Tech vs. Art – Or – Watching versus Creating

Not so much art, but perhaps craft.

When I’m operating the camera, it is more than just pushing the button – or “PUSH THE F&@$@&ING BUTTON” as one producer once said.

There is way more to the job of camera operator than just pushing a damned little red button.

I’m: Framing the shot, Composing, Actively looking at the action, Making micro adjustments (which is where a really good tripod and head come in handy), Anticipating the movements of the actors (or action if it is a doc.), Are people missing their marks? Is the dolly in the right position for this part of the scene? Did the grip hit their mark, or are we off? Do I adjust a little? How has the frame been changed, does it still work, do I cut,? Are we getting a second take at this, or is this the only chance? Damnit, what line do they move on? Is there something growing out their heads, boom shadow, mic in frame – damn boom op, we gave them a frame line, great next take it’ll be my fault, I’ll be framed too high. What about performance? Is it working with the actors performance, too tight, not tight enough.

This is what is going on when operating the camera.You aren’t following the action, you are capturing it. It is an active job, not a passive one. The camera operator is in many ways defining the space that the film takes place within. Where the actors perform. Its a lot to do, and it is different depending on what kind of shoot it is. I’m good with narrative, but I’m always stressing about catching the character’s movements. I’m not such a good news cameraman, news cameraman, now there is a dying breed.

Why a dying breed you ask? Well news organizations are cutting down on crew, and cameramen. One news organization fired its staff photographers and is training its journalists to use the iPad for taking photos. Woo Hoo, ought to train them to be journalists instead. This stuff is hard, all the automatic features in the world may make it easier, but it comes at a cost.

You are splitting the focus of the person who is now doing everything. Quality is going to drop, how much attention can you pay to image, to sound, and if you are a journalist – someone who keeps a journal of things – then how can you observe and report what is going on, when you are concentrating on framing, or the sound, or that you have to be uptown in 5 minutes, so you have to find a cab. There is no time for thoughtful observation, in depth following of the events, no chance to think ahead, you are always playing catch up.

Musical performances are fun, sometimes, stage performances where I can get in close and shoot free form. I think it is the free form shooting that I like. It is weird though, because you are interacting with the musician, but in a way not interacting. I used to shoot the L.A.M.C. for GoTV, and I’d roll for hours at a time up close. Man, my shoulders hurt, all handheld. Oh Baby. I don’t know, perhaps I’m trying to get into a rhythm with the music, find a flow. I like shooting hip hop and rap videos too, for that performance. I love it when the artist is just into my lens, lets go. Click here to see the first rap video I shot
It’s a camera, I’m shooting you, sing it into the camera, right here, right here. That’s the nice thing with Music, no one forgets that the performance is for camera, that’s where it goes, into the lens please. Watch the hand held spiny shot.
That’s what I’m talking about.

Well, it doesn’t always work out. In a previous take I started moving too fast and it cracked up the talent.

From my time shooting (and directing) low budget Christian rap videos – and me such a nice Jewish boy.

But back to the topic. You can’t just be watching through the lens. It isn’t passive, it takes thought and concentration and practice, and an appreciation for that. I’ve said it before – It took 9 tries to get that shot of Vivien Leigh declaring that she would never be hungry again in Gone With the Wind. You know the shot. just before intermission, although it looks like it was shot on a stage, according to the book David O Selznick’s Hollywood they had to go back 9 times to get the shot right, and it shows.

The point of all this? Filmmaking is changing, yes it is always changing, but the way things are going, well more on that in my next post.

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One Response to Tech vs. Art – Or – Watching versus Creating

  1. michelle shyman August 6, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    Similar feeling when someone says to an actor, “Just say the damn lines.” I know what you mean.

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