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In August, Procam’s In-House DOP and Head of Training & Development, Saul Gittens, led a ScreenSkills session titled ‘So You Want to be a Camera Assistant’. In the session, Saul discussed what it takes to be a good camera assistant, giving insights and tips from his 35 years of experience within the film and television industry. Here are five top takeaways from the session:
If your end goal is to become a Camera Operator or Director of Photography (DOP) then get creating and use whatever you have available to start practising composition and lighting, whether it be a DSLR, or a mobile phone. Taking up photography in your spare time can also further your learning, so be sure to visit photography exhibitions and art galleries to get inspiration for your work. If you are able to get your hands on a film camera this can help you to learn discipline, as the limited number of takes will force you to be thoughtful and selective as you frame each shot.
Choose a Route
There are many different routes to becoming a camera assistant. Studying cinematography at University is a great starting point for some, but others may choose another path. Rental companies like Procam offer a great place to start, as you can get hands-on experience with cameras and make contacts with freelance camera crew while earning a wage. Alternatively, you might choose to become a runner at a production company and build contacts that way. Keep an eye on industry Facebook groups and platforms like Mandy for posts advertising crew roles, as this can be a good way to get experience and build your contacts.
Don’t be Late
Always make sure you are punctual for shoots - check the call-sheet in advance, plan your route, and leave extra time for delays. The camera team are usually the first department needed on-set in TV (excluding drama), as the camera needs to be rigged and in position before anything else can begin. As a camera assistant, you may be required to drive equipment to location, so any delays will have a knock-on effect on the production. Communication is key, so you do encounter delays be sure you call the DOP as soon as you know you are going to be late. Never send a text or email, as you cannot be sure that this will be read.
Start building a run bag to take on shoots with you. The bare essentials should include a multi-tool, small pieces of rubber matting to protect floors, bin liners or poly bags to quickly cover equipment in the rain, sash cord, pens, a notebook, a spirit level, and a clapperboard. As you start to get experience on shoots ask other assistants and operators what they keep in their run bags and expand your own as you go. When you’re on location make sure you know where all of the equipment is – always have the batteries on charge ready to rotate, and keep the lenses close to the camera ready for any quick lens swaps.
Enjoy the Journey
Though the television industry may appear glamorous, it involves a lot of hard work, long hours, and tough competition. To succeed you will need bags of energy, drive, passion, and a little bit of luck, but if you work hard enough people will take notice, and they could be the next person to give you a lucky break. The lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but if your heart and soul is in it then a career in television can be hugely rewarding, and at the end of a busy filming schedule you can be proud to see your name in the credits of a production you worked hard to help create.
Watch the full session over on the ScreenSkills website here.
ScreenSkills is the industry-led skills body for the screen industries. They provide insight, career development and other opportunities to help grow and sustain the skilled and inclusive workforce which is the foundation stone of the UK's global screen success. Find out more about ScreenSkills here.