According to an entry on the Museum of Broadcast Communications website, the invention of the Steadicam 35 years ago was revolutionary: “Without the gravity-bound lock of traditional camera supports (e.g. a tripod), Steadicam relied on the operator’s physical skills to move nimbly through sets. Operators likened the task to the demands of ballet or long distance running.”
Does that make Randy French the Baryshnikov of ESPN’s College GameDay?
The 2008 University of Arizona grad is in his first year operating the Steadicam for GameDay, dancing through campus crowds while harnessed in the 50-pound apparatus. In the midst of his fourth year at ESPN, French has operated a Steadicam since February 2009.
He gives Front Row an idea of what the experience is like in the video above and interview below.
FR: What is a Steadicam? What are its advantages, disadvantages?
French: To put it simply, a Steadicam is a stabilizer and a shock absorber that we as the operator strap to our body with use of a harness. This allows for a very smooth shot despite the fact that we could be moving quickly or on uneven surfaces. Steadicams are extremely versatile and can achieve shots that no other camera rig can, however they are very heavy and take a physical toll on the operator.
FR: How much does it weigh and how do you keep yourself in condition to operate it?
French: I have operated rigs that ranged between 50 and 75 pounds. Although I actively try to keep myself in physical shape through exercise, conditioning for Steadicam really comes from repetition in the rig. The more you operate, the more your body becomes accustom to the physical strain, but it’s important to know your limits.
FR: What are GameDay crowds like compared to other crowds you deal with?
French: I’ve never seen a crowd like a GameDay crowd. These are crazy, loud and passionate college students who are extremely excited that we are there. Even if they aren’t big supporters of football, they are huge supporters of their school and the traditions that come with it. Every week is a new experience.
FR: When you’re not shooting GameDay, what are your other ESPN assignments?
French: Beyond GameDay, I also operate jib and Steadicam for studio shows such as SportsCenter and Fantasy Football Now, and beyond that I am always trying to involve myself with specialty shoots that find themselves on various platforms across ESPN.