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William L Christensen

DP & Steadicam? Do's and Don'ts

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Hey everyone. 

First time posting; really appreciate all of the incredible insight and generosity amongst the members of this forum. Question; I'm seriously considering taking up steadicam operating, and was curious if I should be wary of branding myself as both a DP and an Operator. I've been told that if I pursue operating, I might be shooting myself in the foot if a DP I was working for knew I was shooting as well. Looking for success and horror stories to be honest. 

 

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Hi William,

Welcome!

When you say operator, do you mean camera operator, or Steadicam operator only? You'd be selling yourself short to only focus on Steadicam if you want to be a camera operator; Steadicam is a phenomenal instrument, and incredibly useful - when it's the right tool for the job. Some shots are better achieved (or more safely achieved) another way. It's part of your job as an operator to decide how to get the shot. 

To answer your question - I think it depends on your market, and what types of jobs you're seeking, both as a DP and as an operator. I've seen people successfully do both in smaller markets, though I do think it's more difficult to do both in a larger sphere on larger jobs. In the union world, DP and operator are two separate jobs, and once you change your card you can't do the other job on a union show (with some exceptions). It seems there's more fluidity between operating and DPing from a hiring standpoint, so you may not encounter the same marketing struggle people face when moving from ACing to operating. 

Good luck!

Lisa

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I´ve had the same dilemma and recently made up my mind...
I have always love operating camera more than anything else, to be honest...and in my mind, coming from film school I thought the only way to operate camera, was to be a DP. And that could be true depending on the market, like Lisa says...

But the more I worked, the more I realised that it was possible to pursue a career as a Camera Operator (always from the point of view of someone who is NOT in the states or in any union, sadly) It is my biggest desire to establish Camera Operating as an independent rol from the DP/Cinematographer...and that is sloooooowly happening here in Mexico at least, due to the proliferation of "TV Shows" (some are streaming, some are "normal" TV...some are really good projects, and some are "modern soup operas")...because they usually shoot those with 2 cameras...and more and more the DP is asked to stay on the monitors and have 2 Camera Ops...if not, its just a B-Cam Op that is needed. I always try to be that guy they call to just operate camera. Also, some DPs are being honest with themselves and saying if operating isn´t their strong point...for example, if I were to DP/Operate something, I would heavily rely on my gaffer...some DPs do the same with a Camera Operator (remember, always talking from a place that has no distinction, union-wise....well, no union at all) to the point that Ive been called to operate camera on a feature recently, where the DP did not touch the camera at all...That meant a lot to me, first because of the trust, and second because I know that in the head of the production people that meant 2 salaries...and they usually tackle those 2 with a DP/Operator...

This brought 2 new things...The good thing is that there is more and more space for a Camera Op to just do that, operate camera...and the bad thing is that there are some people that call themselves operators and they are no such thing...from framing, to executing, to proposing, to problem-solving...they just dont do the job...they just HOLD the camera (and this was also affected by the proliferation of gimbals...where an "operator" walks with the gimbal and the DP operates with wheels, mimic or whatever...)

So...I am still fighting to get Camera Operators the place and recognition we deserve as an independent rol...and I call myself a Camera Operator...Be it a fuid head, geared head, handheld, gimbal...and now, recently, steadicam. I am starting out as a steadicam operator...and would like to add that to my repertoire...and just like Lisa says, decide what is the best support for this particular shot? And then operate camera on that...shoulder, sticks, steadicam or whatever the camera needs to be on...

Also, being honest with myself...I KNOW that I dont have something really new or different as a DP compared to all the other options here...but I ALSO KNOW that I do have a differentiator as a camera op, I´ve been told that by many DPs and Directors...and I´ve always thought that that differentiator was nothing more than knowing that operating a camera is what I love the most...is not an "in between" position until I reach the final DP rol...Operating is where I feel the most at home, where I know I can make a difference, where I know I can grow and where I really want to put all my energy!

I hope it helps! It helped me letting it out!

Nico.

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