Back to Basics with Rush Design's VCT Baseplate

Rush Design's VCT plate on the Sony FS7 Mark II.

Rush Design's VCT plate on the Sony FS7 Mark II.

By Spencer Chumbley (Twitter | Instagram)

Companies are continually pushing forward their universal baseplate technology to accommodate the growing number of cinema cameras in the market. Standard practice these days are rosette mounts, 15mm rod ports, a quick release/adjustable dovetail plate, VCT compatibility, and a comfy shoulder pad. So what’s the problem? The weight. 

“Everyone else is trying to make a baseplate that would do everything for everybody” said Jon Britton, the lead designer of Rush Design’s VCT Baseplate. “They ended up being clunky and heavier than they need to be”. Rush’s anodized aluminum baseplate weighs in at a feathery 302g (0.66 lbs) out of the box with the universal mounting plate, and 427 g with all 4 of the adjustable Kipp levers installed.

Rush Design, a full service design, engineering, and fabrication shop in based in Brooklyn, New York developed their baseplate in collaboration with the shooters at production powerhouse Zero Point Zero (Parts Unknown, The Mind of a Chef, etc). “They preferred to have a lighter weight, purpose built device to shoot off the shoulder and then drop it on to tripod with a VCT plate”, he said.

The result of the collaboration between Zero Point Zero and Rush Design is a no frills lightweight VCT baseplate. And by no frills, I mean no shoulder pad. The plate comes with industrial velcro on the bottom for the attachment of a shoulder pad of your choice. When asked why they didn’t include one Britton remarked, “We used to include one, but customers seemed to want to make their own solution for how they specifically were working”. 

Leave it up to camera folk to customize their rig to the very material that touches their shoulder. I’m still in R&D mode to figure out what works for me, but I’ve seen cut up sleeping pads and custom leather solutions on other operator’s plates.

Using the Rush VCT plate has been a bit of minimalist bliss. I dropped the smartgrip on my Sony FS7 in favor of rods and a rosette bracket flanked by wood from Kinogrip two years ago to cut weight. I like to keep a compact rig for news and doc shooting. The Rush VCT Baseplate is a continued application this minimalist philosophy. The baseplate gives me the only things I need at this point: rod ports, VCT compatibility and a camera agnostic shooting platform that can adjust for the various balance points of a constantly shifting set ups. 

After a few shoots I decided to part ways with my Vocas USBP-15 MKII for the FS7 (800 g /1.76 lbs). I believe the Vocas’ plate may be the best mass produced universal baseplate on the market beating out Zacuto’s VCT Pro baseplate (960 g 2.11lbs) due to its weight and the availability of a custom dovetail plate for the FS7’s curved base.  Do I miss the quick release mechanism of the adjustable dovetail featured on the the Vocas and Zacuto models? Of course, but I don’t miss the weight of them. 

Is the Rush Design VCT Baseplate for everyone? No, it wasn’t ever designed to be. But it may be just right for you.

Want one? The base plate is available to order directly from Rush Design at the price of $550.00 USD for the baste plate and mounting plate. If you want 4 of the adjustable Kipp levers for easier adjustment. Add $50.00. Email sales@rushdesign.net.

The "Zamboni": A HipShot Shooting Belt

The "Zamboni" belt as of April 2017. Featuring the HipShot and Newswear lens pouches.

The "Zamboni" belt as of April 2017. Featuring the HipShot and Newswear lens pouches.

By Spencer Chumbley (Twitter | Instagram)

I've fielded a few emails from other shooters about my HipShot belt after they catch a glimpse of it in action. Utility belts can be the butt of many jokes (where is Batman to back you up when you need him?) but they are important pieces of kit of news and documentary shooters.

We operate outside the studio environment and often times cannot just pop back to our vehicle to grab an extra battery or a different lenses. You need to bring everything you might need with you and be able to access it quickly to catch those moments as they unfold. There is no take two.

I had been using pouches on a standard belt since I first began shooting but it wasn't until I saw what Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown director of photography Zach Zamboni was using in an online lecture that I started to re-think my own approach.

Zamboni proudly whips out his "shooting platform" at a Rule Boston Camera Pub Night (TC 39:05-41:40, video below) and explains in detail why he "loves it" and why it helps him when he is shooting.


After watching Zamboni describe the build of his belt I started to build a version of my own. Its been two years since first assembled mine and I now cannot shoot with out it. It has saved my body from struggling to hand-hold hundreds of table-level interviews and its the perfect for those situations where you need to shoot surreptitiously from the hip.

To save you all a bit of time in assembling your own I've assembled a list of links where to purchase the core parts of the what I am calling the "Zamboni Belt". 

HipShot (HipShot.tv) - $315.00 USD

  • Specialty product invented by Andrea Cranach, a ENG/Reality TV cameramen in 2002.
     
  • If you call or email them directly prior to placing the order you can order the HipShot with out the belt they provide and save some money off the purchase price.

VTAC Brokos Belt (VikingTactics.com) - $119.00 USD

  • The sizing depends on if you want a 3 or 6 inch gap in the front.
     
  • I bought an XL belt (I wear a 33 pant size) giving me 3 inch gap in front and giving me closer to 360 degrees of real estate to mount pouches and accessories and places the HipShot in the directly on my right hip

Dive Belt (Amazon.com) - $25.00 USD

  • Gives you a quick release in and out of your gear belt and ability to tighten it around different clothing (winter jackets, etc) without having to adjust traditional buckle.

Newswear Pouches (Newswear.com) - Approx. $25.00 USD each

  • I have one Large Press Pouch (for a Canon 70-200mm) and one Regular Press Pouch (Canon 24-105mm, or fits a full V-Mount/Gold Mount battery) and was given an iPhone pouch last time I placed an order for free which I keep my phone and lens paper in.
     
  • You can use other pouches but Newswear's fold flat and I find they are better for traveling as I can pack my belt inside my tripod/grip case.
     
  • I also have a Tiffen Filter Pouch (B&HPhoto.com)to hold filters, lens caps, lav mics, etc,

 

First shoot using the "Zamboni" HipShot belt in India for VICE News. (April 2015).

First shoot using the "Zamboni" HipShot belt in India for VICE News. (April 2015).

This first post in what I hope will be many of what the Discourse is calling it's Field Tested blog where we write about gear that has been put through its paces in the news and documentary film world. Come back and visit us soon.

 

 

Ljung Takes Top Cash Prize at Milwaukee Film Festival

We are proud to announce that Erik Ljung has taken home the top cash prize at the 2015 Milwaukee Film Festival for the director's cut of his film Mother’s For Justice. The documentary short highlights the struggle of Maria Hamilton who seeks justice in the wake of a police shooting which killed her son Dontre in April of 2014.

The film premiered on Friday, October 2nd to a packed crowd at Milwaukee’s Oriental Theatre. Ljung was accompanied on the red carpet by several of the main subjects of his film including Maria Hamilton.

Mother’s For Justice was edited by Michael Vollman and additional photography was provided by Discourse members Joel Van Haren and Dan Peters. A version of the film was previously published by AJ Plus in August 2015. Read more about Ljung's success at the Milwaukee Film Festival below:

Photo: Jennifer Johnson\ Milwaukee Film

Photo: Jennifer Johnson\ Milwaukee Film

Mothers for Justice on AJ+

After her unarmed son, Dontre Hamilton, was shot and killed by a Milwaukee police officer in 2014, Maria Hamilton formed Mothers for Justice to bring together women who have lost their children to police or vigilante violence. After months of organizing, the mothers took their demands to Washington, DC. Erik Ljung's latest film chronicles this story and is now live on Al Jazeera's AJ+ digital channel.

The film was edited by Michael Vollmann (The 414s: The Original Teenage HackersThe Jeffrey Dahmer Files) and additional photography was provided by Discourse members Joel Van Haren and Dan Peters

Dirty secret at the bottom of the Great Lakes

Discourse's first independent commission was released last month on VICE's Motherboard Channel. In the documentary, Oil & Water: Sunken Hazards of North America's Pipeline Industry we investigate a 62-year old oil pipeline running through the largest freshwater system on earth - the Great Lakes. The film was reported, produced and edited by Spencer Chumbley. Chris Gill - former Discourse member and now VICE Staff member was the Director of Photography. Additional editing and production support was provided by Joe Van Eeckhout. Press for the piece can be found here:

  • The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann - The "Ticking Bomb" Below the Great Lakes (Television Interview)

  • WORT 89.9 FM - Oil Pipelines that Dwell Beneath the Great Lakes (Audio Interview)

  • David Pakman Show - There's a Ticking Timeomb Oil Pipeline (Video Podcast)

  • Grist - Video about the aging pipeline below the Great Lakes should be this summer’s top horror flick

  • EcoWatch - Enbridge’s Aging Pipelines Beneath Great Lakes Are ‘A Ticking Time Bomb’

  • Daily Kos - Keystone XL of the Great Lakes

  • NWF - Summer Disaster Movie? No Thanks.

  • On Earth  - In Dire Straits

  • Great Lakes Echo Pipelines, Fish tanks and Environmental Risk

Filming Pipeline Nation for VICE News

Spencer Chumbley shot and field produced the latest environmental story from VICE News. He traveled to Glendive, Montana with Nilo Tabrizy several days after a pipeline ruptured underneath the Yellowstone River and contaminated the towns drinking water supply. The 15+ minute documentary explores the incident and failures in America's pipeline regulatory system. It was shot primarily on the Canon C300, with the Washington, DC portion being shot on the Sony FS7.

New York Times features Ljung's latest

Erik Ljung's latest film was published in the New York Times on March 19th 2015. The film focuses on the death Dontre Hamilton at the hands of a Milwaukee Police officer and Wisconsin's new law regarding the requirement of an outside investigation of police officer involved deaths. Ljung directed and shot the film with assistance from Dan Peters and additional cinematography by Quinn Hester. Read some of the press the film has generated locally in Milwaukee.

Speaking in Seattle

Spencer Chumbley delivered a keynote presentation to high school students attending the Washington State Global Issues Network in Seattle this weekend. The talk, entitled "Foster Discourse, Highlight Humanity", echoed Discourses' motto and focused on social change through filmmaking.

Additionally, Chumbley discussed "The News After Jon Stewart" with Brett Horvath over beer and bites at Seattle' Impact Hub. Big thanks to all those who came out and the event's sponsors: Crosscut, Impact Hub, YPIN, and Hilliard's Beer. Check out #newsafterjon on Twitter for snapshot of the discussion.

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We help VICE News resurrect "Toxic" series

VICE News has resurrected the media brand's popular environmental series - Toxic. Discourse was there behind the camera for the latest installment on the coal ash. 

Erik Ljung was responsible for principle photography North Carolina and  Spencer Chumbley filmed on location in Pennsylvania and Washington, DC. We utilized Canon's popular EOS-Cinema C100 and C300 series cameras. 

Looking for more? Look at these environmentally focused films that we have worked on: Petcoke: Toxic Waste in the Windy City, Bomb Trains: The Crude Gamble of Oil by Rail. 

We made the Canon C100 a web news workhorse

Spencer Chumbley recently published an article about his time using the C100 for VICE Media.:

The release of the C300 caused many news and documentary shooters to move past the ‘DSLR revolution’ into a new order. It met their aesthetic needs, had better ergonomics that DSLRs and also passed broadcast standards – 4:2:2 color and a bit rate of 50 mbps saw to that. But what about those professionals whose work lives on the web, such as VICE News? people who didn’t need the high spec but wanted the look, the controls and the handling? The answer turned out to be the cheaper Canon C100, but like any camera it isn’t without problems.

Read it here on NewsShooter.com.

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Erik Ljung wins Mary Nohl Fellowship

Erik Ljung was recognized as a winner of the Mary Nohl Fellowship:

The idea of a solitary artist working alone in the studio is increasingly a thing of the past, if one judges by this year's winners of the Mary L. Nohl Fellowships for individual artists. Many of the winners represent nodes of connection among others and create their own audiences.

Read more in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"Death of Corey Stingley" at 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival

The VICE News film "The Death of Corey Stingley" was featured in the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival. Director Spencer Chumbley and Director of Photography / Field Producer Erik Ljung attended the screening. Check out some press about the film as well as interviews with Spencer and Erik:

 

Father of Corey Stingley, Craig addresses the crowd at the Milwaukee Film Festival after the screening of the film featuring his son.

Father of Corey Stingley, Craig addresses the crowd at the Milwaukee Film Festival after the screening of the film featuring his son.