My Rig - The Sitting Version

As you've seen in the previous posts, I don't exactly travel light. Little by little over the years, I have cobbled together a rolling cart system that works for me most of the time.

The basic parts consist of:

  • a rolling laptop case
  • a folding hand truck
  • a laptop table

Standard Blurb:  It is not necessary or recommended for you to use or purchase all or any of the items I use. This is just a guide and you should choose what works best for you and your workflow. :-)

The Rolling Laptop Case

I don't remember where I purchased my Samsonite Rolling Laptop case (probably Staples) but I've used it for several years. It has 2 large sections with additional pockets or dividers in each. There are 2 zippered pockets on the front and one on the back. The handles are helpful for lifting the whole rig into my car or a pass van.

I'm able to fit a good number of items in this case.

  • hd sdi cables
  • connectors for the cables
  • large clip-on light
  • a hoodman for the laptop
  • an umbrella made of SPF fabric good for sun and rain
  • bug spray
  • various bits & pieces

The Laptop Table

The laptop table I use was made by a company called Onyx. The table is a very lightweight aluminum that attaches to a telescoping leg. It was cheap (less than $20), so I stocked up on a few, so that I could use them in different configurations without disassembling my regular rig.

Below you can see how the table was designed to be used (with luggage). The telescoping leg allows it to be used standing or sitting. This setup didn't feel very stable to me, especially at the taller standing positions, so I don't use it this way.

I've turned the table around and inserted the telescoping leg inside the rolling laptop bag. The table and leg are attached with bungee cords and Velcro and I have it set at a height that is comfortable for sitting.

The laptop table I purchased is no longer available but similar (though more expensive) versions are available.

The Rolling Laptop bag, when loaded with the table, laptop and various items hanging from the table,  is not always stable enough to stand on its own, especially on uneven ground. To keep it from falling (usually forward or backward),  I use bungee cords to attach the telescoping handle to a lightweight folding hand truck. The hand truck increases stability and makes it easier to roll over cables and rough terrain.

When attached properly, I can get a fair amount of "lean forward" without the whole rig completely falling forward. I can even load my folding chair and roll everything where I need to go.

The Rig of the Future

Back in 2009 and 2010, I started designing a cart for myself. It was to be a more sturdy one-piece version of what I currently use, that would load easily into my compact car. I was hoping to have it fabricated from a lightweight anodized aluminum. I got as far as getting fabricator suggestions from a couple of VTR guys and even Bogdan (Technocrane). I abandoned the project over concerns about weight and cost.

I may revisit the idea in the future but after I get input from other Script Supervisors so that it can be useful to others besides me.

BTW, the cart is not smiling (even though it is a happy cart), those "smiles" are hand holds.

Here is a cart I came across created by a South African Script Supervisor named Tamsin Hall.

Next post will be about my standing rig.

Bits and Pieces from my Kit

Earlier this month (March 2014), there was a Local 871 meeting for Commercial Script Supervisors. One of the topics discussed was Kit Rentals. Are we getting our kit rentals? If so how much are we getting? What should we be invoicing and what is included in our kits? The last bit about what is included in out kits was a light bulb moment for me. After hearing from Michele Tedlis, I realized I’ve only been including a tiny fraction of what I carry around on my invoice.

In trying to get a better handle on exactly what I use on a regular and occasional basis, I thought I’d photograph the items and put them in this post. Be advised, I am one of those “what if I need X” people, so I carry more than I use on a day to day basis but all items have been needed and used at one time or another. I like to be as self sufficient as possible.

Standard Blurb:  It is not necessary or recommended for you to use or purchase all or any of the items I use. This is just a guide and you should choose what works best for you and your workflow. :-)

In previous posts, I’ve talked about the major pieces I use for HD capture. There are other items I use that just make my day go smoother.

HD SDI Cables

I have a lot of them in various lengths. I used to borrow them from VTR but sometimes (especially with 2 or more cameras) there would be no extra cables to spare or I would be the last to get hooked up (and I hate that!). So, I’ve been purchasing my own cables. The length I’m most comfortable with is 25 feet. I rarely need more than that if I am taking my feed from the director’s monitor(s). I do have one cable that is 35 feet and a few that are 18 inches and under. Those lengths have served me well.

My only issue is that I do not have any of the soft, very flexible and easy to wrap cables (I’m very bad at wrapping cables). I have been buying them from eBay without input from my VTR Gurus. I have now asked and have been advised to check out Canare LV-61S cables or cables from Clark Wire & Cable (I don’t have a model number yet).

I did purchase some Canare (pronounced like canary) cables from a seller on eBay (before I asked my Gurus) but they are not the soft flexible type. In fact they are very thick and heavy. I’m sure they will prove to be very sturdy but they are heavy! You can see one of them in the picture below at lower CR corner with the blue bungee ball.

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You may also notice on the far right the orange and blue cables in a black sheath. These were my 2 camera setup cables (the yellow is for a single camera). They were joined together about every 18 inches with tape then  wrapped with  a 25 foot Techflex ¾ F6 Split Sleeving. I cut about 6 to 8 inches off the sleeve to make it easier to split the cable between monitors (the cable does come split down the whole length but shortening it made it easier for me to work with).

Connectors

I carry several different connectors to use with my cables.

  • If I should need a cable longer than 25 or 35 feet, I carry some barrels to connect enough cables to get the length I need.

  • The T-connectors, in case I need to share the “Switched Out” port wit someone (usually when there is no VTR on the shoot but there are monitors).

  • I use Right Angle connectors because I don’t like my cables sticking straight out where they more easily get damaged. The angle allows them the hang naturally (really important with the heavier cables). I make sure I use a short bungee for strain relief.

  • I have some RCA to BNC connectors as part of my SD legacy (those cable will still work with HD).

Velcro and Bungees and Straps Galore

I don’t if one can have too much Velcro. I use the heavy duty Velcro on the underside of any table that my laptop is mounted on. I can attach all kinds of stuff under the table without any of the items getting in my way or getting misplaced.

All of the other bungees, wires and straps are used when I need to jury rig something. If I’m on the back of a camera car or on a boat, I tie everything down with the appropriate fastener. I use the big green wires to attach my beach umbrella to my cart (no, I don’t always get a pop-up).

Lights

Though both laptops have back lit keys, sometimes I just need more light. I have a big LED light that clips onto my cart for general overall lighting. A USB Led light for those times when I can’t use the big light but still need a little more light. A flashlight which charges via USB for the dark walks though woods or along uneven ground at 5 AM. If my hands are full and I have to walk in the dark, I have a headlamp (I hate it but is better than breaking an ankle).

Power

Most of the time I have easy access to power but once in a while I may have to work off my laptop battery for an hour or two. I use a 4 outlet 25 foot reel extension cord to power my laptop, lights, the UpDownCross converter, cell phone charger or whatever I might need. I bought my reel at a local home improvement store. 

I also like to carry some alternate sources of power for my non-laptop items.

  • A 15,000 mAh Power Bank (that’s my Verizon hotspot and micro USB cable attached to it). It will charge my phone and tablets - 3 items via USB-. This really comes in handy on long plane rides.I can only find the the 12,000 mAh version available now.

  • A short 4 outlet extension for travel jobs. The yellow 25 foot reel is too big to pack most of the time.

  • A few smaller battery banks

 Sometimes, if I’m working from a Pass Van or  People Mover, I might have need of a power inverter. I have a couple of them. The big one is 175 watts and the taller (cup sized) inverter is 200 watts.

Once upon a time (8 or so years ago), a very kind video guy had a block battery made just for me. I think I paid $300 for it and for a time it came in very handy. It has 2 outlets powered with a 400 watt inverter inside. It is so very…very…heavy.

Laptop batteries last much longer now and I have more access to power, so I haven’t used it in several years. The last time I recall using it was on a golf course where we moved around a lot, had no generator and could not use putt putts. I’d use up my laptop battery first then connect to the block battery. I would recharge both at lunch (sometimes from my car if necessary). I’ve also used it in Pass Vans when there weren’t enough ciggy outlets to go around.

Now, I keep it around as part of my home earthquake kit.

Miscellaneous Items

  • Various USB cables (I have way more than you see pictured here)

  • Wall chargers for those USB cables.

  • USB 3.0 Hub

  • SD Card readers

  • Headphones

  • Several thumb drives

I keep the connectors and most of the smaller bits & pieces in this green bag which fits inside my cart (Size: approx 11.2” x 6.7” x 3.3”).  I like use brighter colors whenever I can because the colors make what I need easier to find and easily differentiates my belongings from everyone else’s who tend to use all black items.

 One item that people seem to always comment and ask about are my Hoodman Sun Shades. I’ve had them for years. They are good for cutting down on glossy laptop screen reflections and for privacy.

  • Bug spray

  • 50 SPF Coolibar Umbrella (good for sun and rain). I actually have 3 sizes of reflective umbrellas. Portable, golf size and beach.

  • Paperclips

  • Small toolkit

  • A paintbrush for cleaning dust and dirt off my laptops

Okay this post is getting way too long. I think I’ve covered most of what I carry. There may be a sequel to this post but before then I’ll talk about my rigs. Later! :-)

 

Hardware - Part 2 - My 2+ Camera Setup

More and more often, I’m on shoots with 2 cameras shooting simultaneously. I’ve added 2 pieces of equipment to handle additional cameras.

Standard Blurb: It is not necessary or recommended for you to use or purchase all or any of the items I use. This is just a guide and you should choose what works best for you and your workflow. :-)

Multi-camera Video Capture

As with my single camera setup, the Blackmagic Mini Recorder ($145) is still the main piece of equipment.

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Next is the Freak Show Battery Powered HD Switcher ($239 which is a $20 price drop from my purchase in Oct. 2013)

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Note: I am not that well versed on the lingo for different video formats, so I may use and incorrect term. Hopefully, I’ll be close enough for you to get the gist of what I’m trying to explain

It’s a pretty simple set up as you can see by the image below. Attach your A and B camera cables on one end and use another HD SDI cable on the other end to connect to the Blackmagic Mini Recorder.

Flip the switch to turn it on and you’re good to go. When the device is on, the little toggle switch will light up. When toggled up to what I have labeled as “A-Cam” the light will be green. When toggled down to “B-Cam”, the light will turn red (very holiday looking).

The battery on this switcher seems to last forever but don’t forget to turn it off at the end of the day (as I have a number of times). You can also use it while it is plugged into power.

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If I’m on a shoot with 3 or more cameras, then I have to depend on VTR using a quad split image. With a single quad image, I use the normal single camera set up without the HD switcher. If there are more than 4 cameras, I add the HD switcher back in the mix. One quad image can be fed into each of the switcher’s inputs, so up to 8 cameras can be seen.

If there is no quad, I pick the 2 most important cameras (usually the 2 widest) and ask for playback on the other(s). If the shoot is moving too fast for playback, I note all the camera info and let the editors know that no feed was available for me for that or those shots (more likely on car shoots or multi-unit splinter shoots with only one Script Supervisor).

There have been more than a few times where each camera is using a different format (1080p vs 1080PsF or 23.976 vs 59.94). Or VTR might tell me they are sending a live 23.976 signal but any playback will be at 59.94. It takes time to switch the Blackmagic Desktop software and Debut software between the various formats. Too much time and stress, so I added another piece of hardware to solve the problem.

The Blackmagic UpDownCross Mini Converter ($470.25)

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The Blackmagic UpDownCross Converter allows me to set the Blackmagic Desktop and Debut software for one format setting and not have to change it again. The feeds going into the Converter will be auto-detected and converted to that preferred setting. In my case, I have chosen 1080PsF @ 59.94 as my preferred setting.

Note: The Converter must always be plugged into power. You may also have to unplug and re-plug it if it stops working (for me, it sometimes happens when I disconnect and reconnect the Thunderbolt cable to my laptop).

I chose the Blackmagic Converter over Decimator (MD DUCC or DMON 4S) or Aja because Blackmagic was less expensive and I could stay in the same manufacturing family as the Mini Recorder.

I use the Converter in 2 different ways:

  • Single Camera – I take the feed from VTR or the back of a monitor into the Converter and out to the Mini Recorder. This takes care of the live at 23.976 and playback at 59.94 issue.
  • 2 Camera – The feeds go into the Freak Show Switcher then into the Converter and out to the Mini Recorder. If the 2 cameras are using 2 different formats they will each convert to my preferred setting.
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There are dip switches on the side of the Converter which are used to create the preferred setting. For my setup switches 1, 2, 3, 7 and 8 are on (flipped up). So far this has worked well for me. I haven’t (yet) run into a need to change it. (Thanks VTR Rob for setting this up for me :-))

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(3 Images from the User Guide PDF)

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Since the Converter has 5 SDI out ports, it can send a signal to another computer or monitor. In my case, I own 2 Mini Recorders (I believe in having a backup), so just for fun,  I sent one signal to my Windows machine using Debut and another to my Mac using iGrabber. It worked! I don’t know how practical this is unless you’re training someone but it might come in handy sometime.

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A Miscellaneous Bit

As you can imagine, all these pieces can create an cable management nightmare. In the past, I would attach everything via Velcro to the underside of my laptop table. Attaching under the table kept the parts out of my way and protected them from damage but I still had a mess of cables.

Recently, I fashioned a wooden board covered in Velcro that I can attach everything to with shorter cables (though I am still looking for even shorter cables of about 6 inches in length… may have to ask one of my VTR buddies to make them for me).

The board has hard Velcro on one side and soft on the other, with a hole at the top which allows me to hang it from below my table with a bungee cord or Velcro strap (I look forward to using this in the Video Village People Mover next time I’m in one).

So far, I’m really liking this board. If I’m on a shoot with a walk-away at night, I can just grab my laptop and the board and I’m out (I DO NOT leave any expensive to replace items on any set overnight).

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That’s it for now. Next time, I’ll cover other miscellaneous pieces and parts. 

Hardware - Part 1 - My Single Camera Setup

Okay it’s time for the fun stuff… the hardware.

As you know from previous posts, I am using both Windows and Mac machines. Aside from a few software differences, the hardware is pretty much the same for both systems.

Standard Blurb:  It is not necessary or recommended for you to use or purchase all or any of the items I use. This is just a guide and you should choose what works best for you and your workflow. :-)

Single Camera Video Capture

As far as I know, for Script Supervisors working in HD (baby!), the Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Recorder is the way to go. It was recommended to me by a few VTR guys.

Note: Windows users you must have a machine with a Thunderbolt port to use the Mini Recorder (well, *technically* you might be able to use it via HDMI but check with your favorite VTR person for his/her opinion). There is a Blackmagic UltraStudio SDI USB 3.0 device for $395 (vs $145 for the Mini Recorder… yikes!).  I don’t have any personal experience with this particular device but from what I’ve read, it is very particular about the motherboard, graphics card and USB 3.0 controller used in your machine. I suggest reading the FAQ and the Support Notes for this device before purchasing.

Keep an eye on the Thunderbolttechnology.net website to see the current list of computers (Windows and Mac) and other devices with Thunderbolt ports.

Let’s talk about connecting the Mini Recorder to  your computer.

 (2 images below from Blackmagic)

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The Mini Recorder will take input from either an HDMI cable (video cameras?) or HD SDI cable (this is what we will use). The connection to your computer is via Thunderbolt cable.

(layout diagram adapted from Blackmagic)

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Note to Windows users: I have found my computer to get finicky with the Thunderbolt cable. If the cable becomes loose or disconnected while I have the Debut video software open, my laptop will freeze then give me the dreaded BSOD (Blue Screen of Death). It’s some kind of fault I can’t remember the name of but I think its software related. Windows 8.1 Pro forces me to cold reboot the computer 3 times before it will boot back to the desktop. If the shoot is moving fast it can be a major pain. I haven’t used the Mac enough to know if I would have the same problem. If I do, I’ll let you know.

Once the Mini Recorder is connected check with VTR to see if the output is 1080p or 1080PsF and check or uncheck as necessary in the Blackmagic Desktop software control panel.

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You will then need to change the video format in your chosen video software (usually it will be either 23.976 fps or 59.94 fps for NTSC but it could be almost anything).

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That’s it for now! The next post will be about my 2 camera setup.

My MacBook Pro Setup - Software

My Mac setup mirrors my Windows setup closely. It’s actually more of a FrankenMac or MacnWin setup as I use some Windows apps via Parallels Desktop 9.

Again, it is not necessary or recommended for you to use or purchase all or any of the items I use. This is just a guide and you should choose what works best for you and your workflow. :-)

Here is what I use:

The Operating System

OSX 10.9.2 Mavericks and Windows 8.1 Pro via Parallels Desktop 9 in Coherence View Mode.

In Coherence mode, you can use both your Windows and Mac applications at the same time, without managing two separate desktops or rebooting. You can even load Windows applications directly form your Mac Dock or Mac desktop. In this mode, all Parallels Desktop controls, icons, and menus are hidden, except for the Parallels icon in the Mac menu bar and Windows Applications folder in the Dock.

Script Notes Software

Still using Microsoft Word 2003 (not 2007 as I mistakenly wrote in the previous post) along with Word for Mac 2011. I have the same the same issues with Word for Mac 2011 as I do with the Windows 2013 version… that ribbon and the cluttered interface.

Video Still Capture

I am having issues with the Mac version of Debut Video Capture, every time I open it, it reloads all the formats for the Blackmagic Mini Recorder, which takes a long time. Once it finishes loading, I am unable to see an image. I’m sure it’s user error on my part. I’ll have to keep experimenting.

I am  unable to use the Windows version of Debut even in Coherence mode because the Mac will not pass use of the Thunderbolt ports over to the Windows side. I don’t know if Boot Camp would have worked better for me but if I had chosen Boot Camp over Parallels I would have less opportunity to become familiar with OSX. I do feel as though I’m learning a new though similar language. Plus, I might as well have just purchased another native Windows machine over using Boot Camp.

My friend in VTR, Finn, suggested I use iGrabber as he had seen other Script Supervisors using it. It does not have all the features that Debut does but it works well. I have to use a multi-key combo for still capture instead of a single key, so it slows me down a bit. 

If you have any software suggestions for the Mac, please let me know (along with any tips and tricks). This is new territory for me and I’m open to suggestions.

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Miscellaneous Software

This is pretty much the same as the Windows setup

  • Paint Shop Pro 5 -  in Coherence mode 
  • Foxit Reader – in Coherence mode
  • QuickTime Pro - OSX native
  • Dropbox 

Next week, I’ll start posting about the hardware I use with both the Windows and Mac machines.