CAMERA DEPARTMENT - Job Title: Steadicam Operator
Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareers in Film and TelevisionCAMERA DEPARTMENT - Job Title: Cinematographer Or Director Of Photography (dp), Job Title: Camera Operator, Job Title: Steadicam Operator
JOB TITLE: STEADICAM OPERATOR
The Steadicam is a portable camera system that attaches to the body of the operator, and is generally used to smoothly capture shots that other cameras cannot, such as going up and down stairs or through narrow hallways. As designated by the director and cinematographer, the Steadicam operator composes and executes shots using this camera system.
Although it is not necessary to be large in stature, a Steadicam operator must be physically fit and a skilled camera operator, able to carry the weight of the Steadicam while climbing, running, or moving about the set, while composing shots and capturing the desired action on film.
Advice for Someone Seeking This Job
If you are seriously considering a camera operator job, operator David Emmerichs says you need to move to New York, Los Angeles, or another city where movies are made. If you have an interest in being a Steadicam operator, it is essential that you first go to a camera rental house or a trade show and try one on.
“Initially it hurts. There are a lot of people who physically cannot do it … There are workshops where you can go and for two or three days learn from some of the better operators. Put it on and see if it's something you want to pursue.” Attending a workshop is also a good place to make connections with people who may be able to help you find work. Contact other operators and ask them if you can assist them or watch them work. Get a job at a camera rental house where you can meet people working in the industry. Volunteer to shoot student, low budget, or music videos for free, so you can gain experience using the equipment.
Professional Profile: David Emmerichs, Steadicam Operator and Camera Operator
Inspired by the movie Star Wars, David Emmerichs decided at the age of 10 that he wanted to be a filmmaker. He started making Super-8 movies with his friends, and when they weren't available he made animated films. After high school, he left his home in Milwaukee to attend Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Captivated by special effects and animation, he initially thought that was the area he would pursue. But in his first year, he discovered that he enjoyed shooting other people's movies.
“I loved running around and moving the camera. I didn't even know what a Steadicam looked like, but I knew the concept existed.” When Emmerichs first tried on a Steadicam at a New York trade show in 1986, “It was love at first sight.”
In his freshman year, he contacted Steadicam operator Ted Churchill to learn more about the gear and job function. “He took me under his wing as an apprentice and started teaching me how to use the equipment. He took me on jobs. I started learning the ropes from his assistants: how to thread cameras and be a focus puller. He taught me how to do shots. I was learning throughout the last three years I was at NYU.” Another mentor was Steadicam operator Jim Moru, who would later recommend Emmerichs for his first feature.
During his senior year, Emmerichs bought a used, nonfunctioning Steadicam. His mentor, Churchill, “had enough spare bits to sort of slap it together and make it work. I put up little homemade advertisements, with a very serious picture of me wearing the Steadicam, and stuck them up all over the school: ‘Willing to work on serious student films for free.’”
What do you like least about your job?
“The thing I like the least about my job is that sometimes the politics get in the way. And, I sweat a lot.”—David Emmerichs
What do you love most about your job?
“The things that I like best about my job are the places I get to go, the people I get to work with, and the things I get to do. For instance, on Armageddon, I was on the space shuttle launching pad a few days before the ship was in orbit … running around in the temples in Cambodia [for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider] … As a civilian, where else do you get to do that kind of stuff?“—David Emmerichs
Emmerichs’ first paid job was an industrial film for Brown University, which came through a recommendation from Churchill. Before graduating with a bachelor's degree in fine arts, and for the three years following, Emmerichs honed his skills working on student films and music videos. His first feature was Hangin with the Homeboys. “It was my first big chance. When I showed up, they saw that I was just a kid and didn't want to let me shoot anything. I sort of sat on the bench for most of the night, until they finally came to a shot they couldn't figure out another way to do. So they gave me a shot at it. It went really well and after that I shot most of the movie.”
In 1991, Emmerichs relocated from New York to Los Angeles. Much of his initial work was filming rap videos. He worked on the critically acclaimed feature film Joshua Tree, followed by two low budget horror films. “I thought of them as Steadicam boot camp. We'd go somewhere, strap the steadicam on, and work all day for five weeks straight, then collapse. I learned a lot.” He worked on various television programs, then, through the recommendation of Jim Muro, landed his first feature, Cool Running, in 1993. He joined the union just prior to shooting the film.
* “Watch a lot of movies and you'll learn what you like and what you don't like. Start out by emulating others and eventually you develop your own style and ability.”—David Emmerichs
Having wanted to work with Industrial Light and Magic since he first saw Star Wars as a child, Emmerichs finally realized that aspiration on a job shooting a Volkswagen commercial. His next career highlight came working with director David Fincher on Se7en. From that point on, Emmerichs continued to work on blockbuster features, such as Nixon, The Fan, Con Air, and Alien: Resurrection, taking commercial jobs in between. While shooting an ad for Snapple, he met director Michael Bay, and went on to work with him on Armageddon.
Edtv came next, followed by his first feature job as an “A” camera operator on The Green Mile, working with cinematographer David Tattersall. Emmerichs first worked with Tattersall on the straight to video release Theodore Rex, which lead to their reteaming on Con Air and The Green Mile, followed a couple years later with Emmerichs as camera operator on The Majestic.
Con Air director Simon West recommended Emmerichs to cinematographer Peter Menzies, Jr. as a replacement Steadicam operator on The General's Daughter, when the original operator had to leave the film a week before it wrapped. Impressed with Emmerichs's work, Menzies hired him as his operator on Bless the Child, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and for a few weeks on Spider-Man. “Peter taught me a lot. He was tough on me and as a result made me a much better operator.”
Emmerichs's next film is another Michael Bay directed picture: Bad Boys 2.
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