Steadicam is a camera-stabilisation system invented in 1976 by Garrett Brown. He put it straight to work in such classics as Marathon Man, Rocky, and The Shining, and it has gone on since to revolutionise the way movies are made.
Because hand-held camerawork gives a shaky look that is unlike how we perceive the world, cameras are often mounted on vehicles such as dollys, cranes, or camera cars. The idea behind Steadicam is to mirror, with camera movement, the way the eye sees, without going to the expense, or spending the time, to lay dolly track—but it has become much more. Using Steadicam, bold moving shots, that might have otherwise been impossible, may be achieved quickly and beautifully. The obstacles of negotiating cameras up staircases and through doorways have been releaved; difficulties of responding to unexpected occurrences, minimised; and the problems of shooting such as to not reveal dolly track, eliminated. In almost every feature film, and major television production, Steadicam has become an indispensable tool.
Steadicam brings new possibilities to film and documentary making; and not just for master shots, it cuts well too. The percentage of usable footage is increased, and more choice offered to the editor. When shifting camera positions, the Steadicam glides from one composition to the next. A static shot becomes a tracking shot becomes a static shot again. Pan, boom, tilt, track, and zoom interact in one seamless storytelling continuum.
Traditional compositional features—the rule of thirds, the golden mean—become moments through which the moving frame passes. Vanishing points are supplemented by appearing and disappearing points, and the Platonic vision of carving nature at its joints is superseded by the timelessness of a frame exploring space—not drifting aimlessly, but breathing with its subject; a frame free to blend the gravitas of a stare with the lightness of a glance, matching qualities of action with qualities of movement in four-dimensional composition.
For an example of documentary rushes, please watch Children of Stalin below.