Garrett Brown's Steadicam

On September 16, 1974, for the purposes of filming a commercial, the director of photography Garrett Brown filed a patent in the United States for a new stabilization system for portable cameras.

Noël Véry devant la Tour Eiffel, 1977, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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This was the Steadicam (a contraction of steady camera), which was made up of several elements: ● a harness across the cameraman's chest; ● a steel articulated arm that attached to the harness at the level of the abdomen — this arm, equipped with powerful springs, cables and pulleys, was both carrier and shock absorber; ● a camera stand, which attached to the arm and which acted as a counterweight.

Gravity kept the film camera horizontal, while a universal joint ensured the support and shock absorbing arm stayed connected. A video monitor connected to the camera's reflex viewfinder needed to be added to the system so the frame could be seen.The importance of the Steadicam is clear: the cameraman could move the camera while running, or going up or down stairs, all whilst keeping the image really steady. It was used in sequence shots, or even for scenes where there was a lot of action in the frame and a Dolly — a platform with a stand that can raise the camera — couldn't be used due to uneven ground. With a Steadicam you could really stick with the action being filmed. Nonetheless, it required a certain amount of physical strength, knowledge of framing films, and in all instances a long apprenticeship to become a steadicam operator. A fully equipped Steadicam could weigh up to 40 kg. "You must become one with the camera", according to Noël Véry, a famous cinematographer who was a specialist in the system.

An Award for the Invention of Steadicam: 1978 Oscars, 1978, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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The Steadicam made its debut on Hal Ashby's Bound of Glory (1975). The system arrived in France the same year, and was adopted by Noël Véry, Yves Nolleau and Jacques Monge. In John Schlesinger's Marathon Man (1976), the Steadicam allowed the camera to follow Dustin Hoffman while he was running. In John Avildsen's Rocky (1976), the camera went with Sylvester Stallone into the ring and up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum. In Stanely Kubrick's The Shining (1980), the device was used magnificently, thanks to Garrett Brown who operated it himself during filming (for example, during the maze scene, or following the child on his tricycle in the hotel corridors). Brian de Palma (Snake Eyes, 2001), Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, Casino), and Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line, 2000) all used it to create beautifully fluid shots.

When the Steadicam was first used, there were a few noticeable, unexpected effects. For example, when Rocky Balboa reaches the top of the steps the camera seems to undulate slightly. But the system was perfected by Brown, who produced more and more advanced models over the years. There was also competition from other manufacturers, such as Panavision with Panaglide (1978). Garrett Brown received a Science and technology Oscar in 1977 for the invention and development of the Steadicam. He proceeded to invent numerous ingenious devices to make the camera ever more fluid and free: FlyCam, SuperFlyCam, SkyCam, DiveCam, MobyCam…

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