Kubrick_steadicam-224x122Reading through the comments on our post about the innovative new camera stabilizer MōVi, I was reminded of something I saw recently at LACMA's amazing Stanley Kubrick exhibit. It is a 1976 letter from producer Jan Harlan to Kubrick himself, in which Harlan talks about a new device he'd just discovered: the Steadicam.


If that's hard to read, here's the transcript (with spelling corrections, emphasis mine):

10. Feb. 76


Dear Stanley,

I saw this new contraption for hand-held shots in action. It's just terrific. Enclosed is a photograph of one of the prototypes. The whole secret is a perfect balance of the camera and the arm AND a spring-loaded tension arm which separates the body movement from the camera to an astonishing degree. The operator can run and the camera moves through the air as if held on a string from above. I saw a roll of film this morning shot by Haskel where the operator sits on a crane -- the crane comes down the the ground, the operator gets off the seat and walks away, no cut. Not only will this thing save a lot of money and time by avoiding tracks, but you could do shots and think of shots which would not enter your mind otherwise. You see, I am sold on that thing, although it costs $30,000. Ed will be in London on Feb 25 for 4 hours and I told him to send you that roll of film which I saw. I promised him that you will send it back to him within a few days. He will just arrange with someone that the roll is delivered to you.

Ed will be in Copenhagen in 2 weeks and I have asked him to see Mr. Jakobsen and find out for himself what is happening. I assume that Jakobsen has not contacted you in the meantime.

best Jan

Exactly. "I am sold on it, although it costs ____." He was sold on it for creative reasons. Many commenters took issue with the pricetag of the MōVi, as if it were meant for personal ownership. But this is not something one buys to stash in a closet -- it is a rental item. As I wrote in a comment: "What is important is A) does it allow you to get shots that serve your production that you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise? B) does it allow you to get shots more quickly/cheaply than you would otherwise? and C) what does it rent for a day?" The Steadicam was expensive -- $30,000 in 1976 is $120,000 today, accounting for inflation -- but many of the most iconic shots in Kubrick's first film using the Steadicam, The Shining, were only possible because of the technological innovation of the device. A snippet, because why not:

Kubrick heard about this wonderful invention, found ways to use it to better tell his story, and rented one (which happened to come with the inventor himself, Garrett Brown, as operator). The second I saw the MōVi I knew that I wanted to use it for many of the basketball scenes in MANCHILD, and yet I have no intention of buying one or even thinking about the price tag, other than considering how it impacts the cost to rent -- and even that has more to do with the dayrate of multiple skilled operators than it does with the price tag on the device itself.

Kubrick would do the same thing with the MōVi as he did with the Steadicam, and that is to concern himself with telling a great story. And if you think "Kubrick wouldn't have to worry about the price, he's Stanley Kubrick (and not alive)" that may be true, but keep in mind that the MōVi is eight times cheaper than the 1976 Steadicam was in today's dollars.

[image via Letters of Note, from The Stanley Kubrick Archives]