Camera Operator/Cinematographer Jesse Feldman
is well-known in the industry for many popular projects including Pose, American Crime Story: The People v OJ Simpson & The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Sons of Anarchy and American Horror Story...
to name a few. He talked exclusively to ProductionHUB about developing ergorig and how it's helped other filmmakers.
PH: How long have you been in the industry? What got you here?
Jesse Feldman: My interest in Cinematography started with still photography in high school. I then moved from Oklahoma City to LA in 2001 and started working as a Camera Assistant on music videos and low budget features while attending USC film school at the same time. In the last 19 years I've worked on over 140 episodes of television and 30 features.
PH: What have been some of your favorite projects to work on? And why?
Jesse Feldman: I certainly enjoy when I get the chance to work on projects that give a spotlight/voice to groups of people that are marginalized in our world today. I've been lucky over the years to have worked on a lot of projects that I'm very proud of. Some stand outs were getting to be behind the lens for Pose, American Crime Story: The People v OJ Simpson & The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Feud: Bette & Joan, Sons of Anarchy, American Horror Story, Barry, Future Man, Veep, Homeland, The Politician, and even a few days on The Mandalorian (I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that one!). Early on I shot several documentaries that left me with memories that I will never forget, including spending time on the frozen over Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada, and several trips to Internally Displaced Persons camps in northern Uganda. I've also had the pleasure of working both on the original The Room and The Disaster Artist- that was a unique career coming full circle moment that I'm sure won't ever happen like that again.
You developed ergorig
. Can you tell us a little about what it is and how you developed it?
I developed the Ergorig
out of necessity for myself to keep operating handheld. After countless hours of heavy cameras on my shoulder, my spine was too compressed and body was too beat up to keep doing it. For 3 years I had to not accept any projects that involved handheld. I got the idea of a belt and brace that would let me operate the camera as if it were sitting on my shoulder, but just not have any of the weight actually on my shoulder. It needed to be a simple weight transfer, without affecting camera movement/operation. I went to Home Depot, cannabilized a backpacker's backpack, and a week later the proof of concept for the Ergorig was born. After I knew the idea would work, I spent the next 3 years testing and prototyping to refine the design. As an operator, I knew exactly what would benefit us or get in the way, and I of course got the feedback of many other working operators as well. Adam Teichman from Cinema Devices came on board as an engineer during the prototyping process, and I've now licensed the Ergorig to his company as a Cinema Devices product, which we released together at NAB 2019. The system takes 100% of the camera's weight, bypasses the shoulder and spine, and spreads it out on the operator's hips. After 12 hours of handheld with an Ergorig, you can go home feeling fine. It's all about keeping our bodies healthy and working, so we can not only keep doing this for years to come, but also enjoy life outside of work without injuries.
PH: What kind of impact have you seen it make so far?
Jesse Feldman: Since our release at NAB 2019, the response to Ergorig has been absolutely crazy. The morning after the first day at NAB, emails and orders started flowing in from all over the world, and it's been really amazing that they essentially haven't stopped since. (of course, that was before the global shutdown...) We won the Technical Award for Best Camera Support Technology at CineGear a few months later, which was an incredible honor. In October 2019 we released the Undersling attachment, which is a non-intrusive add on to the Ergorig that allows for shooting underslung with the same weight transfer.
PH: How are you continuously inspiring other camera operators in the industry?
Jesse Feldman: Ergorigs are continuing to make their way onto more and more sets, and protecting more and more operators. Every time I get a call, text, email, or Instagram/Facebook message from an operator just wanting to thank me for inventing something like this, I am humbled. We have an obligation to take care of one another in our industry, given the sacrifices we all make daily to be here. We must support each other, and if my inventing the Ergorig can help keep more operators safe and improve their quality of life on and off set, I'll be forever grateful for that chance. I wish I had an Ergorig when I started operating, as my back's health would be very different today. Jim Cameron started using an Ergorig himself on Avatar 2 right after we released it, and the message got back to me that he said thanks and where the **** was this 12 years ago?
PH: Can you talk about a few recent projects you're working on?
Jesse Feldman: In addition to the Ergorig, I'm still working full time, and have spent the last couple years DPing the shows Star (Fox) and THE CHI (Showtime), with a handful of shorter projects in between. When the coronavirus shutdown happened I was in the middle of shooting an episode of Genius: Aretha (Nat Geo).
PH: What are some things you're looking forward to doing this year?
Jesse Feldman: This year I'm looking forward to hopefully getting back to work when we are all allowed to and it's safe for everyone to do so. Likewise, I'm looking forward to continuing to get Ergorigs out there around the world more and more!