One of the most profound practices under the craft of cinematography is the one that no viewer sees, but every viewer feels. A bonafide revolution in how moving images were captured, Garret Brown introduced a revolution in 1975 with his motion picture camera stabiliser – because with the Steadicam, images don’t just move – they fly.
On 21st and 22nd June 2013, selected students and alumni from The Puttnam School of Film were invited to attend the Steadicam Primer Workshop. The exclusive educational event was organised by lecturers Hideho Urata and Hiro Toshi in liaison with Brett Smith from The Tiffen Company (Australia) and held on the LASALLE Campus during the summer sprawl.
With the artful lead instruction of Park Sang Hoon, a leading instructor and practitioner and the support of instructors Joseph Jang (Los Angeles) and Scott Hui (Hong Kong), students were certainly in steady hands. The programme began with an introduction to the importance, relevance and widespread usage of the Steadicam.
With iconic beginnings in films like The Shining and Rocky, the tracking shot has found its way into contemporary classics that pervade the works of Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. Students were conveyed the value of having unrestricted camera movement and as soon as they saw the Steadicam operators in action, the lesson was clear.
The Steadicam provides the unhinged freedom to float through frames in a manner that makes the cinematographers and film directors the masters and kings of their frame. With a near infinite range of blocking options and dynamic compositional choices, the magic seemed to be slowly coming alive into the minds of the attendees.
While the outcome of this tool is nothing short of a wonder, the process itself was no easy feat. It was only when they had a taste of the vest, mechanically sprung arm and sled did it become discernible that this was not a skill to be learnt overnight, not even in the two days the workshop was scheduled for.
However, the inspirational command of the instructors motivated students to keep at it as they went through basic conditioning exercises followed by more advanced movements and manoeuvres that has to have had an irresistible cool factor from the eyes of any outsider.
The physically taxing practice sessions culminated in a finale where students were broken into groups and challenged to create a cinematic Steadicam sequence that delivered a short and visual story. Through corrections and several re-attempts, this exercise pointed out the immense significance of why a camera should even move. If a particular movement did not bring the story forward or have a functional basis, the instructors were quick to point out that out. After all, given that cinematography is much more than aesthetics and “pretty images”, the notion extends equally as much to the fundamentals of professional Steadicam operation.
The enchantment of the experience came to a close midway through the warm Saturday, as students bid a temporary farewell to the masterful instructors and legendary equipment, enriched by the core dictum of telling better stories through better technology.
Sharavana Rama is in his final year of the BA (Hons) film programme at The Puttnam School of Film. He is majoring in Documentary Directing and his Thesis Film, Majulah, will be presented as part of the LASALLE Show 2014 in May.