Studio Camera Operator

  • Studio Camera Operator

The production process for many television programs is quite different from film, and the same is true for the work of a camera operator. A cameraperson employed on programs like Dateline or The Daily Show has a unique skill set and is specifically trained in the method of recording studio television broadcasts.


Duties

Studio camera operators control cameras mounted on pedestals that typically remain in fixed positions. These technicians work on sports television, news broadcasts, game shows, and similar programs that are recorded in a television studio. Studio camera operators, in what is called a multi-camera setup, record some sitcoms; this is where three or four stationary cameras are positioned across the front of the set to capture different angles, as well as wide shots and close-ups. Examples of multi-camera sitcoms include Seinfeld and Friends. Films and television dramas are shot as single-camera set-ups, even those that use more than one camera, because they do not follow the fixed multi-camera format.

In the pre-show rehearsal for a broadcast, a studio director and assistant director give instruction to the studio camera operators concerning the shots and angles each technician should capture. Rehearsals will include blocking notes that help the camera operator anticipate the talents’ movements on set. In scripted television, like a sitcom, each operator will have an assigned track based on the script and the position of the camera. Live broadcasts, like news programs, talk shows, and game shows, do have a script, but may follow a rougher outline that allows for live switching between camera feeds, depending on the changing circumstances of the program. The studio camera operator receives auditory cues from the director via a radio headset; a cue light on the camera indicates to the technician and talent on set that the camera feed is active.

Studio camera operators are responsible for ensuring that their equipment is in proper working order before a broadcast or taped session and that they are familiar with their show track. At all times, these individuals must be attentive to the cues from the director and to the action on set. In live television production, it is especially important to always be cognizant of what is happening on set, so as to be prepared to immediately respond to pick-up shots as ordered. Operators are generally not accountable for repair or maintenance of studio cameras; this duty belongs to a resident studio technician.

Skills & Education

A college degree in film and television production is recommended for this career, as the camera operator must be familiar with the production process, as well as the use of studio equipment. Though most studio camerapersons will not be required to repair gear, it is useful to be trained in troubleshooting malfunctions to the component level. Specifically, technicians must be experienced in the use of studio cameras and must understand the method of multi-camera recording. Courses and degree programs focused on broadcast television or new programming are also beneficial. All camera operators should be knowledgeable about the use of focal length, lighting for film and video, and the prevailing wisdom on how to properly frame shots—there are several different standard shots that a cameraperson is expected to master. Additional experience in video editing is helpful but not required.

What to Expect

One benefit to operating a stationary camera on a pedestal is that the technician is not burdened by the weight of a handheld camera (usually riding on the shoulder), and there is little need for concern about a shaky picture. However, even with weight balancing, tilting, and panning the camera does require strength. After several hours at the controls, muscle fatigue does set it, and operating a studio camera can become very uncomfortable. Like a spotlight, small movements by the operator cause exponentially larger shifts of picture, therefore operators must get used to making minute adjustments, using a light touch. Operating a camera takes practice and finesse. Employment prospects include work with television production companies that produce game shows, talk shows, or sitcoms, as well as local and national broadcast news stations. For programs or series that run on a regular, long-term basis, employment is usually full-time and permanent. Those that run temporarily or on a limited basis tend to hire freelancers on contract for a specified period. Studio camera operators are eligible for membership in IATSE, the union that represents artists and technicians in the entertainment industry.

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