A reader of the blog wrote to me with a few questions about working as a cameraman. I thought I would publish my answers here.
1) What is the most difficult part of your job?
This is easy to answer. It's the freelance juggling act. Jobs flow in, all of them will be "pencil bookings," unconfirmed jobs. Many of these jobs will overlap, some projects will be better than others. The hard part is choosing the best jobs for your career, and the jobs you think are most likely to actually happen. All of this has to be done without offending Producers and without messing up their schedules.
2) Whats more important, a creative mind or technical knowledge ?
On the whole, Producers and Directors are looking for a balance of both of these skills. On a larger project you may have an Assistant or a Gaffer and you can rely on these people for technical camera knowledge and lighting respectively. However, on a smaller project you will need to be technically savvy. Often people will look to you for technical knowledge, Researchers, Assistant Producers and even Directors are all now starting to self-shoot. They will often come to the DoP for help and technical advice.
Also, sometimes you could be shooting miles from anywhere with no tech support and no rental facilities. If you run into technical difficulties of any description, having someone that can step in and help will always be a plus to a Director.
3) How long do you spend on planning and preparation before going on set?
This one varies massively, depending on the job. Some jobs I might get a phone call the night before, I turn up on the shoot with almost no idea of what to expect. At the other end of the spectrum a Director might call me with an idea, or a potential shoot. Initial conversations might be about budget, equipment, logistics, or what can be achieved in the time available. This might go on for months, then one day the shoot happens several months after the initial conversation.
Reading this, you might think this is a lot of prep and forethought for a job that might not happen, and you'd be right. However, Directors are often in need of this support. Of course, they might have a Production Manager who can find out whether you can travel around Africa with a jib, or how much it costs to rent a certain bit of kit etc. The reason a Director might rely on a Cameraman for this kind of research is that you may already have experienced theses situations before. Years of travelling around filming things gives you experience and knowledge that can't always be looked up on the internet. It is this first hand knowledge is often vital in the early planning stages of a shoot.
4) How far does your degree take you when applying for jobs?
When getting work as a cameraman, it is your experience that counts, not your academic achievement. However, entry level positions such as Runners or Junior Researchers are always oversubscribed, so any advantage you might have over others is a good thing. Languages are often useful, as is specialist knowledge. If a programme is being made about and you studied Spanish and Ancient History at University, then you are more likely to get hired than the next person.
The connections you make at university might also be useful. If a director is looking for an Assistant Camera Operator and you happened to go to university with them, you will stand more of a chance than others.
This might sound unfair, and it is, but in film and TV the old adage about "it's not what you know, it's who you know" is very true. Think of if this way: the industry is based around trust. People are agreeing to pay for your skills, before you have proved your worth. For this to work, they need to trust you are good at what you do. People tend to trust people they know, or their colleagues know, over strangers.