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Working with camera operators


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#1 Jay Young

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Posted 16 July 2017 - 09:17 PM

Who calls the shots?

Im still trying to build my team, and i have several guys whom I have worked with for several years.

I ran into an issue where the camera operator called for a lens change without consulting or telling me.

I understand that the camera operator is there to execute and interpret my wishes and the directors pictorial vision.

I trust my operator, and I know he just wants to make the best image possible. However, I am interested in how others politically work with hired operators, and how much interpretation or decision making they, as Director of Photography, allow an operator.
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#2 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 16 July 2017 - 09:34 PM

I think it depends a bit more of the details..   did he/she call for a lens change to "show" you and the dir what it looks like .. or just unilaterally decided "this is the lens we will use"..  AFAIK the Dp would have the last say over the operator..and the op should tell the Dp they have put on another lens..  unless the dir is operating I guess :)


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#3 Jay Young

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Posted 17 July 2017 - 10:28 AM

Yeah, he just did it and didn't say anything to anyone.  I talked with him afterwards and everything is fine.  I was just wondering how others work with their trusted camera operators.


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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 17 July 2017 - 11:34 AM

Id say unless I've been working with the op for a long long long time, and really trust them, then that's not a good thing.. Recommend, ask, audition, but  don't just change lenses without telling (unless there is some circumstance where it's not possible at the time to tell).


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#5 Bruce Greene

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Posted 17 July 2017 - 01:10 PM

The operator needs to consult with the DP.  That said, a small adjustment on a zoom lens might not qualify if it's necessary to get the shot.  That said, I've worked with some crews as an operator where the choice of lens was up to me, so it all depends...


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#6 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 17 July 2017 - 01:13 PM

I was going to mention zooms, and when I've upp'd the slight pop in or out on a zoom has never been a problem (and wouldn't be with me either) though usually that conversation, on walkie, or in person would be a long the lines of "i think i could get a bit better if I x or y'd this lens, what do you think?" and the usual answer would be "go for it." with a "no" once in awhile for reasons which don't need to be explained because in that position, I am there to support the DoP and director.


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#7 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 17 July 2017 - 02:36 PM

I wouldn't expect an operator to change a lens without asking me first, although a minor change to a zoom lens would be ok.

 

Not entirely relevant to your situation, but it's worth mentioning that in other countries, the relationship between DP, Director, and Operator is different. In the UK, where I started out, an Operator has much more autonomy than here in the US.


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#8 AJ Young

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Posted 18 July 2017 - 11:36 PM

The best practice, in my opinion, is lean management.

 

Meet with your operator(s) during prep (or day of if that's the case) on the visual style of the project. Show them the references for composition, fill them in on how the project is expected to edit, and show them prior episodes if it's for TV/web/etc. Finally, create the culture of communication and develop an eager want to inform you when the operator deviates from the plan for a better option.

 

Clearly communicating with the operator essentially guides them to shoot like you would. Of course, there will be some differences, but guiding and inspiring them to take ownership of the job will give you the results you would've done yourself. It's a team effort when operators are involved and giving them something to care about (like a killer composition) will ultimately help you.

 

For example, if you've made it clear that you're aiming for a one-point perspective Kubrick style narrative, then they'll shoot it in that style. If you've said you want your wide shots to be done on an 100mm, then they'll do their best to do so.

 

Naturally, in the creative world, there has to be room for adjustments. There's nothing wrong with changing a lens from 35mm to 40mm; it's a marginal difference. Changing a lens from a 24mm to 85mm is a different case and should be communicated to you.

 

All that being said, the main unit DP calls the shots. Sometimes you need to put your foot down, other times you need to listen. It comes with experience, but using lean management and clear communication will prevent most butting of heads and egos.


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