Shaky camera in American Beauty

American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty (1999)

I find shaky camera to be extremely annoying. Most of the time the camera shakes for no reason and covers basically 3 mistakes (1) (bad acting, bad set design and bad directing). There are only few movies where shaky camera actually serves the story being told (like in Bourne trilogy).

There are movies though, where shaky camera is used in a way that you won’t be even aware of it.

I re-watched recently American Beauty and noticed that the camera was always mounted either on tripod, dolly track, steadicam or crane. There is only one scene, where the camera was handheld (just a note, I don’t count the DV camera that Ricky uses, even though it is handheld).

American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty (1999)

It’s a fight scene between Col. Frank Fitts and his son Ricky. He (Frank) is mad and angry at his son and beats him (Ricky) brutally.
The camera in this particular scene is handheld. It helps to portray his (Frank) anger and it injects more energy to the scene. Just try to imagine the opposite: Camera would be mounted on tripod or would move very smoothly. That wouldn’t work, because conflicts (especially family conflicts) are far from being smooth.

The handheld camera was such a great choice, that I noticed this only recently. It feels so natural; it feels like this was the only possible way how to shoot this scene. Handheld camera is a key to “secret” why this scene works emotionally.

As always, shoot me any comments you might have! 😉


  1. Unsteadicam chronicles



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