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What does it take to be an Action Cameraman?

movie camera operator

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

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.

Rigging

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.

Stabilize yourself

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!

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    Paul Maunder

    Having worked as a sound engineer for over 22 years, Paul has a wealth of experience in all areas of audio post-production. Whether it’s sound design, dialogue editing, noise reduction or mixing, he recognises the importance of audio to any production and works on the principle that sound is 50% of the experience.


    Paul has an exceptional technical background, having worked on thousands of productions from TV shows to corporate videos for major organisations, and theatrical feature releases.

    He is one of only a handful of people in Europe to be certified as an Avid Expert instructor for Pro Tools, the industry standard audio post-production software.


    He also runs the Sound for Film, Games & TV course at the renowned Spirit Studios in Manchester and teaches modules on some of their degree courses. Whether it’s a straight forward stereo production or a full surround sound mix for a huge feature, Paul has an in-depth knowledge of technical standards, including loudness specifications for film, broadcast and streaming platforms.

    When Paul isn’t doing something sound related, he is usually doing parkour, something which he’s been practicing on a weekly basis since 2005.


    The connection to Paul with Stunt Camera Crew began many years ago in the Parkour community and his extensive experience with Parkour gives him a unique advantage in movement sound design.

    Wanting to make your Parkour action scene come to life? There isn’t anyone better qualified to bring on board.

    Adam Brashaw

    With over 10 years of professional experience working on major Hollywood films, Adam has been used for his flair for creativity and talent in filmmaking as an Action Designer and Fight Coordinator in multi-million dollar productions.

    Additionally Adam has stunt doubled actors such Ryan Reynolds on 6 Underground and Hitman’s Bodyguard, Michael Fassbender on Assassin’s Creed, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye on Avengers – Age of Ultron to name a few.

    Adam’s IMDB

    Action Showreel

    NOAH WALDNER

    Noah is a Swiss drone specialist who has worked in the toughest scenarios with various brands and institutions.

     

    Over the last 6 years Noah has gained tons of experience in the Aerial / FPV industry. He will take any rig you can imagine into the air and fly it any way he can to capture footage that was previously unthinkable.

    Claudiu Voicu

    Having grown up with the best of British Freerunning talent, Claudiu found himself moving away from his web-design roots to film, edit and photograph the newly discovered extreme sport at a time when its popularity was increasing daily.


    Claudiu’s history with Freerunning started in 2003 following a feature on Channel 4’s Transworld Sports series. Soon after, he  joined the Urban Freeflow Forums – the World’s first English-speaking Parkour  community – when there were less than 10 people involved. The next decade consisted of travelling the world documenting the immense rise in Parkour and Freerunning as part of the most commercially successful Parkour and Freerunning Company to date.


    His first self-produced and directed Freerunning production, Storm Freerun – Volume 1, became a viral hit and has since been licensed by the likes of Audi and Red Bull. This led to him directing several action sports-related content for the likes of Nokia & Nike, as well being the only Freerunning based video Director featured in Channel 4′s urban sports documentary Concrete Circus.


    Claudiu now works as a freelance Director, Producer, Camera Operator, Editor and Photographer. He is also one of very few people who can say they’ve operated a MoVi and Steadicam rig while on inline and ice skates.

    Alec Taylor

    Alec Taylor is a UK based Camera Assistant/Filmmaker. Always having a passion for the moving image and cameras started his career in the feature film industry working as a Camera Assistant.

    Having had the opportunity to work on some of the biggest budget Hollywood films of the past 5 years he gained experience being on sets alongside the biggest Filmmakers of this generation.

    Now alongside working on feature films, he takes prides working with Stunt Camera Crew.

    Head over to Alec’s IMDb to find out more about the productions he has worked on. 

    https://www.imdb.com/name/nm8796532/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

    https://www.alectaylor.co.uk/

    Will Sutton

    Sport Background:

     

    Will began as a Free Runner in 2005, now with 15 years of experience of being an athlete. Will has worked as an athlete/stuntman in things such as feature film Mary Poppins Returns, working with director Jason Statham, Performing in front of hundreds of thousands in many live performances, Motion Capture for Call of Duty. This gave Will the experience of being in front and behind the camera. Will has also competed in the worlds biggest Free Running competition Red Bull Art of Motion placing in the finals many times.

     

     

    Filmmaking Background:

     

    Since day 1 of Free Running Will has always filmed his own Youtube videos of training, which soon developed into working in big productions behind the camera. Will has worked in Short Films, Commercials, Music Video, Corporate and of course Sport Films. With over 12 years of professional experience behind the camera, Will has worked with brands such as Barbour International, Discovery Channel, Omega, Chanel, Skoda, Tag Heuer, & Netflix.

    Will is originally from the Isle of Man but now is based in Brighton UK, working regularly in London.

     

    Social

    Instagram

    IMDB

     

    Will’s Channels

    https://www.bouncecolor.com/

    https://www.innergrade.com/

    https://teckers.com/

    Daniel Ilabaca

    Growing up as a figure skater on the ice rink transitioning into Parkour with over 20 years experience, Daniel has worked in front of the camera for more than 10 years.

     

    Traveling and teaching all over to world he found himself in some interesting situations. From racing an olympic show jumper for german television to racing against Tog Gear co-star James May through the streets of Liverpool, Daniel has found himself working along side such Directors like Jon Favreau and DOP Matthew Libatique.

     

    Through his 9 year career as a stunt performer in Hollywood and Bollywood Films, Daniel later began choreographing movement on set which later led him to Stunt Co-ordinating commercials which involved Parkour/speed running/chase scenes multiple action sequences.

     

    With his understanding of movement and where to place the camera for the best angles Daniel more recent as taken on the role of DOP shooting the action itself and working closely with the athlete/actors to achieve the impossible. He finds his background on the Ice rink and rollerblades very useful to capture the high energy moments whilst operating a Red Monstro with Movi Rig in hand.

    Experience

    MTV Ultimate Parkour Challenge TV Series 1-6 1st Place Winner

    RMP 5Gum Commercial – Director Jon Favreau

    Star Wars – Han Solo / Stunt double

    Singularity – Stunt Double – Starring Josh Harnett

    Stunt Co-ordinator – Target Colour Changes Everything

    Tog Gear – Parkour Vs Car

    Sky Sports – Commercial Lead Actor

    Sky Mobile – Commercial Lead Actor

    National Geographic – FightScience Stunt Performer

    Drone – Stunt Double

    28 weeks Later – Featured Infected Zobie

    Singh Is Kig – Stunt Double: Akshay Kumar

    Unglaublich German TV Showjumping Race

    BSkyB – Stunts/Choreographer

    Mercedes Commercial – Stunt/Actor

    Chemical Brothers Music Video – Midnight Madness: Lead Actor