What should I look for in a potential steadicam operator?
My first, best, advice is to look for someone you feel comfortable talking to about your project. If you have an awkward conversational rapport on the phone and the person you’re talking to is rude or uncommunicative, chances are that in the “heightened stress” environment of being on set, that rudeness or inability to communicate isn’t likely to improve. Moreso the opposite.
If the operator you’re talking to sounds like they could care less about what you’re shooting, they probably do. While, yes, this is a “job,” and many operators aren’t going to see a need to “get inside your creative vision,” chances are that the perspective operator you’re talking to has invested a substantial amount of time, effort, and capital, in their craft and they’re more than happy to talk to you about your project and how they can contribute to it. In this, there is some value to knowing if your prospective operator actually owns his or her equipment. Have they invested that time and capital into their gear? If they have, then this is likely how they make their living and you know that not only are they familiar with their own gear (this saves you time and money on set) but they also have a vested interest in maintaining it. Has your operator received any kind of specialized training in steadicam in the way of workshops or master classes? Are they members of any of the professional organizations associated with steadicam such as the Steadicam Operator’s Association or the Steadicam Guild? This speaks to a specific level of commitment to their craft that may be lacking in the operator who bought a super lightweight rig from B&H last month and is willing shoot your project for $100 a day and IMDB credit. If their steadicam system comes in a bag with a zipper, they may not be the right person to shoot your project.
Should your operator own every single wireless gizmo you read about in HD Video Pro last month? Absolutely not. However, it is very important that you establish early on if this person has the physical ability to provide you, at the least, basic amenities like wireless video and wireless focus capability. What does it save you in terms of time on set if you used steadicam instead of a dolly, but you have to hard-wire into their monitor to review playback of every take because they don’t own a wireless video transmission system?