Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996

style="margin-bottom: 0"> How much Steadicam?

Published : 30th August 2009


I love watching "behind-the-scenes" shows and always am fascinated to see how different crews do things and what hardware they have.


Lately I've noticed lots of shots of steadicams. Seems like every picture is shot with one!


Rightly or wrongly, I've always thought of steadicam as a kind of "poor man's" dolly. I KNOW there are situations where nothing else can do the job, but on the shows I've been watching, very often steadicam is used where I would expect to see a dolly and tracks. Big pictures, too.


Any comments? Is there a change of feeling for steadicam? A new spring or something to make it as smooth as a dolly?


Operator and steadicam must be cheaper than a bunch of Grips... is that it?


I HAVE thought of the possibility that what I have been seeing was shot on "visitors day" or "press day" on those films and maybe the Producers called in a steadicam to provide a bit of colour and movement (after all, watching Grips tap wedges for an hour is not that exciting!)


Anyone?


John Hollands
Sydney
N.B. : Apologies to those Grips who DO manage to make wedge-tapping look exciting.



"Poor man's dolly !!!" You think your safe there on the other side of the world John. Steadicam operators are everywhere. We will find You.


Professional Steadicam operators cost from $1500 to $3000 a day, so they are seldom used as a cost saving device.


Steadicam has revolutionized filmmaking. It is the most important new filmmaking invention since the zoom lense. The floating feeling of the Steadicam is somewhat different from a track shot. Dolly tracks only come straight or a limited selection of circular. The steadicam can approximate many dolly shots but there are many moving shots that were impossible before Garrett Brown invented the steadicam. If you want to boom the camera from 2 inches off the ground to 10 feet above the ground while moving down a side walk. You would want to use a dolly, but if you want to shoot someone running through surf or move from room to room in one shot or if you need to see the floor, then you would want to use the Steadicam.


The right tool for the right job as my grandaddy was fond of saying.


Mik Cribben-Steadicam operator-IA600
NY/Miami
800-235-2713



When I was working in Hollywood (late 80s/early 90s) there was a trend starting where you couldn't get hired as the "A" camera operator on a feature without being an accomplished Steadicam operator with his/her own gear. The perception was that it made things "faster" in some cases, and directors always liked to have it around so they could design shots on the fly without having to worry about the logistics of a crew laying track.


I haven't worked on a feature or TV series in a while but when I did a Steadicam was always on the truck or parked near the set, just in case an opportunity presented itself, and it belonged to the "A" camera operator.


Art Adams
Director of Photography
Film | HiDef | Video
www.artadams.net



The pattern I was working around on the features in the 90's, it was the other way around. The steadicam guy was usually the B or C operator. The A guy was generally not...because he would work all damn day if he was! We would wear out the steadicam guy, then the A operator/team would go in while he recovered .


In the late 90s I saw this start to change in TV. WB led the charge on this with ER; wanting only one operator on the show, and he had to be a steadicam guy. I was in the episodic track at the time, and saw it in action. I did the West Wing pilot as the A-operator. The B-guy did steadicam. When the show went to series, WB insisted (as with ER) that there be one operator, and he do steadicam. That show was a steadicam operator's dream (or nightmare). A major master might take six hours to block, rehearse and shoot, but it covered a ton of real estate, and maybe four pages of dialogue! In all fairness, the technocrane shot that ended the pilot took the same time, and only Martin Sheen was in the shot. Crane operator and focus pulling AC were in the rafters of stage 18, another AC (to zoom), and I were at the wheels/monitor.


Randal Feemster, SOC
LA-based



Hi,


What amuses me most about these replies is that a "worn out" steadicam operator might be given time to "recover".


On the odd day I've done Steadicam it's usually an enormous expense for the production ,they have you for one day, and they'll flog you until you pass out from exhaustion!
Oh, to be a big time union guy...


Phil Rhodes
Video camera/edit
London



I don't think Steadicam is overused at all. And look at it this way, if you are a producer putting together a behind the scenes video, what are you going to include in the video, a guy putting safety chains on a barn door, or some nice Steadicam behind the scenes which looks a lot more like filmmaking than some grip tying knots in hemp.


Steadicam has become an invaluable tool in filmmaking these days as it offers movement that one cannot get with a traditional dolly. Where would Goodfellas have been without the 7 minute Steadicam walk-through at the Copacabana?


But then again look at Singing in the Rain. Here you have a 1200 pound blimped camera on a dolly made from a car chassis that they move through seven sets in a live four and one half minute dance routine as easy as Jimmy Muro on Dances with Wolves walking through a stampede of bison. I guess what am saying is Steadicam offered a new way of doing things, but watch Singing In the Rain or some other classics and dare tell me a dolly can't move as gracefully as a Steadicam can.


It's never the hammer but the carpenter that uses it. And it goes that those who think tools make a movie (overuse) are not filmmakers as much as slaves to technology.
--
Disclaimer : My opinions, thoughts, and beliefs are my own and may not reflect yours. The use of the pronouns "you, "some", and "many" to name a few are generalizations and without a proper name attached to them are not references to anyone reading my posts.

Walter Graff
Director
BlueSky Media, Inc.
888.435.5428 ext 31
Cell 917.217.9766
www.bluesky-web.com
Offices in NYC and Amherst Mass.



With due respects, the first serially made and readily available zoom lens was the Bell and Howell Cook of 1932. ... It was only with the introduction of reflex cameras in 1938 that the use of a zoom lens became a practical proposition. Some Berthiot and Angenieux introduced zoom lenses well after WWII.


And if it wasn't for the hand-holdable reflex camera we would all probably be still on (wooden) tripod legs And the Louma demountable camera crane and remote control head predated the Steadicam by about five or more years. ... both of them dependant on video viewfinders.


David Samuelson



>>And if it wasn't for the hand-holdable reflex camera we would all probably be still on (wooden) tripod >>legs
Nice to hear your comments, David.


There was also some wonderfully shot Russian films with handheld shots integrated onto cranes from many years prior to the Steadicam. Of course, the filmmaker's name escapes me.


Jim Sofranko
NY/DP



>>I do think I could live without ever seeing another 360 degree Steadicam reaction shot. That gets my >>vote for the most overused, uniquely Steadicam shot.


I don't know about uniquely steadicam; 360's are easy to do on a dolly in many cases. Dance floor and curved track are not a big deal.

class="style18" >>,,,,,,There was also some wonderfully shot Russian films with handheld shots integrated onto cranes >>from many years prior to the Steadicam...


Like Mikheil Kalatozishvili's "I Am Cuba". Fantastic stuff.
David Perrault, CSC



>>"I don't know about uniquely steadicam; 360's are easy to do on a dolly in many cases. Dancefloor and >>curved track are not a big deal."


Been there, done that. But I would say it depends on the radius desired. Typically, the 360+ steadicam shots are quite close to the subject with a radius far smaller than most dollies (or dolly grips) wish to tackle. Okay, I can do without seeing any more 360+ reaction shots from any source.


A couple of really good examples across the years are The Rope and (the newer) The Thomas Crown Affair. The latter stayed clear of steadicam, favoring dolly work. It was a major challenge for the dolly grip and operator because they did a ton on dance floor or existing floors. They would do a 180 around someone on a mark, change the direction of the wheels and lead at character as they began a brisk walk or exit. I say tough because truly complicated dolly shots are just not done as often now because of steadicam. I've stood on the set and listened to and participated in conversation the DP and director have trying to decide which to do. The big viewfinder usually wins these days.


Randal Feemster, SOC
LA-based



>>There was also some wonderfully shot Russian films with handheld shots integrated onto cranes from >>many years prior to the Steadicam. Of course, the filmmaker's name escapes me.


Andre Konchalovsky? (sp)


Jeffery Haas
freelance shooter and editor
Dallas



>>A couple of really good examples across the years are The Rope and (the newer) The Thomas Crown >>Affair.


Let's not forget Five Easy Pieces either.


Jim Sofranko
NY/DP



>Andre Konchalovsky? (sp)


I think that is who it is that I recall seeing years ago.


I do remember the shot that impressed me. It was a shot on a bus of a woman going to see her lover, a soldier before he goes off to the war. The bus approaches the town where hundreds of soldiers were gathering which we see outside. The bus stops and the woman exits with the camera following her handheld. Outside the camera steps onto a crane as it rises above the crowd while we follow the woman searching for her man until she finally discovers him in the sea of soldiers. An amazing shot. Anyone recall the name of the film??


Jim Sofranko
NY/DP



Jim Sofranko wrote :


>>'I do remember the shot that impressed me. It was a shot on a bus of a woman going to see her lover, >>a soldier before he goes off to the war. The bus approaches the town where hundreds of soldiers were >>gathering which we see outside.


'The Cranes Are Flying' by Mikhail Kalatozov. Cinematography by Sergei Urusevsky. It won the Palme d'Or in 1958


Max Jacoby
Lux/UK



>>'The Cranes Are Flying' by Mikhail Kalatozov. Cinematography by Sergei Urusevsky. It won the Palme >>d'Or in 1958


Yes - Thank you, Max.


After some thought I realized Andre Konchlovsky might be too recent. Haven't seen it in years but I do remember the beauty of the moving camera. I'll have to get a copy.


Jim Sofranko
NY/DP



To a certain extent handheld is a copout for the lazy director, but steadicam is its own thing. Best recent use of steadicam that comes to mind is Punch Drunk Love. Doesn't feel like a half-ass dolly replacement but truly adds to the storytelling. Plus of course many Jim Cameron movies, and The Shining. As Walter says, it's a tool like anything else. It can be used poorly or used to make great art. I think that the best steadicam operators are truly artists in the same sense as ballet dancers.


Jim Eagan
NY editor/cameraman



>>[[ But then again look at Singing in the Rain. ]]


Don't forget the masterful eight(?)-minute opening crane shot of Welles' Touch of Evil. (In the director’s cut only? I'm not sure..)


Dan Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA



Hi Max,

I think the film you remember is called "Coming Home" photographed by Haskell Wexler ASC .


john Holland , London.



Randal Feemster wrote:


>>A couple of really good examples across the years are The Rope and (the newer) The Thomas Crown >>Affair. The latter stayed clear of steadicam, favoring dolly work. It was a major challenge for the dolly grip >>and operator because they did a ton on dance floor or existing floors.


I have operated for Tom Priestly Jr. who DP'ed Thomas Crown and know for a fact they used quite a bit of Steadicam on it, which is typical on a McT film.


Eric Fletcher SOC
Steadicam/"A" Camera Operator
Los Angeles, CA



Hi Eric,


Having worked for Tom you would know better than me. I was going off McT's commentary on the DVD. Tell us more. Tom's work in general is terrific on that film.


Randal Feemster, SOC
LA-based