When you are directing you are essentially leading everyone on a journey. If you have read any of my previous posts you know that I believe the production starts and stops with the director. We don’t get to blame bad camera operators when stuff goes wrong. We have a certain level of production that we need to get to no matter what, and it is our job to work with what we have.
When I was working at Eagle Brook there would be many times I would have 1 or 2 brand new camera ops on a weekend. Sometimes you would get luck and they catch on quick, other times it is a struggle. Out of necessity to fill positions, this seamed to happen quiet a bit. Or I would get ops from another campus that I never, or rarely work with. Every weekend became a constant struggle to get the show where it needed to be, but I knew it was always up to me to work in their strengths and skill level. I quickly learned that I had to create a culture every time I’m on com by setting standards, being consistency, giving encouragement and setting the mood/ pace.
No two directors direct the same way. They may be similar but they never do it the same. That is why I believe the first 5-10 minutes of a production will set the mood for the rest. In that first 5-10 minutes you have to learn your operators and they have to learn you. Ideally this will be done in a rehearsal rather than live. If you don’t have rehearsals I strongly recommend building them in. It may be painful at first to organize but the payoff is huge.
I believe that with every operator you have to direct a little differently. There are some camera operators that once I say “ready” I have to give an extra pause to let them adjust before I say, “Take.” Some operators need more direction than others; some are good at finding the action while others are just good at finding shots. Skill level comes in many forms but no matter who it is you need to adjust your directing for them. Even when I work with professional operators I have to adjust to their skills, styles and figure out what they need from me.
Now this is a two way street. Operators are learning you too, but for them this should be easy, and you should make it easy for them. This is where the culture really forms and becomes effective. I believe that if you create a good culture, any operator, even first timers should be able to catch on quickly and you should be able to cut the show you need to. There are always exceptions, some ops are just BAD, And therefore difficult to work with. However, I would say more often than not creating a culture works.
As a director, you need to have standards. Some examples of standards are: These are the shots I like, these are the ones I don’t; Always push and pull; No wider than a head to toe during IMAG; Only shoot 1 subject; Don’t shoot people that aren’t bringing energy; On tight guitar shots make sure you can see both hands; Find the action; and keep feeding me shots. These are just a few standards that I have. Now I don’t hop on com or have a meeting where I go over these standards and at the end quiz people on it. I may remind them of a few standards before we start but I really do it all in the moment.
So once on Com we just start like starting any other show and when I see a standard not being held, I just adjust it. I gently remind them to start a push, or only shoot one subject. I’ll say things like “Remember to try and always be pushing or pulling,” “Remember I want to see both hands” “He isn’t bringing any energy, let’s not grab shots of him” “keep feeding me shots” “That is a little wide for IMAG” or “I’m not a fan of that shot because…” Now obviously try and be nice about it, don’t be frustrated treat it as a gentle reminder. The beautiful thing about doing this is that all your ops are on Com and hear when you do this. So by reminding 1 person you remind them all.
Again, the first 5-10 minutes you may do this a lot, all depending on the skills and experience of the ops but then you will greatly minimize these long drawn out commands and get back to directing. Ops will begin to give you what you want, and avoid what you don’t want. These expectations save a lot of time and a lot of bad shots and will result in bringing the production to level you want it.
Directors need to be consistent, don’t change how you call, or your standards if you can help it. The more consistent you are in how you call your show and in what you want, the quicker your ops will learn you and adapt to your style. Along with being consistent is being short in your commands, which I talked about in a previous post. Short, consistent, and to add one more is simple.
Unless you have professional ops they may not always understand what you want if you use complex terms. Keep your terminology simple and whatever you choose be consistent so it is easy for them to follow you. There are some terms I use that are in no way shape or form laymen’s terms. So if I want someone to rack-out for instance, I may call for it and see what happens. But if they don’t do what I asked and I know it is in their wheelhouse, the next time I call for it I will say, “Slowly go out of focus and rack out.” This defines the term for them, it allows me to use my term from then on, stay consistent, and keep my calls short.
We are all like to know when we do things right and we all want to do them right. So when a camera operator does something right, encourage it and it will repeat. This can be the quickest way to bring a camera operator up to speed. There have been times where I spend 10-15 seconds (an eternity when directing) with a new op trying to get them to frame a shot right, as soon as they get it, no matter how long it took I will say, “perfect!” take the shot to air and after I’m off their camera say “Nice job.” This simply builds habits. The operator now knows a shot I like, the next time I want that shot they remember and get to it much quicker that it took the first time.
Every operator has a limited number of shots they are going to get or remember. This can be due to skill, location, or style. Regardless of the situation you need to make sure that the shots you want are in their limited number of shots. By encouraging and praising the good shots you move the shots you want not only on the list but high on the list since they know that you like that shot.
When dealing with new or difficult ops this works like a charm! Sometimes it feels like you are lying through your teeth or putting on a face to get through your frustrations but, it works! Habits are formed with praise and then they repeat.
Setting the mood/ Pace
As directors it is all a 1-sided conversations. For people like myself that are not too talkative, this is a challenge. Lucky for me usually there isn’t time to tell stories or talk about the weather in these 1-sided conversations, it is usually all business, but understand that your demeanor gets reflected by your ops. If you talk fast, they work fast, if you talk slow, then they work slow; if you are excited they pay more attention but if you are too relaxed they fall asleep; if you are stressed out, they are stressed out; you get the picture. I find you have to mix these all together. If it is a really exciting song and you want to do some fast switching, get excited and talk fast and you will get the same result from your cameras. If you want slow and steady movements talk in a more relaxed manor.
The biggest mistake people make is they become inconsistent and then they just get stress out when they don’t get what they want or need. This spirals and puts all the ops on edge. There is a fine line between being excited and yelling at your ops. I’ve met directors that don’t intend to yell, but that is how they come across. Seek feedback to make sure you are creating a culture with your mood and pace that can translate well over Com. Remember, if you are having fun; your ops are having fun. It really is that simple. Just trying to smile more can help you create a better culture, even though they can’t see your smiling.
On my vimeo page I have 2 behind the scenes clips of me directing a concert. Before the show I had decided I wanted to go for a different feel than what I’m used to, especially since this was hopefully going to be a DVD rather than just IMAG. I wanted a pedal to the metal, lots of fast crazy cuts on both the on and off beats. I had never directed this way before, but I did some studying (watched a few concerts) got the feel I wanted and by using my demeanor I was able to completely change how the ops ran their cameras. Sure I communicated before hand that it would be different from the norm and tried to paint a quick picture of what I was looking for. But the success really came by changing my demeanor to match the look and feel I was going for.
The first clip is of an up beat song and you will hear me and how I direct, it is fast, and I’m excited and I don’t skip a beat. If you watch the second clip it was a slower song I wanted more artistic and slower shots. Again I did this by changing my demeanor. Now of course the songs change temp and feel too and I’m sure that has something to do with it but as I have said many times, it starts and stops with the director.
That show, I surprised myself and was extremely proud of my ops. One op I had never worked with before but had volunteered for a while, two others I didn’t usually work with a lot, 1 was a consistent volunteer I had worked with quiet a bit and the last 2 were both directors, one in which I had never worked with before. We did get a full Dress Rehearsal and if I had recorded it (which I should have) you would see that it all came together quickly.
Creating a good com culture can make all the difference in your productions by setting standards, creating consistency with both you and your ops, building habits through encouragement and getting a positive result with a positive attitude. The first step in creating this culture is to take responsibility as the director to get the show you need and rather than creating high standards and getting frustrated when they aren’t met, take responsibility for the culture and attack it from many different angles and you will succeed. Training ops is very important and you should always take time to do so, but who’s to say you can’t train people in the moment, especially since every production is a learning experience for everyone.