6 Dec 2016

'It really did change cinema for ever'

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:41 pm on 6 December 2016

Forty years go an invention transformed the movies forever. In 1976 Steadicam was used in the production of a feature film. And although that film may have faded from memory, Steadicam remains a favourite film-making tool.

RNZ’s Dan Slevin talked to Jesse Mulligan about this cinematic game changer.

The film which used this new technology was Hal Ashby’s Bound For Glory which was an academy award-nominated film about folk troubadour Woody Guthrie.

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A scene from 'Bound for Glory'. Photo: Supplied

The film was shot by the great Haskell Wexler and the new kit was operated by Garrett Brown  - who invented the Steadicam.

Shortly afterwards it was used extensively in Marathon Man starring Dustin Hoffman Laurence Olivier.

So what was special about the Steadicam? Before it was invented there were only really two ways to shoot on the move - put the camera on tracks and wheel it or you could carry it around on your shoulder.

The first was limiting and needed a lot of setup and the second was tough on the body.

“With Steadicam you wear a harness which spreads the weight of the camera and all of the other paraphernalia across your whole body, the camera itself is kept balanced by a system of counter weights and gimbles,” Slevin says

This freed up the camera operator’s arms unleashing a world of visual possibilities.

“Some expert Steadicam operators can even run backwards, as if they’re being chased,” Slevin says.

So what are some famous Steadicam scenes?

Perhaps the most well known use of Steadicam is the opening shot from Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas.

The scene in Rocky where the eponymous pugilist is training on the streets of Philadelphia and climbs the Town Hall steps uses Steadicam.

You’ll also see it in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Scorsese’s Casino and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights.

And a World War II battle scene in Atonement was voted best use of the technology by Steadicam operators.

Slevin says the Steadicam was as important as the invention of sound for film makers.

”It really did change cinema for ever.”

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