The Responsibilities of a Camera Operator
- Read and digest the script.
- Discuss with the Director and Cinematographer/Director of Photography (DoP), all aspects of the script.
- Discuss style of shooting.
- Recce all locations.
- Review all set plans.
- Determine technical details such as – where tracks are to be laid, size of crane or dolly.
- Determine type of heads – remote, fluid, geared or hand-held and tripods.
- Or Steadicam (usually by a specialist operator).
- Or tracking vehicle.
- Check on any new equipment available.
- Discuss with the DoP choice of 1st AC, 2nd AC, Central Loader and Grip(s).
- Liaise with the DoP, Camera Crew and Grips on camera and grip equipment lists.
- Walk all locations, sets and stages with the Director and DoP.
- Shoot camera and lens tests, especially checking the ground glass ratios and format by shooting a leader.
- Check Projection in rushes theatre for any discrepancies of framing.
- The camera operator will be closely involved at all times with the setting up of shots with the Director and DoP.
Director’s may have very strong ideas on photographic style and/or framing and lenses and impose these on the production.
- Alternatively, Director’s are sometimes more concerned with their actors and performance and thus give the camera crew a freer hand in how the film looks.
- Normally it’s somewhere between these two examples.
- Once the way a sequence to be filmed has been decided in the way of rehearsals, the Operator will be involved with the Director and DoP on the choice of lenses and the way the camera may move.
- The Operator will then supervise the 1st and 2nd AC’s and the Grips to set up the shots while lighting and rehearsal of actors are in progress.
- The Operator will check with the Script Supervisor that directions and eye lines (lefts and rights) are correct – although for an Operator that should be instinctive.
- Liaise with the 1st AD of the extent of the shot so that extras and background action can be set, and not wasted in non-photographed areas.
- Check for any irregularities with make-up, hair and costume that may not have been spotted by their departments.
- Work with the art and props departments with the setting of any dressing on the set, either in the foreground or background.
- Check for any off-set items that may have crept onto the set such as lamp stands, cables and unwanted props r crew personal possessions.
- Rehearse the scene and fine tune all camera moves.
- Shooting involves the Operator looking through the eyepiece, panning and tilting the camera to follow the action.
- After each take the Operator will be able to say or should say to the Director and/or DoP whether or not the shot was good technically.
- With the almost universal use of video assist, many people can have an opinion about a shot, but the Operator should still have his say, as he knows what he’s looking at and what for.
- As the Operator is the member of the crew who looks through and operates the camera he or she must be fully conversant with any type of head.
- Also he or she should ideally have been a 2nd AC (Clapper Loader) and 1st AC (Focus Puller) prior to becoming an Operator so that the skills and difficulties in these grades can be appreciated.
- It is essential to know all crew members’ names. Standbys (carpenters, painters, riggers, plasterers and stage hands), Grips, Art department personnel, Props and Electricians are constantly working at the behest of the camera department.
- Occasionally the Actors – as well as the Director or DoP will ask the Operator for his or her opinion on some matter concerning a shot, at this time a certain amount of tact may be required.
- The essence of film-making is team work and the Camera Operator is right in the middle of it all, so he should be a good communicator.
- All departments ask the Operator questions and the answers should be forthcoming, or at least, fielded to the person who is better qualified to answer.
- The expertise and hard work of every department is eventually telescoped into those images produced by the motion picture camera which is why the Operator is such a key member of the crew.
- There is a great deal more to the Operators role than one wag was heard to say:- “the camera operators job is to keep the heads in – unless of course it’s a skating picture, then you keep the feet in!”
- And as many who have been camera operators during the course of their careers would say “It’s the best job in the business!!”