Video Camera Operator
If you’ve got a passion for being behind the camera, but a love of live entertainment, you don’t have to give up one for the other. There are numerous opportunities for video camera operators to work in concert touring, traditional theater, theme parks, and sporting events.
As part of the video crew, the video camera operator is responsible for the operation of digital video cameras during a live performance, in addition to the maintenance and repair of related equipment. He or she may be one of several operators who work under the supervision of the video supervisor, stage manager, and technical director. During rehearsals, these technicians work closely with the projection designer to learn their show track and perfect blocking (if on stage), framing, and camera angles. When video is cued through a media server integrated with a show control system, the video camera operator will take direction from the stage manager over headset radio. If live video is fed to projection screens on the fly, he or she will take cues from the individual operating the video switcher. Another video technician to wrangle cables and ensure that the operator has a clear path will aid onstage operators. It is the video camera operator’s responsibility to keep cameras in proper working order, regularly clean equipment, and ensure that batteries are charged before show time. In preshow, the technician must also prep his or her camera, perform white balance, and check for signal continuity.
Skills & Education
In this position, you must be technically skilled in the operation of digital video cameras and have the artistic talent to frame attractive shots. Courses in photography are helpful in training your eye and learning the theoretical techniques common to both video and still photography. Classes in electrical engineering are useful, but at minimum, operators should have specific training in the use of video equipment. A college degree in video production or film is recommended, though not required. Hands-on experience is most valuable, and several high-quality digital camera models are available on the consumer market; you should invest in your own equipment and take advantage of the opportunity to experiment while you learn the finer points of video production. Experience in non-linear editing via software like Final Cut and Avid products is valuable, as is previous use of media servers and video switchers.
What to Expect
Among live production crews, the video camera operators are regularly heckled for being white-glovers, but it’s just jealousy that prompts scoffs from the riggers and lighting techs. It is true that video technicians generally have the least amount of equipment to set up, and tend to avoid most of the dirty work endured by the rest of the crew. However, video camera operators make up for taking an early lunch break during load-ins by being glued to their cameras during the performance, while others wait backstage or enjoy the show from the wings. Your shoulders will burn and your arms will go numb as you’re frozen in place waiting for your shot to cut to the next camera. (Spotlight operators feel your pain.) Practice will help train your muscles, and a steady diet of potassium will keep the shakes at bay while operating a handheld. Shaky-cam may be OK for the Bourne movies, but it isn’t appreciated at concerts and traditional theater.
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