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Job Description of a Movie or Film Cameraman

Becoming a movie or film cameraman requires specialized, formal education. Learn about degree programs, job duties, important skills and training requirements to see if this could be the right career for you.

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A film cameraman must have a good eye, understanding of equipment operation and functioning, physical stamina, schedule flexibility, and planning and comprehension skills. Let's go into detail about the tasks and necessary skills of a movie cameraman.

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Essential Information

A movie or film cameraman fulfills very specific instructions from directors who have an exact, detailed vision of each scene. The camera operator uses his or her specialized training in videography (i.e., camera operation) to successfully capture images, lighting and/or special effects created by the cast and crew of a film. Vital skills include the ability to communicate clearly, listen carefully and follow someone else's precise conceptual path.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Occasionally, ongoing video-editing software training
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 2% for camera operators in television, video, and motion picture
Median Salary (2015)* $49,080 for camera operators in television, video, and motion picture

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties

For a cameraman, there is no such thing as a regular day. Film shooting schedules can be dictated by weather, environments, budgets and/or actor availability. Movie cameramen work on motion picture projects, and therefore may have steady work for long intervals followed by times when the individual is between films.

Film cameramen fulfill very specific orders from directors who have an exact vision of the scene. The ability to listen and follow someone else's conceptual path is vital. At the same time, the cameraman must be able to explain to a director why something may not be achievable with the equipment at hand. At such times, he or she must be able to suggest alternate approaches that can accomplish the vision, such as computer graphics and/or innovative ways of rigging the film equipment.

Required Skills

A keen eye is essential for a cameraman. He or she must know how different lighting will alter the mood of a scene or overshadow an actor. An understanding of the effects of color, lighting angles and perspective depth are as important to a cameraman as the camera equipment itself. He or she works with grips who position the actual cameras to choreograph camera movement prior to each scene being filmed. At times, a film cameraman will work with special effects artists to place cameras on mechanized rigging and catch angles that would be problematic for a human being to follow.

Cameramen need an in-depth understanding of how their equipment functions. Even minor delays on film projects are costly, and could put a production over budget. The cameraman should know in advance the strengths and weaknesses of the equipment so he or she can assist the director in setting up shots in a way that will not damage the cameras.

Effectively operating a movie camera is a physically demanding task and requires the operator to be physically fit. On projects using hand-held equipment, the cameraman must have a steady hand and a sharp eye to follow and capture movement smoothly. Likewise, a cameraman must also be able to hold a camera in the same position for prolonged periods. Camera operators frequently stand, squat and crouch to capture required angles and perspectives for a scene. They may also stand on ladders or elevated platforms when filming.

Planning skills are essential for a cameraman. A cameraman must be able to take the vision of the director, examine the terrain of the film set, and then plot a course for the equipment to follow that will bring life to a concept. Communication skills are important, aiding the camera operator in understanding the director's ideas while directing or coordinating movement with other members of his/her own crew. In the end, a movie cameraman's job is to show the audience what the director envisioned.

Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that motion picture, television and video camera operators could expect to experience a 2% job growth from 2014-2024, which was less than average. Motion picture companies in particular weren't expected to hire as many camera operators in the upcoming years. Television, video and motion picture camera operators made an annual median wage of $49,080 in May 2015.

Movie or film cameramen must possess a range of skills, as they must know how to use the equipment, accurately capture a shot, and work with the crew. They should be disposed to work a fluctuating, often lengthy and strenuous schedule.

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