Overhead Cinematography in Tight Spaces - SPARK Studios - Tampa Video Production

Overhead Cinematography
in Tight Spaces

The overhead shot is a simple, yet powerful one. It’s a viewpoint the viewer rarely notices but they are able to gather so much information from it. It is also one of the most specialized shots to rig and requires some creative design if you have limited budget or limited space.

SPARK Studios recently partnered with Junto Architecture for a video production project and we knew that overhead cinematography would help tie their story together and explain the precision required in their business. However, we knew the main hurdle to overcome was limited space in our shoot location.

Overhead Cinematography - SPARK Studios Overhead Cinematography - SPARK Studios - Tampa Video Production


Sketch it

Knowing the space was limited in Junto’s boutique modern office in downtown Tampa, we needed to create an overhead rig that would allow us to balance 17 lbs. of camera gear. I always sketch ideas before going into production – it helps me visualize from a holistic level. The sketch below depicts a setup I’ve never seen or used before until this shoot. Typically, because of the weight of a camera build, we use two combo stands that connect an 8-10’ pipe, essentially requiring 15’ of clearance to erect the entire rig – a luxury I did not have at the Junto location.


The Build

I sent the sketch to our go-to grip and lighting company, Sunwolf, to see if they believed I could pull this off considering the weight of the camera. After a little back-and-forth we settled on the following list of gear: double riser combo stand, 4.5” gobo head, mini ball leveler camera mount, 2” pipe (6ft long), pipe ear, and 1’ pipe with connector. The ears and connector use 3/16” allen keys so they’re easy to tighten and strengthen.

Overhead Cinematography - SPARK Studios - Tampa Video Production Overhead Cinematography - SPARK Studios - Tampa Video Production


The Outcome

Overall, it was the perfect rig for the situation. In filmmaking, there is never a right or wrong way to do things. There is only what needs to be done to capture the perfect shot. This rig allowed us to be flexible in the limited space and shoot in areas of Junto that had interesting light. In total, the rig cost us $75 to rent for the day.

Overhead Cinematography - SPARK Studios - Tampa Video Production



Key Considerations

  • Make sure to always tether your camera for safety. The last thing you need is for your camera to detach and nail a client who’s acting a scene under the rig.
  • One issue we ran into were vibrations. The floor of the office space was very sensitive and would vibrate every once in a when the elevator would be in service. This would cause the pipe to resonate and it would slowly vibrate until I physically put my hand on the camera to slow it down and eventually stop the vibrations. Just waiting for it to stop vibrating wasn’t enough, someone needed to physically stop it.
  • The pipe ears are not very effective when too much weight is on one side. Make sure to counter-balance perfectly.


Other Resources

One of my favorite filmmakers is Wes Anderson. He’s mastered the effectiveness of overheads and uses them to add texture, further the story and put the viewer in the moment. Check out this fun montage created by
Kogonada featuring some of Wes Anderson’s most striking overhead cinematography.

Hope you enjoyed the article. Please leave any comments/concerns below about the rigs you’ve built for overhead cinematography.

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2309 W PLATT ST TAMPA, FL 33609 | 1980 KETTNER ST SAN DIEGO, CA 92109 | [813] 253-0300 | ©2017 SPARK STUDIOS

2309 W PLATT ST TAMPA, FL 33609 | 1980 KETTNER ST SAN DIEGO, CA 92109 | [813] 253-0300 | ©2017 SPARK STUDIOS