How is a stabilizer operator credited? at DVinfo.net

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Old June 10th, 2009, 01:01 AM   #1
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How is a stabilizer operator credited?

Sorry for the newbie question.

I have been in the film business for 20 years and have been behind the camera on literally hundreds of feature films, but have only recently started to actually get behind the LENS (instead of just standing behind the camera waiting to do my other job.)

Based on the reviews on this site, I picked up a Camera Motion Research Blackbird stabilizer last week and it seems quite a step up from my Seadicam JR. I am having a lot of fun practicing with it, and it is starting to fall into place. (Still can't get rid of the rolling motion yet ... but that's for another thread ...)

I will be doing some stabilizer work for some local filmmakers and I was wondering how a person is to be credited in the film and on IMDB.

I can't really be credited as a "Steadicam operator" because it is not really a Steadicam. (Nor, in fact, is it the very high end Steadicams used by some of the hardest working and most talented camera professionals out there. I would not want to lead anyone to think my little amateurish handheld stabilizer work could be equated with the big boys.)

I am also not a member of the Steadicam Operators Association. Does one need to own a Steadicam "steadicam" to be a member of this association?

Any suggestions, or should I just stick with "camera operator" "A-camera operator" or "B-camera operator" as the case may be?
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Old June 10th, 2009, 10:49 AM   #2
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I have sat through the credits of many movies the last few years, and I only remember seeing camera operator (sometimes with A, B, C designations) and steadicam operator.

Charles would obviously be the expert on this, but it seems that "Steadicam Operator" is the generic term used for the operator of an arm/vest stabilized camera, and it doesn't refer necessarily to the brand of the equipment. Whether or not this would extend to something like a Merlin operator, I don't know, though I can imagine an instance when the regular steadicam operator could be asked to use something like a Merlin for a special shot with a small camera.

Camera operator seems to be the term for all other types of mounts and handheld.

As cameras get smaller and a feature could conceivably be shot on a camera such as the new JVC HM100, it seems possible the steadicam operator could do all the shots with a Merlin! Would this person be credited as a steadicam operator?

I don't know if there is a special designation for operators of cameras that fly around on wires or are otherwise computer controlled.
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Old June 10th, 2009, 03:50 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Brown View Post
I can't really be credited as a "Steadicam operator" because it is not really a Steadicam. (Nor, in fact, is it the very high end Steadicams used by some of the hardest working and most talented camera professionals out there. I would not want to lead anyone to think my little amateurish handheld stabilizer work could be equated with the big boys.)
Many professional steadicam operators do not use Steadicam brand stabilizers. Specifically, PRO and MK-V are both giving Steadicam stiff competition at the high end. The Blackbird seems to be giving Steadicam stiff competition at the low end. So far, the Pilot and Flyer-LE don't seem to have any real competition. There are cheaper rigs, but nothing of similar quality for a lower price.

Anyway, I would credit yourself as a "steadicam operator", with a lower case "s".

Hope this helps.
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Old June 12th, 2009, 01:26 AM   #4
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This is a very interesting discussion!

Steadicam is a registered trademark (and is most strictly used with the after the name). It has become effectively generic to where anyone operating a similar device calls themselves a Steadicam operator; any of us who have been doing it longer than 15 years were all using the Steadicam brand when we started because that's all there was. As Dave accurately points out, there are various other brands of stabilizer out there these days but we don't really bother to make the distinction as it is too confusing to contemplate.

Theoretically there is nothing wrong with the lower case version of "steadicam" when referring to something other than the Tiffen product but it's not the way those of us who make a living at it would write it. Certainly not "steadycam" or any of those other variations. I'd rather not see the term propogate in the lower case in any event (something along the lines of the prefix "Dr." being the same whether one has a medical degree or an academic Ph.D.--should the latter be "dr."?)

So, on the original question, I wouldn't make the distinction based on the size of the rig. The skill is essentially the same whether it is handheld or body-mounted; in some ways it is harder to get a great shot with a handheld rig. I would go ahead and call yourself a Steadicam operator on the film you are working on and not sweat it. It is a nice gesture of humility but in this day and age, that sort of thing seems to be out of vogue. "Director of Photography" was a title that at one time required a certain amount of experience to assume but that's gone out the window too.
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Old June 12th, 2009, 01:57 AM   #5
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Thanks Charles. I highly respect your opinion on this.

Maybe because I am in the film business, I am sensitive to copyright and trademark issues, and giving proper credit when it is due.

Ironically, on IMDB every single crew position on a film set is in lower case EXCEPT "Steadicam operator." (Check it out.) To compound the problem, some members of the Steadicam Operators Association don't actually own "Steadicam" steadicams, as it were.

Maybe this wasn't such a newbie question after all!
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Old June 12th, 2009, 02:21 AM   #6
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It isn't a newbie question, no.

Believe it or not, the majority of episodic television and feature films are NOT shot on Steadicam brand rigs! It's a long story of why this is the case, but of my colleagues here in LA, I would say that less than 10% of them own "official" Steadicams. I am in that other 90% myself. That said, we all have tremendous respect and admiration for Garrett Brown and his achievements.

As far as this being the only capitalized crew position--I'm trying to think that one through. The "standard" positions (gaffer, makeup artist, camera assistant etc) are generally lower case. Those who operate specific pieces of gear are capitalized as appropriate, such as Steadicam operator, Hydroflex technician etc. I wouldn't use IMDB as a yardstick, they have plenty of inaccuracies in their methodology of listing. There's no real standard to anything in credits except where one's union stipulates the exact appearance (and the IA does not, while the WGA, DGA and SAG do).
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Old June 13th, 2009, 12:10 PM   #7
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There are legal ramifications to the "generic" use of a trademarked brand such as Steadicam. Briefly (I'm not a lawyer), one of the things a trademark-holder must do in order to avoid the risk of losing their rights is to defend it. This means using the trademark registration symbol in print, using language that makes it clear it's a brand name (ie; "Kleenex brand tissues") and quashing the use of infringing brands or generic use of your brand name. (This is why you hear about lawyers from McDonalds sending threatening letters to some little family restaurant somewhere owned by a guy named McDonald, or the holders of the Barney trademark suing local birthday party companies who feature guys in purple dinausor suits. Not because these guys are a threat to their business, but because the law stipulates that they must defend their trademark against infringements.)

Several brands have teetered on the brink of passing into the public domain because of not effectively defending it. Kleenex and Fiberglas come to mind.

So the question of credit is a subtle one. Lower case steadicam would never be correct, as it is a generic use of a trademarked term, as Charles pointed out. "Steadicam" credit when using a PRO rig is trickier. If I'm GPI I would probably much prefer a credit correctly identifying my company's gear. Think Pepsi vs. Coke. Kodak vs. Fuji. Panavision vs. Arri.

Then again, if you're using a rig that incorporates pieces from various manufacturers, what do you call it? I guess that's why people just list "Steadicam", because "camera stabilizer" doesn't sound very descriptive.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert View Post
It isn't a newbie question, no.

Believe it or not, the majority of episodic television and feature films are NOT shot on Steadicam brand rigs! It's a long story of why this is the case, but of my colleagues here in LA, I would say that less than 10% of them own "official" Steadicams. I am in that other 90% myself. That said, we all have tremendous respect and admiration for Garrett Brown and his achievements.

As far as this being the only capitalized crew position--I'm trying to think that one through. The "standard" positions (gaffer, makeup artist, camera assistant etc) are generally lower case. Those who operate specific pieces of gear are capitalized as appropriate, such as Steadicam operator, Hydroflex technician etc. I wouldn't use IMDB as a yardstick, they have plenty of inaccuracies in their methodology of listing. There's no real standard to anything in credits except where one's union stipulates the exact appearance (and the IA does not, while the WGA, DGA and SAG do).
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Old June 13th, 2009, 01:58 PM   #8
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It seems reasonable to me that a Steadicam Operator is someone who operates a camera that is stabilized by equipment based on the technology of the original SteadiCam stabilizer patent.

The patent has now expired. Consequently many companies can make equipment based on this patent. However, the name "SteadiCam" continues to be registered and is now owned by Tiffen.

Nevertheless, a Steadicam Operator is someone who operates this type of equipment, not someone who operates SteadiCam (R) branded equipment.

Similarly, the credits don't read "Arriflex Operator," "SI2K Operator," or "Red Operator." The credit says "Camera Operator."

As Charles points out, though, in some special cases for camera mounting equipment that requires additional, special, or different skills to operate, a credit may reference the name of the equipment, just like the original credits for SteadiCam were referencing the specific equipment as well as the skills to operate it.

The use of upper and lower case letters is a separate issue when applied to a credit roll or credit screen in a movie or show. The graphic design has more to do with how the letters appear than any convention related to patent, trademark or generic issue. The designer could use all captials, all lowercase or some odd combination.

However, how the steadicam name appears in text documents would depend on whether the term was used as a patent reference, trademark reference, or a generic designation.

For anyone interested, here are the original SteadiCam patent documents:
Steadicam Patent Page

Charles mentions that some credits are designated in union contracts. In addition to this, an individual actor or conceivably crew member may have stipulations in her personal contract as to exactly how the credit will appear.

For actors this often relates to size or order or placement on the screen. One that frequently comes up is two "equal" actors on the same card. The one on the left will be slightly lower than the one on the right side of the screen. The theory is that we read left to right and top to bottom. So one actor gets to be first by being on the left. And the other actor also gets to be first by being on top on the screen.

I'm not sure what contract it's in, but I recently read that the title of the movie could not appear larger than the star's name, though I know I've seen this violated if it's true.

Another factor that can influence credits is whether the production is union, non-union or a combination. It is rare for a movie to use non-union actors, but many do use non-union crews, even when made on major studio lots. But that's a whole other discussion.

But the point I was getting to is that if someone came up with a new and ingenious way to mount a camera (Like Garrett Brown did with the SteadiCam) it is likely this person could get it in his contract to credit the equipment,

Finally, if the issue is Tiffen's registered trademark of the SteadiCam name, I find it highly unlikely that Tiffen minds everyone thinking the movie was shot with SteadiCam (R) equipment, even if it wasn't.

Every new SteadiCam (R) Pilot owner can explain her expensive purchase by saying, "It's a steadicam like they use in all the Hollywood movies. Just watch the credits at the end and you will see!"

Final Note: To me the basics are the sled, gimble, arm and vest. A Merlin or other handheld unit do require the skills of the original patented equipment, with the human arm replacing the mechanical arm, and the torso taking the job of the vest.

And here are some other patented "steady-the-camera" devices. Look down the page to the "SteadiFilmo," patented 1935:
http://www.intervalometers.com/resou...merastable.php

Last edited by Jack Walker; June 13th, 2009 at 10:04 PM.
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Old June 13th, 2009, 11:29 PM   #9
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Jack,

Patent and trademark shouldn't be confused. Even with expired patents, Steadicam trademark is still valid. Technically, legally, no one should be using the term Steadicam in credits or any other trade usage to indicate any other brand of stablizer. Tiffen allows this at some peril to their trademark rights. See item #6 from this link from Harvard Law School:

Trademark link

The essence of the problem is exactly when someone uses "Steadicam" generically such as where you state that a Steadicam operator indicates someone who operates any brand of stabilizer. That's like a film credit saying "Shot on Kodak film" when it was shot on Fuji. It's not only inaccurate but is a trademark infringement.

You state:

"However, how the steadicam name appears in text documents would depend on whether the term was used as a patent reference, trademark reference, or a generic designation."

Legally there is no distinction. A trademark is a trademark is a trademark. If a trademarked name is used as a generic designation, it is a trademark infringement to do so. But, if a trademark holder is lax in defending their trademark by tolerating generic use of their trademark, they risk losing their trademark rights, such as "thermos". Steadicam should never be used in a generic fashion. Though Tiffen may not care if someone is inaccuratedly credited as a Steadicam(R) operator if they are using a Glidecam(R), they ought to be concerned if "steadicam" is used as a generic name for camera stabilizer, in credits or other common useage.

Again, I'm not a lawyer, and this stuff can be subtle. But the crux is that if you want to be correct, you would not use Steadicam to mean any other brand stabilizer. I realize that it is very common to use "steadicam" generically, in credits and elsewhere. That does not make it correct to do so, and it erodes Tiffen's trademark rights.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack Walker View Post
It seems reasonable to me that a Steadicam Operator is someone who operates a camera that is stabilized by equipment based on the technology of the original SteadiCam stabilizer patent.

The patent has now expired. Consequently many companies can make equipment based on this patent. However, the name "SteadiCam" continues to be registered and is now owned by Tiffen.

Nevertheless, a Steadicam Operator is someone who operates this type of equipment, not someone who operates SteadiCam (R) branded equipment.

Similarly, the credits don't read "Arriflex Operator," "SI2K Operator," or "Red Operator." The credit says "Camera Operator."

As Charles points out, though, in some special cases for camera mounting equipment that requires additional, special, or different skills to operate, a credit may reference the name of the equipment, just like the original credits for SteadiCam were referencing the specific equipment as well as the skills to operate it.

The use of upper and lower case letters is a separate issue when applied to a credit roll or credit screen in a movie or show. The graphic design has more to do with how the letters appear than any convention related to patent, trademark or generic issue. The designer could use all captials, all lowercase or some odd combination.

However, how the steadicam name appears in text documents would depend on whether the term was used as a patent reference, trademark reference, or a generic designation.

For anyone interested, here are the original SteadiCam patent documents:
Steadicam Patent Page

Charles mentions that some credits are designated in union contracts. In addition to this, an individual actor or conceivably crew member may have stipulations in her personal contract as to exactly how the credit will appear.

For actors this often relates to size or order or placement on the screen. One that frequently comes up is two "equal" actors on the same card. The one on the left will be slightly lower than the one on the right side of the screen. The theory is that we read left to right and top to bottom. So one actor gets to be first by being on the left. And the other actor also gets to be first by being on top on the screen.

I'm not sure what contract it's in, but I recently read that the title of the movie could not appear larger than the star's name, though I know I've seen this violated if it's true.

Another factor that can influence credits is whether the production is union, non-union or a combination. It is rare for a movie to use non-union actors, but many do use non-union crews, even when made on major studio lots. But that's a whole other discussion.

But the point I was getting to is that if someone came up with a new and ingenious way to mount a camera (Like Garrett Brown did with the SteadiCam) it is likely this person could get it in his contract to credit the equipment,

Finally, if the issue is Tiffen's registered trademark of the SteadiCam name, I find it highly unlikely that Tiffen minds everyone thinking the movie was shot with SteadiCam (R) equipment, even if it wasn't.

Every new SteadiCam (R) Pilot owner can explain her expensive purchase by saying, "It's a steadicam like they use in all the Hollywood movies. Just watch the credits at the end and you will see!"

Final Note: To me the basics are the sled, gimble, arm and vest. A Merlin or other handheld unit do require the skills of the original patented equipment, with the human arm replacing the mechanical arm, and the torso taking the job of the vest.

And here are some other patented "steady-the-camera" devices. Look down the page to the "SteadiFilmo," patented 1935:
Camera Stabilization through the Ages - Steadicam Patent Page
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Old June 13th, 2009, 11:42 PM   #10
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Wow, you guys are going at this one gang-busters...maybe I'll have someone from Tiffen weigh in on this (or perhaps I can even convince GB himself to honor us with a bon mot)!

Jack, that site you linked to notwithstanding, the name has always officially been "Steadicam", not "SteadiCam", at least since it was re-named that from the "Brown Stabilizer" some 35 years ago!

Those interested in the early years and designs might enjoy GB's article here...he's written an updated version of this but I don't know if or where it is posted (it was in the SOC magazine, or maybe the ICG magazine--gah).
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Old June 14th, 2009, 04:34 AM   #11
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Charles, thanks for correcting the correct writing of Steadicam, with the capital "C."

Mark,
The issues of Tradmark and Registered Trademark are clear.

However, in the particular case of using Steadicam Operator as a movie credit, I think there may be additional influencing factors.

First, it is possible there is some special arrangement for the special case of movie credits to allow the use of Steadicam Operator. However, I am guessing there isn't.

Nevertheless, I think it would be possible to argue that this is a special case and does not otherwise challenge the trademark.

I don't have the movies to check for sure, but it the IMDB shows the credit in "Rocky" for Garrett Brown listed as "special camera effects."

The IMDB show these early credits:

1976 - Rocky - Garrett Brown - special camera effects
1976 - Bound for Glory - Garret Brown [uncredited Steadicam operator]
1976 - Marathon Man - Garrett Brown - special photography
1978 - Halloween - Raymond Stella - panaglide [a "competitor"]
1979 - Life of Brian - no special credit
1980 - The Shining - Garrett Brown - Steadicam operator
1981 - Das Boot - no special credit apparent, German
1983 - Return of the Jedi - Garrett Brown - Steadicam operator

So it appears the steadicam creidt appears about 1980. I'm sure this has some coincidence with the change of the name, with the trademark being registered, something else or a combination. In any case this is not difficult to find out, so I will leave it as it is here.

The point being, the credit came about publicly before wide-spread knowldedge of the device. So, without being an attorney, I will declare the credit "Steadicam Operator" is a protected use of the term "Steadicam," irregardless of any Trademark issues.

However, at the same time, this use of "Steadicam" in no way dilutes the trademark owned by Tiffen on it's Steadicam products and reputation.

And needless to say, as Charles suggests, Tiffen could probably remove any confusion in the issue with a couple of sentences.
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Old June 14th, 2009, 09:09 AM   #12
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Probably now rapidly falling into the same usage as 'Hoover' - which here in the UK ceased to be a specific brand in general usage, and became the generic term for vacuum cleaner - and turned into a verb too! It didn't worry the Hoover company if a Panasonic vacuum cleaner was referred to as a Panasonic Hoover, or even just wrongly - a hoover. There seems more usage of the lower case 'h' in non-Hoover comments. I suspect Tiffen quite like the idea that everyone thinks of their brand first, and can live with the fact that not all of them really are Steadicams. It has the advantage that if somebody produces stunning work with a non-Tiffen product, then the film credits benefit them with free publicity, but if poor camerawor with a non-Tiffen product is identified, they can again use this as positive publicity. Either way, they can't lose really.
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Old June 14th, 2009, 10:15 AM   #13
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It's an interesting conundrum.

"Free publicity" notwithstanding, one could imagine that one day a stabilizer manufacturer would put "Steadicam" or "Steadycam" brand on their stabilizer and, when Tiffen challenged their use of the trademark, could argue in court that Tiffen had lost the trademark because they did not protect its use, citing film credits as a prominent case of generic use of the term.

In fact, one Chinese ebay seller is already slapping the label "Steadicam" on their stabilizer. If I'm Tiffen, I'm sending them a C&D letter immediately. Same with those Indian companies on ebay.
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Probably now rapidly falling into the same usage as 'Hoover' - which here in the UK ceased to be a specific brand in general usage, and became the generic term for vacuum cleaner - and turned into a verb too! It didn't worry the Hoover company if a Panasonic vacuum cleaner was referred to as a Panasonic Hoover, or even just wrongly - a hoover. There seems more usage of the lower case 'h' in non-Hoover comments. I suspect Tiffen quite like the idea that everyone thinks of their brand first, and can live with the fact that not all of them really are Steadicams. It has the advantage that if somebody produces stunning work with a non-Tiffen product, then the film credits benefit them with free publicity, but if poor camerawor with a non-Tiffen product is identified, they can again use this as positive publicity. Either way, they can't lose really.
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Old June 14th, 2009, 01:08 PM   #14
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"Pilates" is a very similar appearing recent example. The Pilates trademark was ruled invalid, and the court ruled that "pilates" was a kind of exercise like "yoga."

Here is an overview of the issue:
Balanced Body. [Pilates] : About Pilates : Pilates Trademark Lawsuit

After the court decision, Pilates instructors began adding modifiers and the original, formerly trademarked Pilates is now referred to as classical Pilates, New York Pilates, or sometimes, original Pilates.

Regarding the movie credit, "Steadicam Operator," I don't know if there is case law that would allow an exception for a specific use in a very special and singular case without it being considered a dilution of the trademark.

However, aside from logos on equipment, what about other uses. Could I offer my own "steadicam workshop" and say I am teaching general stabilizer techniques, regarding the type of equipment? I would say that I cannot, since I would be creating a confusion with on-going workshops by Tiffen, and I would be purposely "borrowing" legitimacy from the Steadicam trademark.

I expect I could advertise a workshop if it was clear that I was not one of the official workshops and I was not connected to the real Steadicam, but I was teaching how to use stabilizers, be they Steadicam or other brands.

I agree that some effort should be made to notify and stop anyone branding their equipment as "Steadicam." This is clearly illegal, and it seems it is necessary to have a trail that demonstrates efforts have been made to stop it... even if it is impossible to actually stop it.

The Steadicam (R) trademark seems to remain very valuable, especially with the huge success of products like the Merlin and the Pilot where there is no real competition with comparable features and quality.

Obviously top-level professional operators who know all the equipment available and who are spending ten of thousands of dollars on a rig are going to get whatever best suits them, no matter the brand name (or no matter the price, within reason).

But at the mid-range ($7-25,000), where there is a good number of reasonable products available, the Steadicam (R) trademark seems important as in the lower end market.]

Finally, I wonder how big the "I'm buying it because I have the money but I'll never use it" market is? Whether big or small, I suspect the Steadicam (R) name plays a role in the purchase.
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Old June 15th, 2009, 08:52 AM   #15
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Hadn't heard about the Pilates case. Although that case had some unique factors that don't apply to Steadicam, it does illustrate the danger of a trademark becoming "generic."
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