Steadicam Operators are specialists within the camera department. They may be hired on a daily basis to perform specific shots within a scene, or employed as Camera Operators who specialize in Steadicam. The invention of the Steadicam was revolutionary in terms of film making. Previously, to achieve smooth movement, cameras had to be mounted on tracking equipment that required long and careful setting up. Steadicam allows Camera Operators to follow or create movement, wherever it is happening, without extensive use of grip equipment. The Steadicam system isolates the Operator's body movements, enabling the camera to be moved with great fluidity, while remaining stable. This creates movement that appears effortless on screen. Feature film Steadicam Operators usually specialize in this area, have invested in their own equipment, and are normally requested by Directors or DoPs. Steadicam Operators must be willing to work long hours, and some foreign travel may be required, involving long periods spent away from base.
What is the job?
Steadicam Operators are responsible for the technical set-up of the Steadicam system and for balancing the camera on it. They liaise with Director, Director of Photography (DoP) and actors to set up and perform the required shots. They also work with the 1st Assistant Camera to ensure that shots are in focus, and with the 1st Assistant Director to make sure that the choreography of the shot runs smoothly.
Steadicam operation involves many physical and creative challenges: Operators wear a heavy weight (up to 40 Kg) for considerable lengths of time, requiring a great deal of physical effort. Carrying a large, highly mobile object around a set, whilst walking backwards or sideways, and at speed, can create dangerous situations for both actors and crew, and Operators must be aware of this, even while they are absorbed in the process of filming. Tuning a Steadicam to achieve good shots is comparable to tuning a musical instrument and takes time, which is a precious commodity on film sets. Despite such challenges, the work can be very creative and contributes to the visual atmosphere of the finished film. Working relationships vary from job to job: some Directors give very precise instructions about how they want the shot framed and articulated, in which case the Operators' role is to work out a way of physically achieving this end. Other Directors allow Operators to create their own interpretation of the scene. Ultimately, Operators are responsible for all aspects of camera operation on a Steadicam, requiring split second decisions of an instinctive nature, all of them sympathetic to the nuances of plot and performance.
Typical career routes
Although there is no designated career route to becoming a Steadicam Operator, many Camera Operators undergo specialist Steadicam training in order to expand their operating repertoire, especially as many DoPs have taken over the operating functions traditionally carried out by Camera Operators. Steadicam Operators may start their careers as Camera Assistants on documentary or lower budget productions, or progress through the ranks of the Camera department, from trainee to 2nd AC, to 1st AC and eventually to Camera Operator.
Essential knowledge and skills
Steadicam Operators require a good working knowledge all camera systems and lenses, and specifically up to date knowledge of all available Steadicam and body mount systems. Knowledge of available accessories such as remote focus systems, video senders and receivers, and any specialist equipment designed and used by other operators, is also an advantage. An awareness of physical stretch techniques and movement systems (Pilates, Martial Arts, etc.) are useful, and may help to avoid injury.
Key Skills include:
Training and qualifications
Steadicam Operators should be trained and experienced Camera Operators, and usually learn most of their practical skills through hands-on experience on the job. However, continual professional development is vital, especially as technology is changing rapidly. Basic stills photography, which develops visual and composition skills, provides a useful starting point in training for this role.
FT2 (Film and Television Freelance Training) provides industry recognised training for all job roles, including Camera, involving apprentice-style attachments to professional crews, combined with short course training opportunities. The National Film and Television School also offers industry recognised short courses for all grades. Although intensive Steadicam short courses are available at the National Film and Television School, there is no substitute for wearing the Steadicam and practicing moves and exercises, until using the rig almost becomes second nature.
Individual course accreditation in certain subject areas is currently being piloted. As part of Creative Skillset's and the UK Film Council's Film Skills Strategy, A Bigger Future, a network of Screen Academies and a Film Business Academy have been approved as centres of excellence in education and training for film.
Where to go for more information
Creative Skillset is the Creative Industries' Sector Skills Council. The first sources of information for all jobs in the industry are the National Occupational Standards. Browse Creative Skillset's website for links to our network of training partners, information about training and access to the comprehensive Creative Skillset/BFI course database. Finally, Creative Skillset Careers is UK's creative careers advice service; for detailed careers information and advice, visit www.creativeskillset.org/careers.
- National Film and Television School NFTS;
- BECTU, the trade union that represents camera personnel;
- The Guild of British Camera Technicians aims to further the professional interests of technicians working with motion picture cameras Guild of British Camera Technicians website;
- The Moving Image Society (BKSTS), organises events, courses, and demonstrations of new equipment, and publishes Image Technology.
- Steadicam Techniques and Aesthetics (Focal Press) by Serenna Ferrara
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