Me and My Wheelchair

by Jimmy on February 2, 2010

As I was being pushed in my wheelchair, we passed by a group of students and one of them said, "Hey, that's a nice ride."

My colleague, Mara McElmurray, pushes me in my wheelchair at Arcola Elementary School in Maryland. We are getting footage for a Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program promotional video.

Watch the short wheelchair dolly videos at the end of this post.  One of them was made with the help of a police officer.

Why do so many young movie makers utilize a wheelchair for their dolly shots as opposed to a steadicam, jib, or real dolly tracks?  After all, the wheelchair limits you to shooting on only the smoothest of surfaces if you want a 100% smooth dolly shot (a normal sidewalk has too many cracks for smooth wheelchair rolling).  And this 100% smooth dolly shot is difficult in and of itself because the person in the wheelchair holding the camera also has to have a steady hand while being pushed.  So why the wheelchair? The most obvious reason is cost.  The cheapest steadicam will cost at least $100 and it will only give you minimal improvement over your handheld shots.  You have to move up into the $250 range of steadicams to actually get a smooth shot while doing those action scenes.  I bought my wheelchair (more correctly rolling walker) at the thrift store for $47.  The second reason to start off with a wheelchair is because it makes you feel like you’re a real independent movie maker.  You’re being resouceful.  You’re grinding.  I remember reading Robert Rodriguez’s book, “Rebel Without A Crew,” and learning that he used a wheelchair dolly in some of his shots for El Mariachi.  I thought this was fantastic.  If he could use a wheelchair  in his breakout movie then why couldn’t I do it.

And the final reason why I like the wheelchair is because it makes random people smile and thus, more willing to help you out.  While shooting my Busking D.C. documentary, I sometimes bring my wheelchair.  Naturally, all of the documentary is shot outside in the streets of Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.  With my wheelchair, I have gotten random strangers to push me around to get great dolly shots of street musicians or just for cool b-roll footage.  Once I even got a young, beautiful woman police officer in Chinatown to push me up a crowded 7th Street from F to H.  It must have been quite a weird experience for someone walking down Chinatown to pass by a black police officer pushing an Asian guy in a wheelchair holding a video camera.  One of the greatest gifts you can give someone in life is to trip them out with your actions.

So one day I will probably graduate from the wheelchair to something more “professional.”  Until then, “all I need in life is me and my wheelchair.  Me and my wheelchair.  Down to ride ’til the very end.  Just me and my wheelchair.”

Haiku for my wheelchair:

Ride steel griffin ride

Take me to the Promised Land

Or straight to the Hell  (I had to put in “the” to complete 5 syllables)

Listen for the girl who says, “That’s a nice ride.”

The beautiful Officer Young pushes me in my wheelchair through Chinatown in D.C.

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