RUNNING COMMENTARY AT STEADISHOTS.ORG
Thanks to The Virtuoso of the 7th Art's Romain Desbiens for pointing us in the direction of a recent video posted at Steadishots.org, in which Steadicam operator Larry McConkey, who has worked with Brian De Palma numerous times, discusses the great police station shot in De Palma's Raising Cain, in which two police detectives listen to a doctor relate the backstory of the main character's father as all three of them travel down stairs, hallways, and elevators to reach the basement morgue. With the crazy angles and logistics involved, McConkey says he originally told cinematographer Stephen Burum that "you can't do that with a steadicam," but Burum made him try, anyway. McConkey describes how he followed the characters with a steady, moving extreme dutch angle that had to slowly be brought back as the characters moved through the space. All the while, McConkey had to keep his arms from twitching or bumping as he kept pressure on the tilt, as the slightest movement would have disrupted the shot. McConkey describes how his idea to have actress Frances Sternhagen keep walking in the wrong direction (so he could position his camera where it needed to go to change into a wide shot) led to her developing the movements as part of her character (the character is so focused on what she is saying, she just keeps walking in whatever direction she is going until directed by the detectives to backstep or turn and go a different direction). Other nice tidbits: McConkey talking about De Palma silently watching the shot on a monitor and tilting his head as the characters walk down the stairs and the camera tilts with them, then looking back at McConkey and Burum with his head still tilted, then looking back at the monitor (McConkey says "It was never discussed!"); McConkey decided to tilt the camera again inside the elevator, because Sternhagen is so much shorter than Gregg Henry, which meant that when he panned over to the other detective and back, he had to go back-and-forth again at an odd angle; the elevator ride was much shorter than it appears on screen, and Henry had to do a little shift in his body weight to hide the fact that the elevator was coming to a stop. McConkey describes two takes where everything was perfect: in one, he wishes he had kept it because after they move into the morgue and the camera swings around to look at the three characters, according to McConkey, "you hear Brian yelling, 'TILT!...DOWN!...NOW!!!'" In another take, everything was perfect ("We all nailed it," says McConkey), except when he moved the camera around the bed in the morgue, he ran into the toes of the body on the bed, less than twenty seconds from the end of the shot. "Brian goes, 'Do it again,'" says McConkey as he mimics De Palma's arm motion, signalling everybody to pick up and go back to the start.