Our actress is Indian-American, Sharmita Bhattacharya, and looked amazing. She’s gorgeous, and I knew the EVA1 would capture her deep, rich skin tones beautifully.
The 24 mm was beautiful, as you would expect any flowing Steadicam shot to be. It was super smooth on curved tracking shots in the apartment, and on the exterior long walks, about hundred feet or so down the sidewalk pushing our actress. Towards the end of the day, we were losing light fast, opened up to 2500 ISO. The native 2500 ISO is amazing! I didn’t really notice any grain; and we were doing exterior shots half an hour after the sunset at that point.
On the 50 mm, which we used for some close-ups and inserts, you really get a chance to see the nice bokeh and shallower depth of field at f:4. Also, I did 2 passes with the 50 mm walking down the sidewalk as well to get a tighter shot. At 6 feet or so from talent, the background looked buttery soft. No need to go to a f:2 and kill your 1st AC. Notes to any up and coming DP’s: You don’t need to open up past an f:4 to get better bokeh. Use a longer lens, keep your talent as far away from the background as possible, and throw your focus shorter. Would you rather have 70% of useable footage or 100% of nothing?
As true with any production under time constraints, ease of switching a setting, or making an adjustment should be right at your fingertips. And the Panasonic EVA1 aims to please. Your basic adjustments are right there in the touch screen viewfinder such as fps (frames per second), E (exposure aka ISO), color temp (white balance), and shutter angle for instance. Once settled into position, I had to make an adjustment myself, since our first AC was in another room. It was just faster to do it this way, and really easy to navigate through the menus.
I had a blast with the EVA1. Its light weight really did save my back. I do like how the recording button is on both the operator side, and on the side handle. In the future, I would definitely like to use this camera again, and play around with different lens choices. Not that there was anything wrong with the Canon glass, but just to see how different glass changes the image, captures different skin tones, etc. There’s always a right tool for the job. And on this particular project, given the parameters, I’m exceptionally well pleased with the Panasonic EVA1.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Archival Photos Courtesy Of:
-Tregaskis, Invasion Diary, p. 89; Comments of Truscott on MS; Comments of Eagles on MS.
-The US Army Green Books (Vol 6-2-1, p 416).
For more information on the Panasonic EVA1, be sure to visit NA.Panasonic.com/us/audio-video-solutions/broadcast-cinema-pro-video/cinema-cameras/au-eva1-57k-super-35-handheld