Do I advise the director on set-ups? 
If the director gets into trouble you step forward. If you think you have a better idea, then suggest it to the  director. 
Often the camera operator comes up with the idea first, and that is one of the reasons why a good operator is so important.

I have been so lucky to have worked with great producers and directors, exceptional operators like Mike Proudfoot, great creative gaffers like Peter Bloor, artistically creative production and wardrobe designers, genius makeup and hair, amazing actors and great, well-humoured people that make up my crew.

I love working on a second camera and still would if needed. I totally believe in the role of the operator. I have worked with some great operators. I think it is an important job to keep going. It`s not just moving the handles, that`s the easy bit-it`s the storytelling. 
Once we are on the floor the operator is the go-between among the players, director and me. My work with the director is basically done before the film starts- doing our homework together. 

When you work with a top operator it`s a joy.

The best advice I was given regarding the business was from Stanley Kubrick.
Kubrick Said: ‘Use the difficulty. If it is hard, make make use of it.

Peter Hannan ACS BSC

I`ve shot elsewhere in Europe, and my experience has been that when you need a specialist you fly someone in from England.

This was my first time shooting an entire movie in England and it really was an extraordinary experience.

We shot the entire movie on the stages and backlot at Leavesden... The only time we left it was when we went to Trafalgar Square to land a massive military helicopter.

By making the film at Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire... I got to have the best in every department.

Doug Liman, Director

An Actors POV

I remember, not really too very long ago when there were no monitors on the set. I remember vividly, however, their arrival. It was a dramatic entry, causing many changes - not all positive. Suddenly, the director was not beside the camera - he was somewhere else working. The relationship between actor, director and camera operator had changed. The operator used to be the "monitor" - the relationship between actor and operator (and indeed grip) was almost a `dance` choreography where the actor would get his positioning `notes` direct from the operator. The relationship was a very important one. It is still important - but different.

Actors, of course differ, but I find that a good operator is really important to me. He/she is now the first person to give me the nod of approval or disapproval. Instead of looking first to the director, I now look first to the operator. This relationship is a very important one. I am always slightly disappointed when the DOP is also the operator. There is always so much to do and the actor can feel left behind - especially if the director is glued to the monitor. On a film set, an actor can often and very easily be made to feel inferior to lighting and camera. A good operator bridges that gap.

Understandably, budgets get smaller and smaller - but to save money by not having a camera operator is to lose a huge piece of the complex jigsaw of collaboration- the unit and experience of filmmaking would be unsatisfactory and incomplete.

David Suchet CBE

Camera Operating.
I spent many years, during the early part of my career, shooting films as DP/Operator, so I know what its like to do both jobs.  I feel very strongly that the best way to shoot a film is with an operator.  Its better for the film and production to have one person focused on operating and the other on the job of the DP.
I like to use cranes and remote heads for most of my shooting and it works well for the operator to be working out the move with the dolly and crane grips, while I`m finishing the lighting with the Gaffer.  The new HD cameras have put me behind HD monitors, where I talk to the operator on headsets and we can keep finessing the shot as the story unfolds.
Camera operating is not a craft that you can just learn, you have to be born with the ability to feel the shot and make it seamless.  You have to understand story telling and know when and how to move the camera.  There is nothing more beautiful than a perfectly operated shot.  A shot that you never see start or the finish of the move, and some how, it just got there. 
Some of my favorite shots of my career are the scenes  shot in one shot.  No editing, just one perfectly acted and operated camera move. I think camera operating is one of the best jobs in movie making and I`ve been very fortunate to have been able to work with some of the best.

Don Burgess ASC

You can`t make a good film without a good operator.

Wolfgang Suschitzky, Cinematographer

It always struck me as curiously apt that "operating" has a certain medical overtone - precise, crucial, life-saving, to be carried out by dedicated experts who know exactly what they`re doing.
 The origin of the term is probably a little more manual - referring to the physical dexterity required to handle the massive bulk of a blimped Mitchell with an off-set viewfinder in the 1930`s and `40`s.
 Yet whether it is a small-house sized Mitchell or a pocket-sized Arri 235, the skill required to operate one is on a par with any gown-wearing, scrubbed-in scalpel wielder.

 In the end, film-making IS framing - the choice to show or deny showing an audience any given element of an image dictates every emotion they`ll feel. Reveal the broken-hearted girl, crying behind the bike shed, as her unrequited lover laughs with the prettier girl; see the killer hiding in the closet as the victim unwittingly shaves in the mirror - it`s all about what we see and, without the skill and precision of a "real" camera operator, what we see, sometimes becomes chaotic, random ...and a great story-telling tool is left to gather dust.

 I`ll never make a movie without an operator, because, simply, these are people who strain to see beyond what`s in front of them - they push to see what can be revealed, what can be hidden.

 Every director worth his salt believes his life depends on his telling the story properly: that`s why I put mine in the hands of the operator.

John Moore, Director

As a Director and D.o.P. who has worked my way up through the camera department, I am only too aware of the value (both creative and financial) that the Camera Operator brings to a production.

When I am confronted with a producer who says  "...can we save money by not employing an operator?" my reply is always that, in the time saved and the pressure that is taken off me, an operator is an imperative member of the crew. Over the length of a production, that time saved as I concentrate on lighting, and not on the setting of the camera or dressing the set for the best frame, translates to money saved for the film.

Having my camera operator allows me the time and space to concentrate on the look of the scene. Schedule-related pressures mean that I am not detracted from lighting while my operator can deal with the mechanics of the shot. Does this mean that the operator as purely a technician? ...Far from it, he has a direct creative input. Not only does he work in collaboration with me, using his trained eye, to compose and frame the shot, but also to liaise with the other departments in order to achieve the best production value.

Film-making is a collaborative process. The way that the camera department is established; where someone works through the different grades, ensures that each member gains a grounding and full working knowledge of each discipline. But one thing that is not found in manuals or the classroom, is the direct contact and interaction with directors, D.o.P.s and actors, this comes with experience. When a person becomes a Camera Operator the technical aspects of the camera are combined with the creative issues of framing, camera movement and, film narrative and a large degree of diplomacy and tact. A good operator uses his skill to mentally cut the film in the same way as the editor does physically.

There have been many well-known `career` Camera Operators, but many are working toward their own career as a D.o.P. As a result, both of these groups (whether through experience or aspiration) have a keen interest in the photographic look of the film. The close-cooperation between my operator and myself means that if I am unavoidably away from the set, he can carry on with lighting until my return.

Alexander Witt Director/DoP

Observations. -Working with Operators-

When I am preparing a shoot I try to assemble the most creative and efficient team I can. In prep the primary creative relationships are with the DOP and Production designer. On set, the primary crew relationship will always be with the operator. In pre-production I will have discussed extensively the look of a film and the shots that are to be achieved on the daily schedule with the DOP. I will therefore expect the DOP to be busy lighting a pre-arranged shot or sequence of shots whilst I discuss the fine detail of the action, framing and camera movement with an Operator.

I often use a very fluid hand held style and will walk the shots through with the operator and actors several times before an actual take. This is the point where a relationship of trust with an Operator is crucial. I will also expect the Operator to form a trusting, creative and polite relationship with the actors and for him or her to suggest through me ways in which their performances might improve the shot. I also allow Operators I trust to directly discuss the action with the actors when necessary, in the case of missing lighting marks or the way a prop is used or the direction of an eyeline. My visualising of a piece of action will always be improved by this process.

My favourite Operators are always those who are sympathetic to the effect I am trying to achieve with a shot but who are creative enough and brave enough to suggest improvements. I work with several operators who have a great photographic eye and who will always point out a better framing if they feel I am missing a trick. This obviously benefits my work immensely.

As regards production, a great Operator leads and disciplines the camera crew. Focus pullers tend to fulfill this role if a DOP operates. I prefer a good operator to be in charge, simply by experience this seems to work better. Great Operators form excellent relationships with grips, crane crews, actors and on set art department crew. In the end an Operator is the "eye" that sees what the camera sees and can point out mistakes or opportunities for improvement that nobody else notices. This is invaluable. A good Operator frees the DOP from this role, allowing them to concentrate on the lighting set up and on discussions with the director.

I find that most DOP`s are happier working with an Operator. In a complex lighting set up situation where I have honed a shot and a piece of action with the Operator whilst the DOP is busy, I will always make time before the take to show the DOP what has been rehearsed and allow input and alterations at that stage. Thus there are three sets of trained eyes on a finished shot. This can only be good for the work, and time efficient for the production as mistakes and re-rehearsals are minimised.

 I would always prefer to work through an operator, unless the DOP makes a convincing case to me for operating and I felt that the subsequent loss of shooting time and rehearsal time would not damage my film.

It is a false economy. The crew can always move faster with an operator running the camera crew.

Obviously some DOP`s are brilliant Operators, but most aren`t. An Operator practises their skills on every production and their familiarity with equipment is therefore much greater than a DOP`s. I work with Operators who are brilliant at steadicam and handheld shots, which requires a high level of physical fitness, which obviously some DOP`s are not expected to provide in their range of services and abilities!

Some DOP`s insist on operating and I will always take this into consideration, however I can think of at least three instances where I have pulled rank and engaged an operator against the will of the DOP as I was aware that the shots and set ups would be too complex for a DOP operating to achieve. In each of these cases the DOP has subsequently thanked me for this decision. I have also passed on projects where the decision not to have an operator had already been taken by production as I felt I would not be able to achieve the quality of work expected from me. Time is money. You can always move faster through a day`s work with an Operator DOP team.

DOP`s and operators can always learn from each other.

My experience in the US and Europe has been very similar. I like the British crew system for its hierarchical orderliness, however, and British sets seem to "tick over" better. Roles are clearly defined on set and throughout the camera crew and there is an established ranking system. When an Operator is working with the crew they should run it as a team captain, ensuring both efficiency and creative spirit. This works for me. I like having a creative on the camera. It isn`t possible to discuss shots and acting in the same way with a focus puller who should be too busy using their particular and substantial skillset to keep the images sharp, or a dolly grip who should be ensuring that all sorts of other technical and safety details are taken care of.

A good Operator is a director`s paintbrush; a skilled, intelligent, creative, opinionated, living, breathing paintbrush. The best ones absorb your ideas about acting, framing, pace, atmosphere, staging and style very quickly. They ensure that the film looks and more importantly "feels" the same from shot to shot. A tiny reframe during a take can double the impact of a performance, a small alteration in pace over a tracking move can change the effectiveness of a scene completely. Creative discussions over sequencing, such as deciding whether or not a piece of action can be captured "in one" or by several shots can save thousands of pounds to production on a daily basis. The role of the Operator is therefore both technical, intuitive and creative, as well as providing potential financial benefit to production.

Andy Wilson, Director

Camera Operators

1. On set, a film only requires a few key creative personnel, and a good camera operator is vital amongst them. He / she is able to focus on the frame in a way that, due to other demands, a director and DOP are unable to a good camera operator is also vital in helping an actor with the technical aspects of their craft.
2. I`ve worked with a camera operator on every production since my first feature film. I would certainly not want to work without one.
3. There are so many tools at the disposal of a modern filmmaker, nevertheless, the composition of a frame and the movement of the camera are still amongst the most powerful of these tools. A camera operator who understands the story, emotionally and stylistically, can convey the directors choices, be they visceral or poetic, and bring his or her unique relationship with the camera to an audience in a profound way.
4. A camera operator is certainly not a luxury to me and I have been very fortunate not to be in a position to have been under pressure to cut this role.
5. No doubt there are some DOPs who are very fine operators too. But the skills of a DOP are certainly of a different kind to a camera operator. I find that having a camera operator whose sole responsibility is to think about the composition, movement and rhythm of the frame, means that the DOP is free to think in a broader sense.
6. As a director, my relationship with the DOP can only be enhanced by the collaboration of a sympathetic camera operator. That has been my experience.
7. I would always advise a DOP to work with a camera operator, for both creative and practical reasons. One is able to move far more quickly with an operator, and with the present pressure on schedules, this can only be of benefit both to the DOP and to the production as a whole.
8. I have worked with a small number of British operators, and only one American, and have not found there to be a great difference between their styles.
9. A camera operator must not only have an excellent eye and innate feeling for the cinematic art, but must also be an excellent communicator. Much of their role is to communicate between the camera team, art department, and essentially, the cast.

Joe Wright, Director

When I hire an operator, I tend to take on the person before the position. That is to say, I believe the individual brings to the job a unique alchemy that establishes the tone for the set. Coming to a foreign country, a cinematographer wonders just how to best tell a story ...and who his collaborators might be. While here I have found that the operators I have worked with are true artists, true masters of their craft and true friends. These people have a joy for the process of making films that is contagious and it reminds me why I love this business so much. They have invited me into their homes and into their family`s lives and have shown a generosity and loyalty that extends far beyond a brilliant composition or the construct of a sequence. They are the true definition of the thought that great films are hand made by no one individual, but a talented group that bring their spirit to the screen. You can`t teach that ...it can only be ...and there is not a day that goes by when I`m not thankful for these generous people.

Shelly Johnson, ASC

In defense of the Operator`s position.

What does an operator do? Well, he looks through the eyepiece of the camera. But, by the way of monitors, everyone else on the set does too. He also turns the funny wheels on the head, one wheel for the up and down, the other for right and left, and if this proves too difficult, then, there is always the handlebar. So, is the operator`s position justified, for such a minimal task? Apparently not, according to an increasing number of people, and sometimes, ones in executive positions. Then, is the DOP position also a necessary one? Would not a gaffer do instead? Especially now with digital photography, when the director can check the images on a monitor without waiting for next day dailies. With similar reasoning we could achieve the ultimate dream, the personnel-free film making, (save for catering and trailers drivers, as one needs comfort!)

At a time when the number of producers on set (and even more so on credit), seem to grow exponentially, there are growing attacks on the position of operator and multiple attempts to do without. (One of them, shamefully endorsed by Local 600 in the US). Would the solution be to put the surplus of producers behind cameras?

Until then, lets face an uncomfortable reality: Operators are human, (most of them), therefore they come with experience, knowledge, and craftsmanship. They are part of the machine of filmmaking, its physical, as well as its thinking process. It has been so for years, and I have made bonds with many operators, they have been essential collaborators, and I would not have done as well, (and certainly not as fast) without them. At times, people for the sole reason of reducing the numbers on an initial budget, aim at a seemingly weak link in the chain, not realizing this will weaken the all process, not only affecting quality, but the efficiency of a team, and in the end, affecting the schedule. Operating, while being DOP, however very pleasant at times, is exhausting, time consuming and takes one away from the director, making communications weaker. It takes away the benefit of someone else`s opinions, ideas and experiences. A film is no other than a sum of talents, doing away with one after the other is certainly going to raise the final result.

Philippe Rousselot, AFC, ASC


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