Hi All

I wanted to check you opinion on something. It is a trend in the motion picture industry that DOP's are operating there cameras themselves but why do we have Camera Operators?

In my opinion a DOP is a the person in charge of the look and feel of production, but is also in charge of the entire camera department. On some production you have multiple cameras A, B, C so a lot to take care of with a big responsibility. So I wonder why most DOP's want to operate themselves instead of putting a Camera Operator in the line of fire.



  • It really all comes down to the show. Many productions are skeleton crews of 4-6 people: Field Producer, DoP, Audio, PA, and maybe another Operator or Grip/AC. This is often true of Reality, Documentary and small Corporate gigs. In this case, the DoP is operating for the sake of economy, speed and pragmatism. Many DoP's can't handle this many hats--it's often a matter of how you were trained and what your expectations are.

    For larger shoots like agency commercials, features, large-scale multi-cam shows, sitcoms, etc., some DoP's simply operates out of creative preference--they want full control of the shot. In these cases "operating" is usually in a very specific context. They don't build, manage, or really even touch the camera until it's almost time to roll. They spend most of their time doing what you mentioned--coordinating with gaffer, other operators, dolly grip, etc. Then, just before calling action, an AC throws the rig on their shoulder and they do the scene, as soon as the AD calls cut, they hand the camera off and walk away to deal with the rest of their responsibilities. But they still credit the DoP as an operator.

    Of course, I'm making broad generalizations, there are tons of DoP's out there with their own preferences. Unlike the previous generation of cinema, modern DoP's tend to just disregard the rules so there are infinite workflow's out there. Usually this is a good thing. Unfortunately, there are also many Production Managers, Producers, and Agency heads that also ignore the rules and preferences of production teams for the sake of cost and presumption. This will force DoP's to adapt and come up with solutions that often hurt the overall outcome of the show...

    So, ya know...double edged sword and all... :smile:

  • I agree with Stephen, it comes down to the individual production.
    I love operating the camera so I enjoy the jobs where I am just a "hired gun" and not the DoP.
    I also like running the show and when it's a big show having a good crew of Operators and Assistants is a necessity.
    The main show that I shoot (we're in production of our 11th season) has a very small crew. Our set is lit and we work Key, Fill & specials for individual shots with a verite style. This same style follows us out into location shooting, with a very documentary feel which has me as PM, Videographer, Audio, etc . . . and my other crewman is an Operator, Grip/Electric, Audio, PA, etc . . .
    Budget and style driven.
    Thus the operating on this show has a very organic feel, even if we plan out a shot and rehearse, it's always evolving.
    Living the dream!

  • Agree with R. Mark and Stephen, above:

    In my own experience, I have found that Budget and Union / Non-Union status plays a big part of the decision, which often out of my hands.

    I have, almost always, been the A - Op on projects I'm hired to DP- to point of it being expected by EP's , LP's and clients that hire me. I did have the chance to be more a lighting DP on a premium cable pilot I shot a few years ago and it was tremendously liberating in ways I couldn't have understand until I was there... Largely, Issues dealing with efficiency and more "Big Picture" sort of brush strokes. I think that no matter how good you are, something is going to be compromised if you have to jump to a more myopic view as Camera Op when the team is ready to roll.

    It can certainly be made to work when you need it to, but I caution that you should know the practical limitations and be ready to manage expectations accordingly.

  • I've done both, and I think both have advantages. When I'm not operating, I still maintain control of the framing and the final image because it's my job, but I only work with operators that I know that I can trust... and they have creative input as well. Sometimes they find something better than I anticipated, and it also means that I have more freedom to do the rest of my job, which on indie films also tends to include getting the sound person sorted out, since so many indie productions think that "sound recordist" = guy who holds the boom pole.
    Just like so many indies think that "DoP" equals "guy who brought the camera and knows how to turn it on" rather than the person who directs the photography.

  • Kevin:
    On run&gun stuff, the Dp's operating style is unique to him/her, so they will operate. On large shows, the DP needs to be thinking about the look and about the NEXT shot or location. Hence the operator.

  • I was once brought late onto a show that already had a camera operator in place, I half knew the guy so i thought I'd keep him in his position. (I prefer to operate on everything I shoot) Throughout the takes, even though we had 0 issue communicating and things look great, I kind of just sat there watching... Seemed pretty boring. For me, camera operators don't make sense except for a job that may require multi-camera shooting.

  • Franz, if there's no lighting to do or tweak between takes or to supervise on the next set, it could get boring for the DP.

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