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Expectations on Set


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#1 Michael Wilson

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Posted 01 September 2010 - 05:14 PM

I'm getting better and more experienced at steadicam and am getting more work. Over the past year I have been working mostly with a production company as a camera/steadicam operator. These guys are my friends and we have a good working relationship on set. I have some interest coming in for operating on some bigger stuff and am wondering about some of the on set expectations and etiquette.

Do dp's and directors expect you to nail the shot every take?

For more intricate stuff its usually a rehearsal and a take or two or three for myself and the actors to work out the timing and blocking so we can get the shot. Sometimes we get a great take on the first or second go. I feel like I have really stepped up my game a lot but would like to hear what sort of expectations I need to be aware of on sets where the director and dp aren't my good friends.

Sometimes I beat myself up over a bump or a half second of bad horizon which doesn't seem to bother the dp and director.
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#2 William Demeritt

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Posted 01 September 2010 - 10:10 PM

I usually approach it with the attitude that I want every shot to be the very best I can give them, because every performance may not be what they want. So, basically, yes: DP's and directors expect you to nail it on every shot. Whether you do or not is another matter, but the more good takes for camera, the happier they'll be when their good performance happens during one of those good takes.
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#3 Eric Fletcher S.O.C.

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Posted 02 September 2010 - 12:32 AM

I'm getting better and more experienced at steadicam and am getting more work. Over the past year I have been working mostly with a production company as a camera/steadicam operator. These guys are my friends and we have a good working relationship on set. I have some interest coming in for operating on some bigger stuff and am wondering about some of the on set expectations and etiquette.

Do dp's and directors expect you to nail the shot every take?

For more intricate stuff its usually a rehearsal and a take or two or three for myself and the actors to work out the timing and blocking so we can get the shot. Sometimes we get a great take on the first or second go. I feel like I have really stepped up my game a lot but would like to hear what sort of expectations I need to be aware of on sets where the director and dp aren't my good friends.

Sometimes I beat myself up over a bump or a half second of bad horizon which doesn't seem to bother the dp and director.



First off what sort of work are you doing now and what sort of work are you asking about?

Do Directors and DP's (and for that matter Producers and Actors) expect me to nail the shot on the first take? Hell yes, that's what I'm getting the big rate for. You get maybe two rehearsals with First team (the actors) Then a few with second team and then it's showtime, time to step up and be the hero.

When you have an number 1 doing a highly emotional scene laying it all on the line, you better be able to be there and keep up with them.

A bump or bad horizon? instant death with some DP's and Directors

I'm doing two shows right now, both Emmy nominated, both number 1 on their networks, I bring my "A" Game everyday or I won't be doing those two shows... And everyone there happens to be my friends...
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#4 Charles Papert

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Posted 02 September 2010 - 02:37 AM

A bump or bad horizon? instant death with some DP's and Directors


...and amazingly, completely off radar to other DP's and directors, who don't seem to notice or really care. Maybe it has something to do with the handheld/shakeycam vibe that we are still somewhat plagued by these days.
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#5 Mike Marriage

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Posted 02 September 2010 - 04:41 AM

...and amazingly, completely off radar to other DP's and directors...


and music video editors who cut in deliberate repositions and adjustments! Oh well!

I had a similar worry a few weeks back after a day consisting of a series of long (5-10 min) takes. It was a cribs style building tour with presenters. I could feel the fatigue at the end of the day and was beating myself up about it although the director seemed very happy. I'm in good shape physically but do you guys find that your operating suffers on such extended shots? Do you mention it to the director/DP or keep quiet? Do you point out your own errors? I am a compulsive self critic which maybe isn't always the best plan but I'd rather they realized on set instead of in the edit.
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#6 Michael Wilson

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Posted 02 September 2010 - 07:42 PM

I have done a couple music videos, one of which made a pretty big splash. Doing corporate doc stuff, shorts, and web series type stuff. The mistakes I'm talking about are more slight bumps or slight mistakes that I could obsess over all day when in actuality are more acceptable than I think. Of course we all want absolute perfection when our shots are on the screen. I am not trying to make an excuse for mediocrity because I'm quite proud of the progress I'm making. I want to be able to rise to the expectations and become as professional as possible.

From time to time I see some bumps, horizon correction and bad settles that surprise me on big budget stuff.

Edited by Michael Wilson, 02 September 2010 - 07:43 PM.

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#7 Charles Papert

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Posted 02 September 2010 - 08:01 PM

From time to time I see some bumps, horizon correction and bad settles that surprise me on big budget stuff.


Hmm, yes, well; we all have our bad takes, and unfortunately sometimes they get left in for performance reasons. As you indicated, generally we are our own worst critics and that's the way it should be, within reason. No use getting all "in your head" because of a little flub--just move on and do it better next time. The age-old wisdom is that you want to come off as being positive so when the director says "cut! how was that for you?" the response should be an enthuasiastic thumbs up, possibly followed by a calm explanation of where the issues lay. Much better than making a sour face and announcing that it sucked, or kicking an apple box around the set in frustration.

Having reasonable expectations of your own work, knowing which operators you'd like to emulate and where your skill level fits in with others and what you need to practice to get better; this is a healthy outlook as far as I'm concerned. Of course, we have plenty of egotists in our little specialty (just like elsewhere in the industry) who would never admit that their work is anything less than stellar, but that's their problem--unless you get stuck sitting next to them at the bar!
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#8 Lars Erik

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Posted 03 September 2010 - 01:25 PM

I can see off horizons in most major Hollywood features. They usually come in a turn into another room, or when the op follows a talent and goes round the talent, either 90 degrees or 180. It happens to most ops I guess. I can only guess, as Charles says, they use the clip due to performance reasons. Personally I hate bookshelves, they're a dead give-away of your horizon is off. :angry:

The thing that will kill you, and kill you quickly, is bad compositions. Either too much headroom or too little, whatever it is, the DP will get frustrated if you forget to compose the frame. I think this is the worst a operator can do wrong.

Mike; of course long takes will cut into your operating. I've had my share of those, and my best advice is to keep yourself fit, get lots of water, and try to stay focused on your breathing. It helps me.
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#9 PeterAbraham

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 06:36 PM

The thing that will kill you, and kill you quickly, is bad compositions. Either too much headroom or too little, whatever it is, the DP will get frustrated if you forget to compose the frame. I think this is the worst a operator can do wrong.


I'm very much in this camp. While we all want to deliver extremely fine Operational skills moment to moment, it is possible to be slightly off in terms of something technical, yet deliver a stunning photograph. One that elevates the moment and does not detract from the moment.

One can be a brilliant Suzuki technician and leave the D.P. completely disinterested in the shot. Or, one can make photographs that engage.

My two cents. :)

Having thrown them in, I will readily agree that if you don't Show Up every day, on every shot, you shouldn't' show up at all.

Peter Abraham
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