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Examples

Camera Assistant

Starting out in the camera team in television can offer you a multitude of career paths across a diverse range of genres. Whether you want to work in scripted drama, news, live broadcast or factual, the most likely route in is via the camera assistant position.

Stage
1

Work on short or student films, gain work experience or a runner position in a video production company or camera kit rental company (eg. Visual Impact, VMI).

Stage
2

A camera trainee/assistant in any department should expect to work for two years in this capacity before they are considered experienced enough to move up the career ladder.

Stage
3

Apply for camera assistant positions in TV genres such as reality, studio entertainment and corporate video. Ad hoc positions can be found as a runner when production companies need extra hands.

Who makes up the camera department in broadcast.

The camera department or camera team, is headed up by the director of photography (DOP) or the lighting cameraman/woman. The term is changeable depending on the scale of the production and the camera crew themselves, everyone has their favoured terminology. The DoP is in charge of the overall look of the production. They usually choose which cameras to shoot on, and the format. Most camera operators now own much of their own kit, but they are flexible to the needs of the production and can hire in camera bodies when necessary. The DoP will operate the camera, but if budget allows, the following crew are employed to support the DoP: camera operator, focus puller, clapper loader, camera assistant (on big productions), camera trainee (if money in the budget for extra crew), and more recently with tapeless formats - a digital imaging technician (DIT) is an on-set expert in digital cameras required to make adjustments to the multitude of variables available in the camera to manipulate the resulting image. They also act as workflow liaison between production and postproduction.

A full camera crew can be found on scripted drama. Within broadcast, this will mean productions such as soap operas; Eastenders, Corrie and Hollyoaks for example. Comedy and programmes for children can often facilitate a full crew too, its all about the budget in most cases. On the bigger budget entertainment programmes you will also find larger crews but unlike a crew for scripted drama you will find multiple camera operators and assistants under the supervision of a camera supervisor. For more information about working on commercials and high-end TV drama see My First Job in Film

The Camera Department, which may simply consist of the cameraman/woman and an assistant if they are lucky, are present through principal photography and are responsible for recording all the rushes during production. The Camera Department work closely with the director, sound, grips, costume and lighting departments. 

To work in the Camera Department, you need to be a good communicator, as you’ll be spending long days with a volatile mix of actors, production staff and crew. It also helps to have an eye for detail and high levels of accuracy in order to carry out intricate instructions under tight time constraints.  

WHAT ARE THE ENTRY LEVEL POSITIONS IN THE CAMERA DEPARTMENT?

Intensive industry experience is the most obvious route into this role, though it helps to have a grounding in the basic camera skills, a broadcasting or film degree and/or some production knowledge. You could apply to be a Camera Trainee through Trainee Finder, which gives hands-on experience in the industry and will help you build contacts who will become essential when looking for work - it’s a crowded industry so you need to put in extra legwork to make HODs notice you.

You could start out as a runner on a feature film, TV commercial, or in-house at an independant production company. As an office runner within an independant company, you might get the opportunity to play with kit (eg. tidying the kit room, cleaning lenses, or preparing a kit for a crew) or you may be asked to assist a factual/documentary cameraman/women on VT shoots or interviews - as hiring an runner will be cheaper than hiring a sound recordist or camera assistant.  

Working as an assistant at a kit rental company is another way to build your kit knowledge, and an invaluable way to meet freelancers/HODs who come in to ‘kit prep’ and ‘check out’. This environment is the ideal way to absorb industry jargon, and ask questions about production. Make friends/be super polite to HODs as they hire crew and if you express your interest in production - they might take you on as a runner, trainee or camera assistant depending on the production’s budget/your capabilities. Commercial and corporate video productions are more likely to hire camera assistant than most other industry genres. They often have the budget and if they are looking to hire some tract they need someone to push the dolly.      

IN WHAT OTHER AREAS OF THE INDUSTRY CAN THIS POSITION BE FOUND?

Camera assisting positions are commonly found on large scale TV drama and entertainment productions that can justify the extra hands and costs. They are less frequently found on documentary and factual programmes, which tend to have very low budgets and small crews, or use self-shooting PDs. In most areas of the industry, the position of camera assistant is regarded as the most junior role. You certainly wouldn’t want to confuse an assistant with a focus puller - as focus pullers have a very technical job, due to the demand for prime lenses being used in TV production at the moment. You may find a focus puller, clapper loader and an assistant on the same production (drama or comedy/sitcom), but the assistant won’t be handling the camera or lenses - they will just be concentrating on giving general support to the whole camera department.  

You will often see camera assistant credits on the following productions:

If you’re interested in entering the camera department and find work as a runner on any of the above productions - make the 1st assistant director (1st AD) aware of your passion for cameras, as they might be able to open the door to the camera department for you. If you’ve completed your list of runner duties early on a particular day, and the camera op or DoP are open to you joining them during your downtime, they may teach you about the kit, camera setup or general etiquette of the running of the department.  

WHAT ARE THE OTHER ROLES IN THE CAMERA DEPARTMENT?


  • Camera trainee (usually found on bigger budget drama productions)

  • Clapper/loader

  • Digital Information Technician (DIT)

  • Data Wrangler

  • Focus Puller

  • Camera Operator

  • DOP

  • Camera Supervisor

  • OB Camera Operator

​What is the career path in the Camera Department?

With experience under your belt as a runner and/or trainee, you can progress and start applying for camera assistant jobs in reality TV, studio entertainment, comedy, drama and corporate video. It’s important to think about your long term goals at this stage. For example, there’s no point in going into TV drama if you don’t watch dramas or have an appreciation of how they’re shot. You will learn crucial practical skills and production etiquette as a camera assistant which will help you to progress over a few years to more senior roles, such as focus puller, camera operator and eventually DoP. 

With seniority comes more creative control and responsibility. The further up the career ladder you go, the more accountable you become for mistakes, and the more people you will need to guide to ensure your department runs like a well-oiled machine. If you don’t fancy working on massive scale productions, you might consider making a name for yourself in factual or documentary, where you’re more likely to be working on your own or with a very small crew. You will still carry a lot of responsibility as a camera op (often managing sound and lighting yourself too) in documentary/factual, but the creative freedom and subject diversity can be reason enough to keep you in this genre.  

Director of Photography and camera supervisor don’t have to be the camera department end goal though; some of the best focus pullers see this role as an end in itself and make a good living from it once they have a strong network of industry contacts in place.  

WHAT DO CAMERA ASSISTANTS DO?

  • offer general support to the camera department

  • collect camera equipment from hire companies

  • deliver messages to and from the production office

  • drive the department van

  • do basic DIT work (data wrangling)

  • move lights

  • set up grips and jib arms

  • rigging minicams or car mount kits (on car shows, game shows etc)

  • camera maintenance and film/tape/stock control

  • charge camera batteries, and change batteries if asked

  • ensure that camera accessories are ready (standing by) in case DOP or operator requests them

  • check and store (‘wrap’) the camera kit after every shooting day

On documentaries or small one-off specialist factual programmes, the camera department may be a one-man/woman band. Camera assistants with current budgets are scarce. Due to budget cuts after the credit crunch - camera assistants have been phased out and shooting teams now regularly consist of: self shooting producer/director assisted by a runner, assistant producers or researcher - everyone involved will be more multi-skilled and hands-on. They prepare and label stock/rushes and other materials. They maintain and prepare camera accessories, sound and lighting equipment, and occasionally assist with data wrangling, operate a second camera and direct questions to contributors.

At the other extreme: entertainment shows employ tons of cam assistants. Some game shows will have 10 cameras rolling at once, with 5 assistants, and a DIT, who also rig up GoPro cameras. On a show like Dragons Den, there could be as many as 3 CAs. So if it’s a bigger crew you’re more likely to get CA positions, as there’s much more cable running, rigging GoPros etc.

TOP 3 JOBS OF THE CAMERA ASSISTANT ON SET OR LOCATION.

  1. Always have batteries charged and ready at a moment's notice. Productions run on very tight schedules and you don’t want to be responsible for delaying or keeping the production behind schedule as it’s costly and totally avoidable if you’re super organised.  

  2. If you’re responsible for data: make sure rushes are kept safe and labelled correctly. If rushes are lost or destroyed, everything will have to be reshot. If rushes aren’t labelled - it can lead to all sorts of confusion in post production (eg. a tape is erased accidentally, or rushes are wrongly placed in the workflow of another production.)

  3. Look after the rest of the camera crew. If you’ve got any down time during a shoot, fetch teas and coffees for the rest of the department - it’s so important to keep morale levels up and simple things like hot liquid count.

WHAT IS THE CAMERA DEPARTMENT LIKE TO WORK IN?

Camera assistants are usually the first people to start work and the last people to finish, so make sure you have stamina and are physically fit for long days using heavy equipment. If you’re working on programmes shot by multiple cameras (eg. OB, studio, fixed-rig) which are broadcast live or recorded 'as live' it can be intensive, stressful and exhilarating as there’s no room for error.

By supporting senior members of the camera department, camera assistants learn how the camera op/DoP treats the clients and talent, how he or she communicates with the director and everyone else on set - it’s a unique vantage point so keep your eyes and ears wide open! Trainees and camera assistants provide general support to the camera department, while more senior clapper loaders and focus pullers carry out precise and complex technical tasks.

Some travel is inevitable (all over the UK and abroad), which means periods spent away from home, and can be challenging if you have a family. You have to be adaptable and have a thick skin to cope with fluctuating schedules and last minute travel to faraway places. A driving licence is a valuable commodity as being able to get yourself on location gives you more freedom (you won’t have to wait for a lift!) and opens up more job opportunities.

You need to be able to take direction and work as part of a team, working under pressure and in stressful situations. If you like your home comforts and familiarity - this isn’t the job for you! On the plus side: you will get to meet some amazing people, and no two days are ever the same. When a cameraman/woman or producer/director spots your aptitude with the kit, you may get the chance to do a few minor technical duties on a second unit (drama), or you might be asked to operate a simple DSLR as a second camera on a documentary shoot. It’s very important that you learn how to work in all media formats, tape, film and digital as it varies from production to production.

DO I NEED ANY QUALIFICATIONS?

You don’t need any qualifications to work as a camera assistant, but you do need to have a real desire to enter this department and display common sense when it comes to health and safety procedures, as you’ll be working with lots of technical equipment.  

Should you wish to gain a better understanding of the Camera Department and photography as creative mediums then you could consider a short course:

A background in stills photography is also beneficial as it’ll provide you with a good, all-round understanding of composition and light. You should definitely make the effort to be au fait with all the latest camera technology, and know which cameras are popular with which genres. For example, reading Televisual magazine’s annual Which Camera? Report will ensure you’re up to speed nice and quickly.

10 ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR NEW ENTRANTS WITHIN THE CAMERA DEPARTMENT

  • Always be a good time keeper and turn up at least 15 minutes before you are expected to start work.

  • When the camera is not in use, keep it low on the tripod or preferably keep it in a safe place on the ground (protect from moisture or dust with the rain cover)

  • Listen in on conversations between the director and the DoP or camera operator to anticipate what will be needed next.

  • Experienced crews know the right and wrong way of doing things so don’t try and invent your own, stick to their methods and systems.

  • Whenever the opportunity arises, offer to clean the camera body, lenses and filters.

  • Have a rain cover at the ready at all times. We all know the British weather can’t be trusted!

  • Keep track of all the equipment (print out a kit list), especially on night shoots when equipment can easily be misplaced.

  • Work with as many different types of cameras as possible so that you can easily switch from one job to another.

  • When the camera is on the tripod, never lift the camera and tripod using the grab handle. It is only designed to take the weight of the camera.

Phrases

  • Rigging. Setting up cameras and equipment.  

  • Bash. Handle and store cables.

  • In the can. Process of having captured a shot or material on film/tape.

  • Master shot. A wide shot that includes all the main action in a scene.

  • C/U. Close up camera framing.

  • Tech Recce. When the technical departments go to a location in order to familiarise themselves with the facilities (eg. power sources) before principle photography starts.

  • Consumables/Expendables. Items considered to be consumables are things like batteries and camera tape.

  • Dolly. A wheeled camera platform, usually operated by a grip.

  • Eyeline. Direction the eyes of an actor/contributor are looking (seen by the camera).

It’s imperative that junior crew members stay well clear of actors’ eyelines as this can be very distracting for them. Camera assistants aren’t usually close to the action on the floor/set, but if you do get asked to be on set - make sure you’re well out of the way during takes (you could inadvertently cover an area that’s been specifically lit, or the sound department could pick up clumsy footsteps), if you get in the way - it can have a knock-on effect and potentially put the whole production behind schedule.

FAQ's

What hours will I be working?

Hours may be long (10 -12 hours a day) and the work can be physically exhausting. For most of this time, you will be on your feet, and as the junior member of the team you will be called upon to do most of the running. As you can be expected to work long hours, make sure to take care of yourself as well as the rest of the crew (tea and water on hand whenever you get a chance to step away from set). When you are tired it is easy to forget your tasks, so make lists and prioritise them. /p>

What are the industry bodies for the Camera Department?
  • Guild of Television Cameramen 
  • Guild of British Camera Technicians 
  • BKSTS 
  • BECTU
How much do camera assistants get paid?

Some productions will have you on a 5 or 6 day working week, with a 10 hr day cited as ‘social hours’. You can charge extra for over-time, antisocial hours and night shoots. Other productions will pay you a daily rate. BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union) have their recommended Camera Department Rate Card, which lists 2nd camera assistants working on a British drama (10 hrs) as £240 per day (inc holiday pay).

How long will I be a camera assistant before I move up to clapper/loader or lighting camera?

It largely depends on your tenacity and drive. If you show your initiative, do your homework/research and go above and beyond the standard requirements - you could go from camera assistant to camera operator within 4 - 8 years. If you’re happy to take your time and progress at a slower pace, you will gain more experience and avoid the risk of being out of your depth when you do step up.

What can I do to speed up my progress into the Camera Department?

Working on short films and friend’s projects are sure fire ways to bolster your competence within the Camera Department. It’s worth remembering that you meet many people on short films, and creating good working relationships on a freebie project can lead to paid work. Going to free industry trade shows such as BVE in London provide a great opportunity to test out industry standard cameras, attend masterclasses, swat up on new technical trends and do some networking.

I feel I am being unfairly treated who can I go to?

The first port of call is always your Head of Department (HOD, usually DOP), but if they are unavailable or are the problem visit the production manager/line manager who has an overall duty of care to the crew.

Can I start a career in film and cross over to broadcast?

Absolutely, but remember that the etiquette on film is very different to broadcast. Often on feature films, you are working with a larger crew which is much more hierarchical. If you’re thinking of transitioning from Features to factual/documentary - this will feel like a much bigger career change: crew size, shooting style and set-up timings are quite different.

What kit should a camera assistant have?
  • A good pair of shoes. You will spend a lot of time on your feet, and it will not always be dry so shoes which have a waterproof covering are imperative. 
  • Wet weather gear is important on location. 
  • A good waterproof can also be used to protect the camera in case a rain cover isn’t in your kit! 
  • A pair of scissors for cutting tapes, they don’t have to be too big but should be sturdy 
  • A good Camera Assistants’ bag, preferably a Porta Brace or a Billingham 
  • Pens (permanent/non-permanent) 
  • Cable ties 
  • Dust-off (canned air) 
  • Lens cleaner/tissue and cloth 
  • Camera tape (white/black) 
  • Set of screwdrivers 
  • Multitool - Gerber, Leatherman 
  • LED torch - maglites are industry standard. 
  • 1” paint brush 

Don’t rush out and buy everything in preparation for your first day - you wouldn’t be expected to own these items as a trainee, or camera assistant but this is a guide of items generally found (and treasured) in loader and focus pullers’ personal kits.

Thanks you's ...

My First Job in TV would like to thank Karelle Walker and Michael Sanders for their input into the camera assistants guide. 

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