Mr. Brown's Marvelous Machine

Author: Bill Zarchy
Published: May 17, 2011 at 5:22 am

The Shining: No footprints in the snowA young boy rides his Big Wheels tricycle around the empty lobby of an old resort hotel as the camera follows close behind, low to the ground, the sound grating and tense as the trike runs noisily onto the hardwood floor, then over a rug, then onto the floor, then over a rug, around and around.

The boy’s father, haunted and demented by months of isolation, chases his wife with a knife, up and down a circular staircase. Later he chases an apparition through an eerily lit hedge maze in the snow.

Someone has scrawled “murder” backwards in red letters across a bathroom mirror, and a child crooks his index finger in rhythm with the spooky, chanted words “Red-rum, red-rum.”

Elevator doors open at the end of a hall, gushing rivers—no, oceans—of blood.

I’d never seen The Shining before (Above: The Shining: No footprints in the snow) and hadn’t really known what it was about, but I wished I had a flashlight with me as I walked nervously back to my room after the screening. I checked behind every bush along the way, but no crazed, knife-wielding killers emerged from the sylvan darkness of Carmel Valley, and somehow I made it safely.

The folks who ran the Maine Photographic Workshops (years ago when they still held classes in Northern California) had set up the screening for our Steadicam class, set to begin the next day. I quickly figured out why: Our teacher Garrett Brown, who had invented Steadicam, had used it to shoot about 80% of The Shining.

How cool that the inventor of this amazing device was also its best-known and most accomplished operator! I recalled first seeing Garrett demonstrate the Steadicam years before at the SMPTE Convention in LA, running down the aisle through a packed auditorium of professionals, then up a half dozen steps to the stage, as the camera floated smoothly and the wowed audience cheered. This figured to be an interesting week.

Next morning at eight, we greeted Garrett with applause for his work on The Shining. The class had about 25 students, including three who worked for Disney in Orlando, two Aussies, a Frenchman, three Italians, and two Japanese guys. Many of the students, including most of those from overseas, had already taken Garrett’s class, but felt the need to return for another week at the feet of the Perfect Master. I could see why. Garrett was the kind of instructor who could teach newbies like me (and most of the class), and still provide enough advanced tips to make it worthwhile for the more experienced operators.

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Article Author: Bill Zarchy

Bill Zarchy ( is a freelance director of photography, writer, and teacher based in San Francisco. He has shot film, video, and HDTV projects in 30 countries and 40 states, including interviews with three former presidents for the Emmy-winning West Wing Documentary Special. …

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