Don’t Cut Corners on Camera Ops!

You can never get something for nothing…but you can always try.

Shooting EXIT 12 in the WiredArts Fest 2013.

Shooting EXIT 12 in the WiredArts Fest 2013.

This is the unspoken motto of our industry. In video production we are stuck between our lorals and a hard place. As a professional television director, I only want my name attached to high quality production work (which is why we only produce high-quality work at VirtualArts.TV). Because I am also a freelance Director/TD, I often find myself in low-budget situations faced with producers who have been told to NOT spend money. Even if there is actually a budget for food, it is encouraged to get equipment and labor for cheap (or even better, free!).

I do have to agree with my business partner, Kathryn Jones, when she says “Techies love their toys.”  It is true. We love the ability to up our production value (even if it means purchasing the “toys” on our own.) But when given the challenge of upping the value and quality of a production without the extra cash needed to do it, we will at first roll our eyes and groan about how it’s not do-able. After a few minutes we remember where we are, why we’re there, accept and rise to the challenge. We will rig a GoPro to a C-Stand arm to fake a mini jib. We will gaffe a tripod to an office chair and find the smoothest surface to imitate a dolly track shot. We will (and have) create a douser out of cardboard and string.
The point is, we have become professional fakers. The more shots you can fake without requiring an extra ‘toy’ and the more you can do with less, the more indispensable you are.

The size of a GoPro camera. courtesy:

The size of a GoPro camera.

But don’t let that idea impact your decisions about camera crew. As a live production director, I rely heavily on the talent of the camera operators and in my experience, no amount of GoPros or PTZ cameras rigged around a space can create a similar production value to four professional handheld cameras. The look and feel of the production is completely different. For example, when shooting live bands (especially loud rock bands), mounted POV cameras will pick up every vibration and the last thing you want are shaky camera shots on each drum beat! Many times I’ve heard and seen producers suggest GoPro cams to replace camera operators. I’ve even considered using a GoPro set-up for smaller gigs. But the difference in production value is immense. Especially when covering dance, theater, music or even sports.

Shooting the detail of the dance of the WiredArts Fest 2013.

Shooting the detail of the dance of the WiredArts Fest 2013.

As wonderfully cheap and compact GoPro cameras are, they are definitely no replacement for a talented videographer. Don’t get me wrong, GoPros are a great addition to any production. They are perfect for an extreme wide shot or a wireless POV cam. They’re just not good enough to replace a real person. They can’t follow the movement, find the perfect light for an actor’s face, shoot between the gaps of dancers’ flowing arms to focus on the other dancers in the background. GoPros can’t step to one side in order to keep the face of the lead singer in the frame.They can’t start on a tight focus of a ballerina’s toe shoe and slowly tilt up her side, passed the profile of her face to the top of her extended fingertips.

VirtualArts.TV will always use a camera crew for our live performances. As much as we love our toys, we understand that quality comes first. Happy shooting!!

  • Adrian June 27, 2013, 12:43 pm

    Well said! A $5 camera crew can make a million dollar movie look like it was shot by a $5 camera crew.


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