Case Study: Steadicam – Fulfills Passion For Movement
Emmy-award-winning Director/Director of Photography (DP) Casey Warren can trace his film making career back to his days in high school. At age 15 Casey, along with fellow student, Danielle Krieger, started at a photographic business producing portraits for friends and acquaintances. Even at that early stage, the unique creative abilities of Casey were recognized – and commissions increased. Using money generated by their stills enterprise, the couple – who have remained partners – moved into producing films of their own creation.
“We came up with the name ‘Mindcastle’ for the business,” explains Casey. “The name is a metaphor for creative strength – our minds are creative, while the castle is strength. The ideas are built on the strength of your mind.”
Today, that creativity is frequently enhanced through the use of Steadicam on many of the productions with which Casey is associated. But in those early days, a certain amount of improvisation was needed.
“For example, we made a camera dolly out of a skateboard. It may not have looked much, but the important thing was that it worked,” recounts Casey. “I had learned that turning ideas on paper into workable film results often involved movement. It was a huge goal of ours to get a Steadicam, but before I could afford to buy one, I assembled a similar unit myself using a stabilizer I built in my college laboratory.”
The stills photography business continued to thrive for the teenagers and within a couple of years the couple were being retained to cover key occasions, such as weddings. However, it wasn’t too long before Casey and Danielle’s passion for film crept into the equation.
“Although we loved photography, video really inspired us. We embraced the idea of creating a production that included music in order to generate the right emotion for what is, after all, a very moving occasion. As a result, we integrated video footage into the stills packages we were producing – and soon we could afford a proper Steadicam,” states Casey. “We would shoot the ceremony, speeches and so on, and then edit the material while the reception was progressing. We could then show the clients and guests some of the content within a short period of time. We were able to achieve this fast turnaround through multi-tasking – an approach that I have continued to take throughout my career.”
One such wedding from six years ago proved pivotal in Casey’s career. Unbeknown to him, several guests were involved in the sports industry – including a lead producer for ESPN who looked after coverage of the NFL Draft. Impressed by the creativity of Casey’s work, he commissioned the couple to shoot proceedings at the Draft. And that project lead to even more from the sports sector, and today alongside ESPN, Mindcastle clients include HBO, Showtime Sports, and Disney.
“We adopted a plan that brought the techniques of narrative filmmaking into the sports production. But not only that, also we were able to develop a way of bringing techniques of sports production into film making. With sports it’s important to have someone cover the entire action – filming it from different vantage points. We applied the same principle in documentary film making.”
He goes on, “You need to make your story well formed in your mind before you begin. That will ensure you are successful in turning a paper script into a memorable screen production. The more you apply that principle, the better you get at it.”
Casey emphasizes that technology is often crucial in fulfilling amazing ideas that are created during this script to screen process. And that technology includes Steadicam.
“You have to appreciate that it is not a floating tripod. It’s not meant to replicate a dolly shot. You use it for what it is intended – motion.”
Casey goes on to talk of his recollections of Steadicam inventor, Garrett Brown.
“The most important thing with Garrett is the imagination. There are no limits. He has developed an amazing technology that solves a problem. He has fun with it – and passed on this fun and enjoyment to the rest of the industry.”
Casey believes that Garret Brown has been able to get the legendary technology into all Steadicam products – everything from the 100 USD CURVE to the 60k Hollywood rig.
“When Steadicam introduces new products they don’t limit the functionality. You always learn and use the same techniques with the base model. In my case, it was the basic Flyer – which has now been upgraded to the LE model and now called Zephyr. The team there listen and, as a result, are ahead of the industry in terms of what the rig can do across the product line. Simple, but ingenious. Their mindset is revolutionary – and has created the biggest impact across the industry.”
With a wide range of Steadicam products available, Casey says that the choice of rig is usually determined by the camera being used on a specific production. “When we started we used a small Canon DV. We tried DSLR for a while, but do not shoot with that format too much these days. Generally, our choice is Arri Alexa, and sometimes I find that we can forgo the vest and the arm. But whatever the camera, there is a Steadicam rig to suit.”
So, with many years of using Steadicam behind him, what techniques does he feel worth passing to up and coming operators and DPs?
“It doesn’t matter whether you are shooting an actor or an athlete, the number one consideration is to make your Steadicam motion a complete move. You must have in your mind both a start frame and an end frame. Too many operators stop in the middle of a planned move. Even on a live program, where the director has cut another shot, complete the move. If your camera has been ISOd and there is editing to be done, the complete move might well be able to be used in the final version. For example, follow the soccer player and ball into net. That may catch a reaction that has been missed elsewhere.”
He believes that each Steadicam shot must be a mini – and individual – story all of its own. “The key to effective Steadicam operation is to start and end on a beautiful frame.”
Much has happened since Casey Warren made his first stabilizing unit in that college laboratory. And today, he is an avid supporter of the stabilization technology – and the organization behind it.
“I have been to the Steadicam factory and the whole set up is amazing. The support that is given to the products is nothing less than top notch. The company is, in reality, a group of people who truly care about what they are doing.”