Hiring a Steadicam Operator

William B. Demeritt III
May 24th, 2012

Note: this is the first 2 pages of an evolving document I plan on editing, changing, and adding to as time goes on. This reflects my current thoughts on the topic, and something I intend on sharing with my producer friends to assist them in hiring a great candidate for their next project (when I’m not available, obviously!)

Hiring a Steadicam Operator

A checklist for hiring your next Steadicam Operator.

Your next Steadicam operator may just be your highest-paid skilled technician and camera operator on set. Here’s a primer for understanding how to find a new candidate worthy of your expenditure.

Questions for your candidate:

When you call, are they friendly, professional, and courteous?
– An old adage says “If you’re at a restaurant, and you want to know if someone’s a nice person, don’t watch how they treat you. How do they treat the waiter?” So pay attention to their phone etiquette; how they negotiate on the phone is probably a good example of how they work and interact. Basic, I know, but worth mentioning.

Do they own their stabilizer equipment?
Investing in equipment isn’t just a statement about finances; in the LA market, and with many lower-cost stabilizers on the market, lots of people can “afford” a camera stabilizer. Owning equipment is more so about:
Familiarity with their equipment, i.e.- how would you react if your dental hygienist asked a coworker “how do you turn this thing on again?” Add a wide variety of cameras and accessories, and problems need to be solved. Owning your equipment guarantees they know their tool and how it’s used.
Use of equipment as a form of income, i.e.- owning the equipment means he’s using it frequently for his business.

What camera stabilizer system do they own?
It’s OK to ask, you should ask; we get excited when we can sell you on our equipment. Most stabilizer operators can send you a PDF or even a website with details on their equipment. Every skilled stabilizer operator has a preference for their equipment. Familiarity with quality equipment is what’s important, and you’re concerned with the stabilizer “arm” and stabilizer “sled”, particularly the “gimbal”. Look for these buzzwords as quality equipment:
Manufacturers: GPI-Pro (or just Pro), XCS, Tiffen, Cinema Products (or “CP)
Sled: GPI-Pro Sled, XCS Ultimate 1 or Ultimate 2, Tiffen Ultra or Ultra 2, Master Series, CP EFP or EFP modified
Arm: GPI-Pro Arm, Tiffen G-50/G-70, Tiffen Ultra arm, Tiffen Master Series arm, CP 3A arm (or a modified, rebuilt or upgraded/Luna upgraded arm)
Gimbal: GPI-Pro gimbal, XCS gimbal, Tiffen “stock” gimbal, CP 3A gimbal.

Other manufacturers exist, and ones not mentioned here may work great for that particular operator. However, in the film industry overall, these are seen as the “top of the line”.

What cameras have they used before?
Generally, this is a bragging point for most camera stabilizer operators and camera operators in general, but it’s also a good chance to see where they spend most of their time. Are they mostly familiar with HD? Have they primarily used film cameras? How does this compare with the camera you’re considering? No experience with a camera doesn’t mean they’re a bad candidate, but their enthusiasm about using your camera tells you a lot.

Do they want to know about the shots?
“Yes.” Always yes! We don’t hire a mechanic to work on our car unless we know they have the tools to get the job done, but also they understand what needs to be done. They should ask about what shots are planned, but you can also bring it up (or maybe see if they do?). Explaining the shots in detail, whether it’s you, your DP or your director, is critical to completing your day. Some operators don’t always bring a vehicle hard mount, and you have some shots on an ATV planned? That small disclosure could make the shoot run much more smoothly. Likewise, your director may want “Steadicam” for the first time, but doesn’t understand the operator cannot “leap over the fence and chase our actor across the field.” That’s a discussion that may influence the hiring altogether, and we want you to have the right tools.

William B. Demeritt III