Steadicam inventor and three-time Academy Award winner Garret Brown presented a talk titled “The Art of the Moving Camera” in the URBN Annex screening room Feb. 4.
Nearly 100 people attended the event to hear Brown speak. Brown holds 50 patents and is the inventor of the Skycam, the Mobycam and GoCam systems. He has worked on over 70 feature films, shooting some of the most well known shots in cinema history, with directors such as George Lucas, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Stanly Kubrick.
Brown was invited by Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design professor Gerard Hooper to complement his Film Studies 266 class, “The Cinematographer’s Art.”
“He was perfect for our class, because the class is on cinematography, and he has had such a profound effect on the moving camera over the past 35 years,” Hopper said.
Hooper decided to make the event open to the public so that anyone who was interested in the topic could gain exposure to Brown’s expertise.
“When there’s such a breadth of intelligence, the more the merrier!” he said.
The Steadicam is effectively a mobile camera mount that is stabilized by counterbalancing weights. It also has a gimbal, which allows the camera to move on all axes while maintaining a steady frame line, and is attached to an arm structure that is attached to a vest the cameraman wears.
Because of the counterbalancing weights, the camera does not shake when the cameraman moves and as such; the cameraman can capture a wide variety of perspectives. Brown invented the contraption in 1975.
Hooper added that the Steadicam allows filmmakers to do longer shots in a fluid and more economical way that was not possible with traditional dollies, large cameras on wheels, and tracks that are bulky and take a longer time to set up.
Brown began the event explaining his personal passions for filmmaking and what inspired him to pursue the shots that the Steadicam allows.
“The moving camera does a lot for you besides the primitive,” Brown said. “It gives a three-dimensional illusion on a two-dimensional medium.”
Brown demonstrated this idea with a pan of a pine forest that was made using a Skycam. When paused, the frame looked as though it was a two-dimensional photo of snow-covered pine trees, but when played, Brown explained that the moving frame conveyed more of a story about the forest because it was then seen from many angles rather than one.
Brown went on to explain more tips and tricks of the film industry, even touching on the political aspects of working around a set.
“The great elixir of filmmaking is enthusiasm — not angst, not blame. If you want to do another take, suggest it with enthusiasm,” he said.
Senior film & video major Max Goldberg said, “There’s a lot more to making movies than the technical aspect. It’s a lot more about how you handle yourself on set and this guy knows what he’s doing. This guy knows how to handle himself, and I think the things he said are applicable to anyone who wants to work on a set and not just a Steadicam operator.”
Brown encouraged the students to improvise and be versatile, like the Steadicam. He showed a scene from “Twilight Zone: The Movie” where he had asked the actors to try a technique that would better convey turbulence on an airplane and pointed out a mistake he didn’t like.
He also explained that when Sylvester Stallone was running up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps in “Rocky,” it was so cold outside that the camera wouldn’t start by itself, so another crewmember had to follow Brown with jumper cables attached to Brown’s camera in order to capture the shot.
Brown also touched on the future of filmmaking, keeping in mind the prevalence of computer-generated imagery.
In response, senior digital media major Hannah Deters said, “When he talked about how he moves with the actors and how he moves through an environment with his Steadicam to capture a certain perspective, it inspired a lot of ideas as to how to move a virtual camera in animation to create a more believable shot.”
Senior film & video major Melina Smith is becoming familiar with the Steadicam and was very appreciative of Brown’s presentation.
“It’s one thing using it, but it’s good to hear his little pieces of advice, because it’s the little things you notice a bit more, then,” Smith said. Smith is shooting four senior films this term and is using a Steadicam in three of them, one of which is a documentary.
“[With a Steadicam] it’s so easy to get shots of difficult places. Versatility definitely one of the best things in filmmaking,” Smith said.
Brown closed the event showing the world’s smallest Steadicam, his personal stabilizer that would mount his iPhone. Brown admitted that it would probably never make it to the market, but that he’s still inventing other devices.
Brown is based out of Philadelphia and offers six-day Steadicam workshops all around the world.