Steadicam Operator Larry McConkey on Filming the Goodfellas Copacabana Tracking Shot

How long did one of film’s most famed tracking shots take to pull off? It was in the can before lunch — which isn’t to say it was easy. With a 25th Anniversary screening of Goodfellas set to close the Tribeca Film Festival on April 25th, McConkey spoke to Filmmaker about the formative days of Steadicam, the newest generation of camera stabilizers and, of course, The Copa Shot.

Copa Shot

Filmmaker: You’ve talked about the revelatory experience of seeing your first Steadicam shot in Hal Ashby’s Bound for Glory (1976) while you were a graduate film student at Temple University. How did you discover that the shot was done by Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown, who just happened to be based in Philadelphia like you?

McConkey: I actually didn’t know who the operator was for a couple of years. I just knew that what I saw on that screen in Bound for Glory, that was what I wanted to do. I had been doing a lot of handheld camerawork and trying to be the best handheld operator the world had ever seen, but it was always limiting. What I saw up there was what I wanted to do.

Filmmaker: When did you first get your hands on a Steadicam?

McConkey: I had a friend from Temple, Chris Wilkinson, who also was crazy about the idea of Steadicam and the two of us decided that we were going to find one somewhere and use it on one of (Chris’s) films. Back then it was (initially) the notion held by Garrett and Cinema Products, who made the Steadicam, that it would be something that anybody could pick up and use. You’d need a little instruction but that would be it. For Garrett, using the Steadicam was like riding a bike, but when other people would try them out it would be horrible, so they’d just leave it at the rental house. Very few people were renting them after a while because it was too hard to do. But (Chris and I) were determined.

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