Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Q&A with BJ McDonnell, SOC

Do you remember the first time you saw or heard of the Steadicam?
The first time was watching Aliens and seeing the arms used to mount Vasquez rifle. I was so intrigued by this and I couldn't stop drawing them in art class. I then found out what it was after watching behind the scenes of movies growing up.

What was it about the Steadicam that made you want to pursue it as a career?
I love framing shots and telling a story thru movement of the camera. I started my film career as a grip / dolly grip. I loved working with the operators and really felt as though I was a big part of the filming process as a dolly grip. I needed more. I decided to pursue a career as a camera operator and the rest is history.

What were you doing prior to Steadicam?
I toured with a punk band for 6 years of my life, then became a grip.

What were some of the biggest challenges you remember about becoming a Steadicam operator?
Getting the D.P.s who knew me as a grip to take me seriously as a camera operator. Also climbing the ladder to be taken seriously as a camera operator. There are alot of people trying to do this as a career.

What are some of the biggest challenges now?
I think the biggest challenges now are with HD shooting. It seems as though when with film there was a art to the film process. With HD nobody wants to cut cameras and as a steadicam operator it calls for more endurance for longer takes.
Also the fact that more people are lowballing and making it harder for steadicam rates to stay up.

Did you ever have a "big break' moment? A career event that clearly changed or paved the way for everything to follow?
My big break in Features came from my friend and D.P. Phil Parmet. He always believed in me and he brought me on to be the B operator / Steadicam on Halloween. He is a true bad ass and great friend.
My T.V. break came from D.P. Charlie Lieberman. He hired me to do a T.V. show called Standoff which later took me to do season 2&3 of Heroes

From whom do you take your inspiration? Has that changed over the course of your career?
My Grandfather has always been my inspiration for the film industry. He was a actor and I was so amazed by the whole process of storytelling thru film. He paved the way.

Is there a shot, film, or moment in your career that you can think of as your most proud?
I did a shot in a film called Shrink a very long steadicam ONe take shot. Loved that shot. It timed out longer than the infamous goodfellas shot lol.

Is there a shot or film you can recall as being your most challenging? Why?
Battle: Los Angeles has got to be the most challenging film I've done. It was physically brutal. Steadicam was always comprimised by flying under helicopters etc... It was mostly handheld and it was just a really tough film. Im proud of it. Watching it you can easily say, "That was a bitch to make" lol.

What work of your peers do you admire?
Jimmy Muro, Charles Papert, Dave Emmerichs, Larry McConkey, etc....and I could name so many people. Honestly I admire almost all steadicam ops out there because there is a certain passion we all share for the craft.

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"?
When I first put on a rig I almost said "Absolutely not". I loved it so much I trained myself and muscles to be able to handle it. I say for those who say "Absolutely not" to not give up that easily. Like anything it takes practice. Learn the tool, love the art, know framing for the story you are telling because they can all range in different looks, and last just have fun because you are making a movie.

BJ's website can bew viewed here:

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