Dateline: May 20, 2014
The first time I ever looked through a real camera, I was hooked. I was about six or seven years old. The camera was a Nikon, an “F” model. There was a zoom lens on the camera. Although I probably didn't understand the long lens compression I was seeing, I felt that the ground glass was a portal to another world. Imagine being a young kid in the late sixties: all those classic television shows, and films- that was somebodies job? I had to do that!I made short films in college, no audio except for the music that would accompany the image. When I graduated, I went down to the Big L.A. I forced my way into the business,onto a set, into the union and started at the bottom: loader, 2nd a.c., 1st a.c. (7 years) eventually operator: 20 years now.
I like to think about operators as guitar players, but only in the way that in both professions every single individual has a unique style. How do you develop a successful style? Don't ask me. Framing is subjective. Operators have certain skill sets that are unique. Some operators are great classicists on the gear head. Others excel on fluid heads. There are many fantastic hand held operators. There are steadicam operators who create poetry.It is essential to have a good rapport with your director of photography. It is also important to win the directors' confidence. And you can do that with the talent that you have in your hands and your eyes. Respect for other positions on the set like a.d., gaffer, key grip, focus puller, sound, makeup, wardrobe, truck driver, etc. goes a long way in this business.
In regard to framing, there are countless options when you consider the myriad of focal lengths and iris choices. How do you know which frame is the correct frame? I would say that is the frame which is most natural for you. There are many factors to take into account; first and foremost, the story should suggest the frame. For example, consider the light and shadow on an actors face, placement of other people and objects in the frame and colors. These are tools which will help you tell the story. In a way, being a camera operator is like being a writer, but instead of words, images are your tools. You can leave something out of the frame, or you can include it. If you leave something out, you should have a reason for doing that. If there is an important prop that will further the story, like the heroes car, or a gun, or a glass of beer, or a flower, you might include it.We all understand the Rule of Thirds. I think that is a good starting point. Then, toss it out the window. I prefer to be more extreme- if it is appropriate to the story. Sometimes it's smart to put an actor or an object right in the middle of the frame; it's not a “no fly” zone.Ultimately, as an operator you inhabit a rarified creative atmosphere along with thedirector, d.p., set designer, wardrobe and a few others. Like my good friend Vargo says, “It is a privilege to work in this industry”.
Scott Fuller camera operatorReturn to Musings