CAMERA ASSISTANT - SCOTT WALLER
Scott is a 2nd camera assistant whose credits include television dramas; ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Class’, ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’, ‘Broadchurch’, ‘Stella’ and ‘Casualty’.
HOW DID YOU GET IN TO THE INDUSTRY?
After studying media and film A-levels I was initially unsuccessful in applying to university. I then studied a media moving image BTEC for two years learning basic filming and editing techniques whilst at the same time attending the ITV West Television Workshop. The ITV Workshop is a weekly workshop held at the studios in Bristol where they taught everything from writing to editing, but from an industry standard perspective, in both a practical and theoretical environment. Through the workshop I got the chance to work on many projects ranging from short films, documentaries and music videos where I was fortunate to meet different people who currently work in the industry. During one of my work experiences on a music video for the band called FranKo
I met the camera loader, Jecery Rosini, who invited me onto the set of the Sky1 comedy ‘Trollied’. My experience grew as I met more camera assistants and my work experience slowly changed from work experience to paid camera trainee dailies. Whilst at university I began working dailies in the industry and during those three university years, I was a camera assistant on my first feature length film as well as television shows including BBC’s ‘Sherlock’, Channel 4’s ‘Skins’, and ITV’s ‘Broadchurch’. The day I left university I began working on BBC’s ‘Casualty’ before working on a range of different shows full time.
DID YOU GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
My first choice of Bournemouth failed at the first hurdle without even an offer of an interview as I wasn’t achieving the highest grades. My next choice was the Newport Film School in Wales. Even though I did not know it at the time, being rejected from Bournemouth would turn out to be potentially one of the reasons I am now working in television and film. The Newport Film School is a great course that provided a lot of practical film-making assignments. I felt Newport differed to other courses because you could specialise and focus your time on one key area of interest, e.g. cinematography. Also the Newport Film School is a stones throw from Bristol and Cardiff, two cities with a huge amount of industry work available. By going to film school I was able to gain as much free work experience as I could over the three years, whilst living on my student loan.
WHAT ONE SKILL OR PERSONAL ATTRIBUTE WOULD YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE BIGGEST FACTOR AS TO WHY YOU GOT TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
I think that a combination of skills combined have lead me to where I am today. However, to name just one it would have to be tenacity. Being determined and being persistent. When I first began to think about a career in the television and film industry, I, like so many others, had slight naivety as to what working in this industry actually meant. The stereotype makes out that the industry is a glamorous place to work, spending everyday working alongside famous people being treated like royalty as you work an easy and luxurious job. However, the realities of the industry to me are a little different. The alarm clock is set for 5:30-6am each day, work a shift of 12 hours and arrive back home at the earliest of 7:30pm-8pm, and this is for the local crews travelling a maximum of 30 minutes to work. You work days and nights outside in the pouring rain, attempting to keep electrical equipment as dry as possible all whilst running around a muddy quarry soaked through to the skin. You regularly work away from home for weeks or months at a time not knowing when and where your next job will come. Not quite the glamorous life some people make out.
By saying all of this I am not trying to make out that the industry is a horrible gruelling place to work because personally, I love the job I do. I love the buzz I get from making something together with a team that thousands of people will see and the satisfaction comes from seeing the end result broadcast on the television or on the big screen. Tenacity is an attribute that is of key importance. My love for the job I do and the buzz I get from working on set in such a fast paced environment, it beats any other job in my eyes. To me, I don’t wake up everyday and think, ‘I am just going to work’. I enjoy my job and the thrill I get each and everyday no matter how gruelling and tough it gets. My tenacity, my passion, my drive and persistence have lead me to where I am today and where I will be for the rest of my career.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A CV/EMAIL FROM STUDENTS TRYING TO BREAK IN TO THE BUSINESS?
One of the biggest mistakes I have seen and also made myself when first initially trying to get into the industry, is selling yourself as something far more than you actually are. For example, I specialised in cinematography in university. However, this does not mean I am a cinematographer and could apply for the role of cinematographer or director of photography on a television drama. If I did and I somehow got a job on a television drama I would very quickly feel out of my depth and under pressure because I have no real experience in this job field. I once had a set of business cards whilst at university that included job roles I had very minimal experience in including camera operating, gripping and editing. In hindsight I have learnt that I cannot state I can do a particular role just because I have had a small amount of experience on a small shoot. Pushing a dolly a few times on a set, does not make me a grip. When I started working in the drama industry, I had to start at the bottom and work as a trainee for camera departments. My CV states that I am a camera trainee and a camera assistant and my experience backs this up.
One other thing I see students do wrong is with CVs. As soon as you know what job role you want to do, do all your research you can to figure out how to get there. Start as a camera trainee, then move on to camera assistant, focus puller and finally a camera operator. For me to get there I have to start at the bottom so I need work experience as a camera trainee. This will involve working for free on sets of TV dramas to see what the job is and slowly build up my CV of camera trainee experience. I think a good CV will have multiple experiences in the same job field and will show a lot of the experience taking place outside of education, demonstrating it’s not just work you had to do for an assignment. To do this, contact as many companies as you can find and ask if you can go in for a day, a week or more to shadow the camera department or the department to want to work in.
WHAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE AND OUTLOOK ON THE CURRENT STATE OF THE INDUSTRY? ALSO, HOW HAVE THINGS CHANGED FROM WHEN YOU BEGAN AND HOW HAS THIS IMPACTED ON YOUR WORK?
The industry is a booming place to work at the moment. When I was at university I thought getting work would be near impossible with its competitive nature and thousands of people trying to get the same jobs. However, the TV and film industry are so busy with the hundreds of TV channels needing new programmes. In Wales alone right now I can name at least 8 large scale TV shows being shot with more starting to shoot later in the year in both Wales and Bristol nearby.
ON SET/IN YOUR WORKING ENVIRONMENT:
CAN YOU OFFER ANY ON SET/PRACTICAL HINTS AND TIPS?
Five tips/skills crucial for a Camera Trainee to master:
Cable bashing and coiling cables - One of the most important jobs for a trainee is cabling various monitors from the camera to various departments including the director, DOP, producers, script supervisor, costume, make up and lighting techs to name a few. Coiling cables requires a specific technique to ensure the cables roll out flat and without kinks like you get with everyday cables e.g. headphones, hose-pipes or vacuums. (The more practice the easier and faster this job can be executed.)
Food and drinks - Tea and coffee making are often not thought about when looking at the camera departments main roles but being able to make good tea and coffee, using a cafetière and coffee machines are vital skills to have. To keep your team topped up with hot drinks and food is a skill that will always get you more and more jobs. (Keep your team happy and they will look after you)
Batteries - A camera trainee is responsible for charging batteries and ensuring that any device using these batteries is maintained and not letting a battery die. So changing batteries, but also changing it and charging it at an appropriate time. (Never let batteries die during takes). On BBC’s ‘Doctor Who’, the trainee is responsible for around 10 different types of batteries that are used and in total we have more than 50 batteries.
Monitors - Cables and batteries are all connected into monitors and these monitors are the trainee’s responsibility. The start of every day every monitor needs to be unboxed, mounted onto stands, rain covers or shades attached, monitors cleaned, batteries attached or plugged in, coiled cables attached to relevant stands and sand bags at the ready if needed on windy days.
Support your team during the set ups before completing your jobs and responsibilities. The trainee is there to provide help and hands to the camera loaders, focus pullers, camera operator and DOP. If you can keep your team happy they will want to work with you again and the easiest way to get work is through recommendations and word of mouth.
WHEN YOU ARE FIRST BROUGHT ON TO A PROJECT, WHAT ARE YOUR IMMEDIATE THOUGHTS AND PROCESSES?
I make contact with the team I am working with. Sometimes via a phone call or just simply a text message to touch base with the team. This to me, is good practice especially if I am working with a team I don’t know. It becomes a pre-ice breaker so when I meet the team it’s not the first contact that I’ve had with them. This is mainly just to say hi, to talk about the job, and ask questions about the kit. Also, what can be expected and if I need to bring anything particular to the prep. After this I will go to the kit prep session, meet the team and get to work.
ADVICE AND MISTAKES:
WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?
The best advice I have ever been given is that there is no such thing as excuses. I was given this advice when I was first looking at how I could get into the industry but before I had even started university. The advice was given to me and I took it as film and TV related, however this has always stuck with me through anything I am trying to do. Like everyone knows, it is so easy to blame failure on an excuse. “I didn’t do something because I didn’t have time.” “I can’t get a job in the industry because no one will give me that first chance.” So many things we give over to excuses when in reality it is our own laziness or lack of motivation or just that it’s simply not a priority. The biggest example of this I was given was simply being told to read up on some film books or magazines. I and other people in the production class at some point had used the excuse of “I didn’t have time”. The reply from the teacher was, “When you get into bed at night you could stay up for 30 minutes longer or wake up 30 minutes earlier to fit in a small amount of reading.” Those 30 minutes at the start or end of my day is nothing and isn’t enough to affect tiredness.
This advice has stuck with me throughout everything I now do. When I complained to myself that I wouldn’t be able to get a job in the industry because I didn’t know how or someone wouldn’t give me that first break, I tell myself to stop making excuses and do it. In this example I broke it down into smaller pieces. I thought to myself that I would only be given a chance if I proved I was worth giving a chance to. I made sure I researched all I could on how to gain work in the industry; books, internet, friends, relatives and any other way of working this out and making a plan was what I started to do. If I didn’t have time, I would stay up an extra 30 minutes before I slept to read more advice or look on the internet for help. The rest continued in this fashion. Getting work experience by spending at least 30 minutes a day putting my CV and personal statement together to reflect my intentions. Spending 30 minutes minimum a day searching for small production companies in my local area. 30 minutes a day emailing all of these companies whilst making each email personal to each company. I expressed that I had done my research and had actually read and watched projects on their website further than just the home page. The rest continued in this fashion, maintaining that powerful piece of advice. There are no such things as excuses.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU COULD GIVE?
As a small expansion on the above advice, I was given and to that famous question ‘How do you get into the industry’ my advice is ... If you want a career in the television and film industry, first of all figure out what that means to you and what job you think is your ultimate goal (e.g. cameraman, editor, boom operator) along with the sector of the industry it falls into (e.g. Drama/documentary/reality TV etc). Once you are certain that this is the job you want and you have researched deeply into this role, the next step is making a CV with a personal statement and then getting work experience. Once the CV is made, research small production companies in your area and contact them asking for a few days or weeks work experience following the job area you want to do. Some companies may not reply and after a while I contact them again. Prove to them you are worth giving experience to and you will get it. Slowly build up your CV and slowly contact bigger companies and gain more and more experience and contacts. Soon enough you will have a CV with a lot of experience on it and you will be in a position to competitively apply for paid jobs that you have a realistic chance of getting because you have the experience to back yourself up. Also you will more than likely have met people who can get you work through word of mouth and recommendations.
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE BLUNDER?
For a camera assistant the biggest possible blunder is erasing the rushes. It’s the equivalent of exposing a photochemical film magazine to light. Now to most this sounds like a very stupid mistake to make however, but without a good system in place it is very easy to do.
This isn’t my blunder but a story that circulates among camera assistants comes from a mid-budget TV drama during the madness and chaos of the last shooting hour of the day (which is always known to be frantic time as the assistant directors are pushing to complete the schedule). The current card in the camera has been filled up and needs to be reloaded. At the same time the camera is being moved into a new position, the lens is being changed, the director wants to watch playback, the DP is losing natural light, the ND filters are being swiftly pulled from the camera and the monitors need to be re-cabled. All all these tasks are part of the camera assistants job. In the rush the assistant has removed the card and without realizing it, replaced it with the very same card. With a few clicks of the camera menus, the previous six hours worth of footage have been deleted in a split second.
To give some perspective, the card essentially contains six hours of hard work, with the cost of the actors and crews wages, both on set and in the offices, the hire of all the camera and lighting equipment, the cost of locations and permits all lost. The total for this on an average size TV drama is potentially hundreds of thousands.
Truthfully, this has never happened to me, however, on a job not too long ago for a few minutes I believed that it may have. At the time I should have been more confident that I had not deleted anything because of my precise card changing system.
It happened during the usual last hour rush. I reloaded my camera from a large 64GB card to what I thought was a smaller 32GB card. After reloading, I noticed that there was a 64GB card in the camera. As I only had one of each card on me, I panicked thinking I had put the rushes back in the camera. Confused and whilst already shooting the next take I checked my empty card case. It read 32GB. The heart stopping moment began to set in (had I put the 32GB card in the rushes box?) After the take, I quickly opened the rushed box hoping to see the expected 64GB card matching the magazine ID I had written in my notebook and not a 32GB card. The card was the 64GB card I knew it should be and I was safe. But the question remained, how had I put a 64GB card into the camera believing it to be a 32GB card? It turned out when the editor backed up the cards, they would take all the cards out of the boxes, back them up and return them, not checking that the large size cards went into large cases and small size cards went into small cases. My only mistake had been not checking that the card I put in the camera matched the box it came in whilst noting down the magazine ID number. A mistake I would not make again.
This story could have had a very different ending yet it highlighted to me how important it is to have a good system in place to ensure that you never mix up a card that has been recorded on with blank cards. Although my own system ensured that I would not delete footage, I now make sure that my card cases have separate labels that match a label on the card. This mistake could cost you your job and future jobs to come.