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Camera Department Case Study

Alice Berkeley, Focus Puller | June 2017


Alice is a freelance camera operator and focus puller, who has worked on a variety of television shows.

When did you begin your career in television?

 At sixteen, in 2000, I started working for free at the local TV station, as a location cameraman, gallery PA, and editor.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to enter the TV industry?  

 I decided to go into tv after watching a documentary on cheetahs and was impressed with how a cameraman could keep up with the speed of the subject. At the age of eight, I saved coupons from Shreddies and got a point and click camera, I haven't stopped since.  

What was the best piece of advice you were given by your tutors/teachers to prepare you for the working world?  

It's only TV, nobody dies. This helps with the rather stern attitude that can happen on set.  

Did you take on any unpaid positions to gain experience?

 I worked for free and lived out of a bag for around two years to gain experience and contacts.

How long did it take you to get your first permanent paying job, and how long did it take you to consistently find paying work? 

First permanent job?? About 11 years. Most jobs were, and still are, short term contracts. I had to subsidized myself for the first few years with waitressing, cleaning, etc.

What was your first impression of a studio set/ location shoot?

On set there was a lot a fake blood, it was great fun, even if very hard work. I found studios rather boring and not rough and ready enough for my liking.

When working as a trainee/assistant what are your responsibilities, and what have you found hardest to master?

A lot of cabling, setting up monitors, batteries, camera reloading and care of rushes, helping the focus puller with equipment and lens changes, clapper board, setting marks for the focus puller, driving the camera truck, getting teas and coffees for the camera dept. I found the discipline quite hard, and some focus pullers and DOPs can be tough. It's good training to keep calm under pressure, and when you find an operator you work well with and can stick with, jobs will seem easy as pie.

What set/location etiquette have you learnt that you think all new entrants should know?

Make sure you are constantly aware of what is going on around you, if you are standing still, stand out of the way. If you are hungry or thirsty, your department probably are too, ask them if they would like refreshments if it is a convenient time.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

 I'm just packing to go filming camels in Jordan.

Having a substantial amount of experience under your belt now, what advice would you give to those just starting out?

Work hard, really hard, be organised, remember you probably don't know how things work in the field (and everyone works differently) even if you have been to college or university, listen to and respect the people above you, but don't let anyone make you feel small. If you are being treated badly, move on to another job, initiation tests should have limits; this isn't Victorian England. I'd recommend meditation to any camera assistant. Stretch before work, if your back goes, that's it. Have a system in your head, listen to what other people's systems are, but ultimately, have your own. Make a mnemonic perhaps to remember your duties. Make friends with people from other departments, you don't know how much they can help, and vice versa. If you are on time, you are late, camera assistants work some of the longest hours on set.

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