Moving Pictures

While great literature excels at portraying complex internal thought processes and motives, great cinema always has excelled at capturing the sheer kinetic energy of motion and delighting audiences with car chases, crazy stunts and the restless forward momentum of modern society. And how you move the camera to capture that kinetic energy not only is a crucial element in the filmmaking equation, but also functions "almost like another character in your scene," says director Paul Greengrass. Greengrass, with his background in gritty documentaries and such credits as The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum and his harrowing real-life 9/11 drama United 93, knows whereof he speaks. Whether it’s the big Tangier rooftop chase sequence or a white-knuckle car chase through the streets of Moscow, "I want the audience to be right there with Matt [Jason Bourne]," he says.

Top DP Alan Caso, who has worked on such big features as Reindeer Games and such TV shows as Six Feet Under and Lie To Me, is currently working on the new show Trauma and began his career as a Steadicam operator. "There have been so many advances in technology in the past decade or so with all the new telescoping cranes, jib arms and remote heads," notes Caso, "and the language today is all about moving the camera. Cameras have always moved, but today’s audience is so educated and tuned in to quick visual bites, thanks in part to the MTV revolution and the way editors now cut. People need that kinetic kick. They don’t want or need long, languorous takes to tell a story." Like Greengrass, Caso stresses that camera movement "invests the audience to be a part of the scene, especially if you’re using a wide lens and moving into the scene. In a way, you’re almost inserting the audience into the set."

If the invention of the Steadicam was a seminal moment in the liberation of the camera, other developments followed with the increasing sophistication of jib arms, cranes and so on. "Jan de Bont was always a big jib-arm fan," reports Caso, "and again, for me, it’s just like an extension of my body, and very mobile and versatile. When you place a camera on the ground, or even on a dolly, it’s a very two-dimensional thing. But once you can telescope through a window or use a jib arm, you’re immediately into a three-dimensional world, and for me that’s a huge benefit and a huge step away from a static world."

HDVideoPro takes a look at some of the key players in camera-support gear that moves the camera in new and exciting ways.