Innovation on the edge
November 29, 2012
Canyon Florey’s idea to design and build his own lightweight camera equipment started two years ago on an Alaskan sea kayaking trip. The South Shore resident wanted to document the adventure, and he realized that there wasn’t anything on the market light enough or compact enough for an extreme cinematographer who wanted to venture into the wild. So he launched Lite Pro Gear, a Meyers-based company that specializes in lightweight camera gear for adventure sports documentarians. Visit the website at http://www.liteprogear.com, which went live Tuesday, and you’ll see that the company currently sells only one piece of equipment, but it’s a piece of gear that’s already caught the attention of filmmakers nationwide. “I’m kind of surprised that all of a sudden the product we have is considered top-of-the-line, since it’s coming from a very small company with limited resources. We just want to continue to create high-grade, lightweight production equipment for the professionals who need it,” Florey said.
With a cold rain pounding the roof of a Toyota van — his “mobile R&D unit” — Florey pulled a 38-inch carbon fiber tube from his backpack Wednesday. In less than five minutes, he’d extended the pole into the 10.5-foot, ultra-lightweight Feather Camera Crane that gives cinematographers the ability to capture sweeping, smooth shots without lugging extra pounds into the wilderness. The crane — made mostly from carbon fiber and aircraft-grade aluminum — weighs 3.4 pounds and doesn’t require any tools to set up. Perched on a standard tripod, the telescoping carbon fiber boom cradles the camera on one end, while the shooter directs the lens from the other. It’s professional-caliber equipment with a $895 price tag that could be prohibitive for amateur shooters, but Florey said that it’s a tool for any cinematographer who wants to increase production value of his or her movies. Florey doesn’t have an engineering background, but he said the hardest part about the research and design process was finding already available pieces that fit together. The crane’s comprised of more than 50 different parts that come various manufacturers, from a machinist in Reno to a factory in China. One of the more innovative components came from a Denver, Colo., company called Boa Technology. Boa manufactures small reels made with stainless steel laces, a closure system usually used for snowboard boots and cycling shoes that allows for microadjusting on the fly. On the crane, the Boa system lets the cinematographer adjust the camera angle without removing the camera from its platform. “This is the first time we’ve seen the Boa system applied in this way. It’s very innovative. We welcome that kind of innovation and entrepreneurial thinking. Sometimes we need to rely on those innovative visionaries to come up with ideas like these,” Boa Technology Marketing Director Garett Graubins said. Florey tried to keep all of the production in the United States, but he couldn’t find a company that would easily manufacture the telescoping carbon fiber tube, so he set his sights on China. He found a Chinese business on the internet that promised to get him a prototype within about 10 days, and he decided outsourcing was his best option. America has some catching up to do, he said.
Chris Edmands, the founder of Leeward Cinema and the man behind the cameras of the Jeremy Jones “Deeper” and “Further” movies, used to carry a 20-pound camera crane to shoot his human-powered films. Without the use of chairlifts, snowmobiles or helicopters to access the backcountry, every ounce matters and Florey wanted to lighten his friend’s load. “I was like, ‘My buddy needs a lightweight camera crane.’ So I made him one,” Florey said. As for Edmands, he said he was blown away the first time he used the Feather Camera Crane and that he’ll no longer go on a shoot without it. For Edmands — who’d schlepped the heavier gear throughout Yosemite National Park and into the Arctic and who would saw off extraneous parts from his tripods — a lightweight and durable crane changes the game. “It’s perfect. It’s the future. It has to be or else people will stop trying to achieve these shots. Half a pound when you don’t know what it’s like to carry your world around doesn’t sound like much, but with the work I do, it’s huge,” Edmands said. South Lake Tahoe-based adventure photographer and cinematographer Corey Rich took a Feather crane prototype to Pakistan, where he filmed climbers David Lama and Peter Ortner climb the Trango Tower. Many of the shots for the film came from Florey’s crane, Rich said. “What I love is that we have a film and photography community that’s developing in South Lake Tahoe. Canyon is just part of that world. It’s really unique — he’s really become an innovator in that area. We’re an epicenter, we’re becoming one of the great mountain towns. We’ve always been a great mountain town, but now creativity is part of that equation,” Rich said.
Florey said he hopes to grow Lite Pro Gear into a company large enough to employ other community members, but at the moment he’s still on the frontier of a relatively new market and he’s not sure where the business will take him. Ideally he wants to continue his adventure lifestyle and develop the company to the point where he can run it from his iPhone, and prevent his filming and shooting from slipping away, Florey said. Lite Pro Gear is in many ways a one-man show. Florey builds the cranes himself once the various parts arrive in Meyers, though he does have an additional 10 to 15 people who help him with research and development, marketing and social media. And some members of that informal team —which includes snowboarding rock star Jeremy Jones, outdoor photographer Rachid Dahnoun and South Shore cinematographer Mike Wier in addition to Edmands and Rich — are at the cutting edge of their professions. With its high concentration of extreme athletes and professional cinematographers, Tahoe provides an awesome studio, Florey said. “It puts us in the perfect testing ground. Our outdoors is the perfect studio. Tahoe has a very awesome community of creative people and once you tap into that everyone does a good job of taking care of each other. I have the largest concentration of bad asses here who are down to make stuff happen,” Florey said.