Steadicam Secrets

You probably heard of the Steadicam before. After all it's been around for over 35 years thanks to Garrett Brown. You can hardly watch a TV show or movie, whether it's independent or major block buster Hollywood film or even a documentary without seeing some footage from a Steadicam Operator. Too many of you, it might seem like a magic bullet for a successful production. Let's briefly talk about what a steadiam can do for you.

Is a Steadicam right for your story?

There are no other devices out there that can move a camera like a Steadicam. It can quickly change with the mood of a scene. It can move the camera in locations that otherwise might be hard to get to. 

But that doesn't mean it is the magic bullet for your production. Your story may be better told with a locked off camera. Or you might need the stability and repeatability of a jib. Or you might not have the budget. 

Don't get me wrong, I feel that the strengths of the steadicam, in a skilled operators hands can be invaluable to your production, and knowing when to use it is an important aspect of your planning.

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What are the limitations?

It will not work underwater, or in a hurricane. But it will work on a golf cart, or rickshaw, or in the woods, or in a church or in a strip club.

When thinking about your shots, the safety of the operator should be your primary concern. A steadicam can weigh between 40-100 lbs, and all of that inertia is a job to move around. If you are unsure, contact the operator first and give them all the details you can. We want the best for your story too. After all, we will be a part of it.

Consider wind, and wires. Anything touching the sled will impact the operators ability to manage the shot. No wind, and no wires are two ingredients to a good experience.

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Can you afford it?

A good steadicam op might have between $50-$150k invested in their rig, and some might have more. On a few of the productions I've worked on, the steadicam was the most expensive thing on the set! 

Expect to pay for the rental of that gear accordingly. You can't get $75K worth of camera for $100 a day, and the same is true with the steadicam. 

The operator's skill set is another aspect. You are hiring first, a camera operator who can collaborate with the DP and director to get the shot. On top of that, they are a Steadicam operator that has spent years working on moving the camera to best tell the story. Being able to think and adapt to the shot is key.  

Often you can get cheaper rates from people, but it usually is a reflection on their skill level, or the quality of their gear. You'll have to decide if it's worth your production to take that risk.

Certificate of Insurance? Yes!

You'll need to provide a certificate of insurance. This is standard procedure. With the steadicam, it’s something that is not fully under the owners control at all times, so a COI from the production company is an industry standard for owner operators. 

A steadicam (and it’s kit) is something that is operated by the owner, but not always under our direct control. It might be moved by a grip, adjusted by an AC, stored off to the side or in a truck, put on standby, and sometimes controlled by others if the shot requires it, all with someone else’s camera on it. 

For all established Steadicam operators it’s a business policy to require one. 

To be continued...