Chris Rodgers doesn’t mind being called a tinkerer.
After all, he’s been playing around with audio equipment since he was a teenager.
“I was really addicted to loudspeakers and stereos, but loudspeakers in particular. I still am,” he says.
“It’s almost like a hoarding thing, you can never get enough. I’ve got a whole stack of them back there.”
Another long-time obsession is cameras, “just mucking about, and doing things they weren’t really designed for.”
Once, for instance, he cut the front end off a Hawkeye Brownie film camera and installed a Polaroid Land camera in its place, using waxed paper to figure out the focal point.
“Very primitive, but then you’d end up with pictures that were like you’d get at the very beginning, the pinhole stuff.”
Like his filmmaker father, the 53-year-old Rodgers is in the audio-visual biz. Among other things, his company has the contract to record the daily Question Period in the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
And he recently shot the Arctic Winter Games (AWG) for Community Channel 9 in Whitehorse.
That’s where the other side of Chris Rodgers emerged from his basement workshop—the innovative, DIY side.
Rodgers, you see, makes stuff. Not just as a hobby, but with a purpose.
“There’s always an end result to it. I’m not just doing it for the sake of doing it. I want to use it, put it to use.”
When he showed up at the AWG, his toys quickly captured the attention of other shooters.
Toys like the jib arm he built for his small, wide-angle, hi-definition GoPro camera, for example.
“Last time I looked at a really small jib arm, they were well over $2,000,” he says.
The cost of his do-it-himself model?
“It’s hard to say, because a lot of the stuff I got not at its true price, but at a garage sale. So 100 bucks, maybe.”
Building it was also a learning experience.
“You just think you’ve got this little 10-ounce camera, but you put it at the end of a pole, you’d be surprised what has to go at the other end to hold a 10-oz camera eight feet away.”
Then, there was the mini-dolly made with aluminum tubes, wires fed through a clothesline wheel, two turnbuckles to adjust the tension and four rollerblade wheels.
That little number was inspired by watching someone use a dolly to shoot a break-dancing competition at the Yukon Arts Centre.
“I was looking at that and thought, that’s great, but if you could actually steer the thing… These guys are dancing; if you could actually go around them, full 360s…”
One Rodgers innovation that hasn’t made a public appearance yet is a simple pole attached to a harness of aluminum tubing and a Salvation Army leather belt that straps around his waist, front or back.
Perfect for getting point-of-view shots while walking, skiing, or shooting music videos, for example.
There’s also a bizarre-looking rotary arm bolted onto a motorcycle helmet.
“I really didn’t know what I was going to do with it. This is just an experiment. But it is balanced, so as you walk it sometimes turns. You can goof around with it and 10 minutes later, or half a day later, you’ve got something.”
Still in the development stage is a camera mount attached to a variable-speed drill. The eye-dazzling effects that might result could well be on view in a video Rodgers will soon be shooting with the winner of this year’s Battle of the Bands.
One of his personal favourites is the new hockey stick camera mount.
“It’s like that moment, that clarity moment, where it’s like… When I looked at that, I thought, ‘That’s kind of stupid.’ But when I put the camera on there and started rolling around, I thought, ‘God, this is great, because it’s everything all in one …
“Anyone could make one. It’s just a rollerblade wheel and a couple of L-braces and a little mount, and that’s it.”
Like many innovative do-it-yourselfers, Rodgers is constantly on the lookout for low-cost items he can adapt to another purpose.
Much of the telescoping aluminum tubing he uses, for example, is the result of clever scavenging.
“I had a whole graveyard of tripods and parts that I’ve been collecting for years. A lot of them came from Yellowknife from the government surplus sale.”
Then there was his recent discovery in the Sally Ann thrift shop—the universal joint from a Swiffer mop.
“OK, this is a broom that you push around, so you obviously sometimes put a lot of weight on it, so it can support the weight of this little camera, and it’s a perfect little U-joint,” he says.
“It was like a little light bulb went off in my head, ‘OK, I can use this.'”
What else can you expect from a tinkerer?