Camera operators are the people responsible for capturing the action in front of the camera. Whether that’s a studio programme or documentary, or a movie, the cameraman will know which cameras to use in which conditions and consider the composition, framing, and movement of a shot. However, there are many types of camera operators, and here we will review the ones that do the most exciting filmmaking, the action cameraman.
An action cameraman needs to understand the talent that’s in front of the camera, so they know how to approach and what they have to take in order the create the best shots. Reasons for why this is so important is because:
- Stunts can be dangerous to do multiple times. It’s best to minimise the amount of takes as much as possible!
- Stunts can be tiring for the performers. The more takes you need, the more risks arise
- Both the cameraman and the performer work in sync to get the best possible shots
- Time is money, getting the perfect shot in a minimal amount of time is ideal
Ever thought about how camera operators in movies get the crazy shots?
Action cameramen are operators that are the closest to the action. They are in charge of capturing all the details of the shot from different angles. Some action cameramen have cameras mounted on mobile pedestals, which they can move around the studio, rotate, and adjust the height, all while filming. Others have a camera strapped to them for when they need to film a moving action and follow the actors every step of the way.
The action cameraman is never limited by a location or a single set of equipment. This video best depicts that. Their goal is to be able to capture the “hard to get” moments that other camera operators cannot. They are always “equipped for versatility” without using all the unnecessary cable rigs and equipment often brought in to do the job.
Rollerblading Camera Operators
Rollerblading camera operators are cameramen that have to carry the camera rig while on rollerblades. They’re very fast and nimble, so their main specialty is to get fast moving angles which are usually hard to do on a bigger machine. Perfect for following moving cars and motorbikes in small places and into the heart of the action.
Here’s some other videos taking you straight into the rollerblading action cameraman’s world:
Parkour cameramen are another type of action camera operator that needs as much preparation as the stuntmen themselves. They have to cross the same terrain, go through the same action and keep pace with all what is happening. Plus they have to do the stunts with at least 15kg worth of expensive gear. All this effort often goes unacknowledged considering how much skill and practice the Parkour cameramen have to put into their work.
Car stunts & camera operating
Car stunts take a remarkable amount of effort and skill to perform because often, many different angles are included at incredible speeds. The action cameraman has to be in line with all the action and follow all the important segments with a few pieces of equipment in their hands. Sometimes it is even required for action cameramen to repeat the same car stunt shot twice or more from two different positions, in order to enable a seamless final edit.
This is when the cameraman and stuntmen are rigged to wires, and they both go through the action together. These action cameraman practices show how camera operators need to always be equipped for versatility. In fact, the whole idea of stunt cameramen is the idea that athletes need to film athletes. Both people behind and in front of the camera can understand how each other work and move at a fast and efficient pace with less risk.
This video depicts the ‘athletes need to film athletes’ notion:
OneWheel, Segways, Longboard and Similar Gear
Versatility is the most important segment as athletes require the flexibility of the action cameraman along with their gear. So the cinema-level camera rigs need to be just as versatile as they are. Longboard shots offer the action cameraman to keep pace with the actors in front of the camera.
It’s also crucial that all gimbals are pro-level and can hold heavy cinema cameras and the rest of the accessories needed.
Here’s another example of how the stunt cameramen always have to be in line with what’s in front of the camera and use suitable gear that will enable them to get the best shots.
Various other things
An action cameraman has to be prepared for a plethora of other surroundings and types of events that may be required by the producers.
They also have to possess a good eye for photography and an understanding of composition, light, colour, focus, and framing. A stunt cameraman can specialise in specific genres if they want, but the work requires that they adapt to different shooting styles often.
Like all camera operators, the action cameramen have to be versatile in different gear. They need the technical knowledge of cameras and an in-depth understanding of the latest motion picture equipment, cameras, lenses, monitors, and lights.
As a bonus, they need to be able to multitask in order to recognize when the best shot is happening and where the real action is, all while carrying out complex technical tasks. Action cameraman have to adapt to the specific requirements of different shoots, watch, listen, think quickly and solve problems on the go.
Good communication is critical as they need to communicate with the director and work as part of the team with other crew. It’s crucial that they are patient and able to maintain focus over long programme shoots and stay calm in any situation.
But it doesn’t always go as planned
Of course, what I described is the ideal situation, and things are sometimes far from the ideal. The action cameraman frequently has to go with the flow and try to make the most out of any situation, even those that went wrong.
Sometimes even many of the shots used in the official versions of movies, commercials, and promotional videos were ones that happened by accident or were spontaneously caught by the stunt cameraman rolling.
This is why professionalism, skill, and experience always at the forefront of everything the action cameraman does.
Pro tips for becoming an action cameraman
Everything takes practice. Here are four helpful tips that all camera operators can use to improve their work and build their skills up.
Holding the camera still is key, but for stunt cameramen, this is sometimes impossible mainly due to the nature of their filming. Practise holding your camera rig as steady as possible while you are moving. Imagine running down the stairs with a cup of tea without spilling, just like that!
With some scenes or requirements, you will need to equip yourself with a pro-level gimbal that will absorb the walking, running and jumping. Many modern fight scenes don’t share that philosophy nowadays. Instead, they favour shaky cameras and hyperkinetic editing. However, there are a lot of viewers that don’t like this sort of style.
When the camera is too unsteady, it can hinder the audience’s ability to see and appreciate the action. It all depends on the choice of the director and DOP, but a stunt cameraman needs to be ready for both situations.
Predict your composition ahead of your actions
While the tip above is a solid practice of all professional camera operators, that does not mean that they leave the camera down and passively let it roll. There is still the shot composition, angles and lighting that need to be taken into account. These will add to the story being told on screen. A good practice is to prepare your route.
If you are running and jumping over obstacles following a Parkour athlete, you will need to prepare in your mind where you will be pointing the camera before you are going over the obstacle. It’s highly important to do this as it prepares you to have more focus while you are moving.
For example, a step or two before you jump over an obstacle, you should have prepared where you want the camera to be pointing so you can fully focus on where you are and how you are going to land safely. Then once you land you can refocus on your framing.
Always be prepared
There is a lot of planning that goes into the scene, but the action cameraman has to also be there, prepared to capture beyond the planned motion. This way, the camera operator can easily navigate the shoot and get the best shot while filming. After all, shooting an action scene isn’t just about following up with actors and stunt coordinators as they did all the hard work, it is about working alongside them.
Hire an action cameraman or team of specialists
Stunt Camera Crew are a team of movement specialists based in the UK, Switzerland and LA. They have been in the industry for over 15 years and have successfully mastered professional skills in Parkour, Rollerblading and Filmmaking. Having worked on some of the biggest commercials and films today such as Star Wars, Call of Duty, Superbowl commercials and much more, they have the highest level skills required to pull off these tasks.
Contact SCC to inquire about any stunt operating you will need!