CAMERA, LIGHTING & SOUND
Why get into technical production?
Yeah, the director thinks he’s pretty important, sitting in his fold-up chair and dishing out the orders Likewise, the actors and actresses might think they’re the dog’s danglies, flouncing around the set and retiring to their trailer when it all gets too much.
However, these guys would be nowhere without the technical production crew responsible for operating the cameras, coordinating the lighting and recording the sound.
The technical production crew are the heart and soul of the TV and film industries. They’re probably not going to be wearing the sharpest tuxedos or the most incredible gowns on the red carpet, and they’re certainly not going to be on the cover of Hello magazine anytime soon. However, these guys are the people who truly “make the magic happen.”
What roles are needed in the camera crew?
This tricky task is in the safe hands of the people who work in the camera crew. The different tasks that these guys undertake are all part of a meticulous and subtle art, which should never detract from the on-screen action. The choice of lens, the exploitation of focus and the movement of the camera all have an impact on the final visual product.
Job roles within the camera crew completely depend on the size and nature of the shoots you are working on, and career progression can involve taking a lot of little steps.
A Guide to Film Set Lingo and Hand Signals
Working on a film set can be a loud experience, with a variety of terms or jargon bandied about that has developed over the past hundred and twenty years or so. I wanted to share with you a smattering of what is said, not said, and what it all means.
These can help to reduce the noise on a set, which is a good thing, since the last thing you as a crew member want is to be noticed for being too loud.
Counting As an assistant camera person, you often need to share information, but you want to keep the noise to a minimum and not disturb the actors. Still, information such as lens focal length and T-Stop has to go out to your second, or to the continuity person. So it is necessary that you be able to share simple numeric information between takes without interrupting the workflow or the actors’ concentration. This brings us to the need for a one-handed signal. This is simple: fingers straight up—1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Fingers horizontal—6, 7, 8, 9. A closed fist indicates zero/ten.
CP-47 A spring-style wooden clothes pin, great for attaching gels and diffusion to barndoors.
Cover Me As in, “I have to step off set for a minute and don’t want to disturb the boss, so just pay attention and fill in for me for the next few minutes.” Wave your hand palm down over your head. This is usually used by a key to their first, or a first to their second. It keeps the set moving harmoniously.
Camera Movement Techniques
Early movie cameras were limited by their size and weight. And by early, I mean for the first 150 years of cinema. Throughout the golden age of hollywood a camera was a device often ridden across train tracks by a camera operator and a focus puller. Camera movement was bound by this technology, but that didn’t stop cinematographers from moving their cameras — along tracks or with cranes — the smallest amount of movement required an astounding amount of preparation, planning, dedication and off-camera assistance.
The basic camera moves were all developed in this age of cinema; cameras could move up, down, left or right. They could tilt or pan if you had the proper mount, and zoom if you had a zoom lens.
Every time we learn a new craft or skill, we need to learn the basic moves or techniques that define that function. Beginning to learn to shoot video, whether for a hobby or a budding business, requires some knowledge of the basic moves that define good video shooting practices.
Back when I was in high school taking TV Tech, we would practice making a TV Show called “The Skills Card Test” — we hated doing it. The studio looked so inviting — the cameras, the lights — that we wanted to get on with being Steven Spielberg and skip over the boring stuff, like learning how to actually use the equipment. “The Skills Card Test” consisted of a number of grey cards on stands, and the camera operators had to perform certain camera operation tasks that related to things that were on the cards. So, while the camera operators practiced panning between two dots, zooming from one box to another, the directors practiced directing, the narrators practiced narrating, the Technical Director practiced Technical Directing (which involved setting the levels for the cameras, making sure that the lighting wasn’t too bright or too dark, among other technical tasks), grips gripped, gaffers gaffed and production assistants learned to do everything else. What I realize years later is that doing that boring show over and over during the first three weeks of class taught me not just to appreciate finally getting to write scripts and make our own TV shows, but I realized that I learned right there in a few weeks what it takes many people years to learn on their own.
A camera exists in a three-dimensional world and can move anywhere along the XYZ axis. This means it can move up, down, left, right, as well as forward and backward. So that the director and camera operator can effectively communicate, there are names for each of these moves. This means the director can give a series of verbal instructions, and the camera operator knows exactly what to do without anybody having to get out and draw diagrams.
Sports Cameraman: Career Requirements and Information
Sports cameramen must have in-depth knowledge of video equipment, excellent hand-eye coordination, and communication skills. These positions require a college degree. The outlook for camera operators points to faster job growth than average
Sports cameramen work to capture sporting events and must be attentive and steady-handed. Earning a bachelor’s degree in broadcasting, film studies or communications gives candidates the necessary education to pursue this career, which typically begins by putting in time as a production assistant. Demand for the position is expected to increase, but competition for these positions is also increasing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Sports Cameraman Career Requirements
The highly specialized and technical profession of filming sporting events requires a cameraman to have an in-depth knowledge of video equipment. This knowledge most often comes from formal postsecondary studies. Most universities, technical and community colleges offer associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in film studies that teach the techniques and theories needed by successful cameramen. Potential majors include broadcasting, communications or film production.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts growth for TV, video and motion picture camera operators to be faster than that of other occupations from 2018-2028, and competition for these positions is expected to be stiff due to a high supply of cameramen candidates. The job requires a person to work unusual hours, and there is frequently much travel involved. Many sporting events are at night or in primetime hours, and a cameraman needs to be available to travel to any city, or country, in which an event takes place.
Some sports cameramen operate as freelance workers and provide their own equipment and assignments, but the majority are hired on salary by major networks or individual sports teams. According to the BLS, the median wage of all camera operators was $54,570 as of 2018.
How we organise our film production team
One question we’ve been asked a few times is: “What does your film production team look like? How can our department/agency/organisation build a team like that too?”
Filmmaking, like user research, is a team sport. We usually get a team together for each film, and we take a flexible approach to assigning tasks and roles, depending on what’s required.
With a bit of juggling, it is possible for one person to do everything: setting up the camera, recording the audio, and conducting the interview. It’s possible, but we don’t recommend it – this approach is hard work for one individual, and you’ll get much better results by spreading the load a bit further.
The camera operator is responsible for the recorded image. They need to make sure the subject is well framed, properly lit, and in focus. Lighting is a skill in itself, whether that means making use of available natural light or setting up specialist lighting equipment. Recording the sound properly means someone has to listen to it while the interview is taking place. We usually combine those three roles, so the camera operator is in charge of setting up lights and listens to the audio while watching the camera screen as well. It’s quite demanding and requires a lot of concentration, but it works for us.
If you can separate out the technical roles of camera operator and sound recordist, you’ll make life easier for both of them. That means they have fewer tasks to juggle at once. We don’t do this for every shoot, but it’s useful to have it as an option.