FILMING THE CASTLE WITH THE GYROCAMERA PART 2
Treus problems fell into two apparently contradictory categories: providing extremely versatile camera and lighting setups and, at the same time, creating a faultlessly realistic atmosphere The first problem Treu came up against was Noeltes desire to subdue color. Wanting to recreate the stark atmosphere of the novel without losing the body that color gives the image, Noelte had decided to keep the actors clothing as nondescript as possible and to limit the color to that in their hands and faces. The only other instance of color that comes in the hint of purple in the costumes of the people from the castle.
Treus first experiments in the muting of color were with pre-latensification. He had labs pre-expose color stock up to 30% in an attempt to subdue contrasts. The results, however, were not up to expectations, and a major drawback was the fact that no local lab was prepared to guarantee an adequate supply of the short-lived (seven days) stock. In another attempt he used 16mm EF film, but the image was too contrasty. Only positive stock was available, and the 35mm dupe negatives took out all the softness.
The eventual answer was drawn from Treus television experience. By using Eastmancolor TV printing stock with its built-in low-color saturation, they came closest to the desired effect and were, at the same time, assured of a constant, non-deteriorating supply of film.
The question of versatility was dealt with under two headingscamera and lightingand the first of these had already been essentially resolved. The key to spontaneity was Treus gyrocamera, an innovation that he had already used successfully, though not extensively, for nearly three years.
The need for such a camera had first occurred to him while working on a TV series in Hamburg. This program, Harbor Police,
was filmed mostly on small boats, which created many limitations. Dolly shots were out of the question on the short, rocking craft, and tripod setups forced the actors to remain in unnatural positions, rolling with the camera while the horizon tilted wildly from side to side. Handheld work did prove sufficient for the small screen, but he was aware that it would never serve for a feature film.
Treu realized that some form of gyroscope, like the ones used in ships compasses, would be needed if he were to have any freedom of movement and at the same time maintain a reasonable amount of quality. This led him to recall an advertisement that he had seen in the American Cinematographer
years earlier for a gyro stabilizer designed for use in helicopters. This instrument, he reasoned, could easily be applied to shooting on water and, more important, be extended to all sorts of uses in handheld shooting. So for his next jobhis first full-length feature as the Director of Photographyhe ordered a gyroscope and began to experiment.
Treu bought a Kenyon Stabilizer KS-6, a compact little instrument that screwed into the tripod head and ran off a twelve-volt battery. Along with an unblimped Arriflex 35mm camera, 400-foot magazine, and a shoulder brace, the whole business added up to only about 25 pounds. The brace, which he adapted himself, differs from standard shoulder frames only in the extra handle that lends maneuverability and support.
Treu began to discover new uses for his camera on that first feature, Jurgen Rolands Four keys.
As most of the picture was shot on locations where the director wanted to remain as inconspicuous as possible, dolly shots were out of the question.
But by rehearsing a scene elsewhere and then moving to the location and filming rapidly, before bystanders became aware that a movie was being made, realism could be insured and, with the smooth and stable movements of the gyrocamera, quality could be maintained. In other locations, such as the basement of the bank where the four keys lead the robber to the money, a long and highly complicated tracking shot was easily accomplished without giving away the fact that the camera was handheld. In another sequence, the camera flowed into a taxi with two of the actors and continued to record their conversation without a cut.
In The Castle,
handheld work was carried to an extreme seldom seen even in the most experimental film. Only about ten dolly shots were employed in the entire picture, and the majority of those were outdoors, where speed, long lenses or soggy footing made handheld camera work impractical. But in other outside situations, the gyrocamera pushed possibilities even further. In one sequence the camera not only rode downhill on a sled with an actor, it also got up with him and continued the scene waIking. In a more complicated scene, a Iong, fast dolly shot along a road (with the camera braced by a block of wood) was smoothly extended to race up a flight of stairs with the actor.
In summing up the gyrocamera, Treu extols two basic advantages: quality and versatility. While the gyro will never replace the crane or dolly for slower, moodier shots, he admits, it cannot be matched for filming fast and unpredictable action. As a one-man show, the operator can make the major or minor framing adjustments all by himself, without having to rely on the several members of a crew or starting the scene over again.
The greatest disadvantage of the gyrocamera, for an American filmmaker, is the fact that it makes live sound impossible. No blimp yet exists that will cover both the camera and the stabilizer (which emits a high-pitched whine). And even if it did, the combined weight would surely make it impractical . In Germany and other European countries this is not a disadvantage, because the majority of the pictures are shot without live sound anyway. The fact that the many foreign films that are imported are dubbed in the local countrys language has created a corps of actors highly skilled in this art, and the need for speed and economy in shooting has led producers to take advantage of this fact.
Weight is a major physical disadvantage for the operator, and it can be a considerable factor on longer sequences. To remedy this, Treu can only offer the suggestion of keeping in good physical shape.
Another bug that takes adapting to is the stabilizers tendency to cause bucking at the beginning and end of panning movementbeing locked into position by the stabilizer, the camera resists changes. Treu avoids bucking by first shifting the shoulder piece slightly to begin the movement on the gyros own axis, then riding this movement into the pan. To stop, he reverses the action. To minimize this factor he recommends working with the maximum weight, which is roughly that of the camera with a 400-foot magazine.
Another key factor is the skill of the focus-puller, who has to move alongside of the operator, responding rapidly to his instructions and even anticipating them at times. Treus focus-puller, Eberhard Scheu, has worked with him for over seven years and has grown with the gyrocamera. To make his job less complicated, the focus lever has been extended and an easy-to-read scale attached outside the camera.
Copyright © 1969, 2004 William Dyckes