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  • Filming a Surgery and need advice

  • Bruno Silva

    May 22, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Hey everyone. Next month I will be filming a 1hour long surgery and need some help with the project.
    I am renting all my gear, and here’s what I have in mind.

    Panasonic HVX 200 camera
    2 64GB P2 cards
    Sony 5′ Monitor
    Glidecam CamCrane 200
    Camera Controller

    My main question is in regards to the Crane, will that be good to get a nice over head shot?

    I posted this in another section as well, not sure the proper category for this question.

  • Mads Nybo Jørgensen

    May 23, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Hey Bruno,

    Not sure how good it is to cross-post across forums. However, do listen to Shane’s idea of using Go-Pro or similar. Same goes for not hurting the subject that the surgery is performed on – do not hurt them!!! More importantly, make sure that you are insured and that the insurance company is happy to cover you for that kind of production.

    Take directions from the surgeon – maybe story-board your shots before going in, so everybody in the room knows what you’re doing. Blood and human beings wait for no-one.
    Make sure that the kit (and you) are as sterile as possible – would be bad if the patient went and died due to an post-operative infection.
    Consider the use of multiple cameras in fixed positions. Depending on the height to the ceiling, I can’t see how the Glidecam is going to work without getting in the way of the surgeon? Also, it is a big box to to make sterile.
    Have you considered using macro? Nothing like the CSI shot of the surgeons knife cutting into the body – or maybe not.

    And finally, if you haven’t already read it: Mike Cohen has done some excellent work and articles on surgery video production. You can find them here on the COW

    If you haven’t done it before, maybe hire an expert to go with you in on the first job.

    Good Luck

    All the Best
    London, UK

  • Roger Van Duyn

    May 23, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Make sure that everything has been cleared with the Hospital’s Risk Management people, not just the surgeon.


  • Bruno Silva

    May 23, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    That article was very helpful, thanks for that.

    I have considered the GoPro, but my concern is monitoring the video. The GoPro doesn’t have a viewfinder and I would need to attach a monitor to it also have control over focus/zoom if it even has those features.

    That article featured a photo of a fantastic setup toward the bottom. Do you know what that setup is?
    The rental house I use suggest using a c-stand with a monopod attached. With the camera on one end and sandbags on the other. What do you think?

  • Mads Nybo Jørgensen

    May 23, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Hey Bruno,

    Apologies, but there is too many unknowns in this project for me to give you any accurate advice. Best suggestion would be to see whether Mike Cohen is willing to help you out.

    All the Best
    London, UK

  • Bill Davis

    May 25, 2012 at 12:38 am


    Surgical video is very specialized work at least as its practiced in serious medical facilities.

    Literally a cable that comes loose and interferes with a surgical procedure could conceivably kill someone.

    My advice would be that if you want to pursue this, by all means contact those who do it professionally and let them guide you about the specialized techniques you need to know about to work in a surgical suite and around a medical team safely.

    I don’t know if you have prior medical experience or not, but I’m not sure that learning you’re sensitive to the sights, sounds or smells of an OR while holding a camera over a live patient would be much fun.

    If this is your interest or passion, by all means, pursue it!

    But I’d council going slow and taking your time approaching this very specialized field rather than just putting a gear package together based on assumptions and diving in,

    But whatever you do, good luck!

    “Before speaking out ask yourself whether your words are true, whether they are respectful and whether they are needed in our civil discussions.”-Justice O’Connor

  • Mike Cohen

    June 6, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Thanks to the others for suggesting my article.
    I can add a few other helpful pieces of advice:

    1. If it is your first time in an operating room, regardless of the invasiveness of the procedure, please don’t go in with an empty stomach. If at all hesitant about the blood or unusual smells, have something bland like white toast with jam, oatmeal or a cup of yogurt. Avoid a heavy eggs and bacon type breakfast because that will be the first to go.

    “Smells, what smells?” you might ask.

    While less of a concern in minimally invasive surgery, most surgeons use some form of energy to coagulate or cut tissue. Could be electrical, ultrasonic or even newer tech like cavitron or radiofrequency ablation. In any case, just like when you throw a odor. Do the math.

    2. The adherence to sterile technique will be managed by the nursing staff in the room. They won’t let anything near the sterile field that is not as clean as possible and safe. A micro jib could be a problem if the tripod is not high enough to clear sterile tables, shoulders and equipment in the room. And if you do not have a brake for the crane mechanism you risk a Junior Mint incident.

    3. As the others have said, a fixed sturdy camera mount is optimal. You could either use a 3 stage tripod up on a riser or make something out of grip gear as I have done (it took some trial and error to get the right mix of parts and stability and portability)

    4. For monitoring, you want to place a small HD monitor preferably in a place where you and the surgeon can see it without acrobatics. This means a long cable (SDI, hdmi, composite, etc) and gaffer tape. Keep some slack at either end secured with a cable tie or ponytail elastic, but tape it down to prevent tripping.

    **At the end of the procedure, depending upon the size of the procedure and the presence of body fluids hitting the floor, you want to grab a pair of non-sterile gloves before pulling up your cables from the floor to avoid touching something gross.

    Just a little break in case anyone was getting queasy. Did you have your toast yet?

    5. Camera choice should be whatever you can operate safely and possibly without looking at the controls. If you have to change media, you may want to pull the camera away from the sterile field. SD cards are easy to slip out of your finger tips.

    6. Don’t forget audio. Generally the on-camera mic will suffice as most relevant audio will be close to you. You might want to remove any foam windscreens from a shotgun if not securely attached. Your camera will be near vertical so gravity has a way of making things move away from you. If you need to put a lav on the operator, clip to the mask and avoid touching the sterile gown. Best to attach the mic before the person scrubs, gowns and gloves.

    7. Don’t touch anything blue. Blue drapes and towels are universally sterile, or at the least, something to keep away from. Technically anything below waits level is not sterile, but this rule varies from hospital to hospital.

    8. Most importantly, regardless of gear and setup, BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS. Don’t swing around to look behind you or move positions without looking first. You may be on a stool or ladder, so periodically look down and see where your feet are. It is easy to lose balance when standing for long periods of time on a small platform and since you have clearly not had your toast and jam yet, you might be a little wobbly!

    Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask a silly question. I’ve been in hundreds of surgeries from 20 minute vagotomies to 14 hour facial reconstructions – worst thing someone does is give you a silly answer!

    Is any of the above knowledge proprietary? Not likely. Surgical video is my company’s specialty and these things have become second nature to us. But if this is your first time doing it and you are in the video business, my first goal is to help you succeed.

    Doctors always say “first, do no harm.” That should be a mantra for video production as well.

    Best of luck.

    Mike Cohen

    PS – Would you have that toast and jam already?!

  • Mike Cohen

    June 6, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    [Mike Cohen] “In any case, just like when you throw a odor. Do the math.”

    This should have been:

    In any case, just like when you throw a burger on a hot grill:

    protein + heat = smoke + odor

    Do the math.

  • Pat Gilligan

    July 18, 2012 at 1:25 am

    The toughest shot for me to get is overhead, since the real estate needed for a boom or a jib arm is really tough where I work. (Academic health care center in Philadelphia).

    Just today, I got a request for a hip replacement using the direct anterior approach. The camera needs to be pointed straight down to the table. Add to the equation that it’s at an affiliate hospital in NJ, about 55 miles from my campus. I hate to turn this one down, but it’s adding up to be one big headache. That said, the only jib arm I have available to me (rental, that is) is a bear, and I’d be flying solo.

    Have about 200+ surgeries under my belt. Could tell you some stories… Worked on the job for 4 days, the phone rang and next thing I know I’m in the OR. And Mike’s comments about smoke+smell. Oh yea!

  • Mike Cohen

    July 19, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    @ Pat

    Add to the fact that in a joint replacement the surgeons are wearing those space suits from ET, so it can get really difficult to see, and they are not aware of the position of the camera because their peripheral vision is diminished.

    If an HD laparoscope and a reliable person to operate it are available, that can sometimes get you shots that are impossible to get otherwise. You need a sterile team member to handle the scope and to HOLD STILL or even use an “iron intern”. And getting a recording in HD from a scope is still a challenge in 2012.


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