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Camera Trainee

If you harbour dreams of becoming a cinematographer your journey starts in the Camera Department.

My First Job in Film: How to become a camera trainee
Stage
1

A CV rather than showreel will serve you best in your search for trainee roles. Work on short films and student productions. Do not label your CV DoP it will be flung in the bin!

Stage
2

Apply for trainee positions. Look at assisting (on other mediums) or departmental runner opportunities. It can take 2 years working as a trainee to acquire the knowledge and experience to progress.

Stage
3

Retitle your CV and apply for 2nd AC positions. Utilise your contacts, by this stage you should be able to apply for jobs on the strength of your CV alone.

What is the camera department?

The Camera Department is at the forefront of the action on set; it can be one of the most exciting and dynamic departments to work in, it can also be one of the most pressured. The DoP (director of photography) who heads up the department has overall responsibility for camera, lighting and grips, who work together to achieve the director's vision using their creative and technical capabilities. The DoP collaborates with the production designer to create the overall look of the film, bringing life, texture and light to sets created by the Art Department or when working on location.

Depending on the scale of the production the Camera Department can vary in size. The first unit can consist of the DoP (who may elect to operate the camera) camera operator, focus puller (1st AC), clapper/loader (2nd AC)  DIT and assistant (if working on a digital format) and the trainee. If the production is a big budget feature, there may also be a department runner and a second unit. If the production is shooting in 3D, you will also find the stereographer and a team of camera assistants. The remit of the job will change when working with a smaller team, usually with the most junior position (clapper/loader) taking up most of the slack.

Camera teams run on almost militaristic discipline. Instructions are always repeated back; lenses are handed to the focus puller in a specific way (front element facing towards the 1st AC, focus ring set to infinity) and the camera is never left on its own or left on the cameraman’s shoulder after a take (leave that to the grips). For anyone wishing to work as a trainee, they will observe on day one camera teams working quickly and meticulously. Trainees will need to be diligent and proactive from the get-go to make a good impression and fit into already established teams.

Despite the influx of digital formats many filmmakers opt to shoot on film when they can, so trainees would be wise to learn how to load film too. If favoured by the director and DoP the production may choose to shoot digitally. Red, Arriflex and Sony are continuing to develop cameras which mimic the capability of film cameras and stocks, this infiltration has meant a subtle shift for camera crew over the past few years.  As hard drive space is cheap directors can opt to shoot a rehearsal, giving the focus puller little time for rehearsals. The clapper/loader still checks the frame size to know where to position the board, but they won't be hampered with changing film magazines, and there is no gate to check.  Some things never change, and the Sound Department will still ask you to cover the camera with a barnie to lessen the noise, and the DoP will put a light where the sound mixer has just set up. 

WHAT ARE THE ENTRY LEVEL POSITIONS IN THE CAMERA DEPARTMENT?

If the production has the budget, the Camera Department will have a camera trainee or runner attached to the department; this is where many new entrants can find work and essential experience to progress their career. The trainee position will require you to have basic camera knowledge and some experience derived from working as a Camera Department runner, short films, TV or at a camera rental company. As the junior member of the team, you shall be there to learn and be tasked with the running jobs associated with the junior position.  An ideal candidate for a camera trainee position must be passionate about cinematography, have some relevant experience and display professionalism while they are carrying out their duties, however menial. Trainees can be found on:

  • Commercial

  • Features (independent and studio)

  • High-end corporate video

  • Music video

  • Television drama

  • Television comedy 

If you find work as a floor runner on any of the above productions let the ADs know you have an interest in this area of production, they could be in a position to place you at the camera team’s disposal. Help the 2nd AC or trainee as much as you can. Earn trust by carrying out the tasks assigned to you, listen carefully and stay focused; don’t start passing lenses to the 1st AC (unless specifically asked to do so).

Another route into the Camera Department is to work within camera rental companies such as Arri, Panavision or VMI. You'll need to do your time driving equipment to location for the first year or two, but once you’re working in the kit room, you will be exposed to cameras and contacts. Most ACs and DoPs will come in to test the kit before the shoot; camera technicians will be helping add and take away kit, or demonstrate how individual items of equipment work. If you wish to pursue a career onset, you will find it easier to make the jump to trainee or even 2nd AC on departure, especially if you've been working on short films in your spare time. Some camera assistants will add the role of DIT to their remit. This can mean different things in different fields. DITs on a feature film comes equipped with vector scopes, monitors and extensive knowledge of how to manipulate the cameras electronics to create the best possible image. A DIT should not be confused with a data wrangler, whose primary responsibility is managing the data from card to hard drive and backup.

Where else in the film industry can junior camera roles be found?

In other areas of the industry such as TV (entertainment, outside broadcast and some factual), promos, corporate video or digital content you can find the camera assistant. Camera assisting is a general term as they will be doing a bit of everything, usually camera assistants are not called upon to focus pull, although that is changing due to prime lenses being used on a variety of projects. It will require many of the same skills and attributes needed to work as a trainee, except as a camera assistant you can find yourself moving lights, doing some light gripping and pitching in as the need arises. There is a high chance you will be managing the data workflow for the production too. If working on the above productions camera assistants need to work very quickly, unlike drama, there is rarely any waiting around so assistants need to be sharp - especially when working on multi-camera shoots. If you are working in TV, however, do not expect to cross over into drama easily, you can gain experience as a camera assistant for a few years, but you will most likely need to demote yourself to trainee again to work in features. 

Some DoPs take a relatively new entrant to the industry under their wing to learn the ropes. Getting this type of opportunity comes from luck and contacts in the industry, so ask friends, family and their friends if they know anyone who is a cameraman. You can find camera assistants working on:

  • Digital content

  • Stop motion animation

  • Feature documentary

  • Television comedy

  • Some factual and entertainment

WHAT ARE THE OTHER ROLES IN THE CAMERA DEPARTMENT?

For camera teams working in features, high-end commercials, corporates and music videos the hierarchy of the Camera Department can look like this:

  • Director of photography. The DoP will be working closely with the camera operator, gaffer and key grip to achieve the director’s vision for the film. Some elect to operate the camera themselves, others prefer to establish themselves behind the monitors with the director.

  • Camera operator. Working with the grips, the camera operator is not just responsible for the movement of the camera. They suggest filters and lenses to achieve a particular shot, and if the camera is on the dolly work with the dolly grip to achieve the best flow of movement and timings.   

  • 1st AC also known as a focus puller. Possibly the hardest job on set, experienced focus pullers are in great demand on feature films as focus pulling requires lots of experience and practice. Everyone notices when the shot is soft, few give praise when it’s sharp, and not many know how difficult the job is. 

  • 2nd AC also known as clapper/loader. When there is no trainee, the loader will be run off their feet for the majority of the day. If working on film, the loader can be found in the back of the camera truck or a corner of the studio loading and unloading magazines of shot stock. If you wish to work in film and don’t know how to load a mag call the camera rental companies and ask if you can go in for an hour to practise; they usually have some exposed stock and a changing tent available. Loaders will also be responsible for working the clapper board, marking each take. This sounds simple, but the placement of the board and how it's marked up is a skill to be mastered. They work in close collaboration with the script supervisor to ensure the correct information is provided at the beginning of each take. 

Depending on the scale of the production there may also be dedicated roles such as:

  • Video assist/playback, the person in charge of creating ‘video village’, the monitor station not only for the director but script supervisor and members of the production team which can include the exec producers. If working with a digital camera they can take a feed from one of the HDMI outputs, if working on film a feed is taken from a recorder fitted to the viewfinder of the camera, so the image replicated in the monitor is exactly what the camera operator is seeing. Video assist/playback ops will be using a laptop and software such as Qtake to provide a reviewing facility known as playback for the director. Both the image from the camera and a mix track from the production sound mixer will be fed into the program, which sync’s them up in real time, allowing the director and script supervisor to review the recorded shots. On smaller productions, without the budget for a dedicated PB operator, the responsibility can fall to the script supervisor to operate the equipment which can be dry hired in.  

  • DIT. (Digital Imaging Technician) With camera technology advancing and the film industry embracing digital technology, a DIT can be present on set to help with camera configuration, image manipulation and the digital workflow.

  • Data wrangler.  A ‘data wrangler’ can be a member of the DIT sub-department, assisting the DIT in managing the workflow, data storage and backups. 

  • 2nd unit camera crew. Which can replicate the first unit regarding personnel, shooting any SFX scenes or acting as a second camera on set. If working on a studio production, there can be multiple camera teams, especially if working with SFX or large crowd scenes. It's easier to shoot specific sequences with ten cameras, rather than replicate intricate SFXs shots multiple times. 

  • Stereography Department. When a film is shooting in 3D, a stereographer and a team of assistants and rig technicians will work alongside the Camera Department. The 3D team will be using the specially designed 3D cameras and lenses.

  • Steadicam operator. Some camera operators are also Steadicam ops, but most often the Camera Department will bring in an operator with a rig and a lot of experience. Setting up the arm and creating the right balance for the camera is crucial, one tilt forward on an unbalanced head and the operator can find the camera or arm rapidly flying towards their face.

WHAT ARE THE KEY SKILLS FOR WORKING AS A CAMERA TRAINEE?

  • Communication. Above all else you are going to be able to need to communicate efficiently with members of the camera team. Each job functions as part of a whole, the camera trainee is part of that whole. Get into the habit of listening to instruction and repeating it back.

  • Be proactive. This applies to all trainees, senior members of the team love to have an active trainee on board assessing what needs doing to keep the team ready for action, this can be tidying up the MagLiner to having the coffee on standby.

  • Stay calm and focused. On smaller productions or productions where the schedule is stretched, tensions may run high. Camera, grips and lighting can work very quickly when called for, and there may be occasions where you feel at sea. Listen carefully to what is being asked of you, and if the loader is in the back of the van changing a mag step up and help out.

  • Know when to ask questions. Being a trainee means you should have a good basic knowledge of cameras, lenses, accessories and have a good grasp of how to change a magazine or handle the data/cards (if the job has no DIT). No one will expect you to know as much as the DoP or pull focus, so if there's time (such as waiting on another department before you can get going) ask some questions to further your knowledge. If you have time during lunch, ask to stay back and practice loading for half an hour.

  • Be friendly and approachable. Even when orders are barked at you don’t take anything personally, keep a cheerful, affable disposition, you can’t go wrong.

HOW DO I FIND WORK AS A CAMERA TRAINEE?

A love and keen eye for colour, composition, light and most importantly storytelling within the moving and still image are a prerequisite for wanting to work in the Camera Department. One frame of a film can encapsulate everything you need to know about a character, the feel of the movie or its genre. This is a very attractive career path which is why the Camera Department can be tough to enter, especially if you want to work on feature films. To be considered for trainee or assistant positions you are going to need to demonstrate some experience of working with cameras. If you have no experience to date, you might wish to consider working on collaborations.  

Collaborations

Working on short films or student productions (MA courses or 'film school') are ideal to gain some credits and get a taste of what working in drama is like. A CV without any experience stands a poor chance of success when looking for trainee roles, so you need to be proactive about getting yourself the required amount of experience which can mean working for free on short films. Rest assured you will not be the only one working for expenses; short films are peppered with crew looking to further their skills to move up the ladder. Makeup assistants working as makeup artists or designers, boom operators working as mixers - professional short films are the industries training ground.  Look at the MFJF collaborations board and industry essentials, you are certainly going to need to use all your resources.

Although we do recommend collaborations, do your research first to find out who is going to be working on the production. Student films will be backed by the university, so you know the budget is considered and insurance will be taken care of. If you're working on a short film with people you don’t know make sure to check out the producer's track record and back catalogue of work, you want to know they are following best industry practice and will be running the production properly. This means the production will be insured, catering (or at least some form of feeding the crew) has been devised, there is a schedule that is realistic and location, transport and travel plans are all considered. If it’s a friend you’re helping out then obviously you will be less rigorous in assessing these things, everyone likes helping out their friends if they can, even if it means long hours and a sandwich for supper.  

The likelihood is you will be working for expenses, make sure that is the case, always talk money before you agree. If you're giving up your time, you need to come away from the production with what you need; which is the experience of working on a properly run shoot, experience of working as part of a camera team, making contacts who are working in the industry and adding a credit to your CV. If your gut feeling is these criteria are unlikely, (you will know within the first five minutes) you could decide to say thanks but no thanks and look for the next opportunity.

CV

If you are fresh out of university and have labelled your CV with DoP or camera operator, go back and rework it. Trainee is how you should title it if you want to work in feature films. When working on your CV check through it (or ask someone else to) to see it reads well and is correctly formatted. You can use the CV advice and CV builder to help create a CV and covering letter. You can check your CV against our example CVs to make sure it includes all the relevant information. You're going to want to keep your CV short and to the point, as many HoDs or production coordinators will be ‘scanning’ rather than reading, cut out the chaff and try and keep it down to one page.

Think about your transferable skills when working on your CV. If you have a strong aptitude for working with computers and can demonstrate your qualifications, it makes you a good candidate for a DIT's assistant. If you have a passion for diving and have underwater PADI certificate, underwater photography might be your next step. It’s a small industry and referrals are common place amongst the camera team. Lay out your stall in your CV; this is one area of the industry where your passions and hobbies can feed into your career.

Finding work and applying for positions can be a full-time job in itself. Some people will get lucky, finding work almost instantaneously. Some may have put in the hours on short films, making contacts while they are studying, some people might just be in the right place at the right time. In whatever situation you find yourself, the resounding advice from professionals working in the film industry is be persistent; persistent and relentless in the pursuit of your chosen career. Keep applying for positions, sending emails, making calls, and keep an eye on the British Film Council, Facebook’s UK Production News and The Knowledge noticeboards to see what is going into production.

Research

Due to the formalised structure of the Camera Department knowing what each job role is responsible for is a must, as is a familiarity with the main shooting formats. If your CV has landed on the DoPs desk and they call to see if you’re free for the job, the best way to make conversation is being able to ask 'what camera are they shooting on?' Where are they getting it from? Can you go along to kit prep? Show the other members of the team you mean business. There is a host of blogs, books and internet resources available to gain further insight into the work of the Camera Department and the roles of the camera trainee/assistants. To start you off here is a selection:

Network

The network you build while working on shorts and other productions will enable you to branch out to look for work elsewhere in the industry. If you know other assistants or trainees ask them to keep you in mind for when they are unavailable to work, referrals to 1st, 2nd ACs, camera ops or even DoPs are great ways to get your foot in the door. Keep in contact with everyone you meet, send the odd email, social media is a great way to stay in touch. Use your time to create opportunities, don’t wait for them to come to you.

Trainee Courses

With some experience on short films, student productions and micro-budget features you can look for trainee positions run by Creative Skillset, who work to place trainees on good size, well run productions. The Guild of British Camera Technicians also run a training course, but be warned the competition is fierce and the selection process rigorous. Members of the guild (who are some of the best cameramen and women in the UK) will take a hand in the training process; trainees are taught how to work on film as well as the digital formats. If you do apply make sure to give yourself the best chance possible by getting some experience under your belt first, and take your time answering all the questions on the application form. 

Personality and Attitude

While all of the above is taking place you are going to need to provide a roof over your head and food for the table which can be costly, especially if you are living in a big city. A wage is going to be essential while you're looking to gain experience and turn those expenses only jobs into paid positions. If you find yourself waiting tables, working behind a bar or pouring coffee it’s relatively the same starting wage as a trainee. These roles can be ideal when starting out as they offer some flexibility in your working hours, enabling you to take a few weeks off to work on a low/micro budget feature and go back after. Work can be sporadic in those first few years, so having a subsequent fall back income can be vital. 

At points it's going to feel frustrating when you’re not getting the roles you want, keep in mind the advice on being relentless and go back to your CV, think about what you can do to make it better, what experience could you gain in another capacity to start ticking boxes for potential employers. Reflect the reasons your CV is not being chosen for roles; it could be a lack of experience, the way your CV is presented or if you’re sending in generic CVs and covering letters - you should give yourself the best possible chance by tailoring each one to each job role or production.

Although the industry is incredibly flexible when it comes to changing career, if you’re applying for positions in another area of the industry you will need to be clear why you want to make the change, and give examples of what you have been doing to facilitate the move.

 

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WHAT ARE THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE CAMERA TRAINEE?

The role of the camera trainee is to support the entire camera team, unless there is more than one unit. You will work especially closely with the 2nd AC, who has the task of completing their workload in addition to acting as a mentor. Be as supportive and helpful as you can, their advice will help you establish yourself within the department. A camera trainee may find themselves:

  • Getting the coffees and bringing them to members of the crew who need to stay with the camera.

  • Taking instruction from the 2nd AC, the more responsibility they give you, the better the job you are doing.

  • Help the 2nd AC to set marks, always have your camera tape close by.

  • Complete paperwork. The Camera Department is no stranger to red tape, a copy of the camera report sheet goes to the production office in the evening with the rushes. Camera report sheets need to be detailed, especially if shooting on film, as it accompanies the footage to the lab to be developed that evening. Once you are an established trainee, the 2nd will devolve this responsibility to you.

  • Establish video village. The task of setting up video village will be the responsibility of the trainee or assistant if no one is employed specifically to do the job and operate playback/video assist. Make sure you locate it somewhere sensible. Often both the Camera and Sound Departments will opt to work wirelessly, but if the signal isn’t strong enough, you will most likely be running BNC/HDMI cable to the monitors.

  • Manage the data workflow depending on the scale of the production. It is highly unlikely you will be called upon to act in any way like a DIT, but on smaller productions, you may help the 2nd AC manage the workflow.

  • Get sides for the camera team. Sides are a printout of the scenes to be shot that day. Usually one of the ADs or the floor runner will have these. Search them out during breakfast and get them to your team as soon as you can. Also find out if your ACs like anything done to the sides. Some like the characters names highlighted in different colours.

WHAT IS THE CAREER PATH FOR a camera trainee?

After completing your time as a trainee which is usually a two-year process, it’s time to begin submitting your CV for 2nd AC positions. Hopefully, during your two years of trainee experience you will have observed and asked the right questions, and during your downtime (if finances allow) worked as a 2nd AC on short films. If you have worked with many of the same 2nd ACs, you could now be loading film for them and completing the camera report sheets alongside your other trainee duties.  When you become a 2nd AC, remember to be kind to your trainees and furnish them with all the advice that has been bestowed upon you.

In terms of time, your progression on the Camera Department ladder is completely in your hands. Some focus pullers never progress to camera operating, for example, this can be entirely through choice. A focus puller with fifteen to twenty years experience will build up a solid reputation and multiple work offers. An experienced member of the team will always be a busy member of the Camera Department. As long as you know where you want to go at the beginning of your career stay focused and work your way through the system, and remember to have fun while you are doing it.

WHAT IS THE CAMERA DEPARTMENT LIKE TO WORK IN?

Members of the Camera Department are frequently some of the first to arrive and the last to leave; they will often be found working when the rest of the crew has taken a break. Some days may feel monotonous, backbreaking and pressured. Other days you may find yourself working in locations of spectacular beauty, or sharing a joke that will have you laughing for the rest of the day, just don’t think about it as the camera turns over.  

One thing to keep in mind if you work in the Camera Department is that camera work, whether assisting or shooting, is immensely physically demanding. Film cameras can be very, very heavy (especially when they have other apparatus bolted onto them), and if you wish to be an operator that camera is going to be sat on your shoulder if you’re going handheld. Keep this in mind, many camera operators suffer from back problems if they don’t look after themselves, some suffer even if they do. If you find endurance under physical pressure a problem you might want to correct that in the early stages of your career; regard it as a bit of career future proofing as you may feel indestructible at 20, but perhaps not so much at 50.  

You should also know working in the Camera Department can be incredibly pressurised, especially when your career is in its infancy. Working as a trainee will require you to be professional, proactive and most importantly diligent when working to assist the rest of the team. When you're working as a loader working on film, you'll be the one solely responsible for loading and unloading the magazines, unless you're working on studio production with an additional loader or a trainee who has a few years under their belt. Loading your first mag in a professional capacity and watching it click into place is enough to shed more than a few pounds. Having a roll of rushes come apart in your hands in the changing bag due to lack of concentration or experience more so. If you are in any way of a nervous disposition or have a tendency to panic this may not be the department for you - even DoP's with 20 or so years under their belt have bad days, it's how they handle those days that set them apart. 

DO I NEED ANY QUALIFICATIONS TO WORK AS A CAMERA TRAINEE?

There are no technical or academic qualifications required for the position of camera trainee, what you will need is a good work ethic, can do attitude, be willing to put the hours in and have a real passion for the filmmaking process.  You won’t need a health and safety qualification as yet, but it’s wise to remember that working on set or location can be potentially dangerous. Always be aware of the space you are working in, and think about any potential hazards that may arise. You will need a full clean driving licence as you may be called upon to drive a van, a first aid certificate could be beneficial.

If you've been working as a loader, you can register for the Level 2 UAL Diploma for loaders run through Amersham & Wycombe College. Set up in 2015, the diploma is designed for loaders and focus pullers so they cab have their skills recognised both academically and technically.

If you're at college and wondering what your next step may be, consider all your options. If you wish to further your academic qualification via a degree in film or media, do your research first. Make sure it's going to equip you with the skills and experience needed to enter the workplace upon graduation, though you may find yourself joining the Camera Department in the same place as you would have after A-levels. A degree can give you options at a later date if you decide to switch careers, so think carefully about how it can help you in one, five, ten years after graduation, will you be using it to apply for an MA at the NFTS? When looking at courses in film or media ask questions such as do the have:

  • Practical modules with recognised industry equipment, make sure they teach you about working on film and digital.

  • Lecturers (full time or guest) who are working in the industry.

  • Work placements throughout your degree, or contacts to help you find them.

  • Affiliations with industry recognised institutions.

  • A chance to meet alumni or industry members.

  • Functional taught modules which demonstrate how the equipment works.

WHAT EQUIPMENT SHOULD I BE FAMILIAR WITH WHEN WORKING IN THE CAMERA DEPARTMENT?

Having a basic understanding of camera equipment will add weight to your CV when applying for camera trainee positions. If you have not had the chance to work with film/digital cameras then you may wish to look at some short courses to give you an overview:

While a short course can be beneficial they can also be expensive, and there is no guarantee that the equipment you learn about will be the kit you work with. If you would like to get hands on with digital film cameras and find out how they work, have a look at some of the camera rental companies.  Some run workshops and courses specifically designed around the technical side of camera kit rather than the creative application. Others may be amenable to letting you come in for some hands-on time to see how it all bolts together. For many companies it’s in their interests to provide this service, you are the customers of tomorrow. 

What film cameras will I find on a feature film?

While the digital revolution has made itself present on film sets all over the world, many directors, producers and DoPs continue to work with film, regardless of the trend to switch. Some line producers assert that the financial saving of shooting digitally is not as significant as once through. For many filmmakers turning over the camera means money is burning through the gate so they will cut the camera at every given opportunity. When working with a digital format, there is a tendency to shoot more, creating more work in post which then, in turn, ramps up the costs, as will the addition of the DIT and their team. Working with this knowledge, filmmakers now have more options at their disposal than ever before, which means that a camera trainee who can load film and work their way through a camera menu is increasing desirable. If you want to learn how to load here are the main cameras to be found on a film set:

35mm:

  • Arricam ST
  • Arricam LT
  • Arri 435 ( hi speed )
  • Arri 235
  • Panavision Millennium XL 
  • Panavision Millennium
  • Platinum
  • GII

Super 16mm:

  • Arri 416
  • Arri SR3

What digital cameras will I find on a feature film?

Make use of your time as a camera trainee, ask as many questions as you can when opportunities present themselves. Your colleagues will know a great deal about the equipment they are using, and if there is a DIT present gain as much knowledge as you can. Ultimately the more comfortable you are with the various formats available, the more confident you'll feel working on any project.    


10 ESSENTIAL TIPS ALL CAMERA TRAINEE’S SHOULD KNOW WHEN WORKING IN THE CAMERA DEPARTMENT.

Listen to instruction carefully.

Don’t be afraid to speak up if you're unsure of what has been asked of you, most loaders have done your job and would prefer you came back with the correct flight case or set of filters. Communication is key, just watch how the focus puller and loader are telling each other what they are doing throughout the day, it's a consistent stream of information that enables them to work efficiently.   

Be punctual.

Getting to set half and hour early gives you time to have a cup of tea and wake-up properly. It also allows you to watch and assist in the camera build while paying close attention to where the extra kit is going to live, on the Magliner or in the van. Pay close attention to where everything is stored and make sure it goes back in the same place.

Know the chain of command.

If you have a problem, don’t go to talk the DoP about it, forward it on to the 2nd. Once on set, you need to observe the rules, know who to talk to and who not to talk to. 

Pay close attention to the 2nd AC.

Put yourself within whispering reach of them when the camera is about to turn over, just in case there is a last-minute task to accomplish.

Stay in your own department.

Each department takes a great deal of pride in the work they carry out, and the flow of communication between its members keeps them ticking along nicely. If you move a cable, try and put up a flag or reposition the dolly this all breaks down. If there is a stand where it shouldn’t be let the lighting team know, they may have a purpose for it that you haven’t counted on.  

Attitude.

Be dedicated and take pride in your work, even if that may be finding a cup of coffee for the camera operator. A genuine love of being involved in the filmmaking process should not be concealed; your enthusiasm will often endear you to your colleagues. Your attitude and the way you approach a task is often the most likely attribute to gain you further employment, be enthusiastic yet professional.

Be proactive.

There is always something to do; nothing drives HoDs crazier than seeing a junior member of the team sitting down while others are working. Just being on standby is enough. Competence is prized above all else in the Camera Department so prove that you are, however you can.

Avoid eye contact with the actors during a scene.

Camera operators can hide behind the camera, but assistants can often find themselves exposed. As a trainee, being aware of your positioning is of vital importance, especially if you're following tip 4. 

Never leave the camera unattended.

Often the 1st AC will stick by the camera if they leave set it falls to the 2nd AC. This is for a variety of reasons, if you're on location it may rain, if you are in the studio it may get knocked, and if you are working digitally the various cables running to the DIT may unexpectedly turn into a trip hazard. Whatever the reason make sure you look after the 1st or whoever has to stay with the camera. They will thank you for it.

Take responsibility.

If you are bestowed a set of daily tasks by the 2nd AC make sure they are your primary focus, your colleagues will be expecting these duties to be carried out. You will need to manage this with the constant set of requests that are fired at you during the day, try to prioritise and if you feel you are struggling tell the 2nd.  


PHRASES YOU SHOULD KNOW WHILST WORKING IN THE CAMERA DEPARTMENT.

  • Crossing. This is a term to familiarise yourself with as it alerts the camera operator you are ‘crossing’ the camera’s field of view. This term is used in all Camera Departments, large and small.

  • Turning over. When you hear the term ‘about to turn over’ this refers to the camera getting ready to record.

  • Barney. The camera cover which deadens the sound of the camera, more often used with 35mm cameras, not used in reference to an argument.

  • KBS. is a term used when a situation is about to get stressful, usually due to a quick turn around on a set up.

  • DFI. ‘We have changed our minds’.

  • Sausage. A movable mark that looks like a long bean bag, not the type you purchase from Tesco. 

  • Baby legs. a term for the smaller set of tripod legs. The tripod can be referred to a “the sticks” and is actually part of the grips responsibilities rather than the camera team. 

  • Apple Box. The Grips Department will have a stack of ‘apple boxes’ which are in essence wooden boxes of varying heights. There are Full, ½, and ¼ size apple boxes with an inch thick box that is known as a pancake. Particularly useful if you need some height to reach something. The grips also carry wedges to chock up track on uneven surfaces, so if you are presented with a table that is uneven ask a grip if you can borrow a wedge, they usually carry hundreds but make sure you give it back at the end of the day ... grips don’t forget!


FAQ’s

What hours am I likely to work in the Camera Department?

Most dramas work within a 10-12 hour day on camera, but you're more likely to be working 14 hours by the time you have wrapped the kit. You may be asked to work beyond those hours if the production is falling behind.

What is the salary of the camera trainee?

Dependant on the productions your salary can be based on a 5 or 6 day week, other productions will pay you a daily rate. BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union) have their recommended Camera Department Rate Card, which lists camera trainees working on a high-end feature film to earn £182 per day. On more modest budget independents it is more likely that you will be paid £100.00 a day.  

Although work may be sporadic and the majority of the film industry is self-employed, the role of the trainee/runner/assistant is not currently recognised by HMRC as a ‘grade’ for self-employment. If you’re working on features films for weeks or months, the production will pay you weekly using the PAYE pay structure, meaning they will deduct your tax and national insurance at source, providing you with a P45 and P60 at the end of the engagement. However, if you’re just starting out and looking for work, potentially on dailies, this presents complications. 

Fortunately, HMRC is aware of the infrequency of work in the film and television industry especially in the entry level roles, so they use a seven-day rule. If an engagement is less than seven days, PAYE does not need to be applied, but the production company will still deduct your national insurance. This is to stop you being over taxed or emergency taxed, which could leave you with a very small pay packet indeed. Make sure you are meticulous with your record keeping, filing all documentation such as your P45 and P60’s, you may need them for reference at the end of the tax year. 

If you have been in the film industry for 12 months and worked for multiple companies on short term contracts, you can be eligible to apply to HMRC for the Lorimer or LP10 letter. The Lorimer Letter is a Letter of Authority that is valid for three years and can be applied to engagements of 10 days or less. To apply for this you have to demonstrate that you are in business on your own account so that individual short-term engagements which would otherwise be treated as employment are seen as part of an overall business set-up. So, even though you are not one the approved ‘grades’ listed by HMRC you will be invoicing the production for the full sum - but you will need to generate your own invoicing, file your own tax return as self-employed and be responsible for paying your Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance

Please make sure to set up your invoicing structure in a way that will enable you to be consistent with your numbering. For example, if you're John Smith you may decide to structure your invoicing as JS01. Try not to go changing your formats too much, when it comes to the end of the tax year (April 5th) you’re going to want to keep things as simple as possible.

Do I need my own transport?

Having a vehicle can be vital, especially if you're working at one of the major studios. Although not environmentally friendly, being independent from anyone else's travel arrangements means you are not bound by other people's wrap and call times.  

What if I don't have a driving license and want to work in the Camera Department?

Your transport arrangements do need to be considered if you are working at one of the studios. One way of getting to location may be to hitch a lift with the camera truck; you might have to have a think about how you get home through if you are engaged for longer than a day. The larger camera rental companies are all on the tube line, so this may help you out of a jam for dailies, but be proactive and address your logistical arrangements as soon as you can - then apply for a driving licence!

How long will I be a camera trainee for?

Your progression through the department will depend on your experience and a little bit of being in the right place at the right time. Typically a camera trainee will need two years experience under their belt, racking up experience on a variety of jobs. You may, however, feel your CV is full enough to begin to apply for 2nd AC positions sooner, or a 2nd AC whom you have a good relationship with may move up the ladder and take you with them. This is an industry where personal connections are extremely important; your network is key to finding work.

What are the industry bodies for the Camera Department?

The guilds and unions for the creative industries offer a range of information, and many offer training courses, seminars and workshops. Advice is essential when looking to progress your career, if you want to move into drama look to GBCT (Guild of British Camera Technicians), if you want to work in outside broadcast, television and events look to the GTC (Guild Television Cameramen). There is also the British Society of Cinematographers who produce a monthly magazine. 

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

Working on short films or student films can assist you in your ascent of the Camera Department. While working on a short film you may encounter focus puller gaining expertise as a DoP and data wranglers gaining experience in the role of camera operator. Most short films are a training ground for professionals and new entrants alike.

I feel as though I am being unfairly treated, who can I go to?

Your first port of call should be your Head of Department. If you feel the conditions you are working under are unreasonable, then you should seek out the unit production manager (UPM) who has responsibility for the crew.  Do speak up if you are in difficulty. Working on a film set can be hard work, and you have a responsibility to look after yourself while following your passion for film.

Can I work as a camera assistant in TV and cross over to film?

If you work within television drama, the likelihood is you will be working in a similar capacity to that of a feature film production. If you decide to follow the camera assisting route in broadcast factual and entertainment, you can continue to work on short films to give your CV drama experience, but your crossover will be harder. Expect to start a few grades down from where you have been working.

What tools should I carry in my floor bag/box as a camera trainee?

Many 2nd AC will be happy for you to use their floor bags to avoid confusion, but you should arrive with your own. The basics in your floor box/run bag should be: 

  • Assistants pouch, save time go for the large one with a nice big chunky belt.  
  • Jewellers screwdriver set. 
  • A good pen(s) 
  • A Sharpie, the industry darling when it comes to pens, but to be honest, any permanent marker will do that doesn’t bleed on camera tape. 
  • Policeman's notebook, perfect for the tea orders amongst other things. 
  • Chalk Chuck 
  • Whiteboard marker 
  • Set of Allen Keys 
  • Sausages (the type you get from Panavision, not Tesco) 
  • Cable ties 
  • Camera tape 
  • Gaffa tape and Duct tape (Duct is stickier than branded Gaffa tape and cheaper, great if you are working with meters of cable) 
  • Cotton buds 
  • Chynagraph 
  • Selvyt cloth or any anti-static cloth for lens cleaning 
  • Soft paint brush/makeup brush. 
  • Ken-air
  • Lens tissue. 
  • Lens cleaning fluid (Rosco or Panaclear) 
  • Multitool - Gerber or Leatherman are two of the preferred brands.
  • Torch, can be any but there is a lot of love for the Maglite in camera circles. 

Floor bags/boxes are built over time so don’t be in a rush to have it all. See what your colleagues use most, and invest when you’re ready. 

Thank You's

My First Job in Film would like to thank The Guild of British Camera Technicians for sharing their experience and giving up time to offer advice for this career guide. 

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