November 16, 2017

Watch: This Terrifying Video Shows You Exactly How Not to Shoot While Driving

The USC and Local 600 bring us a study that will make you think twice about handheld filming in vehicles.

Camera operators on indie productions end up stuffing themselves into all sorts of places to try to get the shot. Most of the time there is a camera on your shoulder, you don't worry about it crushing your skull.

However, as a recent study from the International Cinematographers Guild (IATSE Local 600) and USC Keck School of Medicine demonstrates via exceptionally effective video, that camera can turn into a projectile head smasher in the event of an accident triggering your airbags.

One thing to remember is that doing something while you are shooting movies is always, by definition, less safe than the equivalent activity when you aren't shooting. Many people think of driving as reasonably safe (even though it's way more dangerous than flying, for instance), but when you are shooting a scene, if actors are performing, that alone is distracting and decreases safety. Add into that driving on abnormal routes, trying to time out driving to go past a certain background at a certain time, and the danger increases exponentially. Routine processes can actually increase safety when executed correctly, but film sets are non-routine environments where it's likely that the driver/actor would be crying, yelling, or both while having a DP in the back say "Hey, can you get closer to the car in front of you, I like the light of their taillights in your eyes." It's dangerous.

Credit: Iatse

Even if you are working with a vintage vehicle without airbags, the positions operators often contort into in order to get the shot are generally dangerous in and of themselves. Add on top of that the potential of an explosive cushion meant to protect you pushing a camera into your skull and it's a scary situation all around. Don't forget that it isn't just the operator in danger; with the right accident and an airbag pushing the camera it can also go flying into the back seat or potentially even the driver's seat, wreaking havoc as it goes. 

Here are a few points that the study makes that are particularly relevant to camera ops who are "free driving," or shooting handheld in a moving car:

  • The passenger side airbag is physically larger and deploys with more force than the driver side airbag which is situated farther away from the occupant. 
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) guidelines state that sitting within 10 inches of an airbag is dangerous. 
  • Most vehicles now have weight sensors in the seats that help determine how much force an airbag should use to deploy. Sitting with a camera on a shoulder will therefore result in a higher weight reading and cause the airbag to deploy with greater force than necessary. 

While it might seem expensive to hire a driver and tow a car, it actually won't cost nearly as much as you think it will, and you can generally get competitive bids in almost any market. We love doing things the guerilla way when possible, but one place to never go guerilla is safety.

For more information and study findings, check out the IATSE Safety page.      

Your Comment

15 Comments

This is really interesting, but I wonder what the danger levels would be if the camera used was something like a BMPCC or mirrorless camera with a small rig. A production using an alexa-sized camera, is more likely to have the budget to film such a scene 'properly' and therefore more safely. It's the productions with very small budgets (which will also probably have smaller cameras) that are more likely to handhold a camera in the front passenger seat. I wish this study also used a compact camera.

November 17, 2017 at 6:10AM

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They did a test.
Without moving the car.
And so without any impact on the airbag.

Very scientific!!

Well, on set, the chance for a car crash with DP inside
should be close to 0% due to higher saftey precautions.

In most cases the car is rigged on a trailer, because
actors have no time to act and drive at the same time.

November 17, 2017 at 12:49PM, Edited November 17, 1:18PM

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JeffreyWalther
Steadicam Operator
1398

Well not exactly true. Free Driving happens all the time. It's faster and requires no tow rig and trailer so it's cheaper and that's two cases that producers love. Regrettably, I've done far too many free drive shots in my career and consider myself lucky that I haven't been involved in a crash

December 17, 2017 at 1:16AM

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Eric Fletcher
Steadicam/Camera Operator and DP
80

Of course this doesn't apply to "safe", professional situations where accidents can be avoided. This is a cautionary tale for indie filmmakers who often film these types of shots on regular city streets with no process trailer or safety equipment. Your DP laying their head against the console could get seriously injured, to say nothing of the talent in the driver's seat when a camera flies loose. Even an iPhone can become a dangerous projectile in an accident.

November 17, 2017 at 3:16PM, Edited November 17, 3:16PM

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John V. Knowles
Director
188

I don't normally post to stories, but this just P'd me off so bad I had to comment. I have been filming in & out of cars for 25 years, both on and off trailers. I have never EVER seen or had an accident while filming. HOWEVER...I have been on union shoots and that's were the accidents happen, why? I'll explain.

TOO, many people are involved and have their hands in everything. Only one person needs to worry about the camera THE CAMERAMAN.

This video looks like some propaganda the union need to make to count for the money they waste. And this probably cost the $450,000 to produce.

If you use your brain, and are careful, you WON'T have an accident.

November 17, 2017 at 4:32PM

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Andy Johns
D.P
9

Just because you haven't been in an accident in your career doesn't mean that you haven't put other people at risk. I've done shots in cars with actors driving and with professionals driving where things did not feel safe. All it takes is for there to be one moment where things don't go well and everybody in the car is at risk of injury or death. DP's don't always consider the safety of the crew because they want the shot, and there have been so many times on sets that I've worked on where they've been told to slow down and do it the right way. No shot is worth any member of your crews life. Driving involves lots of variables and all it takes is for one of them to go awry.

November 18, 2017 at 3:44AM, Edited November 18, 3:44AM

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chris larsen
1st AC
91

"... I've done shots in cars with actors driving and with professionals driving where things did not feel safe....."

Not a set I would work on.

For example, if they -for any reason- won't allow a spotter in my particlar case, where you could fall down with your Steadicam, I would deny my work. Safety first.

And if there is any a**h**** DP who "wants the pic at any price!" and gets injured, this serves him right. Darwin is calling.

November 18, 2017 at 9:51AM

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JeffreyWalther
Steadicam Operator
1398

Looks like they didn't include a sound guy in that $450,000 budget.

November 30, 2017 at 2:20PM

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Craig Swanson
Editor
50

Judging from this response, I'm glad you don't "normally" post. There's enough ignorant (poorly written I may add) anti-union responses out there as it is.

December 10, 2017 at 6:35PM

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I bet that camera doesn't even shoot 4k raw tho!

VERY SCIENTIFIC!

(but to be real, even professionals can get injured on set, this isn't a "cautionary tale of indie filmmakers". Come on, guys.)

November 17, 2017 at 7:36PM

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bp
241

This sounds like a study subsidized by the insurance industry to justify why they need to raise insurance rates on film studios and independent film makers. If not then why would the 'center for trauma research' conduct such a study.. This is fringe case and I'm sure there are way more common causes of trauma to study.

November 17, 2017 at 9:46PM, Edited November 17, 9:46PM

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Alice Bil-Szot
Owner/Photographer
81

No, this study was done independently of the union because of a few concerned operators, when it was completed it was presented to the union

December 17, 2017 at 1:19AM, Edited December 17, 1:19AM

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Eric Fletcher
Steadicam/Camera Operator and DP
80

Oh my god.. This is what we always do in zero cost film making.

November 18, 2017 at 3:13PM, Edited November 18, 3:13PM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
791

I dont think your crash test results are very accurate at all. From what I have viewed, you did not include a battery on the rear of the cameras used in your filmed tests...which would add substantial weight. Why not?

November 19, 2017 at 1:16PM, Edited November 19, 1:18PM

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Dano
Director
14

HI all, as someone who was involved with this video I thought I'd post up after reading some of the comments because there is a fair amount of incorrect information out there. I'll bullet point to be quick

• I and many others can tell you that free driving happens all the time on union shows with Alexas etc. This is not a problem with only no budget productions by any means.

• The static test was decided on by Dr. Bir (and agreed to by us) as it would show solely the impact of the airbag. Airbags are designed to overcome the force of an accident (as Dr. Bir explained) and therefore the issues with the accident would be more along the lines of breaking metal, glass, etc, but not forces of the camera and bag. Hard to believe but the science is fairly conclusive.

* The camera is stripped down because we didn't want to chance barking a real cam. Yes, a battery would add weight but we figured this was a representation. It also doesn't have things like follow focus motors etc that would certainly chew up an operators face.

• The camera operator should always have the last say about safety but in reality it doesn't always work that way. We've found situations where uninformed people make decisions and the reason for this video was so that we could use it to show the issues that we are talking about.

There are many other things that could be discussed here but I wanted to add some of this information for accuracy. A few of our members brought this to our attention and we decided it was something we could look into that would make a difference. The irony of this is that towing the vehicle is a perfect way to do this and is not done as much anymore due to a perception of speed and cost. These should not be the optimal deciding factors in how to do a shot and the safety of everyone in the car should come long before these enter into the equation.

Hope this helps and that more than anything, people are being educated as to the hazards of shooting this way. Thanks for the article.

December 9, 2017 at 10:44PM, Edited December 9, 10:44PM

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Dave
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