It was when Michael Heathcote was a teenager that working with video cameras went from being a hobby to a viable career option. Growing up in Toronto, it was in a high school course when he realized the responsibility that comes when looking through a lens of a camera, having the power to shape how people see things. Since that moment, he has never looked back, and now he is an internationally successful camera and Steadicam operator.
Heathcote’s success did not come overnight. He has extensive training and a natural talent that have contributed to where he is today. He worked on the highly-anticipated Hulu original series The Handmaid’s Tale set to release this Spring, based off the famous book by Margaret Atwood. Last year, he also worked on the upcoming film Downsizing, directed by Academy Award winning director Alexander Payne, with an all-star cast of Matt Damon, Kristin Wiig, Bruce Willis, Christoph Waltz, Jason Sudeikis, and Neil Patrick Harris. Currently, Canadians have the pleasure of seeing Heathcote’s artistry with a camera on the hit television show Cardinal.
“I am very proud of Cardinal. Everyone involved with the project worked incredibly hard and it’s nice to see critics and fans admiring and appreciating our work,” said Heathcote.
Cardinal is a six-part crime drama on Canadian television network CTV. It is an adaptation of the mystery novel Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt. It follows Detective John Cardinal as he attempts to catch a serial killer while also struggling to right past wrongs that could derail his investigation and end his career, as the case grows more violent and twisted, and the clock ticks down on the killer’s next victim.
“I loved the book and admire Steve Cosens, the cinematographer, and Director Daniel Grou who were also attached to the project. I knew with these two talented individuals and such an amazing story this would be a great TV series,” said Heathcote.
Cosens and Heathcote had worked together previously on feature film Mean Dreams, which was an Official Selection at some of the world’s top film festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival, as well as the Canadian Screen Award nominated series Rogue. Cosens, knowing the talent that Heathcote posses, asked him to join the Cardinal series as a Steadicam operator.
“I’ve known Michael for several years and have been fortunate enough to have hired him as my A-camera/Steadicam operator on more than one occasion. His images consistently exhibit a very strong and unique sense of composition, and his Steadicam work is, hands down, the best I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked around the world in the industry for twenty years. His framing is always rigorous and fully considered and his camera movement is consistently fluid, artful and full of grace,” said Cosens.
The series was filmed in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada in the middle of winter, when the average temperature is -4 to 17 degrees Fahrenheit. Battling these brutal conditions was worth it in the end, as the cold and harsh climate enhanced the mysterious aspects of the story.
“Equipment starts to fail and camera operating in knee deep snow is very physically demanding. It was very challenging but I had a lot of fun,” said Heathcote.
Working to achieve director Daniel Grou’s vision, Heathcote had his work cut out for him. Grou planned many uninterrupted single take Steadicam shots. Single take shots are very hard to design because there is no cut away. The shot has to be perfect from the start to finish and encompass everything the audience needs to see or hear to help tell the story.
“This is very unique, and Daniel would come up with these beautifully choreographed shots daily. There is one five minute Steadicam shot in particular that Daniel designed that begins outside a school, follows our lead actor John Cardinal up and down several flights of stairs, a shoot-out and chase sequence evolve and the shot ends up back outside where we began. It was incredibly challenging physically and mentally. There aren’t a lot of projects that you get an opportunity to camera operate a shot like this and it was an absolute honor Daniel and Steve trusted me to execute it. It is definitely one I will never forget,” Heathcote described.
Grou, who has over two and a half decades of experience working internationally in the entertainment industry, was immediately impressed by Heathcote’s talents. Despite working with many talented camera/Steadicam operators over his long and awarded career, Grou says working with Heathcote this one time was enough to try and bring him on to every one of the projects he works on.
“Mike is just a complete genius at what he does technically, but artistically is where he truly shines. He can interpret a director’s or a photographer’s vision and go beyond it to find a true soul; a true magic to the images he helps us create. He is in tune with actors’ movements, as well as their fragile, ineffable emotional state as they work through a scene. He is always at the right place and in the right moment as he accompanies them on their journey. He is a treasure,” said Grou.
Cardinal is on CTV Wednesdays at 10 pm, or you can catch up on the series, and see Heathcote’s outstanding work, here.