BY GOING ONE-MINUTE LONGER WITH STEADICAM SHOT IN GOODFELLAS
GQ has posted an incredible oral history of the making of Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas, which was released 20 years ago this week. 60 or so cast and crew members were interviewed for the article, including Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Michael Ballhaus, and Ray Liotta. In the following excerpt, Larry McConkey and others discuss filming the Copacabana shot. Illeana Douglas, who was dating Scorsese in those days, talks about how Scorsese wanted to one-up Brian De Palma by making the shot a minute longer than the long steadicam shot in The Untouchables. Here's the excerpt:
THE GREATEST, STEADIEST SHOT OF ALL TIME
Larry McConkey (Steadicam operator): The impression I had when Marty walked us through the Copacabana shot was that this is going to be the most boring, worst thing I've ever done. We're walking across the street, down the stairs, down a hallway, in the kitchen.... What is this shot about?
Douglas: They didn't know that the Copacabana tracking shot was going to be such a big deal. It wasn't like, "Okay, we're going to do the greatest Steadicam shot in history."
Joseph Reidy (first assistant director): It's probably the hardest orchestrated single shot I've ever been involved in. McConkey: There were 400 or more absolutely precise timing moments. It was totally impossible, mathematically.
Kristi Zea (production designer): This was the mating dance. Henry's arrival into the Copa, the way he came in, and how the whole thing was designed to impress the hell out of Karen. You wanted the audience to be part of her being impressed.
Johnny "Cha Cha" Ciarcia (Batts's crew number one): Marty Scorsese was in trouble for extras, so one of the casting directors called me. I live on Mulberry Street. I know the whole world. I went and I made a deal for $10 a person. We had five busloads of people on Fifth Avenue for the Copa. I set it all up.
Zea: He wanted a long preamble before they get into the space. The Copa didn't have a long enough walk before they actually get into the nightclub. So we had to build a hallway, and we literally took the walls away while the camera was in motion, so that they were gone by the time Ray and Lorraine showed up in the main room. The delivery of the camera into that big space had to be done like a ballet. Henry is saying hi to everyone, everyone knew who he was. And then the table flies across the camera and lands smack dab in front of Henny Youngman, and suddenly there's champagne coming over courtesy of these other guys.
McConkey: Marty watches the first rehearsal, and the only thing he said was, "No, no! When the table comes in, it's got to fly in! I came here as a kid and I saw this!" They'd flip on a tablecloth, the lamp goes on top of it, somebody plugs it in, they put down the plates... It was like a magic act.
Douglas: I believe they only did like seven takes. I've been involved in Steadicam work where you literally work all day to achieve what Marty achieved in that shot.
Liotta: One take was because at the end of it, Henny Youngman forgot his joke.
Zea: "Take my wife..."
Ballhaus: He forgot his line that he had said about 2,000 times!
Douglas: Brian De Palma had just done this incredibly long Steadicam shot in The Untouchables, and Marty said it would be funny to try to do it one minute longer than De Palma's. The world perceives this as "Oh, the Copacabana scene!" But what it really is, is directors behind the scenes having fun fucking with each other.