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Go way behind the scenes with the pioneer and leader in stabilized camera car rigging systems and discover what the best in the business are fueled by.

The film industry is an industry. Complex gear and delicate camera equipment. Generators, luxury trailers and billions of feet of film stock. Over half of the top Hollywood films have a crew of around 500 people. So that means transportation, food trucks for meals and oftentimes shelter from the elements.

This business is a machine. There are tons of moving parts when it comes to making a big-budget film. And just like oil keeps the moving parts of a machine running smoothly, petroleum products play a vital role in a production. While thousands of gallons of fuel are used to power generators and vehicles for the shoot, the equipment itself is often petroleum-based. Rubber mounts, carbon fiber arms, cables, gaffer tape, lighting gear, even the actual film stock... all of them use petroleum as a key ingredient.

Fuel is a supporting cast member of every motion picture. So we went behind the scenes with Filmotechnic USA, the pioneer in stabilized car-mounted camera systems, to take a closer look at what fuels their passion for film. With an arsenal of cutting-edge gear, a fleet of one-of-a-kind cars and a unique team that is willing to push limits, you’ll see how petroleum-based products keep Filmotechnic USA on the forefront of modern motion picture technology.

We’re all driven by our passions. These things we love to do push us to fulfill the parts of our existence that make getting out of bed in the morning more than mandatory, but magical. Our children. Our jobs. Our hobbies and pastimes and interests. Without them, we’re still life.

But at our best, we are in motion. Living breathing magnificent expressions of the thing we’ve found within ourselves – our own hero in the movie of our lives that we direct. May we all achieve the inner fire of someone who finds that thing that strikes the match.

That someone is David MacDonald and the team at Filmotechnic USA.

David is the lead camera car driver and co-founding member of Filmotechnic USA, the world’s premier provider in stabilized camera car platforms. What he’ll tell you is that he’s an old dirt bike racer who found something else to do. But the truth is way more cinematic.

The industry started out with Filmotechnic.

To know David’s story, it helps to know the story of Filmotechnic. Let’s go way back to 1990, when Russian film engineer Anatoly Kokush invented a revolutionary way to stabilize a camera head on a car-mounted crane. He called his developments the Russian Arm, Flight Head and Travelling Cascade Crane. These developments earned Kokush two Academy Awards for Science and Technology, and they are now household names in the motion picture industry.

“The industry started out with Filmotechnic,” says Jeanine Wojtanowski, manager of Filmotechnic USA operations. “The very first company to have a car-mounted robotic arm.”

In the last 24 years, their systems have been used in over 10,000 productions and continue to provide advanced camera systems for the production of movies, television, music videos and commercials all over the world.

But it’s not simply arms and heads. Filmotechnic USA has their own fleet of amazing custom vehicles that are blacked-out, performance-tuned and outfitted to keep up with the demands of any production. Knowing that you can’t just strap a Russian Arm to the top of your mom’s station wagon and get Need For Speed quality shots, they provide a few slightly more specific options. A matte-black Porsche Cayenne Turbo V8 that can take a shot from idle to 60 in about 4 seconds. A Ford F-150 Raptor with a custom-built exoskeleton to deliver unprecedented off-road motion camera work. An extreme-performance Polaris RZR UTV for the backwoods. And, yes, a Ferrari 360 Modena. Because, you know, why not?

When it comes to getting a shot, a quote-unquote impossible shot, a shot that makes every person in the audience question the difference between special effects and reality, a shot that defies odds, speed, physics, reality, etc... everything has to go right. So the crew has to know the plan and the equipment like they invented it.

That’s why Filmotechnic USA vehicles are tuned and maintained by the team themselves in their recently built, state-of-the-art Southern California location. They’re the ones inside, swinging a camera on a robotic arm at precarious speeds, so it only makes sense that they have an acute awareness of the capabilities and tolerances of every single part. Every rubber grommet. Every plastic fitting. Every drop of fuel.

Picture this: Remember that matte-black Porsche Cayenne Turbo? Yeah, well now you’re sitting in the back seat. Above you is a 25-foot sixth-generation Russian Arm — a spring-mounted robotic carbon-fiber crane with a ridiculously expensive and fragile camera on the very end that can precisely spin and tilt 360 degrees. There’s a guy in the passenger seat that is operating the camera and another guy in the back operating the crane. They’re all talking in code about “the bucket” and using number references that you can’t begin to understand.

And then there’s the guy behind the wheel. He knows the distance, the speed, the length of the shot, where the rest of the crew is, where the thousand-foot drop off the side of the cliff is... all of the variables — he knows them. He knows what every person in that car is doing and what everyone outside has planned.

He’s the driver, assistant director, cinematographer and safety chief all in one. He’s fully in the moment. Because when the director calls action and he punches the accelerator, you don’t just hope he’s in complete control — you’re absolutely certain of it.

Filmotechnic Sunset Horz

David MacDonald is a car guy. Through and through. No question. But the thing that makes him unique is his passion for film.

He grew up in Southern California with a love of motorsports in his blood. If it had gears or an engine, he was tweaking it, racing it, jumping it... and sometimes wrecking it. And when the latter was the case, he was on the spot with a wrench and a plan. That was a big part of their family life, with the garage as the hub of the neighborhood.

“My older brother had a Mustang,” he recalls. “He would take me out to the Friday night drag races. He’d stuff a $100 dollar bill under the dash and challenge me to get it when the light turned green.”

When he got a job working in car prep for the motion picture industry — these are the teams that make sure picture vehicles are prepped and ready for movie and commercial productions — he thought he had found something he could make a career out of. As someone comfortable taking a car to the edges of control, he found himself not only prepping cars, but also driving them as a stunt and precision driver.

It’s all about the drive. For me it’s all about driving the car. I get a smile on my face every time it starts up.

Being around production and cars sparked up an interest in photography. So ever the tinkerer that he is, he thought he would start building camera car rigs — arms that allow the camera to shoot back at itself from a distance. He saw this as way more than just a hobby, but an industry to move into, which led to starting a rigging company that he operated through the car prep facility.

David Macdonald

Being around production and cars sparked up an interest in photography. So ever the tinkerer that he is, he thought he would start building camera car rigs — arms that allow the camera to shoot back at itself from a distance. He saw this as way more than just a hobby, but an industry to move into, which led to starting a rigging company that he operated through the car prep facility.

Then on one particular production, when he noticed that the car supporting the fancy robotic arm and head was just a rental – “renting and ratcheting” is what he called it – there was a spark. The Russian Arm was something that he was always fascinated with, but it was somewhat untouchable at the time. Then a couple of fortunate opportunities presented themselves, and he was able to help start Filmotechnic USA/Camera Car Systems — a perfect partnership of automotive and film. The right place at the right time for a former dirt bike racer/stunt driver/rig builder/photographer to take things to the next level.

“I saw the writing on the wall,” he says. “Why doesn’t someone build a dedicated vehicle for this? The whole concept of it is sexy as hell.”

And that’s pretty much what happened. Now he runs the team that rigs, drives, operates and maintains the fleet. From the moment that the cars come back to base, they are given a thorough inspection and are meticulously tuned up to make sure they are running in top form for the next shot.

“We burn through a lot of gas,” David says. “And eat up plenty of brakes and tires. These cars pretty much live in second gear. You don’t want to be shifting in the middle of a shot.”

This tight-knit team operates as much like a race crew as a production crew. And with that level of pressure, it goes without saying that every single person in the shop is an integral part of the team. And they insist that it can’t be done without that attitude. John Urso — the president. Mykola Semenenko — the service engineer. Paul Murufas — the shop manager. Jeanine and David and so many more vital and specifically specialized experts that it takes to make it all happen.

The intimate knowledge of every arm, head and vehicle has to be a given. There’s a shorthand to the language that’s built for speed and safety. And a level of trust that comes when you rely on someone with your life. A group of people that are more than just co-workers, but friends who rely on each other, push each other in this job that they love to do.

“It’s all about the drive. For me, it’s all about driving the car. I get a smile on my face every time it starts up,” he says. “When I go to work in the morning, I’m tracking on stuff next to me. I set records for myself on Waze. It’s just in my blood... it’s crazy, I know.”

Filmotechnic USA continues to push the limits of camera rigging possibility. They’ve now developed a Mini Crane and Flight Head Mini that are so lightweight and versatile that they can actually be fitted to the picture cars, giving a production crew a camera car anywhere in the world. It’s yet another tool in their already staggering quiver of arms and heads that are unrivaled in the industry. And their capabilities are ever expanding — in addition to their main Los Angeles office, they have established a presence in the production-rich areas of Detroit, Atlanta and Orlando.

From the beginnings of the Russian Arm to the amazing car-mounted capabilities that David and his team have developed, the possibilities of how a crane and a head can be used are beyond imagination. They took something that started as an ingenious solution and pushed the limits of what’s possible.

And even though it’s a pretty mechanical process, the art of camera car rigging, the engineering of it and the role that the team plays is as creative as it gets. It’s driven by passion. Fueled by teamwork. It’s very much in motion. Filmotechnic USA and David MacDonald aren’t just putting a camera on it — they’re living it.

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