Camera Crew Unveiled: Who Does What
Ever wondered who's behind those breathtaking shots in your favorite films? Get the inside scoop on the camera department—the Hollywood high table of filmmaking. From the Director of Photography to the unsung heroes like the Utility, discover what it takes to make movie magic!
Showing up to the first day of a set you will almost always see people mingling within their specific departments. Like high school lunch tables you can see each department on their own island. This article focuses on the popular kids table also known as the camera department, the department that everyone and their mother dreams of being in when they are in film school. With that being said it is important to understand the individual roles of each person in the camera crew if you do indeed want to join this elite group of individuals.
Director of Photography
Mostly referred to as the DP, this role is hyper focused on the overall look of the film or show and is typically only led by one person. They are consistently busy working with each camera operator to make sure that every camera is shooting what they are supposed to be shooting and matches a specific vision that is in the head of the DP. The DP may never even pick up a camera but are responsible for the shot on every single camera on set.
Lead Camera Operator
This is the primary camera operator if there are multiple camera operators on set. They are responsible for enacting the DPs vision to the best of their ability and must make decisions that reflect that. When separated from the DP they are required to make decisions for other camera operators that are on their team.
A camera operator is exactly how they are described, they point and shoot a camera. They are required to know shooting techniques to arrange the scene in a way that looks the best. They must also know how a properly lit scene looks and how to make a large amount of adjustments to the camera itself.
The assistant camera or usually referred to as the AC. They are responsible for nearly all of the technical aspects of the cameras. From changing lenses to impossible to find settings, they are to be aware of all the many facets of the camera. Another responsibility of the AC is to be prepared for every situation that can be thrown at their department. If it rains they should have weather protection for the cameras. If its a long shoot then they should have extra batteries. Everything from adapters, to screws, to go pros, to basically every bit and bob that can be used related to cameras the AC should know about and have on standby if needed. If there are multiple teams you might see an AC per team or there might be a 1st and 2nd AC in which the 1st AC might be pulling focus for certain cameras. The 2nd AC is typically the one who slates all the cameras at the beginning of a take as well. Overall ACs are the primary caretakers of the cameras and have a very important role. If you have a question about the cameras or need to do anything with them in any way, it's a good idea to talk to an AC before you do anything else.
In the age of film, the Loader was responsible for loading and unloading film magazines. Though this role has diminished with the advent of digital cameras, some productions still use film and require a Loader. In digital settings, the Loader may assist with data management, helping to transfer and backup files.
Utility or Camera PA (Production Assistant)
The Camera PA, or Production Assistant, is often the entry-level position in the camera department. Their proper title is Utility, but sometimes Camera PA will be tossed around on non-union sets in an attempt to save some money. They are responsible for assisting the entire camera crew with various tasks, from running errands to setting up equipment. Though they may not handle the camera directly, their role is crucial for the smooth operation of the department. They are the go-to people for fetching lenses, setting up tripods, and even grabbing coffee for the crew. It's a role that requires a keen eye for detail and the ability to work under pressure, as they are often juggling multiple tasks at once. For those aspiring to climb the ladder in the camera department, starting as a Utility or Camera PA offers invaluable hands-on experience.
In modern filmmaking, drone operators have become increasingly important for capturing aerial shots or complex camera movements that would be difficult to achieve otherwise. The Drone Operator works closely with the Director of Photography to ensure that the aerial shots fit the overall vision of the project. They must be skilled pilots, as well as have a good understanding of camera operations to capture the best footage. Safety is a paramount concern, and they are responsible for following all regulations and guidelines related to drone flying as certified by the FAA in the United States.
The Jib Operator manages the jib arm, a piece of equipment that allows for smooth, sweeping camera movements. They work in tandem with the camera operator and the Director of Photography to execute complex shots that require a moving camera. Mastery of the jib arm requires not only technical skill but also a creative eye to translate the DP's vision into fluid motion. They are often responsible for some of the most visually striking shots in a film or TV show.
DIT (Digital Imaging Technician)
The DIT is a critical role that bridges the gap between the camera department and post-production. They are responsible for managing digital files, ensuring that the footage is correctly backed up and organized for editing. The DIT works closely with the Director of Photography to maintain the desired look of the film by applying basic color correction and other image adjustments on set. Their role is increasingly important in the age of digital filmmaking, where data management and integrity are crucial. This position could get reduced to Media Manager if the shoot does not require all of the skills of a DIT.
Adjusting an easyRig On the set of Wild West, The CW