The lighting camera - man- woman
The essential role of the camera person is still fundamentally what it has always been, to provide a production with what has been planned for and to satisfy the clients requirements, ensuring that the picture content fulfils the brief.
On smaller (single handed jobs) the camera person may well be expected to cover a number of roles, director, sound recordist and production assistant. Or they might be in a much larger production team were they are also responsible for running the camera department. Ensuring the well being and safety of the team while also managing the working environment, whilst still stamping their creativity on the piece.
When deciding upon and planning the overall camera package (camera, light, grip and crew levels) careful consideration must be taken as to what the camera person has been asked or expected to deliver. A good place to start is, what is the end use for the piece. A well-funded feature film will be considerably different to a low budget viral Internet ad. One previewing on a cinema screen the other potentially on a mobile phone. You must remember that you will also probably not be the only person making the decisions. The director and the producer will have there own ideas as to what this package should contain. However it is the job of the camera person at this point to council his or her colleagues as to the best compromise to satisfy everybody’ s requirements.
Production is essentially a team effort were each member of the team has to play to their strengths. From the camera persons perspective the working relationship between them and the director is probably the most important. This relationship is always different as each director has there own approach. Some will have a very precise idea as to what each shot should be, down to the lighting composition and camera movement. Some will keep to a prearranged shot lists or storyboards. Others will concentrate solely on attaining the dramatic performance they want from their actors, allowing the camera person free range over picture content. Once the boundaries and responsibilities of this relationship have been established the business of planning the shoot can begin. In most cases there will be a shot list or storyboard, which will record in detail what each shot should contain. From this, a list of equipment and personnel can be drawn up. The storyboard may well not be followed to the letter, shots may be changed or substituted, but it is essentially what needs to be shot. This is normally were the constraints of budget begin to become apparent. There is no point in planning shots and equipment that a production simply cannot afford. Vice versa money is no real replacement for creativity and imagination.
Each shot within a scene or a sequence is there to move the story on, inform viewers or elicit a sense of time, place and emotion. In short every shot has meaning and should be treated equally where possible.
The camera person must also be able to communicate his or her ideas clearly and concisely. They must be able to compromise on occasion and hold their corner when necessary. They must always remember that they are part of a team. Be considerate to the needs of others within the production, who like themselves are trying to do their best.
The life of the camera person can be varied, fulfilling and exciting. It does however require determination and total commitment. There are constant developments in technology and delivery formats that must be understood, and incorporated into your working practices.
It is a continual learning curve that requires an appetite and love of the subject
Written By John Ragget - Professional Cinematographer