Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Shooting in the Desert

I will be First AC on some desert shoot - who can help with experience? We are shooting 35 mm, ARRI 535. We want to shoot a (selfmade) sandstorm and I'm a little worried about how to protect the camera (camera cover-wise).
Is anyone experienced in this? All kinds of hints are appreciated!

Alexander Palm, Hamburg, Germany

Years ago I was on a shoot that I gaffed and the location was an oceanfront beach with the wind really blowing. The only thing that seemed to help protect the camera was to do all opening of the camera in an enclosed vehicle where the wind wasn't blowing. We changed mags on the beach once or twice when the vehicle was too far away and the grips held up flags around the camera for wind protection. It was hopeless and the camera ended up trashed by the end of the job. Needed a complete overhaul. All the video playback equipment got trashed outside as well. Don't even consider opening the camera on a windy and sandy location.

It can be very intense and brutal on the equipment and the crew on the beach. I felt like I worked and 18 hour day after 10 hours. Try and prepare yourself as well as the equipment with sun and wind skin protection.

Hope this helps. Best of Luck.

Jim Sofranko

Having survived many days in the brutal blowing sand in the CA and AZ deserts and the Australian outback, I found one way to help with those mag changes. I bring along a 2 man tent, small enough for one person to carry. It is great for those times where you cannot make your way to the camera truck. The tent pops together quickly, right out of the bag.

After sealing your self inside be careful as it will eventually get sand inside but at least it is not blowing around. I usually wrap the camera for an extreme wet environment and have several optical flats handy to take the abuse and sandblasting on the front element. It is still a challenge to keep the camera clean and the cameras always suffer but the tent offers a portable shelter from the dustbowl. You will find it a great place to nap waiting for magic hour...

Kevin M. Andersen
Steadicam Cinematography-Los Angeles

Carefully, neatly tape off all seams with (clear) tape.

Use a brush to clean off the camera, door, lens mount instead of dust-off which just drives the sand/dust into the camera.

The loader must be extra diligent in keeping the mags clean. Wipe the mags off with a moist rag before putting them into the changing bag.

Make sure you have enough help so that you aren't forced to rush and take short cuts. That means having a dedicated loader besides a 2nd AC helping you. If you are over worked, very easy in a desert situation, you will get quickly exasperated and let the production company get what they deserve if they don't support you with man power.

The two man tent idea is excellent!

The Dp should recognize the difficulty of shooting in the desert (you mentioned a man made sand storm!) and if possible should stick to a zoom lens so that you don't have to waste time changing lenses (in a shelter). Directors get real impatient when you have to take the camera away to just change a lens!

Heavy duty clear trash bags to cover the camera might me necessary in the storm conditions. The best ones have to be bought in fairly large quantities (expensive) through janitorial supply businesses. But they're worth it and probably absolutely necessary in heavy wind conditions.

During filming of Silverado we had a very cool tracked vehicle, like a snow cat to take us around the sand dunes. It had a compartment that was large enough for our gear and three assistants.

Good luck!

>we had another similar discussion.

Look at 2nd of July 1999, "Filming at Sea". There was a very throughout explanation by Mike Brennan on how to wrap the camera in electrical tape.

Unfortunately, you cannot sleep in it :o)

Mart Weiss Freelance camera assistant

London, England

* award winning film info *crew jokes *cv *grabs 

I don't know about the tent idea. Seems to me it would be terribly hot in there - hot enough to make you want to get out as quick as possible. My tent, with the windows and door closed is like a sauna in the heat. It gets unbearable - in fact it gets uncomfortable with the windows and door open.

Would a small camper or a pop-up with a small air conditioner be possible?

From time to time I need a honey wagon/rest area on some of my shoots and I call an older friend who has a big RV. He loves getting out and rents me his RV and his services for a reasonable price (he's not in it for the money - he likes to do it for the fun of it). His RV is totally self contained with its on generator - even though it is quite noisy it is very, very useful on MOS shoots.

Another option might be to build your on changing room in the back of the equipment truck or van and put a small AC in that.

On top of all the other suggestions, I'd suggest a vacuum cleaner and someone dedicated to cleaning up your entire area before and after you use it every time.

-JR Allen

>...We changed mags on the beach once or twice when the vehicle was too far away... >It was hopeless and the camera ended up trashed by the end of the job. Needed a >complete overhaul....

This reminds me of some camera ads about 35 years ago. The NPR had come out and everyone was really impressed with the quick change mags. Arri started advertising that this sort of design would lead to increased damage and dirt in the gate, because it was so exposed to danger when the mag was removed. Their 16Big Lump, was safer, of course!

So then Eclair responds with an ad chronicling the adventures of some ABC (I think) cameramen doing a documentary about the Sahara Desert. They told how their Arris were soon trashed because the door had to be opened for so long during threading, but they finished the job with their NPR because they could stick it under their coats and snap the magazines off and on in a jiffy.

Later, as we know, Arri came out with the excellent SR, with (big
surprise) a quick change mag!

It may be difficult to get the 535 under your coat! The pop up tent sounds good.

>...Try and prepare yourself as well as the equipment with sun and wind skin >protection.

That's why the bedouins wrap themselves in layers of wool when
travelling the desert.

Wade Ramsey

I highly recommend not taking any LOW BUDGET nightmares out in the dessert!

Last year I did a 3-week P.O.S. low budget feature in 29 Palms with a BL3.

All above the line was from Germany (Severe language issues). This has to be in the top 2 of all time worst jobs I have ever done. In hindsight I should have never taken the job, or quit after the first day. I could go on and on about the lack of organization, the lack of sanitation and the lack of any common sense.

Dealing with the dessert is hard enough; sun, sand, rugged terrain. There is just no way to do it and scimp on anything. Don't do the job without a Loader. Not a 2nd/Loader, not a PA who wants to be a Loader. Get a Loader in addition to a 2nd. Make sure you have cases of Dust Off, extra Optical Flats, extra batteries and umbrellas for shade.

My biggest piece of advise is don't go unless you are dealing with a legitimate company.

Best of luck,

This page compiled by Mart Weiss


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