The Malaysia Gold Steadicam Workshop was held in Awana Hotels & Resorts in Genting Highlands on 10th to 15th June 2012. This is the first time a course of that nature is held outside the familiar grounds of the western hemisphere, Australia included.
I am fond of this exercise by instructor Chris Fawcett, who got us to role play as a dictator, bodyguard, assassin and Navy SEAL. This is one scenario I dived into with gusto!
The Gold Workshop normally accommodates 16 students. That being the case, our class of 24 students looks to be a record and a testament to both the popularity of the course and the adept coordination of Tiffen distributor in Malaysia, Tegas Broadcast & Multimedia working closely with Brett Smith from Tiffen.
Hardly anything escapes Park. His eagle-eye is on the lookout for that little slip-up. He quickly corrects us, 'Can you feel it? Do you understand? Ok, go Again!'
After 5½ days wearing in excess of 20 Kgs of gear, with 7 instructors from 6 countries telling us to ‘Stand tall’, ‘shoulders back, ‘don’t lean’. After countless switches and footwork, eating hurried meals and navigating stairs, forest, markers and narrow corridors, I am now a Certified Steadicam Operator!
Lead instructor Jerry Holway had the tough task of coordinating all 24 of us from 9 countries. He did a marvelous job of keeping time and making the exercises fresh and challenging.
It’s not an easy feat bringing together 7 instructors from 6 countries, including the equipment which are hefty, fragile and a challenge to transport.
Garrett shows how to balance the sled. They are so well designed, balancing them is easy compared to other rigs.
The venue at Awana is an ideal spot to train all of us. Steadicam is a physically demanding activity. We were perspiring from the moment we hit the training grounds at 8.30am right up to dinner. The cool highland air took away some of the edge in our exercises.
Some of my course mates with instructor Robin Twaites getting ready for their next exercise which begins through the door. Operating in 'Low Mode' is a different ball game.
The other perk about Awana is the ample spaces. We were divided into 6 groups of 4. We had a huge auditorium, an outdoor garden with water features and landscaping, large outdoor park and everything else in between to romp about with our Steadicam rigs.
Instructor Chris Fawcett makes sure I don't back up into an indoor garden. Operating in Long Mode with motorized stage makes you more aware of your surroundings so you don't smash your camera into a sprinkler!
I feel the most memorable thing about Awana was its buffet spread. We had breakfast to look forward to before we began our training and dinner to return to after a day of hard work.
'The lines are for the camera, not your feet!' we are constantly reminded. Red are for actors, blue for Steadicam. Land EITHER at the wrong place OR wrong time and your reflection will be staring back; Phil will have words with you!
Our instructors come from diverse backgrounds, adding their own personal touches into the mix. Hollywood cinematographer and lead trainer Jerry Holway and Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown certainly brought into the room an aura of awe. Here they were, larger than life. The same folks who worked on high budget movies like Rocky, The Shining, Indiana Jones, Donnie Brasco, etc.
This is Rebecca Wilson-Jennings, our lady Steadicam instructor. She works as Steadicam Operator at TVNZ in New Zealand covering sport (esp. cricket) events. She has to be in gear for an entire game.
Our only lady instructor, Rebecca Wilson-Jennings (Bex) from New Zealand works at TVNZ covering sporting events. She remains in gear for entire matches. Think you can’t do it? Bex is married with two kids and she’s been a Steadicam Operator for over 10 years!
The Steadicam Tango is one of the hardest to operate but instructor Chris Fawcett's witty humor and guiding hands make it all seem effortless.
The newest addition to the instructor pool was Park Sang Hoon from Korea. Park is one of my most feared instructors. He’s like Mr. Miyagi’s ‘Wax On, Wax Of’ trainer. But coming off his exercises always make me feel I’ve become a better operator. His exercises are intense as they are exacting.
Garrett Brown obliges us with a picture. All the instructors were very dedicated and very busy, making this 5 minute break a luxury.
We were rotated between instructors and tried every Steadicam rig including the new Tango, which was a combination of a Steadicam and jib. We clocked many hours flying the Zephyr, Archer, Phantom and Ultra2. Meant to carry the large film cameras, the Ultra2 is a juggernaut of Steadicam rigs. No wonder they stressed good posture, without which we wouldn’t last 5 minutes in it.
Chris Fawcett gave us an extensive presentation on posture and stressed its importance in Steadicam operating.
Each night after dinner, our instructors would take turns to give us a slice of their Steadicam experience. On the first day, Chris Fawcett gave us a detailed lecture on posture and how it would effect our performance in the days and years to come, not just for Steadicam operating but in life as well.
Let's see who booms highest. I'm using the lightweight Pilot carrying the Canon C300 while Dan (dslrnewsshooter.com) is flying the Merlin with an XF100. Picture by Herman Chiew.
The second night, Garrett delivered his presentation on dealing with politics on the set and how to maintain ‘the look’ during operations. Jerry Holway followed with exotic Steadicam rigs, techniques and experiences from his movie sets. Phil Baldson and Bex showed us how to pull off live events and long shoots on live sets. Robin Twaites ended the 5th day by educating us on the various Steadicam rigs and accessories.
This is Mr. Park's 'Hell Square', a diagram designed to torture Steadicam operators. One has to make minute switches and turns on the dime within the square.
It was a full time affair. We got up at dawn, had a quick breakfast and went for a short briefing. By 8.30am the we were already in our rigs doing exercises. The nights ended with a lecture after dinner. By the time we retired to bed, my watch would show 2200.
Robin Thwaites and the rest of my group open up the Steadicam Archer. Therein lies the secret of getting 2 batteries to run together.
The art of Steadicam; the sweeping, involved, dramatic moves made by the camera is seductive. Here are the gear that give us that give us the freedom a tripod, dolly or jib never could. Even so, we were cautioned against making unmotivated camera moves that doesn’t contribute to the story.
Park Sang Hoon giving us a demonstration on hard mount technique, stressing safety as most important when operating from a vehicle.
The exercises created by the instructors were as close as it can get to a real set. If Garrett Brown had us following actors from a distance with telephoto, Bex would lead us up and down stairs following up with constant switches from Missionary to Don Juan. Robin and Chris would probably focus on longer, physically challenging takes, honing our techniques. By the time we reached Phil and Park, we would be tested on memory and meeting our markers accurately.
The hectic schedule meant less time to make friends. Gary was an exception; always friendly and always ready with encouragement, this Australian works for One channel shooting sports with his Steadicam Phantom.
The 4th day was the most tensed. It was exam time. Each of us performed an exercise which contained elements of techniques we learned since we started the course. Garrett Brown recorded our rig handling with his Merlin 2. The desire to do our best permeated the air.
24 of us from 9 countries but there only 2 of us are from Malaysia, graduated as Certified Steadicam Operators.
By the last day, we learned how to operate from soft and hard mounts (vehicle based). It was also judgement day where Jerry Holway reviewed our performance the day before. There were 2 monitors- one showing what we shot and the other showing how we operated our rig.
Some of the friends I made; Anwar (Oman), Jason (Singapore), Vip (Australia). It's an international gathering!
So you can imagine when it was time for the wrap party we were all excited to receive the coveted certificate signed by all 7 instructors, a testament to our entry into the world of Steadicam as Certified Steadicam Operators.
The course was intense. While an operator may take more time to get the same results, our instructors simply made sure we got them faster.
Our thanks go out to Henry Yee and Wesley Ong of Tegas Broadcast and Multimedia and Brett Smith of Tiffen for making the course available in Malaysia. Stand tall!
There are 3 levels of Tiffen Steadicam training: Gold, Silver and Bronze levels.
To find out more about Steadicam workshops, visit FlySteadicam
To learn more about Steadicam rigs, visit Tiffen