Steadicam Merlin: Knowing the Film Positions

The Steadicam Merlin is a device used to stabilize the camera for steadier shots. It is based on the technology of the Steadicam, which is renowned and used extensively worldwide in producing film and television shows. Shaky footage makes the film appear amateurish. Using a device such as the Merlin and mastering its features and abilities enables the filmmaker to create more professional shots. Much like the original Steadicam devices, the Merlin requires technical skill and lots of practice. The following are a few steps in understanding the device even better.

Hand Operating Position

The Merlin can be operated using one or two hands. Holding the Merlin with both hands makes the most stable shots. One hand holds the Grip, supporting the weight of the camera and device.  The fingers from the other hand control the Guide, changing the direction and angle of the camera. It is also possible to control the Merlin with just one hand. The position with just using one hand differs slightly. Slide the hand higher so that the thumb and second finger can touch the Guide while the last three fingers hold the Grip.

Position of the Body When Operating

Positioning the body is also important when shooting film. There are two basic positions: the forward or Missionary style and the reverse or Don Juan. The Missionary position is the most basic, used for general or simple shots with the subject in front of the cameraman. Place the camera with just enough distance from the body so that the spar just touches the body. Approximately 90% or almost all shots will be taken from using this position.

The Don Juan is a more recent position. It is similar to the forward position with the cameraman moving forward. This position requires more practice as the camera is pointed in the opposite direction and the cameraman’s body directed sideways in order to see the monitor. Adjusting the height is also another technique. Referred to as Booming, it changes the way the shot looks. Booming is different and simpler to do than tilting. Combining the change in height and tilting can create more unusual and creative shots.

Extreme Trim

Manipulating the Merlin is different from normal camera operation. Trimming involves checking that the headroom space or height is maintained. Every few minutes, the cameraman needs to check if the Merlin device is still hanging from the same level. For shots that use a lot of tilting, understanding how the counter weight works on the device is needed. A combination of trimming and booming moves can be used with shooting up and down the stairs.

Shooting from a Resting Position

The total weight of the video camera and the Merlin device can amount to around 1.5 to 5 pounds. This can tire the cameraman. To reduce fatigue, use a chair, table or stable area where the cameraman can rest his elbow. The Merlin can also rest on the cameraman’s shoulder to increase leverage. Change hands in order to share the load and reduce the amount of time filming moving shots.