Back in 1979, on a filming break from Little House on the Prairie, former-pro-footballer-turned-actor Merlin Olsen had a conversation with cinematographer Garrett Brown, who was on hand to operate the Steadicam, the handheld camera-stabilizing mount he had created.
“He got to talking to me about how ridiculous it is that the camera is always back in the safety [end zone],” Brown recalled. “He said, ‘Gosh, it would be great if you could have a helicopter fly right close to the action.’”
Though Brown initially demurred, thinking the prospect too dangerous, the idea eventually took hold, and in 1984, the Skycam – a computer-controlled camera mount system suspended via cable above the playing field – made its debut. Brown went on to invent the MobyCam, DiveCam, FlyCam and GoCam, among other devices, capturing athletes underwater, on the ski slopes and elsewhere and opening up new visual experiences for creators and audiences alike.
For his achievements, Brown was honored with the Charles F. Jenkins Lifetime Achievement Award at the 67th Engineering Emmy Awards. The ceremony celebrates, as the Television Academy’s Engineering Committee Chair Wendy Aylsworth said in her welcome, “the best and brightest of the technical people and engineers who create the foundation on which this industry exists.”
Held October 28 at the Loews Hollywood Hotel and hosted by Josh Brener, one of the stars of the HBO comedy Silicon Valley, the event bestowed five honors. Brown related his conversation with Olsen during his acceptance speech for the Jenkins award. He had been introduced by Richard Crudo, president of the American Society of Cinematographers, who noted, “In tens of thousands of productions over the last 40 years, there’s nothing you haven’t seen that has not been influenced by [Brown] in some way. There is no way to overstate his contribution to what we do.”