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or what you're mum would have told you, if she'd been a camerawoman.

by Christina Fox

Dear Christina

I am a third year University Student studying Media and Communication at the University of Central England in Birmingham. I found your email address from the Guild of Television Cameramen website. I am specialising in Television Studio and for one of my final modules our task is to produce a 15 minute live programme. Our module group have decided to produce a 'whats on night-life guide' around Birmingham. My job in this production is VT Cameraperson. We have chosen our locations and are allowed to pre-film the VT inserts. Although I know how to use the camera, I would be very grateful if you could possibly give me any advice or tips that would help me when it comes to the filming day next Tuesday.

Yours Faithfully Helen

Hi Helen

I must admit I was a bit flummoxed by your request for tips. It is difficult to give advice to someone when you don't know how much they already know. So, my apologies if some of this seems really obvious...

  • Before you go on the shoot check ALL your kit works. Switch on the camera and record something, anything. Then play it back.
  • If your camera can generate colour bars record 1 minute of bars at the start of the tape. The first minute of tape is the most likely place for damage - so, you don't want anything important on those first 60 seconds.
  • Make sure you have enough batteries - all fully charged.
  • Also make sure you have plenty of tape.
  • Take a tripod - I know there is a fashion for wobbly camerawork at the moment. (I'm in the camp that hated The Blair Witch Project). But if you look at high quality programmes you'll see that invariably the camera operator has used a tripod (or some type of camera mount). Good moving shots invariably involve dollies, cranes or steadicams. They take a long time to learn how to use them well.
  • Talk to the director BEFORE you go on the shoot. What style of programme are you going to make? For example look at the BBC's Casualty and the US version ER. Both are about what happens in a hospital emergency room - both shot completely differently. Style matters - know how you want your programme to look and be consistent throughout.
  • If you have someone else to do the sound - tell them what you and the director have decided. No one ever talks to the sound recordist. I know, I've spent time as a Sound Recordist and Camerawoman. Remember great pictures are worthless without sound.
  • Make sure someone checks the sound levels and the sound quality. Just looking at the meter waggling tells you you're recording sound - but is it good quality sound? Put on a pair of headphones and check.
  • Don't get zoomitis! Use the zoom to frame the shot and eliminate distracting bits of the background/foreground. Use it only occasionally as a camera move. I never saw a zoom make a boring shot interesting. Frame up a good static shot and let the subject provide the action.
  • Ditto for panning and tilting.
  • If you must zoom hold the opening shot for 10 seconds - do the zoom - hold the end of the shot for 10 seconds. Now you have three shots for the price of one. It will only take you a little extra time to do this. But, I'll bet the editor uses the static shots because your zoom will be too long, or too short, or too wobbly, or a zoom in when what would have been great would be a zoom out, etc., etc.
  • Ditto for panning and tilting!
  • Good editors will never edit into or away from a shot that is moving. (Watch an episode of NYPD Blue to see how much Steven Bochco disagrees with me on this one!) So, don't zoom during an interview when the subject is speaking. If you must change shot size do it when the questions are being asked.
  • generally - zooming in tells the audience that this is something you want them to pay attention to. Zooming out is to reveal more of the scene.
  • If you are going to cut a piece to music you will need four times as many shots as you think you do. Cutting on the beat to music, eats up shots in the edit suite.
  • If there is music playing on location - record a wildtrack. i.e. just record the music (for at least 60 seconds) - your editor can use it later to cover over any edits they may have to do.
  • Similarly, shoot plenty of cutaways. Remember any piece you shoot will have to be edited to make time contract. Shots of related items (e.g. the audience at a gig) will give the editor material to use to paper over their edits. Every editor will tell you that camera operators never do enough cutaways.
  • Finally the best advice I was given was K.I.S.S or Keep It Simple Stupid.

I hope this helps, good luck with the shoot


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Dear Christina,

Thank you very much for your email reply. The hints and tips that you gave me helped a lot. The filming day went great and we had no major hick-ups.

Thanks again. Helen

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Christina Fox