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Union DP operating


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#1 Seth Melnick

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Posted 11 September 2007 - 01:04 PM

I have heard that once you become a union DP you cannot operate the camera anymore - is this true and is it a hard and fast rule?
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 September 2007 - 01:47 PM

I have heard that once you become a union DP you cannot operate the camera anymore - is this true and is it a hard and fast rule?


It's no longer mandatory that an operator be hired on union shows. However, there was no restriction on the DP operating beforehand -- union DP's Roger Deakins and Robert Richardson are well-known for being their own operators -- just that you had the financial aspect of having to hire a standby operator. Sometimes that worked well if that standby person person was a Steadicam operator on a single-camera show.
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#3 Chris Keth

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Posted 11 September 2007 - 02:56 PM

Have you ever operated as well, David? I like to on the things I am doing now but I expect that, as I get to work on bigger and bigger shows, something will suffer and I'll probably have to give it up. Operating well really is a full-time job.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 04:33 AM

I shot about twenty features doing my own operating, but I prefer hiring a good operator -- it frees me up to deal with bigger issues on the set, especially if there are multiple cameras working. I've even had to leave the set after seeing the first few takes to start to set-up the next set with the Gaffer while they finished shooting.

Now, the only way I can see going back to operating my own features is something small and intimate, single-camera, where I wanted as small a crew as possible.
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#5 Paul M. Sommers

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 05:46 AM

Let me state for the record that I cam up operating A-cam and Steadi.

It's a really hard call. I often feel that I will respond to the scene in a much more personal way than an operator, but that said I am looking for very different things than an op. If the scene in in a confined spece and I want to be in there with the actors. I feel that I can take more chances, that an operator may be concerned about taking after a shot is "set". That said a good camera op can solve problems that arrise during lighting that a DP doesn't have time to deal with at the moment.

I just shot a film where i operated A-cam, even though I carried a full time B-cam crew. In retrospect I wish that i had an op on the job. It slowed me down and made it harder to communicate with the director ( we couldn't talk during takes). Had I had a op on A I think that the show would have been easier on me and we may have gotten a few more shots. Luckily we were shooting film, because when you shoot HD, the cocktial party forms around the monitor and the opinions fly from all comers. It is definately in the DP's best interest to be a part of all of those discussions.

Ultimately it is a personal choice. How do you want to work? I spend most of my time in the thick of things on the set, and only when the AD says "turn over" do I run back to the monitor. it seems to me (opinion for sure) that that is where I belong when shooting. I will continue to op the occaisional shot, but I want to have full staffing from now on.


I also agree wit David. For the right project, cramped spaces, with a director who is on set all the time I would operate again, but it would really have to be the right movie.

Filmaking is a team sport. If you have a good crew working with you, it is amazing how much better things turn out. Let's face it no one can be brilliant all the time. I can't tell you how often an operator(as well as my gaffer, key grip, dolly grip or AC) have saved my butt by making a good suggestion at the right momont.


Something else to take into consideration, Local 600 is being very stingy with granting the operator waiver. The leadership of our union is really trying to protect the position after the disaterous contract give aways. If we all start operating our own cameras i have a feeling that there will be a union backlash towards us. ( I felt it on my feature), as have a few of my friends.


Having operated for many years as A-cam, B-cam and Steadi, I find that it is hard to let go, because let's face it operating is a blast.

Paul Sommers
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#6 Seth Melnick

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 06:48 AM

thanks for all the replies

there is a little conflicting info here - If an operator is not required then do you need to get a waiver for that?
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#7 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 03:55 PM

If an operator is not required then do you need to get a waiver for that?

Yes. As I understand it, you're supposed to get it before the start of production.
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