Is It Time for the Shaky Cam Filming Technique To Go Away? [‘CSI: Miami’, ‘Cloverfield’]

by on April 27, 2011

in Entertainment

'Shaky Cam' Makes Me IllThe following is a Cinema Static Opinion piece.

Ah the shaky cam effect. That wonderful “technique” that needs to be shoved into the same drawer as canned laughter and converting films via post process to 3D.

Supposedly the shaky cam filming technique is supposed to give us the feel that the scene is being filmed with a handheld camera. It is supposed to convey a sort of documentary or news-gathering kind of feel to the scene and supposedly gives the viewer a sense of immersion in the scene. As if you’re there!

In one place, one TV series that I’ve really started to notice this filming technique is in CSI: Miami. In fact the technique goes beyond shaky-cam and I’m calling it seizure-cam. The amount of tossing and turning the camera goes through during their action scenes is becoming headache-inducing and I have to tell you, it does not compel me to want to keep watching this great crime-drama series.

Give me an action scene in CSI: Miami where someone is running or cars are driving to a scene, and almost every time we get that spinning, jerking film technique. A technique that’s getting more volatile with each passing season, if not episode.

In some cases, it’s done so overboard that it detracts from the scene and I tend to blur out. There’s no sense in focusing on those scenes any more and it’s starting to become a deterrent for me.

I don’t mind some… subtle or intermittent shaky cam techniques. Especially now-a-days, since cameras are being installed with image stabilization software, the entire premise of the “being there now” cinematography needs to start to go away or make it more of an artistic addition where it’s subtle.

No Shaky Cam Needed Here

No Shaky Cam Needed Here

I get the idea behind the premise, but these days it’s getting so overused that I’m getting tired of it and if I hear that the technique is used a lot in a movie, it can become a deterrent to going to see a movie. I’ve not gone to see Battle: Los Angeles because I understand a lot of the filming is done that way. I’ll wait until I can put it on a smaller screen where I can maybe manage my reaction to the technique.

It’s so bad in Cloverfield that I wish that along with a ‘director’s cut’, that I can get a ‘steady cut‘ version of the film on DVD/Blu-ray. They need to film it both ways if they’re going to commit an entire film to that technique. For me it takes away from the scenes, it takes away from the appreciation of the actual plotting and it’s distracting when I feel like I need to leave the theater or my living room to go throw up.

I’m just sayin’, please stop to abuse of the shaky cam technique. It’s not conveying what you think it is filmmakers. It’s not.

Here are my still-photography examples of non-shaky cam moments!

Osprey Nest, no shaky-cam here

Dinner time at the Osprey nest, where the motion can be detected and implied here!

Osprey shaky cam

The bird made its own motion blur… not my fault!

Ducks in Motion If I shook the cam here, you’d miss the wake that mom is creating

Sunset with no shaky cam 2005-DSC02798Nope, shaking the camera here would not have worked well!

Lightning in So CalSelf explanatory?

NOW, here in the below image I inadvertently employed a shaky cam looking technique! But in the words of the great Han Solo from the Star Wars franchise, “it’s not my fault!” I must defend my apparent use of the technique by saying that I was running for my life while this Badger was running at me. (The hazards of nature photography!)

Badger chasing me 2006-DSC04982

Ha! The watermark should read “Running for life, by B.E. Simmons!“ So apparently there’s at least one scenario where the shaky cam could not be avoided!

[wikipedia: Shaky_camera]

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bruce Simmons October 3, 2012 at 3:23 pm


I’d like to be able to argue against “reverse darwinism” but I can’t! Actually, when put to “paper” it seems more scary!

Thanks for chiming in!

surfdeb October 3, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Hi Bruce,
I feel the same way and I have been turning off shaky cam shows and movies due to the way they make me feel. I tried it on a small screen and its better but I spent a fortune on my large screen so I can enjoy a good movie. The dumb-downed media “experts” have determined that the visual stimulation makes up for poor filming skills. These are the same people that have given us our pop culture and the educational institutions. I vote we scrap all of it and go back to home schools and civilized behavior. We are in a period of accelerated reverse darwinism where the low is made high and high is made low… sad…

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