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Becoming A Camera Trainee (UK)

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#1 Joshua Montoro - Bailes

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Posted 27 May 2017 - 01:51 PM

Hello everyone, 

 

I am a 3rd year film student studying Cinematography. The dream is to one day be a DOP for Film and Documentary, however, first I want to work my way up through the ranks of the camera department. I have undergone a number of weeks of work experience as a shadow camera trainee on 2 British TV shows. 

 

I was wondering if anyone has any advice on how to get work as a camera trainee in the UK? Or perhaps can offer me any work/work experience over summer as a trainee?

 

 

Cheers!

Josh Montoro


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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 28 May 2017 - 04:13 AM

There are trainee schemes around, some are regional, so if you live in or were born in a region with film or TV productions, you could try local film commission for information.In London

try here::

http://creativeskill..._camera_trainee

 

Needless to say, it's extremely competitive finding such a position.


Edited by Brian Drysdale, 28 May 2017 - 04:13 AM.

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#3 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 28 May 2017 - 04:39 AM

I'll copy and paste what I've said before.

 

Be aware that much of the advice you'll receive on this forum (not from Brian, though) will be from an American point of view and will not apply in London. The principal difference is simply that the volume of available work is several orders of magnitude larger there, the pay and conditions are far better, and it employs many, many more people. The single best thing you can do is leave and go to the US. If you can't get a work permit, and you probably can't, you're screwed.
 
Anyway, if you're stuck here, first things first: we really don't have a film industry. It's very unpopular to say this, because lots of people make a lot of money out of the illusion that one exists.
 
If you really do have your heart set on this, what you do now is determined largely by what field you want to work in. You sound like you want to be on feature film camera crews. Again I can only reiterate that this is so near to impossible that it makes no difference; just go to your local multiplex and ask for a list of films they've shown in the last year. Look at which of them are British or even made in the UK by an American company with an American cast and American crew in all the top slots, which you will therefore never achieve. Really it's like asking to be an astronaut on the basis that the UK doesn't have a space program.
 
Anyway, if you're still desperate to do it, either you go after an apprenticeship, which is practically impossible, or you sign up to the indie filmmakers mailing lists, which I really can't advise you do. Shooting People want money just to join the list, which is an example of someone in the UK making a living out of the illusion that we have a film industry. What you will find on these lists is dozens of unpaid jobs which are technically illegal but nobody seems interested in enforcing that rule. What you do is you do these jobs for eight or ten years until you realise that you will never work your way up, because there is nowhere to work your way up to.
 
You might, and this is a very, very slight chance, find yourself working on the next Blair Witch project, in which case great, but if you really want to spend the best ten or fifteen years of your life working for nothing on the off-chance that you are basically going to win the national lottery, that's your problem.
 
I should also point out that even if you do this, you will learn practically nothing because the sort of jobs you get from Shooting People are not the sort of "getting experience on set" jobs that our American colleagues often talk about. In LA there are dozens of films shot every year in the $500,000 sort of budget range which are a breeding ground for new crews; these films simply do not exist in London. There's stuff being shot in someone's bedroom with a crap camera, which is nothing like working a real set, and there is the next James Bond, which you won't get anywhere near for reasons I've already made clear. There is nothing inbetween and therefore there is no "working up". 
 
I hate to be the voice of doom in this but unfortunately someone has to do it before you waste an awful lot of time and money. The tattered remnants of the "British film industry" will soak you for time and money and the best years of your life and I would bet you a large amount of money you will be forced, financially, to give it up in less than ten years. Our American colleagues will disagree, but it's different for them: in the US, filmmaking is a legitimate business opportunity, whereas over here it's a fringe artform practised by a moneyed elite. 
 
That is the situation and it is not friendly.
 
Sorry, but it's true.
 
Phil

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#4 Dan Hasson

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Posted 28 May 2017 - 06:42 AM

Look for a job at a camera rental house. They usually require you to be 21 to be able to drive a van. You might be doing a lot of van driving at first. But you'll get to work and be familiar with all the cameras, lenses, lighting and grip gear. Also driving will get you familiar with London and all the studios/locations in it.


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#5 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 28 May 2017 - 07:31 AM

I've a funny feeling, Dan, that if anyone takes a job as a van driver at a rental place, he'll still be a van driver in ten years.

 

There is nowhere to move up to; it's dead man's boots, and people live a really long time these days.


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#6 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 28 May 2017 - 10:04 AM

You have get into a training scheme .. job at a rental.. and try to get friendly with all the AC,s who come in to check/get gear.. get on as loader through them.. personally I  got lucky hanging around a music video shoot in London years ago ,totally by chance.. carried some boxes.. was forced to be a extra .. and got work from the AC the next week.. its alot easier now than when you needed an Union (private club) card.. 

 

TBH you will be some lucky beak .. just depends how long that takes.. 


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#7 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 28 May 2017 - 11:03 AM

Robin, I really don't want to be impolite, but you did that in a very different era - presumably decades ago.

 

The situation is now wildly different. Production budgets are lower, camera gear is cheaper so more people have it, and horrifying mistreatment of new entrants is downright normal. I've known people who were "runners" or "interns" or "trainees" for three or four years for effectively no money, and finally gave it up as a bad job.

 

It is far from easier. At least then you got a clear indication whether they wanted you.

 

People need to be crystal clear on what the prospects for success actually are. Most people see themselves being part of camera crews on single-camera drama. There are probably two or three hundred people in the UK who actually do that sort of work regularly, and each of them will be working less than they'd like. The number of those people who retire or otherwise leave the industry every year is limited to the dozens, and all of them will already have junior people waiting to replace them.

 

The actual number of openings is probably half a dozen a year if that.

 

Joshua, I know that a lot of this information will be new to you. Unfortunately, the universities and colleges tend not to make this situation very clear when they're booking people onto courses. There are more people in film school in the UK at any time than there are in the film industry itself. We graduate enough film students every summer to more than fill every job in the industry.

 

They never tell you that...

 

P


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#8 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 28 May 2017 - 12:03 PM

As Robin mentioned in the past you needed an ACTT card to get a job; that could take years to get, even if you were already working in the industry, it was always tough so you needed an element of being in the right place at the right time.

 

Most of the UK work is in TV rather than film production, so that could be the place to start, The BBC has training schemes, and those would be easier to get into than being a camera trainee on features,


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#9 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 28 May 2017 - 05:30 PM

One of those four year trainees/interns/runners/whatevers was at the BBC...

 

...and it took months of effort and a personal contact to even get that position.

 

I wouldn't bother.


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#10 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 28 May 2017 - 07:39 PM

Phil yes that was a while ago !.. but the ACTT ticket "problem" was possibly as big a hurdle as the less amount of work around today.. i.e. you couldn't work on anything ! (dont get me wrong,Im all for unions, but ones that actually let people join them !)... 

 

Yeah Im not talking about walking into high end shoots in Pinewood.. Im talking about TV,corp, anything that you can get into to begin with.. 

 

No denying its tough... but it always was.. there was pretty much no corp video industry 15 yrs ago.. and the field has expanded hugely .. you have to get a break.. or put some time limit on how long you will try .. I guess.. bit of a tangent but just read a very interesting article.. basically saying every successful person in any field .. the over riding factor in their success, over others with the same abilities, is just having been lucky as some crucial point... I believe this to be true.. the DP,s I had assisted who became "name" DP,s all had one lucky break in their careers ,plus the ability to take advantage of it.. but there were plenty of others of the same ability who just didnt get that break .. 


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#11 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 28 May 2017 - 07:51 PM

It's absolutely true, and often denied by people who struggle with the idea that their success is down to anything but exquisite skill.

For anyone daft enough to go ahead after all this, yes, a time limit is a very good idea. It might be interesting to discuss what sort of goals we could suggest and an appropriate timescale for achieving them -or more to the point not achieving them.

As to corporates that was my start - actually about fifteen years ago, coincidentally. They can be well paid but are very dull. The union doesn't care about corporates, despite the fact that there are more people doing it than any other type of camerawork and the clients can be very picky.
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#12 Keith Walters

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Posted 28 May 2017 - 09:29 PM

Like Phil, I've also said this numerous times before, and I'm not popular for saying this either.

Have you actually gone out and tried to produce something? As in, write a script, turn it in to a shooting script, work out which shots are to be shot where, and how? Not something spoon-fed to you by a college, but off your own bat? 

The excuse for not doing this used to be the equipment cost, but nowadays just about all stills cameras shoot perfectly good 1080p video that's going to be more than good enough to demonstrate your expertise with the 90% or so of film production that's not specifically camera-related....

If you haven't done that (and an infuriatingly large percentage of hopefuls like yourself coming on here haven't) then you've got more chance of being hit by a meteorite than landing a job in this industry....

Surprisingly, an often overlooked way of picking up the necessary know-how  is to get a job in some field that's not actually shooting-related, such as set building or even catering! Simply getting on a set and watching what they do can be very instructive, and you are more likely to be paid for it!


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#13 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 29 May 2017 - 01:48 AM

As to corporates that was my start - actually about fifteen years ago, coincidentally. They can be well paid but are very dull. The union doesn't care about corporates, despite the fact that there are more people doing it than any other type of camerawork and the clients can be very picky.

 

A lot of broadcast television work can be dull, even through mid to higher end corporates can  be equally or  more demanding in skills than much broadcast work. If you want to move into another area, you need to build up your contacts in that area and it may involve initially working in a lower grade.     


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#14 Dan Hasson

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Posted 29 May 2017 - 03:42 AM

I get you can still be a van driver for a while Phil. But its about the person. Like Robin says, meet the AC's get in there. Its all about personality. Also if not that, then start as a runner. I've been doing running work for a while now but have managed to get myself on jobs as clapper loader. Just got to get friendly with people and hopefully they trust you enough to work in the camera department. 

 

The van driving thing has worked for a few of my friends who are now 2nd & 1st AC's. You are right though, you might be a van driver for a long time, but like I said, its about what you're like as a person and the people you meet.


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#15 Joshua Montoro - Bailes

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Posted 29 May 2017 - 06:34 AM

Hey guys, 

 

Thanks a lot for taking the time to reply. Some really useful information there! i will keep chipping away at it all and try get myself a job at a rental company, I have always been attracted to the idea of driving a van to be honest! I do make my own films and will keep doing so. 

 

I really appreciate the feedback 

 

Cheers 

 

Josh


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#16 Dan Hasson

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Posted 29 May 2017 - 08:17 AM

 I have always been attracted to the idea of driving a van to be honest! I do make my own films and will keep doing so. 

I'm not sure how old you are, but just a little heads up that you usually have to be 21+ to be able to drive the rental companies vans.


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#17 James Malamatinas

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Posted 03 June 2017 - 08:32 AM

I'm a working 2nd AC in London so hopefully my thoughts might be relevant and useful.

Like people above have said it can be a difficult industry to get into, especially if you're aiming to work on the large Hollywood features where there is a lot of nepotism (which I don't use necessarily as a criticism, with the risks and responsibilities involved using people you know and trust can be vital - another discussion though!). Having said that, there are lots of opportunities and I'll offer some advice below:

Try the trainee schemes, there are a few useful ones including:

​- GBCT (https://www.gbct.org/trainees) next intake January 2019 with applications beginning next summer.
​- Sarah Putt (http://www.saraputt....trainee-scheme/) next applications open end of 2017
​- Creative Skillset as linked to above. 

​These are competitive, but they are worthwhile if you get selected.

​Next try rental houses as mentioned above. You may have to spend a couple of years there but the information you gather, especially learning gear inside and out (including film), and the people you meet will be invaluable. I know a number of people who have worked from receiving to the camera floor and then out on to shoots, in fact I have two such people I am trying to get on jobs as my trainee if the opportunity comes up.

The two largest rental houses are Panavision and Arri and both often offer work experience if you call, email or visit them to get your name on the list. 

​Being a driver may work since you get to meet a lot of camera crew, especially on longer for jobs, however the success ratio is probably lower. 

​Outside of the above there are other options;
 
  • ​​Use IMDb, The Knowledge, Kay's to get a good understanding of which assistants are working currently and who is doing the kind of work you want to go into. From there try and get in contact via email, you will get a lot of rejections however you will also get useful advice and possibly more.  
  • ​Try My First Job In Film (https://www.myfirstjobinfilm.co.uk/), this is  highly​ competitive however the opportunities they have are often very good quality. 
  • Network; a looked down upon term but finding and attending events like the BSC show, Panafest, Camerimage and so forth allow you to meet more people directly involved in the camera department and those potentially open doors.

 

Finally, you can go the unorthodox route that I did and use sites such as FilmCrewPro, Shooting People and Mandy to get yourself onto expenses only, or low budget work and slowly work your way onto larger productions. On these jobs you will get opportunities to work hands-on with gear and learn how sets work, HOWEVER the downside is that if you are not careful you can learn very bad habits and it can take longer. I was lucky enough to work with someone on such a job who had been a very experienced, feature film 2nd AC who was stepping down to 1st AC who then took me under their wing, if I hadn't had such a break I think it would have taken a lot longer to progress. The other downside is that you will struggle to earn money on such jobs so unless you have alternative income you might find it hard to do this for prolonged periods.

​Hope some of this helps and feel free to email or DM me at any point. 

 

 







 

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#18 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 03 June 2017 - 05:39 PM

Honestly, I really wouldn't do the microbudget thing.

 

That said, I'd be slightly cautious about referring to the techniques that are used on those shows as "bad habits." Those bad habits are how most of the filmmaking that actually happens in the UK, or in fact anywhere in the world, is actually done. Certainly, the approaches of microbudget filmmaking only map irregularly onto those of the high end, but that doesn't make those techniques bad. That's especially so if you're the director of photography, and you can light your shots any damn way you please and it's up to the crew to keep up with you.

 

They might not like the fact that you're using B&Q work lights, and they might consider you a bit of a weirdo, but that's really not your problem as long as the stuff looks OK.

 

That said, in the UK your chances of moving from the microbudget world to a place where you can actually make a living are effectively zero. In the US, people do that. Here, it's practically unheardof and that difference needs to be recognised. It often isn't, when people give careers advice.

 

P


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#19 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 03 June 2017 - 06:46 PM

I started out by working as a Video camera assistant, basically labelling tapes, plugging in the monitor, and helping with lighting on PSC shoots for the BBC and ITV networks. I got work through a crewing agency which I joined a few months after leaving college. After a year or so, I went to film school, and learned how to load film and assist on film shoots. While there, I was lucky enough to get a job as camera trainee on a movie called Brassed Off, which was shooting near Sheffield, where I lived. Getting 35mm experience made me something of a rarity among assistants in the north of England at the time, and so I joined another crewing agency in that region, as well as getting work through the local film commission, and for a couple of years was pretty busy with TV and commercials. Eventually, I wanted to step up to camera work myself, so I moved back to Bristol, and started working as a camera operator.

 

The industry has changed a lot since then, and this type of path might not be practical any more, but opportunities do exist. I do disagree with Phil as to his assessment of the industry, but he is right in saying that it is highly competitive, and only a very few people will succeed.

 

You don't say where you are in the UK, but I can tell you that the BBC Drama dept in Cardiff hires trainees on a semi regular basis for shows like Casualty and Dr. Who. They do it to avoid having to pay full rates for a 2nd AC, but hey, it's an opening.


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#20 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 03 June 2017 - 08:56 PM

Ha, you disagree? Then come back here and try working in it!
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