What Do Steadicam Operators Do?

G. Wiesen

Steadicam operators are responsible for physically handling a Steadicam during a film shoot, ensuring that scenes are shot properly and dealing with the physical requirements of Steadicam usage. A Steadicam is a type of camera often used in filmmaking that allows for the freedom of movement granted by a handheld camera, while reducing camera shakiness considerably through a built-in gimbal and counterbalanced design. Steadicam operators wear a body harness that is connected to the Steadicam itself by an armature or arm; they also use the monitor built into the Steadicam to ensure shots are framed properly and track the movements of actors or the action in a scene.

Steadicam operators ensure that scenes are shot properly.
Steadicam operators ensure that scenes are shot properly.

The responsibilities of Steadicam operators are similar to those of other camera operators, but are specifically geared toward the effective use of a Steadicam. A Steadicam is a camera developed in the 1970s by Garrett Brown, a cameraman within the US film industry. The basic design features a camera mounted onto a vertical bar, at the bottom of which is a counterbalance along with the camera’s power supply and a monitor to view the image captured by the camera. This camera and counterbalance includes a gimbal within it, which helps counteract small movements of the camera to reduce shakiness.

Many parts of a sports broadcast are shot with a Steadicam.
Many parts of a sports broadcast are shot with a Steadicam.

Since this camera setup, referred to as the “sled,” is quite heavy, Steadicam operators wear a body harness to which the sled is connected by an armature. This body harness supports the majority of the weight of the sled, which places a great deal of physical strain on the body of the operator. Learning to effectively move while wearing the harness and holding the sled is one of the greatest challenges for many Steadicam operators and requires a great deal of practice and training.

Steadicam operators do not actually support the weight of the camera by holding it, but place one hand on the sled itself to move it as necessary. Since the actual viewfinder of the camera is often in a position that cannot be looked through by the operator, Steadicam operators have to be able to watch the monitor at the base of the sled to ensure a scene is being captured properly. In addition to watching what is occurring on the monitor, operators must also actually navigate a film set, following actors and tracking the action in a scene, without running into other equipment or anything else. All of this coordination is in addition to ensuring that any particular requirements established by the director of photography for a scene are also met while operating the Steadicam.

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