Apr '17 | Crew Spotlight: Drew Dorsey, Steadicam Operator
March is over, and with that, so is our Event Video Blog Series. But don’t worry, if you missed it, check out our latest blog post 4 Tips to Increase Production Value of Event Videos.
In that last blog, one of the main tips we discussed was hiring a Steadicam Operator. Steadicam shots not only help bring energy to corporate videos, they allow you to place your audience directly into the world of your brand. But don’t take it from us! Let’s turn this camera around and hear from our Steadicam Operator himself, Drew Dorsey.
PP: Among all of the many tools available now to film videos, why use Steadicam? What is the main benefit of hiring Steadicam?
Drew: Simply put, hiring a talented Steadicam Operator enhances the visual experience and adds production value. As humans we live in motion and the Steadicam best emulates this. Steadicam shots can be incredibly visceral and engaging, throwing the audience into the world on screen.
PP: You have to have that instinct, though, for how people move through the world and how that motion can be captured through a camera. How do you conceptualize your shots to make that happen? What makes a great steadicam shot?
Drew: When conceptualizing shots, I work closely with the client, producer, and/or director of photography to design shots that complement the story being told. I do a lot of listening, looking at angles, observing the blocking and energy of the actors then decide where, when and how the camera should move. A great Steadicam shot should always complement the story. It’s not about me or the Steadicam, it’s about what’s in front of the lens that counts. It’s my job to move the camera creatively and safely in service of the story.
PP: It sounds like you are pretty deeply embedded in the creative team on any particular video. How do you think about your role as a cameraman in relation to the whole corporate video making process? Does shooting with a steadicam change this conception?
Drew: Steadicam has completely enhanced the way I think about camera operating. The ability to move the camera freely is a liberating thing. Steadicam has also made me appreciate traditional forms of operating more: handheld, sticks, dolly, crane, aerials, etc. We have many great tools to tell our stories and Steadicam adds a unique perspective to the great list of tools we’ve had all along.
PP: That’s so true. I always feel more engaged with Steadicam shots – it breathes life into corporate videos and lets people feel as though that event, that experience could have been theirs. It must take a lot of focus and energy, though, to operate the rig. Do you enjoy that challenge? What is your favorite part of shooting steadicam?
Drew: My favorite part about operating Steadicam is experiencing the excitement of any given shot amongst a film crew. Steadicam is a choreographed dance that a whole team contributes to. This is true about filmmaking in general and the stakes are raised with Steadicam. A great Steadicam shot can be the difference between a video you love and one you settle for. When a shot goes well and I see a crew huddled around video village excited, watching, smiling, high fiving, that’s a great feeling.
PP: I bet! Now I get to geek out and ask you my favorite behind the scenes question – what was your coolest on set experience?
Drew: My coolest on-set experience was filming Hassan Minhaj’s Netflix comedy special Homecoming King. The director wanted to film the show traditionally (multiple cameras on sticks) but also wanted to interject, on-stage, a few Steadicam oners (long, continuous, uninterrupted shots) breaking the fourth wall as Hassan addressed the camera directly telling deeply personal and emotional stories. I waited for my cue and then flew my Steadicam around Hassan hitting story beats as well as improvised moments, timing each oner to slowly push in and end on a close-up of Hassan’s face looking straight into the lens. We did two shows back-to-back at UC Davis with audiences of 1800 people. The shots required laser focus as I reacted to Hassan’s mix of planned and improvised movements all the while avoiding the edge of the stage which dropped off five feet into a pit (I had a great spotter). I could hear the booth’s reactions in my headset as I stomped the landings. There were some good gasps that came from the booth affirming I nailed the shots. This was an especially challenging and fun shoot.
PP: That sounds so fun! What an intense, engaging, and emotional ride. Although that’s quite a bit of pressure being the Steadicam Op who had to capture live all of Hassan’s most emotional moments. Name of the game I guess when you’re creating Steadicam shots that can literally make people gasp because it’s so good. Did you always want to do this? What is your background with camera work and steadicam?
Drew: My earliest exposure to cameras was through my father and grandfather. They were the family photographers and let me tinker with their equipment as a kid. I dove into 35mm black and white photography in high school then pursued cinematography as a student at San Diego State University where I worked on many student films and graduated with an emphasis in Cinematography. After living and working in LA for a while, I fell in love and chased a girl (now my wife) to San Francisco. I generally make big life decisions based on romance and this is how I approached Steadicam early on as well. I fell in love with the rig, chased it, and now I’m married to it. My friend and mentor, Joe Lindsay, let me borrow his Zephyr rig for months before I bought it. Joe is a saint and I owe much of my success to him. I took my first Steadicam workshop with the Steadicam Operators Association and the inventor himself, Garret Brown (Rocky, The Shining, Casino). This was a life changing experience and proved that a reasonable career could be made out of something I loved.
PP: It’s been so great sitting down with you and learning from your expertise – no better way to learn about the value of Steadicam than by hearing from the operator himself. Thank you!
All throughout April we’ll be taking a moment to turn the camera around and spotlight some of our amazing video crew! Next week we’re highlighting the magic of audio with Shawn Doyle, Audio Mixer extraordinaire, followed by our makeup artist’s best tips and our technical expert’s take on the gear that makes it all happen. Stay tuned!
Categorized under: Behind the Scenes