Welcome to part III of this series, entitled “The Steadicam: a Filmmaker’s Best Friend.” Since we’ve already painstakingly gone through set-up, we can now focus on how to get our shots as professional-looking as possible. This will be a shorter post, given the outline-y, “tips & tricks” nature of this section. Let’s get started!
Suggestion #1: When handling the steadycam, take the hand that’s not holding the handle and use it to “point,” or “guide” your shot. How do you do this without upsetting our carefully calibrated balancing system? Well, the idea is to use the guiding hand somewhere where it will be able to turn (spin) the camera easily without pushing the camera off center (from it’s upright orientation). Again, using a little bit of folk physics, we can surmise that the best place to do this is just under the gimbal. Why? If we were to consider the gimbal as an axis to a lever (like last time), then we know that it takes increasingly greater force to move the opposite arm as the point of application of force moves closer to the axis. The tradeoff here is distance traveled by your hand, which is the point of application of force in this case. For our purposes, we want as much resistance to extraneous movement as possible, while still having the ability to gyrate the camera about its post – allowing us to point the shot without shifting the entire rig. To achieve this, position your pointer and middle fingers opposite your thumb and lightly grip the rod just below the gimbal. It’s all about finesse with the guiding hand – most of the time, light “touches” with your fingers are enough to point the shot properly. With lighter cameras, it is especially crucial to keep your touch as gentle as possible, for obvious reasons. It’s also important to not touch the gimbal itself, as this is perhaps even worse for balance than positioning your hand too low. For reference, see the picture below:
Suggestion #2: Try to limit sudden movements. Even though your Glidecam should be able to handle quick jerking motions when it’s set up properly, it is rare to have an absolutely perfectly calibrated rig, and high acceleration will almost always exaggerate otherwise tiny flaws unnecessarily. Furthermore, swinging the camera around like a madman rarely improves the quality of the shot. Remember – smoothness is key. Think like a cloud. Think like an ethereal, floating cloud, swimming in the wind. With a camera attached to it. Clouds do not freak out all over the place, and neither should you.
Suggestion #3: PLAN YOUR SHOT. What path are you going to take? Where do you want the shot pointed? Are you going to change the angle partway through the shot? How fast will you be moving? Are you following someone? If so, you’ll need to think of ways to account for unexpected changes in speed and direction. The more comfortable you are with your steadycam rig, the better you will be able to handle these things on the fly. This leads me to my next suggestion, which is…
Suggestion #4: Practice, practice, practice! Getting proficient with the steadycam is like anything else in life – the more hours you spend getting familiar with it, playing around with the settings, trying out techniques, etc., the better off you will be come game time. Practicing a lot will also allow you to develop your own style, which is important if you want to give unique “flavor” to a scene. Remember how I mentioned in the first post that some people make an entire living off of their steadycam rig? I wasn’t lying. If you get good enough with a Glidecam, heck – you could market that skill to an independent film studio, or maybe even – *gasp* – a major film production company. How Hollywood of you!
Suggestion #5: Get a quick release plate. Trust me, you don’t want to reposition the top plate every time you move the camera back from the tripod to the Glidecam. It’s really annoying.
Well, that’s it for my series, folks. I hope you enjoyed this journey as much as I did – who knows, maybe we’ll be seeing your work in a major motion film ten years down the road!