So what does a television camera operator do and how do you get to become one? It is still quite a male-dominated area of television – mainly because lugging cameras around can be back-breaking (and I meant that literally – I know several cameraman with bad backs as a result of their work but they started work in the days before Health and Safety, lightweight cameras and before we all learnt lessons on how to protect the back when carrying heavy equipment!). But things change and Elizabeth Lanceman is not unusual in being a female camera person.
Elizabeth kindly agreed to write about her experience:
“I always wanted to work in TV or Radio but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I went to college and did a Media BTEC and in the second year, when I was about 16 or 17, a few of us were given work experience at Leavesden Studios (now owned by Warner Bros and based in Hertfordshire).
Instead of making cups of tea we were put with the camera crew and helped them out cable bashing (following the camera man and making sure the cables are not in the way – more involved than it sounds). I loved the job so much and didn’t realise at the time that the crew I was working with were some of the best in the business. I stayed in touch with them and got myself on a few other shows, always working for free and trying to learn all I could.
After college I went to Salford University where I did TV and Radio Production, choosing all the TV modules. I still stayed in touch with the camera guys and if they came up to Manchester to do a job I would try and get on it.
To be honest I don’t think a degree is all that important in this job, I’m pleased I have it and had the best three years ever, but you will learn more on the job in one day than at University.
After finishing my degree I got a job in Manchester in Shopping TV and on my days off would Assist at Granada on Coronation Street. Soon after I got an Assistants job on ITV’s daytime show, This Morning so moved back to London. I was here a few years and worked my way up to an Operator. After a while I left to go freelance.
I now get all sorts of work. I have just finished doing a stint on football, Match Of The Day style but for Al Jazeera. I did the last series of Million Pound Drop – it’s a great variety and that’s what I love, but Light Entertainment is the genre I work in. I’ve never really gone down the PSC route (Portable Single Camera) which is where you have one camera on a shoot – think news or a reporter out on their own with just a Camera Op and Sound Guy. I prefer the Multi Camera jobs.
On a job each camera will have its own job depending on what lens it has, if it’s hand held, on a pedestal or a crane and its position in the studio. Some will get singles of the cast/presenters/guest, others two shots or three shots, depending how many people there are in front of the camera. Cameras with wider lenses will get the group shots or big studio shots but it all depends on the production. The Director will call you to get what he wants but you also need to use your initiative and follow what’s going on and offer shots as well. This does mean not only listening to your talkback but at the same time what’s going on on set – this can take a while to learn to do.
So far in my career I’ve never found being a girl a problem, there’s lots of us camera girls now and luckily we all get on really well. Some have said to me that they think it’s easier for the men to move up from Assistant to Operator and that the Operator girls don’t work as often, but I can’t say that I’ve found that.
Working in TV is hard work, the hours can be long and it can be quite stressful at times, but I wouldn’t swap it for the world”.
Thank you, Elizabeth. If you want more information on jobs in the camera department of television then check out the Skillset site: http://www.skillset.org/film/jobs/camera/article_4688_1.asp and if you don’t want to miss future posts then you can subscribe to the blog by email (top right of screen).