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What on earth is happening to Steadicam


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#1 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 05 July 2010 - 12:19 PM

Is it me or has there been an absolute flood of steadicam gear for sale recently? Not just here on cinematography.com, in other places too. It had occurred to me to mention this before, but I held off on the basis that it was some sort of blip. It's been like this for what, best part of a year?

What's going on?
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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 05 July 2010 - 01:43 PM

It could be the slow down in production and the reduction in budgets, which is affecting a specialised, higher end of the market.
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#3 Richard Boddington

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Posted 05 July 2010 - 02:29 PM

Few people are even bothering to use tri-pods these days so who the heck needs a steadi-cam? Just slap the camera on the operators shoulder and you're good to go.

R,
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#4 Brian Rose

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Posted 05 July 2010 - 02:55 PM

Is it me or has there been an absolute flood of steadicam gear for sale recently? Not just here on cinematography.com, in other places too. It had occurred to me to mention this before, but I held off on the basis that it was some sort of blip. It's been like this for what, best part of a year?

What's going on?


I wonder what impacted new competitors like Glidecam and Flycam be having on their business? For a long time Steadicam was about the only game in town, but more and more companies it seems are stepping up and offering similar systems at more competitive pricing. I myself am a glidecam user of several years, and have been very pleased with their quality, especially when compared to their pricing. Not only that, as long as I've been working, I've only encountered one steadicam op, but there are quite a few more with glidecam rigs...

Not to mention, with the proliferation of smaller, lighter cameras, it seems like companies like Glidecam, who are targeted toward those users, are in a better position than Steadicam, who came a bit later to the game with Steadicam jr. and Merlin.

But again, it could just be a sign o' the times. The economy is still awfully bleak out there...

BR
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#5 Hal Smith

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Posted 05 July 2010 - 04:15 PM

Few people are even bothering to use tri-pods these days so who the heck needs a steadi-cam? Just slap the camera on the operators shoulder and you're good to go.


Tell me about it. I've got a client whose media department owns a Steadicam and has two staffers trained by Garrett himself. They haven't taken the Steadicam out of its cases in two years, they prefer to use shoulder mount and/or a couple of Fig Rigs now.
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#6 Chris Durham

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Posted 05 July 2010 - 09:30 PM

Damn shame. I'm not a fan of wanton Steadicam use - I think it's used a lot, especially on TV shows with quick production turnarounds, as a crutch when people don't want to spend the time thoughtfully choreographing camera movements. Handheld is often worse. When it's used correctly it really brings you into things; when it's not, it makes you hyper-conscious of the presence of the camera. Using handheld because a camera weighs next to nothing and you can get away with not using a steadi is the wrong reason. Of course, there are many cases when a Steadi is the right tool for the job, and when that is the case, it's the Steadicam that's the right tool, not a Glidecam. Every one I've used (and I haven't used the high end ones) is utter crap.
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#7 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 05 July 2010 - 10:16 PM

I had a rig that I wound up selling. For what I do, it just isn't used enough and when it is, the Producer's who "buy it" for the day feel the need to get their money's worth so it was on me all day long. I'd have to tell them that not every shot should or can be done with a Steadicam. It's a tool for specific things, not meant to be the solution to getting more shots out of the day.

And because I wasn't using it all the time, it wasn't worth dumping money into maintenance and necessary upgrades.

I LOVE shooting with Steadicam and I still do it from time to time using a rental rig, but owning one in my situation just isn't worth it... for me.
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#8 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 06 July 2010 - 04:02 AM

I have seen good work done on low end gear (coincidentally, by Ben Spence, who's recently turned up here selling gear). A good operator can get something out of basic equipment, but it isn't very ideal, certainly.
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#9 Frank Glencairn

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Posted 06 July 2010 - 04:21 AM

I really hate handheld, if it is not motivated by POV or something else.

But it looks like a lot of people get away with it (and constant zooming/focus-racking in and out) - i guess they sell it as some sort of posh new shooting style - for me it´s only annoying.

Everybody and his kid brother can do out of focus, zoomy, shaky roller coaster shooting, but getting a smooth sharp move with a steadicam is an art form IMHO.

Frank

Edited by Frank Glencairn, 06 July 2010 - 04:22 AM.

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#10 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 07 July 2010 - 12:57 AM

Is it me or has there been an absolute flood of steadicam gear for sale recently?

What's going on?

There sure has! One reason is that there are so many new and different types of rigs on the market these days and people are upgrading and buying and selling gear more often.
Another reason is that every tom, dick, and harry seems to want to get into steadicam these days. Because of this proliferation of operators there are many more people doing the same amount of jobs. Because of that, some people can't make a living and have to sell their gear. Another effect of all of these new operators is that the rates are dropping drastically. When people get desperate for work they'll accept almost any deal, no matter how terrible and low it is. And many producers don't seem to know that you pay for what you get. This drives rates down industry wide, as we all know. It's simple supply and demand. And it's being made much worse because of the economy.
I think we'll see even more steadicam gear for sale in the next year as some of the new operators realize that steadicam isn't easy and operators aren't overpaid, as many people seem to assume. I've lost quite a few jobs to undercutting in the past couple years, as many people have. Hopefully those doing the undercutting realize that they can't make a living doing that and either raise their rates or move onto something else.
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#11 chris descor

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 06:34 AM

hmm... this is interesting.
I wonder if also next year, more film cameras will be for sale/on the market. guess its time to catch some good deals. then a boom occurs a few years later when everyone says "why did we forget that technology/craftsmanship"
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#12 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 11 July 2010 - 03:16 AM

Used film cameras are already dirt cheap.
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#13 chris reynolds

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Posted 11 July 2010 - 06:35 AM

Normally, you'd see the sales of older rigs as Op's upgraded to newer models but it's gone the other way! For whatever reason, the newer rigs are going up for sale and the old rig ( if they still have it) is being dusted off as the primary rig.

Even though i'd never post this on the SteadicamForum (for fear of being lynched by the non-tiffen op's), i do believe that Tiffens new business model for designing cheaper and smaller rigs seems to be a wise move. When i started on Steadicam, Tiffen had 2 small/less expensive rigs, the Flyer and the Merlin/JNR. Now, their business model is skewed towards the lighter cheaper rigs. Yes, they still have the Ultra, but even that has been diluted (in a good way) down to the Ultra 2c and now the Phantom.
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#14 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 12 July 2010 - 05:29 AM

Tiffen doesn't care what kind of rig they sell, as long as they sell something, and a lot of it. Honestly, that's a big part of the problem. They want to sell as many rigs as they can as fast as they can, and that's really bad for the art and craft of steadicam. I'm sure it's great for business, but it's not good for people who operate steadicam, or for people who hire steadicam operators. It dilutes the market so much that there are hundreds (probably many more) of people running around calling themselves steadicam operators, yet previous to buying their rig had never even operated a camera on a professional set of any kind. Yet they think because they own a rig that they're a "professional" steadicam operator. These smaller and cheaper rigs sound great at first glance, but the fact is, the smaller the rig (ie, less mass and inertia) the harder it is to operate. But yeah, sure, it's great for someones "business model". And weeks or months later a majority of those rigs are for sale because the "operator" realizes they don't know what they're doing and can't make money.
The same way anyone can pick up a camera and "shoot", anyone can strap on a steadicam and "shoot". Rolling film through a camera doesn't make you Storaro, and putting on a steadicam doesn't make you Larry McConkey.
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#15 K Borowski

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Posted 12 July 2010 - 09:17 AM

I have no doubt that experience is far more important than the Steadicam rig you own, Brad. But, at the same time, don't some rigs cost $200,000?

That certainly seems, to me, to be prohibitive for most people trying to get in as operators. I'm probably spreading around a lot of hear-say here, but don't you have to be roughly 6'4" tall to do this job too? It's almost like trying to get a job as a basketball guard, with the additional requirement of a piece of equipment that costs as much as a small house.


Now, at the same time, quality, custom equipment shouldn't be cheap, but I don't think any field has really *remained* a niche market forever. There are previously-mainstream businesses that have gone niche as they were eclipsed by newer technologies, but that isn't the case here.


As more shows seem to opt for Steadicam (I've seen them used on a LOT of TV news and sports shows lately), the market opens itself up to more operators, the amount of equipment being produced goes up, and the cost to produce it comes down.

At the same time, Steadicam Operators still seem to enjoy a position of prestige. They are a valued commodity. I'm sure someone who is "just hiring the rig" will quickly learn a lesson as to the difference between good and bad steadicam work.
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#16 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 01:21 AM

I have no doubt that experience is far more important than the Steadicam rig you own, Brad. But, at the same time, don't some rigs cost $200,000?

Most complete professional rigs cost between $75k-$100k. Backups and added equipment can add a lot to that, but a standard professional rig is in that price range for the most part.

That certainly seems, to me, to be prohibitive for most people trying to get in as operators.

Yeah, for most people it obviously is, but it's not an entry level position after all.

I'm probably spreading around a lot of hear-say here, but don't you have to be roughly 6'4" tall to do this job too?

No, that's not true at all. I happen to be a big guy, but I know many fantastic operators who are much shorter and smaller than the average male. There is no height/weight requirement.

Now, at the same time, quality, custom equipment shouldn't be cheap, but I don't think any field has really *remained* a niche market forever. There are previously-mainstream businesses that have gone niche as they were eclipsed by newer technologies, but that isn't the case here.

Niche market or not, when you have much more supply than demand, it can drastically lower the price point of any product or service. And this is even more true in an already small field.

As more shows seem to opt for Steadicam (I've seen them used on a LOT of TV news and sports shows lately), the market opens itself up to more operators, the amount of equipment being produced goes up, and the cost to produce it comes down.

There hasn't really been a big increase in the last few years I don't think. The big increase came about 10 years ago I would say.

At the same time, Steadicam Operators still seem to enjoy a position of prestige. They are a valued commodity. I'm sure someone who is "just hiring the rig" will quickly learn a lesson as to the difference between good and bad steadicam work.

It's a strange paradigm, because there is still a measure of prestige among the crew that comes along with the job, but many producers treat operators as a dime a dozen type position, and they want to pay accordingly.
Prestige is nice and all, especially when you're just starting out, but it doesn't pay the bills, especially after you've been doing it for 10 years or longer.
Steadicam, and operating is general, is a great job. I love it. It's just tough when it becomes harder and harder financially to continue doing it.
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#17 Sanjay Sami

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 02:01 AM

Most rigs will be in the 100,000 dollar ballpark, it depends on what your rig configuration is, a TB6 monitor will set you back a lot more than a generic SD LCD monitor. Cables add to the cost. Some cables can be 400+ dollars a piece . Gyros, batteries, the list goes on. The investment is high if you pride yourself as a pro, who shows up with the gear necessary to do the job right. It goes without saying that you will charge more money than the hobbyist who shows up with a Glidecam and one BNC cable.
I'm not sure where this will lead, but I've worked a lot with Larry McC as Key Grip and 'B' Steadicam.
He is impossibly expensive, and arrives with 76 boxes of gear on set. He needs 2 trucks to accomodate his gear.
He is sublime to watch. A true genius. His work can rival what you can achieve on a dolly an terms of subtlety. But he is not just a great operator. He is a film maker who uses his special craft to take the story to a new level. He adds his touch to it.
He also works every day. Through recessions and boom times.
I think true talent will always ride the storm out.
I am 6 ft tall and weigh 235 pounds, but most operators I know are quite a lot smaller. The only operator I know personally who is 6ft4inch is the guy who invented the Steadicam.
Steadicam is about balance and being in tune with the shot and the rig , not size.
All good operators will tell you that.
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#18 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 06:18 AM

I always viewed being 6'4" tall as a problem (even after I met Garrett). It immediately sets you up to have back problems, which I do, regardless of what you end up doing for a living. For the record, I spent ten days about ten years ago finding out what a lousy Steadicam operator I had the potential to be, and never really followed up doing it. Hopefully this sets me apart from people who are lousy at it but try to do it anyway.

The cost of it is swingeing and it is very much market priced - for the US market. Steadicam gear is priced to appeal to the guys in LA who all make two grand a day on TV series five or six days a week. Outside that market - and let's be clear, there's probably not half a dozen guys doing it full time in the UK at that sort of level - it is usually difficult to work the economics out. What surprises me about this is that we even expect individual people to own this hideously expensive stuff. A camera operator doesn't own an Arricam. A camera assistant might own a slate, but she doesn't own a set of primes. It's an odd arrangement, and it's only slightly offset, I think, by the need for people to be intimately familiar with the equipment. Others will disagree.

With regard to "prestige," it's no secret that I've disagreed quite strongly with a few steadicam operators about exactly how important they are. And I've got on well with a few others, mainly (though not exclusively) the people who don't make four figures a day, five days a week. There is an unmistakable swagger in the steps of many of these people which recalls situations all the way from military aircrew to self-important school sportsmen, and I'm afraid I have a quite pathological disregard for that sort of worldview. At the end of the day they're trumped-up cameramen, and it is an eloquent demonstration of the fact that some people are better emotionally equipped to deal with wealth and success than others.

P
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#19 Sanjay Sami

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 08:30 AM

Hi Phil,
I am a key grip, rigger, dolly grip and steadicam operator. I have been doing this for about 20 years. Steadicam for 14.
I don't think steadicam operators think themselves greater than the film.
Not the good ones anyway.
It takes a seriously ignorant film crew member (and this is not steadicam specific) to imagine that they are the reason a film gets made. There are guys like this in all departments - Editors, Dolly Grips, Gaffers, VFX supervisors ... the list is endless.
You will meet idiots in all walks of life, to give all the credit to steadicam operators is unfair in my opinion.
You've met Garrett - I'm sure you'll agree he is not like that. Neither is Larry McConkey. Neither was Jeff Mart.
As far as owning the equipment goes, because it is such a tactile craft, one in which so much depends on the feedback you get from the rig, not to mention the fit of the vest, the response of the arm, it kind of makes sense that it helps to have a personal fit.
Any dolly grip will tell you that they love to work with a specific dolly, and they like it tuned just so. The feedback from the arm, the spring tension as it finds its centre - these are all important. More so with steadicam.
Its like a sprinter going into a race in borrowed sneakers.
The other point is of income - $2000 a day is not what good operators make in all markets. Certainly not in mine. That does not mean that the guys who do earn it should not. The market will pay what it can bear.
If it cannot bear the price, the prices will drop.

Respectfully

Sanjay Sami
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#20 Mark Schlicher

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 10:46 AM

With all due respect, the glut of low-end rigs and wannabe operators is not Tiffen's fault. When the original patents expired, two things happened:

1. High-end accessory makers like PRO-GPI began to manufacture complete systems, which appealed to high end operators on the basis of modularity, quality of design and manufacture, and customer service.

2. Low-end manufacturers began making (mostly crappy) equipment that appealed to indies and wannabies pretty much only on the price.

Tiffen is not creating the glut of low-end systems on the market, and they did not create the demand. They have simply decided to compete in the lower end of the market with superior gear (and people in that segment still bitch that it is "too expensive" and buy Flycams instead).

The downward push on rates is real and unfortunate, but would be absolutely no different if Tiffen had never offered the Flyer, Pilot, etc. There would just be more Glidecams and Flycams sold.

Mark Schlicher, SOC



Tiffen doesn't care what kind of rig they sell, as long as they sell something, and a lot of it. Honestly, that's a big part of the problem.


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