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Garrett Brown (#110 of 2)

Steadi’s Daddy: An Interview with Steadicam Inventor Garrett Brown

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Steadi’s Daddy: An Interview with Steadicam Inventor Garrett Brown
Steadi’s Daddy: An Interview with Steadicam Inventor Garrett Brown

Author’s Note: Since the Steadicam discussion seems to be flowering into something more than an argument about a piece of equipment, rather than change the subject with a totally different post, I’ll stay the course. What follows is reprint of an article I wrote about the history and aesthetics of the Steadicam, built around an interview with the device’s creator, Garrett Brown. It was originally published in the Winter 2005 issue of Film Festival Reporter magazine, which is edited by my friend Scott Bayer, a journalist and filmmaker.

Garrett Brown might be the most influential filmmaker that the moviegoing public hasn’t heard of. Throughout his long career, the 62-year old Philadelphian has been a mostly behind-the-scenes presence in the industry, working as cinematographer, cameraman, inventor and teacher. Yet his impact has been as profound as that of any auteur, star or studio executive, thanks to his greatest invention: the Steadicam, a combination camera and body harness that merged the improvisational freedom of the handheld shot with the elegance of the dolly, and expanded the frontiers of cinema.

In the 30 years since the camera made its debut in director Hal Ashby’s Woody Guthrie biography Bound for Glory—in a still-dazzling shot that began atop a high crane, drifted to earth and then wove through a camp full of migrant workers—the Steadicam has become a star player in some of the most visually and dramatically memorable sequences of the past three decades, sequences that advance the narrative while subtly commenting on the meaning and uses of movie language.

From the Short Stack David Mamet on the Steadicam

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From the Short Stack: David Mamet on the Steadicam
From the Short Stack: David Mamet on the Steadicam

Today we launch another semi-regular feature: “From the Short Stack,” which consists of offerings from the three dozen or so film and TV-related books that I never tire of reading.

Today’s short stack selection is David Mamet’s On Directing Film. Originally published in 1991, when Mamet had only three credits as a movie director, it’s a concise, forceful but not totally closed-off work, at once philosophical and technical. Essentially, it’s kind of a notebook by a filmmaker who’s still struggling with a new medium, and who wishes to construct a set of general principles that will help him get out of his own way and make reasonably intelligent, watchable films—films that honor Mamet the screenwriter without necessarily being a slave to him.