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How do I set out on finding work either as B Cameraman or B DOP on a feature film?

Hi shooters

I am a London based filmmaker and I have experience on low budget short film productions but never worked for a feature film.

My knowledge is on camera and lighting as well as video editing as a side hassle.

I am very positive that someone or some may have asked this before but I would love to hear your opinion and expertise on the subject!

Where do I need to start on finding work either as an Assistant Cameraman or Assistant DOP within the UK/ Greater London?

I truly value your opinion, guidance and mentoring!

Kindest Regards

Vasily-f

  • Well, cheap kit has changed things a bit. People now either buy their own kit and start shooting straight the way on small productions. Some people move on to bigger and better things, some people get stuck at that level. Either is fine and a lot of it is a mix of talent and pure luck. Working with producers & directors who go on to bigger and better things and get you involved will accelerate someones career massively. This is a viable option and some very good cameramen and women never assisted.

    The more traditional way is to start as a camera trainee, then move up to 2nd Ac/Camera Assistant then either develop on to camera operator or focus puller and then DOP. This depends on what type of work you want to be doing. Focus pullers exist in drama and commercial but are rarely seen on most broadcast TV. In fact the entire workflow of the camera department is very different. On a drama your camera/grip/lighting department will be large, all working below a DOP. Lets assume it's a 1 camera shoot, the crew may include:

    Camera truck driver
    camera trainee
    2nd AC
    Video Assist
    Focus Puller
    DoP (probably self shooting)
    along with
    Gaffer
    Best Boy
    Sparks x 3
    Grip
    Grip Assistant

    If it's a 2 camera shoot you will probably double all the camera roles.

    The reason i'm saying this is that if you work in other areas of TV this wont be the case at all. Most entertainment shows will either be self shot by the cameramen who will light, shoot, rig, pull focus. Basically do the lot. This is most common in documentary. A traditional lighting cameraman role.

    On high end or multicam entertainment shows like the Apprentice, Grand Tour, Top Gear, League of their Own, Gordon, Gino & Fred Road trip etc, you will have multiple camera men and each will have a camera assistant. This is a more general cam assistant and its unlikely you'll be doing a lot of the jobs a 2nd AC would do on a drama. There wont be a lot of clapper boards for example. However, in these jobs you will do a bit of everything. You'll run monitors, you'll set mini cams, you'll occassionally focus pull, you'll rig cars, small jibs, sliders etc and operate B or C cam more than you'd think.

    So once you've decided which world of film/TV you want to specialise in, start looking at shows and see who shot them. Find the camera men online and send them a message saying you're looking for experience. Some may take a chance on you, a common response will be 'join a rental house'.

    This is the most traditional way of breaking in to the camera department. Get a job with a rental house like VMI, Electra, Aim Image, Ice, Take2, Film Store, Shooting Partners etc. You'll start off making tea and driving vans but you're also surrounded by kit you can learn and rig. Join a rental house that sends its staff out on jobs and get as much experience and meet as many camera op's and DoP's as you can. Most people spend 2-3 years in a kitroom and then go freelance as a Camera Assistant or 2nd AC depending whether you want to go into a entertainment or drama speciality. It is possible to switch between the 2 worlds easily enough but you need experience in both and understand the demands of doing either. In terms of what to expect and in terms of how your day will pan out they really are quite different.

    On films, the 2nd AC will be running the day to day of the camera department under the supervision of the FP and DoP. They will be ordering kit and liasing with production over the requirements of the camera department so if you are absolutly certain that is the world you want to be in then it wouldn't hurt to get in touch with film based 2nd's and tell them you're looking for feature experience as a trainee. See what they say.

    Personally i'd advise trying to get as much experience on different types of set as possible. I left Uni certain I wanted to work in Film. I worked in comedy drama as a trainee and then 2nd AC and hated it. For me, it was too slow, too boring and too much red tape. I discovered I like being involved, a bigger piece of the production so I moved into entertainment as a general camera assistant and I love it. I like being busy and trusted, every day I do things that on a drama I'd be getting shouted at by a grip or spark. I'm always jumping on a B camera, shooting B roll, setting up lights, rigging sliders and working closely with DoP's who listen when you make suggestions. That being said, clearly a lot of people LOVE working in drama.

    I know I've covered a lot of things that wern't exactly related to the question you asked but I hope it helps to giver a broader view of the industry and the differences in each of its little niches and the different routes people take to break in.

    3 months ago
    • Hi Jonathan,
      First of all, wow! Thank you for taking the time and be so detailed, I’ve appreciated it very much. Your input is unique to me regarding my next step.

      As you’ve mentioned at the start (spot on), I am one of these self-taught entrepreneur filmmakers who have got themselves a good kit a few years back and through this I’ve managed to create through some collaboration 3 shorts films. On top of that I got the opportunity to work solo/independently for a known retail brand, a few years (part-time/freelance), putting together some videos for marketing/internal training/events.

      I had the opportunity to work with some better kit when I volunteered for the NHM in London (2 years) where I’ve used for the first time an Ari and a Canon c300, but that’s all it is regarding better & fancy!
      Unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to meet and work with producers & directors that would boost my career within the industry and basically make a start.

      Regarding where or what I would love to start on I am very flexible, the idea of being a camera trainee or best boy, I find is the most liable and hopefully possible path to go with. In all honesty it will be a fantastic opportunity to create a network, gain knowledge and assist at any stage of the production when I am asked to do so.

      I believe Drama would be my first choice, since I don’t have the experience to work independently on a large production/documentary/ broadcast TV show as solo on lighting-cameraman-role (maybe I can but I believe that I need to work next to more experienced people).
      In other words, I am up to run on the set for anything until I feel ready and gain the trust of the other crew, producer, DOP or director.

      Your advice regarding who shot the production (cameraman) and try to contact them has definitely crossed my mind and I will be focusing for the next couple of weeks. Joining a rental house, I would have never thought that maybe and the way you put it might prove to be a great solution and I am going to look into it.

      You have definitely covered everything, as I said earlier this is like a bible to me and I couldn’t thank you enough. It is time to put my head down and try my best shot for a start within the industry. You are the best!

      Kindest Regards
      Vasily-f

      2 months ago
  • Hey man,

    I can't add much to what Jonathan's said except for perhaps a few practicalities.

    Any b-cam or 2nd unit DoP work on 'real' films or tv dramas comes from a long history of working and proving yourself in that world, and then from the contacts you've made along the way.

    A 2nd Unit DoP will often be a very successful A-cam op in their own right. They will be known to the DoP and will have worked extensively with them, so that the main DoP trusts them to give him or her what they need from that 2nd unit stuff.

    A b-cam op will also almost certainly have worked their way up through the camera ranks as a focus puller and then - with ops and DoPs that they've worked with already usually - start to do b-cam work on certain shoots/dailies.

    Bear in mind that b-cam is not strictly an 'additional' camera role, or an 'assistant' role in any way. It's an essential role in the storytelling and the ops need to be as experienced in filmmaking and storytelling as the 'A' ops.

    So to get real - you're not there yet, but that's fine! Best thing I can suggest is that you simply pursue your path trying to shoot as much stuff as you can and increasing your exposure and experience and real. This - for most of us anyway - takes YEARS. You have to enjoy this time and the learnings on the way.

    Assuming you're not going to go the traditional camera department route (which I didn't STRICTLY, although I assisted a lot) then you need to make a name for yourself as a DoP before you're going to get any kind of 2nd Unit work. And going this way, it's very unlikely you would EVER get any b-cam operating on a real drama of feature, simply because you're not in that traditional crew world.

    Bear in mind that many DoPs at that higher level don't even operate anymore (or if they ever did) and they work with the best ops in the business who over many years of crew work learn how to manipulate cameras on their shoulders, rigs, legs, heads etc to get what's needed to tell the story - it's a shit load of work and experience, and moving to digital and smaller cameras hasn't really changed one bit.

    So, keep shooting. Don't look too far ahead as it will stop you enjoying what's happening for you in the 'now'. The annoying thins is that there is no proven route for most of us who didn't spend 10 years focus pulling. We just have to plough on and make the best of everything that comes along and slowly we get there.

    Hope that helps! Stay in touch.

    Jamie

    3 months ago
    • Hi Jamie,
      Sorry for taking such a long time to respond, I was in a dark place past couple of weeks.

      But saying that I would like to say in respond to yours and Jonathan’s advise so far, that you guys are awesome!
      I really need to find work on this and you guys are handing me some amazing tips and knowledge

      Even though I feel confident enough to grab the camera and roll with it, I find as well that I need to work my way up through the camera ranks (I would love to).
      I clearly understand that any role behind the camera department is as vital as any for the fulfillment of any project and yes if I am asked to sit quietly in the corner of the set until I am asked to help on something, I will do.

      I am a man of my opinion and always love to share with others but that doesn’t make me an expert, so if I believe my humble opinion could assist the production I would come forward but the way I see myself at the minute is more like a trainee rather than a leader.
      I totally agree that everything is a subject of good networking and publicity, shooting more stuff and gaining myself more exposure, eventually will lead to the real thing!

      Actually, I have no issue/concerns on going through the traditional camera department route, in reality this is what I truly wish and willing to do. As you’ve mentioned so accurately, I don’t believe trying to build up a name for myself is viable where I stand at the minute and for what I want to achieve in the immediate future.

      I will carry on shooting and carry on looking to grasp the opportunity for more work experience and yes, I never give up, slowly (maybe) but steadily something will come up. As you said it’s all about the experience and enjoying the moment, overthinking never helps!

      Amazing, thank you so much Jamie!

      Kindest regards
      Vasily-f

      2 months ago
    • @Vasily-f .
      Good stuff Vasily! You're on the right track man.
      :-)

      2 months ago
  • Hiya Vasily, any response...?

    This community thing doesn't really work unless it's two-way!

    Jamie

    2 months ago