Mr. Brown's Marvelous Machine - Page 2
Ted Churchill co-taught the class with Garrett and showed us his funny pamphlet Steadicam Operator’s Manual of Style, (pictured at left: Style Manual by Ted Churchill) with chapters called Attire, Perspiration, Suiting Up, Gravity, Attitude Toward Crew Members, Humping the Big Guy, Drugs, and my favorite, Expanding Your Legend. He and Garrett taught us how the rig worked, mechanically and cinematically. We learned about different configurations and spent lots of time in the saddle, each of us wearing the rig, walking around, and trying prescribed shots.
We learned, whenever possible, to walk forward, not backward, during our shots. They taught us the most basic move: using the rig to point the camera forward as we walked forward. We tried variations: (1) the Don Juan Move, walking forward with the camera facing backward, and (2) the Banana Move, where the camera starts out leading the actors in the Don Juan, then eases to one side to allow them to pass, then follows them from behind, camera facing forward. Or vice versa.
We learned that the Steadicam was pretty mechanical, in a low-tech way. The patent was based on balancing and floating the camera at the end of an articulated arm, which isolates the camera from the stepping motion of the operator. The arm was attached to a padded, metal-framed vest worn by the operator. The camera could not be held up to the eye, so the operator framed shots by watching a bright, high-resolution monitor mounted on the “sled,” the lower part of the Steadicam rig, which held the electronics and counterweighted the camera. For film cameras, the monitor displayed images from the video assist.
Above all, we learned to respect and propagate Mr. Brown’s marvelous invention and its reputation.
“Remember you could be coming onto a picture where everybody’s already tired of each other and you’re just there for a short time,” Garrett told us. “Make sure you do your prep quickly and thoroughly. If you’re not ready when you say or you hold up the production, they’ll resent you and gossip about you. And you represent us all.”
Steadicam had only been around for a few years at that time, and we all wanted to spread the gospel. Garrett reminded us that, even though we had this cool device to move the camera, we still had to respect the usual rules of cinematography and frame shots correctly, with adequate look space and head room.
During our practice sessions, we were able to monitor, and comment on, each other’s carefully choreographed video shots. We would chant “head-room, head-room” in spooky voices, with rhythmic finger crooking, when one of our classmates framed a shot too tightly or loosely at the top of the frame. The Italians would call out “Aria in testa!” which literally means “air head,” when one of their countrymen violated the head room rules, and soon we all adopted this mild rebuke.Continued on the next page