Operating the Camera

by J. Galen Buckwalter, PhD

Filming from a chair presents a conflicting set of physical challenges. First is the need to stabilize the camera. Particularly for those of us with limited abilities to grasp objects with our hands there is a need to keep the camera stable enough to allow us to framed on the object we hope to film and negotiate the settings to assure focus and lighting, etc, is where we want it. Conflicting with the need for stability is that as the camera is attached more rigidly the ability of the photographer to film what they chose to becomes increasingly limited. So if the camera is attached to say the arm of your wheelchair at a height where you can easily manipulate the settings the shots you take are going to start looking pretty similar in that every one is going to be shot from the same height.

In filming ROLLING Gretchen and Tony spend an unbelievable amount of time conceiving and building a device that attempted to allow me to move the camera as much as possible while providing enough stability for the camera that well-framed shots were possible. First they clamped a piece of flexible, metallic tubing to the back of my chair that attached to the camera positioned by my side. Ingenious, but it soon became apparent that as I moved around the arm was not sturdy enough to keep the camera stable. Every shot slowly drooped panning down to get a shot of whatever surface I was moving across.

A more rigid arm was designed that had several joints that could be tightened into a specific position. This worked great provided there was someone around to get the arm on and then change the angles of various joints every time I wanted to try a different shot. This allowed for some very cool shots, the shot of a rolling wheel that is early in the film was shot with this contraption.

But ultimately I didn’t agree to make ROLLING to make a film of my life when someone else was around to do the grip work. After a while I decided to sacrifice the stability of the camera for independence in what I shot. After trying any number of different arrangement, my wife, Deborah, came home one day with a simple shoulder strap for the camera. Voila! With the strap adjusted to the right length the camera would sit in a fairly stable position on my lap, the strap kept it from falling off and I was free to film wherever I chose to go. Granted some of the shots get a little shaky a times but the camera went where I went.

Have a video you’d like to share? Upload it to ROLLING’s YouTube section!