My TEDx Talk: Problem-Solving and Adaptation in a Digital World - Page 3
(Incidentally, in my writing, it’s hard to know what to call the production process anymore. “Shooting” isn’t always appropriate, especially when we’re working with politicians. Are we still “filming” even when it’s not on film? “Videoing?” Really? Some called it taping for a while, but we don’t record on tape anymore, it’s all on cards and drives. Are we carding or driving? It’s a problem! I stick with “filming.” And don’t even get me started on “rolling.” Nothing actually rolls.)
This is not a digital effect. The gag here was to drop a piano, on camera, from the rigging above the studio, as one actor ran out from underneath and another remained in the shot.
But how do you do this in a safe and photogenic manner? No one on our team had dropped a piano before. A new challenge.
Before the shoot day, the special effects crew removed the 200 tightly-wound piano strings and the heavy soundboard, sawed through other structural elements so they would break apart easily on impact, and loosened the keys and internal hammers, so they would flop and bounce for dramatic effect.
The piano was positioned to fall with the keys facing toward the camera, then hauled up to the pipe grid above the studio, very carefully. The special effects crew had made a clever custom release mechanism, with a pair of C-shaped hooks that met in the middle. The rig had a release pin that they pulled from the side, releasing both hooks in opposite directions so the object fell straight down. They had tested it many times … with sandbags.
With the piano ready to drop from the rigging, but still held in place by an extra safety line, we locked down the camera, a technique as old as silent film making: locking the tripod, placing barriers around the camera so no one would bump it, positioning my camera assistant to snarl at anyone who came near.
Next, we shot the scene where the actor playing the customer looks up and then runs off to the right, as the proprietor sits very still in the background. Then we cut. And with the camera still locked down, the customer safely out of the way, and the proprietor still in the shot, the rigging crew unfastened the extra safety line, we rolled again, and the custom release mechanism securing the piano rig was pulled. Ka-boom! Down came the piano.
This camera lockdown technique allowed us to imply continuous action, even though the camera had actually cut as the actors and props were rearranged. In addition, we used foreshortening, the same optical illusion that makes the pitcher and catcher, as viewed from center field in a televised baseball game, appear fairly close together. Here foreshortening helped create the illusion that the piano fell right in front of the proprietor, when in fact he was a good 15 feet behind the drop zone.Continued on the next page