Been thinking about using a jib in company profile videos. What do you see the role of a jib in a story telling aspect? Feel like I’m doing it just cause its ‘cool’ and don’t necessarily wanna go down that path if it doesn’t enhance the story.
whenever we are looking at camera movement, we start with one fundamental idea; how you move your camera is how you move your audience. you can make your audience feel steady and still with a tripod or you make them feel energetic by adding a steadicam and running alongside your characters. so with that, what does a crane or jib add to your story?
when we think of a crane move, most people first think of the vertical rise or fall, which is definitely a strong move and a big part of what a crane can offer, but it can also do so much more. you can keep the camera low to the ground and use it to sweep in. or you can get even more complicated and use all three axis to bring the camera up/down, in/out, and left/right. all of these options you can do with a crane add up to let you as the storyteller say some pretty powerful things. here are a couple of the biggest storytelling implications when you use a crane:
production value // the giant sweeping moves of a crane or jib add a certain level of production value. what does production value mean? the moves are generally less common on smaller shoots than something like a tripod or dolly, and so adding in super smooth sweeping shots makes the production feel more expensive, produced or higher end.
now when it comes to story, that can be a good or bad thing depending on what you are trying to say. if you are shooting a commercial for a well known large brand, using a crane can help the look and feel of the piece match the image or brand of the company. if you are shooting a smaller shop and trying to put together an intimate story of what they are about, a crane might be too grand or too strong for their story and it could pull the viewer out. as much as we constantly try to make our stories stronger, we need to be careful not to overproduce stories that call and need simplicity. for our weddings, as an example, we have very rarely used a crane because the shots have so much weight to them and feel so grand and produced that it can take away from the intimacy of a story. that isn’t to say that you can’t use a crane at weddings effectively, it is just that the way we tell our stories, they would take away more than they add. so the take home here is, a crane can make your story feel more produced. the key is thinking about how produced you want your story to feel. we’ve used a crane to add production value in shooting spots for Callaway Golf (see the piece on Morgan Pressel below). in A Game of Honor we rarely used a crane, but on the couple shoots we did, it was used for establishing shots or scenics of West Point and the Naval Academy. using the Kessler Pocketjib made the locations feel very grand as they are introduced, something very fitting to the history of the locations and the storyline of the film.
a unique perspective // a crane allows you to get much higher perspective than we are used to. it allows the viewer to to look in on a scene as if they were looking down from the sky. that perspective can be a great way to show context or it might be to remove your audience from the scene and have them feel like they are looking down and in on everything. whether this adds to your story definitely comes down to what your story is about. an application of the perspective offered is the ability to get direct overheads. shooting directly down on situations offers a very different point of view and often offers an opportunity for some very interesting compositions through the lines and shapes found when looking down. in the Morgan Pressel piece, part of our series for Callaway Golf, we used the Kessler KC-12 to give us a direct overhead of Morgan teeing off. there was a lot to be said about the precision of her swing and we wanted to dissect that through a series of strong compositions from different perspectives. there are other ways to get direct over head shots, but a crane is often the safest and one of the most precise. we’ve used ladders and monopods before, which offer an incredible speed, but it definitely isn’t the sturdiest option and you are making educated guesses on your exact composition.
changing perspectives // a very powerful use of a crane is to use it in a way that changes perspectives within the same shot, something that very few tools can do. say you are shooting an Olympic commercial with a diver. you want to convey the grandness of the Olympics and the power and tension in the moment right before they stand on the diving board. an easy option would be to shoot them approaching the diving board and then cut to a really wide shot of the entire area, with thousands of fans screaming. the challenge is that something is lost in that cut, we drop the viewer into the intensity, we don’t slowly ease them in. if we were looking at this with a crane we could start in close, perhaps over the shoulder. as the diver approaches the diving board, we pull the crane backwards and up in the air to start revealing just how big the space is and how many people are there. in one fluid shot we can completely change perspectives and let the viewer feel that change, slowly revealing it to them.
these are some of the ways you can use a crane to add to your story. as with any tool, remember that there is a big distinction and point to be made about how you use it. a crane can be used to offer static or subtle shots just as much as they offer the epic sweeping moves. how you move the crane and the speed at which you move it all contribute to what it says and what it adds to your story.
Morgan Pressel lifestyle piece for Callaway Golf
what’s in our gear bag
for the majority of our shoots in which we use a crane or jib, we are checking it on an airplane and carrying it to set ourselves. we like options that are easy to travel with, setup quickly, and give us a range of options to shoot with. on large commercial shoots, which for us was something like the NCAA Final Four open, there is often a dedicated crane and operator and they are often much larger – starting at 20′. on shoots where we are handling the crane work ourselves, we have two main setups and configurations.
the Kessler Pocketjib // this little sucker has an amazing ability to setup in seconds and get some strong sweeping shots. it is quick to tear down, easy to travel with, and works with many tripods you likely already have. it’s built to travel fully assembled and by loosening the knobs, it quickly slides and rotates out to it’s full length. the one limitation is that it does have a shorter reach of 7′. it is great for shoots where you want a touch of jib work but also want to remain quick and mobile, or you have smaller crews.
the Kessler KC-12 // with the tool less options, this crane sets up in 10 minutes or less. it does need to be assembled and the biggest issue is often making sure you remember and bring every knob and part needed. the KC-12, like the name implies, offer a 12′ reach but a huge strength in the design is that you can also use it to build an 8′ crane, great for smaller spaces. no new tools or pieces are needed so you can decide on set which length fits best for that situation. the KC-12 works very well with the revolution head and oracle controller giving you full pan and tilt motion in addition to how you move the crane. cranes are dead simple to use, but adding the revolution head does add some time to learn and get proficient with it. the shots you can achieve are pretty special. in terms of production value, it is hard to compete with what you can pull off from a KC-12, revolution head, and Oracle.
the goody bag // if you are looking at a jib or crane, there are a couple other things to look at adding to your kit to make your crane flying that much easier. we generally bring along;
together these will let you run a monitor down the crane, keep the cables tidy, and either mount the monitor on the crane or on a C-Stand.
with all this crane talk, i’de love to hear about one of your favourite crane shots. share with us a favourite crane shot from one of your films, from TV, or from a movie and tell us what you like about it. also if you find yourself struggling with understanding when or how a crane or other camera tools fit within a story or are still finding your voice as a storyteller we invite you to join us at one of our 36 KNOW seminars this fall to explore that further.