Operating for Kids

This is written from a cameraman or operator's viewpoint who blocks the shot.

1. Continually watch for things that get put into the scene. Overzealous prop people and other helpful people can add something that ruins a nice composition.

2. Always make sure that you have enough set and dressing to allow for the unpredictable movements of kids or animals. A great action with the camera off the set is embarrassing.

3. Watch the background in a sunny looking set. Thin objects add dimension, but large objects grab the eye.

4. I find that just enough propping is best. It's easy to over prop. Make sure that people look through the eyepiece at the correct framing if they don't agree with your composition suggestions.

5. Gently press the director for what actions he is looking for and what unexpected bits would satisfy the script. There are things especially in commercials that may seem great that are not usable for the story. If the director seems to not be sure of what he wants, your asking might force him into thinking about it. A professional will appreciate it. A petrified novice might resent it.

6. Ask the gaffer to light an area as large as the kids might move into. Great lighting in just a small area and limited angles may be bad lighting when the kids decide to do their best bit somewhere else. If the lighting looks bad with the kids in the set, stop things and have it corrected. Good gaffers watch the scene as it plays, but some go for coffee after it is lit. Cutting a scene because of unexpected action of a kids can destroy a great bit that is not repeatable. It can also make the kid insecure. (See "Directing Non-Actors" in Intermediate Production Advice)

7. Watch for focus, whether you pull your own or not. A great but soft shot is doubly embarrassing. Ask for another take if in doubt.

8. Review the video assist if you are in doubt about getting a shot or not. Sometimes a lapse of attention watching for the mic., you can miss a unexpected action by a kid. Don't be embarrassed to NOT see everything in the frame as it happens. Sometimes you can feel that something was wrong in a take, but not know exactly what it is. Say so and ask others what they saw and it will help you remember. During a long take you might forget a small lighting problem that came and went or a boom shadow or being off the set. Study the video assist. A cut-a-way or reframing in editing might solve the problem. Doing more takes than necessary will tire actors, crew and producers.

9. Make sure that you include enough of an action so the audience will understand what's going on. Seeing hands moving, but not seeing enough to know what they are doing is not good. Two cameras are a great luxury. One tight, one wider. One at a different angle can see things hidden from the other for unpredictable and one-time actions.

10. For really close action, consider a separate small monitor at the lens for the focus-puller that has a separate video camera at right angles to the action. Marks for distance can be marked with grease pencil on the monitor screen. The focus-puller need not even look at the actor. A Kubrick trick.

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.