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William Demeritt

Steadicam Operators in the time of COVID-19

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Steadicam is a very unique job on set, and we've always relied on the ingenuity of other Steadicam operators, utilizing information we research and investigate ourselves, to solve problems unique to Steadicam operators.

COVID has created a new set of issues that affects us uniquely. As such, while we need to comply with COVID requirements set by production, medics, or COVID compliance officers, we obviously need to protect ourselves AND the way we work so we can continue to do the best job we can while also staying safe.

Masks and social distancing are the obvious baseline for most individuals working on set, but for people wearing 50+lbs of gear every day, masks and distancing may create problems that other departments or individuals may be unable to sympathize with. I think we need to solve this problem for ourselves, and do so in collaboration with COVID guidance:

  • What have you found works for you on set, and also keeps you and others around you safe?
  • What protocols have you established when it comes to handling your rig?
  • What PPE have you found that lets you work a bit more "normally", or at least allows you to physically perform your job as closely to pre-COVID standards as possible? Face shield and N95 mask? Hand sanitizer timers?
  • Have you discussed with the crew and established an understanding that only 1 camera assistant and 1 designated grip may handle your rig when resetting or walking back to 1?
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I just completed 6 weeks of production, but some of my working conditions were unique to our production, and most likely not going to be duplicated by any other shows.

For example, there was no negotiation regarding PPE.  If you were an on set position (the red wristband zone), you were required to wear the provided KN95 masks and face shields, no exceptions.  We had health and safety compliance staff all over production enforcing these rules, and our director was the most stringent enforcer of all.  He would yell at anyone he saw with their mask below their nose, or the wrong mask, and don't even think about sneezing or coughing anywhere NEAR set.  He himself was wearing a $3000 helmet with a hose connecting to a filter on his hip (sound is gonna have a field day in post).

As such, I had to get used to 12 hour days, all steadicam, with a KN95 mask and face shield.  I had to learn how to breathe in them, and find little moments in between setups to catch my breath off set.  There was no choice.  After a while, I realized the key was swapping them out for new ones more frequently as I was sweating, as they become a serious problem when the slightest bit wet.  I had to abandon wearing my glasses, because I couldn't deal with them fogging up.  I recommend contacts or just forgoing glasses altogether.

EAR SAVERS ARE A MUST-HAVE.  I cannot stress this enough.  

For face shields, I found that wearing them at an angle, up on top of my forehead a bit, worked perfectly for steadicam.  That way, when i look down at my monitor, it protects my head fully while not obstructing the view of my steadi monitor.  Using a hat or sweat band as a guide for the face shield band helped a lot.

I also developed an order of operations for everything I had to wear on my head: Mask first, then sweat band, then face shield, then Comm headset.

Hand sanitizer was overflowing, all over the lot.  You could get a handful whenever you wanted, no matter where you were.  When your EP is a germophobe, hand washing stations will be everywhere.

Also, as far as who can or cannot touch my rig, there were no issues.  It was an already established rule on our set that only the 1st AC could touch my camera and only my designated grip could help touch my rig.  This was a minor hindrance for the 2nd AC's and some of the camera utilities, but they were overwhelmed with other responsibilities so it ended up working out fine for us.  I had a personal Steadicam Grip named Zavier who stuck to me like glue all day, helping me move my rig when I asked, holding a pogo between shots, and spotting me all day.  I was his only responsibility.

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