John Ward - Steadicam Hire
John Wards feature film credits include Highlander (1986), Full Metal Jacket, Death Machine (1995), Jack and Sarah (1995), Restoration (1995) and The Fifth Element (1995). For his full credits see John Wards Internet Movie Database entry. I talked to John on several occasions in November of 1997 about his involvement with the film company.
Q: Iím trying to find out more about the Steadicams used as futuristic gun mounts in the 1986 movie Aliens, can you help?
JW: It was 1985 and they were rented from me.
Q: Around this time were you known as John Ward Films or were you a one man band?
JW: Well (laughs), its always been me, and Iíve always been known as Ward Films.
Q: Iíve heard from Peter Cavaciuti that you started work on the movie but moved onto Kubrickís Full Metal Jacket, what scenes did you shoot?
JW: I was never hired for Aliens since I was already scheduled for Full Metal. The other guy on Aliens was Jan Pester. What happened was one day I got this phone call out of the blue, it was handed to me and they said thereís somebody called James Cameron on the phone (laughs), somebody I said, thereís only one James Cameron! His wife was running things at that time, I think she produced it. Anyway, I get to the phone and thereís Jim Cameron, saying that he wanted to know what I thought about putting a machine gun on a steadicam...I think I talked to him twice about it, I went down to Pinewood to visit the sets.
Q: What was the make and model of the Steadicam which you hired (used by Vasquez and Drake), how many did you hire, and did you hire directly to the production?
JW: They were Cinema Products Mk III arms and vests. I hired them directly to the Aliens production. One was, I think number 325, the other was 286. I ended up taking them to Bapty, I put the steadicam on and this guy placed the gun on the arm...they ended up having to put more weight on since it didnít balance, they took some photographs of me in the get-up but I never got to see them.
Q: Thats a shame, Iíve seen photos on the construction of the smaller gun, but never any of the Smartgun. When they were returned did they come back in as good a condition as you hired them?
JW: No, they didnít, one was o.k. but the actress was too small for hers so they had to cut it down, they compensated me for it later. I remember that they both had light weight arms (Steadicam arms).
Q: What happened to the rigs after Aliens, are they still used for shooting movies today?
JW: I have sold them both, one complete rig (286=Drake) went to Vince McGahon in York, the arm off the other (325=Vasquez) went to Channel 5 News, while the vest was so badly damaged that it was unusable. I think the pads went to Nigel Curtain, I think he still has the plate.
Q: Thanks for your time John.
JW: No problem, its been a pleasure.
Portions of this interview were edited for clarity.
Notes on the Mk III Steadicam and its use in Aliens:
The M-56 Smartguns in Aliens are described in the script as ĎGuns fixed to a floating body harness and targeted by thermal gun sights mounted within the operators helmet. They were composed of a German Spandau M-42 Sub-Machine gun fixed to a modified steadicam harness. The M-42 was chosen for its large muzzle flash and minimum smoke. The guns were designed by Jim Cameron and were put together by Bapty, the leading supplier of firearms to the UK film industry. Two Mk III Steadicam harnesses were rented from John Ward and extra weight added to balance them since the guns were lighter than a standard camera , Terry Reed made the IR sights, lights and front plates at Pinewood Studios Below are some notes I have composed on the Mk III.
Although the model 3A is no longer manufactured, it is readily available on the used market. Right now used model 3Aís are in the neighbourhood of $27,000-29,000.
Camera Operators Vest: The comfortable and adjustable, padded close fitting, breakaway vest, is an effective and sophisticated weight distribution system which efficiently transfers and distributes the weight of the steadicam system across the operatorís shoulders, back and hips. A parachute-type pin and cone quick release system is a reliable safety measure. The vest pad, made of washable cotton polyester and featuring velcro backing for easy removal, offer added ventilation and comfort.
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