Employing MacGyver’s Process of Ingenuity on Set: Broad Knowledge Base, Thorough Assessments, and Limitless Imagination by Saro Varjabedian

Reference: StudentFilmmakers Magazine, April 2007. Employing MacGyver’s Process of Ingenuity on Set: Broad Knowledge Base, Thorough Assessments, and Limitless Imagination by Saro Varjabedian. Pages 20.

During the late eighties and early nineties a popular sci-fi show called MacGyver aired on network television. The premise of the show was that the main character, MacGyver, would face life or death crises with limited resources and an even shorter amount of time and manages to overcome his obstacles with only ingenuity and a Swiss army knife. Does this situation sound familiar? Of course life and death would be a bit extreme, but Directors of Photography are often confronted with the same scenario on independent films; lack of time and resources.

Therefore, employing MacGyver’s process of ingenuity is critical in independent film production.

MacGyver’s process for employing ingenuity consists of the utilization of three attributes. These three attributes are a broad knowledge base, thorough assessments, and limitless imagination.

1.) Broad Knowledge Base

MacGyver was a modern day renaissance man. He was educated in science, technology, and as an outdoorsman. By having a wide range of information and skills accessible MacGyver had a boundless wealth of information to draw upon and combine to create new solutions or inventions. As a DP it is obviously important to be learned in lighting principles, camera techniques, cinematic continuity, film processing, video formats and equipment. Less obvious is to explore outside of our field by experimenting with photography, studying art or learning metal work. Any knowledge attained outside of your field of specialty will add to your creative potential.

2.) Thorough Assessments

What MacGyver did very well was assess his situations in great detail not only focusing on the obstacle but also taking note of every element in his environment no matter how insignificant it may seem. A major component of being a DP is trying to take advantage of the shooting location. Earlier in my career I was faced with a situation where the director wanted to get a tracking shot in a very small and cramped bedroom and we had no track or dolly. Taking note of the smooth laminate flooring, I placed a bed sheet on the floor, put a white card on the sheet and placed the tripod and camera on the white card. By pulling the sheet I got a surprisingly smooth track and the setup time was very quick.

3.) Limitless Imagination

MacGyver was open-minded to all possibilities no matter how ridiculous it seemed. Often times, dealing with an obstacle through a practical perspective results in hampered creativity. When looking for solutions feel free to explore all possibilities no matter how fantastic or even silly. Remove all limitations; start with the implausible and work your way down to a conceivable solution. Need a bird’s eye view? Try creating a rig to hang the camera on something high like a tree. Don’t like a wall, build a new one in front of it by making a wooden fame with canvas material stretched in front of it and spreading plaster on it.

Ingenuity is an integral component in any creative endeavor and maybe more so for independent film making. By utilizing MacGyver’s process of ingenuity it is possible to elevate your work to a higher power.

Saro Varjabedian is a director of photography based in New York and has worked on over twenty films, music videos and corporate videos for various production companies. He has recently finished production on Erza, Story 353, Agoraphobia, and Hero the Great. Saro is currently working on the pilot Power-Outage.

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