For several months now, Missoula filmmaker Jesse Spaulding has been tinkering on a large workbench in the back of his South Avenue home. Bolts, wires and camera housings of various sizes litter the surface, a testament to his Frankensteinian pursuit of creating better filmmaking tools. Trial and error have culminated in a single camera rig Spaulding calls The Ghost, a robotic stabilizer for digital cameras under 3.5 pounds.
"I've always been intrigued by having really smooth footage on the ground," Spaulding says. "I kind of left that behind when I got into the aerial stuff ... But now it's coming back around to the ground."
Last month, Spaulding launched a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $20,000 to fund mass production of The Ghost. His campaign reached its goal in a week. Donors have so far pledged $49,289.
"I'm planning on producing probably 100 by Christmas," Spaulding says. "But if Kickstarter takes off even more, we'll have to hire more people."
Spaulding currently works solely with the help of his fiancée, Hannah Weinert. The Ghost evolved from Spaulding's work with camera-toting helicopters called Cinestars, a technique he's marketed through his company SIC Visuals. It was partly Weinert's frustrations with lag-time on those rigs that prodded Spaulding to invent The Ghost.
"I'm the one viewing all that, 'cause I control the pan and tilt of the camera mount," Weinert says. "So I would complain to Jesse, 'We have this radian, which works. But it's not perfect.'"
Spaulding was also keen to develop a lighter-weight alternative to traditional Steadicams. Spaulding's not a "big or bulky" guy, Weinert says, making it difficult for him to wield a Steadicam for long stints. The Ghost is a breeze in comparison. "Even Jesse's cousin, she's 8 and she ran around with this thing."
Spaulding isn't the only one to note a need for such a camera mount. Freefly Systems, the same company that manufactures the Cinestar, recently released a handheld camera stabilizer strikingly similar to The Ghost. But Freefly's Movi rig is priced at $15,000or $5,000 for a smaller model—a price-point Spaulding feels is well outside the budgets of independent filmmakers. Spaulding is currently offering The Ghost through Kickstarter for $2,000. The industry "needs it at this price level," Spaulding says, "because there are a lot of independent filmmakers. There are a lot of independent filmmakers in Missoula."
Spaulding plans to continue tweaking The Ghost until it goes into mass production this fall.