Apples & Oranges: Insights on Steadicam Produce

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

I began my Steadicam career under the assumption that operating Steadicam was as easy as strapping on a Steadicam and shooting. That couldn’t have been further from the truth, and thank God I hadn’t obligated myself to any work using a Steadicam or I would have seriously embarrassed myself. I bought my first Steadicam years ago with the expectation of using it in the production of a corporate video. I was in the process of starting my own business and thought that a prosumer grade Steadicam was a sound investment. It was, but not without a significant commitment to learning how to operate it.

My assumption that Steadicam was “automatic” is not unique. In fact, it’s the assumption of most people both inside and outside of the industry that Steadicam just works. Today, with the increased availability of equipment and information more and more people claim themselves to be “Steadicam Operators.” However, this has resulted in more and more Directors, Producers and DP’s being left with a sour taste in their mouths after a self-proclaimed Steadicam Operator has provided them with a costly demonstration that Steadicam requires not only strength, but skill, endurance and a flare for the aesthetic.

Young Steadicam Operators are faced with the classic Catch 22. How do you get a job without experience, but how do you get experience without getting a job. First, it’s important to get proper training. It’s like learning to play golf… create good habits and techniques now. Take a good Steadicam Workshop such as the one offered by the Steadicam Operators Association. Then practice, practice, practice. Once you feel ready to take on your first job… start small. Know what you’re getting into ahead of time, and ask for advice from other Steadicam Ops. Don’t get in over your head… there’s nothing worse than holding up a production due to inexperience, or even worse, not delivering on your promise.

Those that are hiring Steadicam Ops need to realize that all operators and equipment are NOT created equal. So know who you are hiring and the equipment they are bringing to the table. Work with operators that have been recommended by people you trust. Look at their credits, and if theirs time take a look at their reel. As for equipment, it’s unrealistic to expect those hiring Steadicam Ops to keep up with the quickly advancing technology. So be clear with your expectations. Make sure the operator knows the camera you are working with, and the lenses you will be using for the shots you have planned. If possible, coordinate a conversation between the DP and Steadicam Operator as early as possible so that they can discuss your needs and how to best achieve them. And unless you’re feeling really generous, I’d avoid putting your faith into the camera operator that says “why don’t we rent a Steadicam, I can operate.’ This will seldom save you or the production time or money.

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