Sunday, May 1, 2011

Q&A with Charles Papert, SOC

Do you remember the first time you saw or heard of the Steadicam?
I read Pauline Kael's review of "The Shining" where she referenced the Steadicam--sounded fascinating to a 14 year old with a developing interest in camerawork. Three years later I found my first copy of "American Cinematographer" with, coincidentally, part one of Ted Churchill's article "Steadicam: An Operator's Perspective", which included the first pictures of the rig I had seen.

What was it about the Steadicam that made you want to pursue it as a career?
After meeting Ted in NYC and watching him work on set, I knew it was the career for me. I loved shooting handheld but was obsessed with hiding my footsteps--this was the ultimate way to achieve that!

What were you doing prior to Steadicam?
uhhh...being a teenager.

What were some of the biggest challenges you remember about becoming a Steadicam operator?
It all seemed incredibly out-of-reach monetarily...simply saving up to take the workshop when I was 19 was a big ordeal. Four years later I was working at a small production company as in-house shooter and editor, and eventually was able to buy the old, stock Model 1 I had first learned on at a rental house. I was located in a remote part of Massachusetts and didn't have contact with many other operators, so figuring out what to buy and how to modify things took much more effort than it does today, thanks to the internet.

What are some of the biggest challenges now?
I think for the newer operators especially in the LA market, competition has driven the rates down so far that it's hard to pay back the investment.

Did you ever have a "big break" moment? A career event that clearly changed or paved the way for everything to follow?
Moving from Boston to LA, I was fortunate to parlay a few referrals from Dave Chameides and Jonathan Brown into a string of features and episodic work that got me established pretty quickly.

From whom do you take your inspiration? Has that changed over the course of your career?
Initially Teddy, and then taking the workshop with him and GB was amazing. GB has always inspired me deeply, on many levels. Larry's work for me represents a gold standard in terms of shot design and execution.

Is there a shot, film, or moment in your career that you can think of as your most proud?
Somewhere between '98 and '04 I was constantly ticking off little milestones here and there, getting to work with amazing people in front of/behind the camera, surviving big one'rs with a lot of pressure, establishing a name for myself. Probably the best moments came from watching my shots in a theater or on TV and finally being satisfied with them!

Is there a shot or film you can recall as being your most challenging? Why?
There were a few (especially on ER, West Wing etc) that were challenging on a survival level; getting to the end of the one'r without forgetting "what's next" or collapsing. At the time, the stairs shot in American History X was purely diabolical. I hate stairs.

What work of your peers do you admire?
There are many, but I like to single out the guys who have quietly toiled for years without getting the lion's share of attention or adulation but regularly turn out shots that are amazingly refined and clean. Chaps like Dave Chameides, Bill Brummond and Geoff Haley come to mind. There's just a degree of finesse there that's above and beyond and they rarely get the recognition they deserve.

Many people will say they've tried on a Steadicam once, and immediately thought, "absolutely not." What do you think is different about those of us that say "absolutely"?
Deep-seated masochism is a good starting place.
The joy of Steadicam is that you get to be a one-man band; it's an amazing device for self-expressive purposes. The fact that it always challenges you, inspires you to do better; it's so engaging.

Papert was bitten by the filmmaking bug as a teenager and after a brief stint at NYU film school, he began his career in earnest. Several years shooting and editing local commercials and corporate videos for a small production company was a great introduction to working fast and lean and producing surprising results. He became a well-known Steadicam operator in the New England market, then moved to Los Angeles in 1997 and began working primarily in features and episodic television, racking up an impressive set of credits as both operator and DP.

In 2001 he co-created “Instant Films”, a 48-hour filmmaking festival which to date has generated over 200 films, all made over a weekend, Papert having directed 12 of these.

With his extensive experience in both the top of the industry and the indie filmmaking world, Papert has developed a well-rounded sensibility with an eye to all facets of production. Working fast and creatively are among the key assets he brings to each project.

In the past few years he has found himself on the forefront of the DSLR “revolution”, working alongside several of the pioneers of this exciting new technology.

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