STEADY CAMERAS (the evolving composition)

Ever had an amazing idea for a Steadicam shot? It's simple right? If you want smooth flowing camera movement that covers more ground and is more flexible than a dolly, you just bang your camera on a Steadicam and away you go! If only it were that simple hehe :) Keeping in mind that as I type this, technology is quickly catching up to that possibility. Simple, AFFORDABLE, smooth, flexible camera movement is coming and I'm damn well excited :) (Gimbal stabalizing technology built onto the sensor for example)


My obsession with moving the camera started when I first got my 5D Mark II and the Glidecam Pro 4000, back in 2009. Just like most film-makers out there, I wanted to do all the cool shit Hollywood was doing without the cool gear that Hollywood had to do it! Slow pushes, sweeping arcs, cranes and tracking shots that covered some serious ground...but where was my chapman dolly, steady tracks, techno cane and motorized head? Not in my grasp is where. So, after building a couple of dollys that ultimately, didn't really work, I decided to (dare I say) MASTER the Glidecam. The clip below is collection of shots that I captured on my adventures about 5 years ago over the course of a years worth of practice, that's right, a year of trying different weights, different lengths, different lenses, different drop times, different walking styles and also, a year of pushups hehe ;) 

Then I got bored with slow controlled movement and decided to make a clip where I literally RAN with the Glidecam >>>


The art of flying Steadicam is definitely something that not only requires a a good sense of composition but also a massive amount of technical knowledge, patience, strength and most importantly, a MASSIVE amount of practice time. Jo Simon put out a nice tutorial to get you started, check it out HERE :)

Several years later, I purchased my very own RED Scarlet-X. I think my very first blog post talks about those days actually...but suffice to say, the convenient days of DSLR shooting were about to change for me, at the time, in favor of High Dynamic Range, High Bit Depth, RAW video recording. This all came at a cost though......WEIGHT. 

A V-Lock battery that lasts longer than 40 minutes weighs almost double what a 5DII does. Put that on the back of a camera like the RED Scarlet-X, plus a matte-box, remote follow focus, monitor and let's not forget, lens, and you're stepping into "I'm gonna need a much bigger rig to fly this thing" territory. With the added weight comes added bulk and serious limitations to flexible movement. What once was literally a few kilos and a one arm job (don't go there), I now had to invest time and money into a bigger rig.

Thinking that I could just plonk my Red Scarlet-X onto the Glidecam was a bit ambitious after literally trying to fly it without a vest, I in"vest"ed in the Glidecam-X10 arm kit to go with my pre-existing Glidecam 4000 Pro. This was going to help with the weight. Even then it wasn't really a compatible system but I did manage to get some fairly decent results. 

I've written about my experiences with the Glidecam and Red Scarlet-X in greater detail HERE if you're interested. It covers issues that I had powering the camera, monitoring, etc. Eventually though, I decided that I needed something more stable, easier to fly and with power/monitoring options already built in.

And then came along eBay :) I got rid of the Glidecam X-10 and picked up the CAME steadicam for just over a grand, delivered! Here's a link to it > CAME STEADICAM

After playing with the rig for a about a week, I began to get a good feeling for it. It was totally different to flying a single human arm, no vest Glidecam, although the principals were the same. The camera is just SO much heavier and responds differently to a DSLR. The CAME Steadicam is amazing and for the price, it solved all of my immediate struggles with flying the Scarlet :) Don't get me wrong, it's no REAL Steadicam replacement. In other words, yes it's possible to get decent results with it, but things like build quality, adjust-ability, comfort of the vest, ease of balance etc, cannot be compared with that of the Zephyr for example. But then again, you could buy TEN of the CAME Steadicam units (delivered), or ONE of these > STEADICAM ZEPHYR

So, value for money is not something worth debating. In fact, the CAME Steadicam is too cheap not to buy if you're looking at learning how to fly.

So I gradually got better at flying this thing and began offering my services as a "Steadicam Operator" in addition to my cinematography packages. That choice didn't fair well with other true Steadicam Pro's out there but hey, at the end of the day it's always about the final result, and dare I say I've been getting some decent results :)

Here's a few clips from recent films that I DP'd and shot "Steadicam" for, using the CAME unit.

The above shot was something Daniel Pearson and I came up with for his film 'Thrombosis'. It's actually my favorite steadicam shot ever :)  

These shots (out of order and un-graded) were a result of many nights of pre-production with Director Rahul Perry-Prasad for his film 'Some Kind of Beautiful' which excitingly has been accepted to screen at Cannes Short Film Corner! Fucking epic :) So excited for you guys!!

The two above are from a film I shot for director Joseph Russell called 'Queen Of The Bees' which made it to the New York International Film festival! We are super excited for our next film which is currently in the works...a feature length this time, and yes, with lots of steadicam action hehe :) You'll notice in these shots there's a fair bit of micro judder/vibrations. Part of that has to do with my walking/operating (too heavy footed) and the fact that I over-loaded the rig...I was a few kg's over it's 15kg limit.

So, camera movement can add a lot to what normally might not be a very interesting shot. But even if you can fly (and I'm still learning), there's another huge challenge. Lighting. Because your composition is constantly changing and more of your environment is coming into view, it can be really difficult to light your scene without showing the lights themselves! Planning your shot is really important. 



The diagram to the left is what Director Jad Olivier and I came up with after a brief visit to the location for the film Mr. Ghost. As you can see from the final shot though (below), we ended up changing the first bend because it was literally too difficult to hide the lights!

We also ended up scrapping the overhead Kino because the house was super old and we didn't really have safe rigging equipment to get it up there. Instead we moved one of the 2.5K's up above on the stairwell.

Lighting for the film was supposed to be very stylized and although I think we achieved what we were going for, next time I'd soften it up a bit. Also, if you watch closely you can see a lens flair towards the end of the hard to hide those lights!! 



Since then I've been asked to shoot a lot more steadicam, and with that demand came for even more challenging setups...

If you've never used Shot Designer Pro (phone and tablet app), then you gotta get on it. Much better than a pen and paper, it's fricken awesome. I'll be doing a more in depth post about that later. 

Anyway, the above shot was for the feature film "Chloe Lives" which we only just wrapped for a few weeks ago (hence why I can't show you the result just yet). Notice how there are no lighting icons in the diagram? That's because there was literally NO WHERE I could place lights! Luckily it was fairly "lit" already with practicals, and the constant movement and business of the shot helps hide the fact that maybe it was under-lit ;) The cafe was on the second level of a the building so I couldn't even put lights outside the windows! Lighting aside, the shot was tough. Not so much because of crafty moves (it was relatively simple) but due to the sheer lack of space and the challenges that low budget film-making bring - we had no wireless video for my focus puller/1st AC Kate Tartsus! She was following me throughout the whole shot, as was our sound department was chaos! But we got the shot...16 takes later hehe :)

I think it's an awesome thing to be able to offer a Steadicam service, even if you aren't a pro. Just make sure you get the practice hours in and watch that horizon! There's a huge community committed to sharing knowledge about the art of flying Steadicam, so make sure you explore that on your journey. If some fuck-tard tells you "don't bother flying yourself, just hire a pro", kindly ignore them and go about your business, but then again, don't do something stupid like testing your new rig out for a day and then start calling yourself a Steadicam op. I personally have learned a few things "wrong" and they're super hard to un-learn (walking style, monitoring setup, etc). Practice hours, strength and the ability to balance different setups is key, but so is knowing what looks good in a dynamically changing composition.

Also, when discussing shots with your director, make sure you question the use of steadicam. There's nothing more annoying than a director asking for a steadicam shot that doesn't really need to be a steadicam shot. Use this power for good! Use it to reveal environments and draw your viewer in...use it to tell better stories...don't just use it because it's cool.

Wrapping up, I'm sure we can all agree that camera movement, if done right, is just sexy. I'm still learning how to best incorporate that movement in a way that best services a script and it's awesome fun, especially when your director works with you in achieving that goal.

Another film I shot with Jad Olivier, titled 'The Constants', is about to enjoy a festival run. We experimented with some awesome camera movement in that film - below is one of my favorite shots. Can't wait to collaborate with you again mate (and what a crew!) :)

That smooth jib was operated by Brayden Alden, and man what a feat! He skillfully flew the camera above that antique was nerve racking and awesome to watch :) Nice work buddy!! Here's a few BTS shots from the night...

Posted on February 19, 2015 .