Life as a Television Camera Operator
I Love my Job but ...
Life in the media after 30 years
I have been asked several times now what it means to be a camera operator. What it means and what the job is, are two completely different questions, I'm going to answer the first one.
Thirty years ago my answer would have been different. Perspective is how we view the world based on our experiences, mine have changed, and so has the way I perceive the job I have done for so many years. The job of a camera operator goes beyond the pictures captured, it means a share in the responsibility for the content created using images supplied by the operator. Good communicators, being a camera operator means having a strong character and being able to face challenges.
Paid to work in TV!
When I first got into the television industry I had grandiose ideas of what shooting for television would be like. I thought I'd be picking the shows I wanted to do but quickly learned that wasn't the case. Generally speaking camera operators never choose who to shoot; freelancers take pretty much all calls. Operators are hired for jobs and shoot whatever or whoever is in front of them. Generally even though camera operators are part of the team, it's only either for the day or "shooting" portion of the production. Back in my early days I didn't think of the consequences or destination of the content of my footage; I was being paid to shoot live music, newscasts, sports, interviews, documentaries, whatever; I was being paid to work in TV!
Being a camera operator means different things in different productions. I believe as a camera operator, when we take a contract we need to think of the messaging that we are contributing to putting out into the world. If the messages aren't appropriate, the job should be turned down. The negative programming and messaging coming from Hollywood, and the rest of the world now, is not helping to build a better, healthier world.
Being a camera operator means realizing that your pictures will influence the perception of how people understand messages, and taking that as a serious responsibility.
When I first became a steadicam operator a client called and asked me to shoot a porn film. They were excited that a woman was operating a steadicam because they had a new actress that really wanted a female camera operator. The director wanted to use the technology as a technique that would give the film an identifiable look and style. I turned them down flat. When they came back with quite a large money offer and the promise of continued work, I told them that it wasn't about the money but about the content, and I wasn't interested. The lost money came back in the form of other work, and other doors opened like they always do.
Being a camera operator on a small or large set or show means being a problem solver, being able to take charge, get things done and "in the can" under the worst conditions. "The show must go on" is actually true! The camera operator on set needs to be able to multitask and work with all levels of people on set; the techs, director, talent, clients, audience and everyone else who may have anything to do with the shot.
Being the camera operator also means being reliable and a storyteller. If there's only "room for one" when shooting a story, it's the camera operator that goes; up in the glider, down in the sewer, on the chairlift, in the bobsled; which means coming back with good usable footage and sound every time; no matter what the shooting conditions, because a lot of times there's only the opportunity to get one shot. Communication is very important, camera operators need to interpret what the director wants and capture it under uncontrolled conditions quite often.
Being a good camera operator means being flexible, because no matter how well prepared the production is, things change. In TV when things change, instead of getting upset, the best thing to do is to fix the problem asap - cause "the show must go on" and on time.
My Say ...
Lastly and most importantly I believe being a camera operator means respecting the people being put in front of the lens. It is vitally important to understand that for a moment in space and time a camera operator is allowed into someone else's world, their space, their 3 foot bubble; for a close up look inside. From my perspective, being in front of the camera can be an intimidating place to be. Sometimes the subject matter is personal, fragile, political, illegal, immoral, unpredictable. I've interviewed and worked with political leaders, homeless people, rock, movie and sports stars, children, refugees, drug addicts, prostitutes, pros, people of literally all backgrounds and I treat them all the same. I treat them as I would want to be treated, with respect, consideration and interest in their story.
Being a camera operator means respecting and being part of the crew, the team that pulls the show together and makes the magic happen. It's generally an amazing experience to be part of any good crew, it doesn't matter the size, and a good crew is vital to presenting subjects and content in the best possible way with the resources available.
To be a good camera operator, in a nutshell, means to visually contribute to the airwaves of our world in thoughtful, responsible, professional and caring ways with a team of like-minded individuals ... well that's in an ideal world anyway.
© 2011 eyesay
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