Page 2: Film vs. Digital Video
Page 3: Oliver Stapleton: So You Wanna Work in Movies?
Page 4: What It Took to Create 'Collateral'
Page 5: Bleach Bypass - Digital Intermediate - Steadicam - Louma Crane
Page 6: Cinematographers-Turned-Director: A - F
Page 7: Cinematographers-Turned-Director: G - Q
Page 8: Cinematographers-Turned-Director: R - Z
Page 9: A History of Aerial Cinematography
One hundred years have passed since the motion picture camera and the motion picture projector were invented.
The cameraman was the technical [and often creative] key to the movie-making process, providing his personal camera equipment and the overall technical direction of the recording process. He would set up his camera, load film into it, set the exposure functions, frame the action, crank film through the camera at a given rate, set fades and dissolves and irising, unload the film, develop the film, print the film, and, when early story films required moving the camera from place to place, he would edit and splice scenes together, print and then project the final result, a veritable one-man band.
By 1899, story-telling techniques developed. Scenarios were written. Film presentations were one reel [1,000'] in length, approximately seventeen minutes at 16 fps. At 8 frames per turn, the cameraman-operator would crank film through the camera at the rate of two turns per second in order to maintain that 16 fps rate.
By 1904, the static camera instead of recording the entire production from a single position, began being purposefully placed at varying distances from the action or subject matter. Somewhat later, the camera was placed on a mobile platform and moved while filming from a long view to a close view, while panning and tilting to hold the action in frame.
In the USA, two cameras were being used during production. The principal, or first camera, operated by the principal, or first cameraman, was placed in the optimal position with respect to the blocked action and was used to expose the more important domestic release negative. Next to it with the same focal length lens and similar coverage, was placed the second camera, operated by the second cameraman, which was used for the foreign release negative. [During this period there was still difficulty in producing a good copy negative from the original negative. Two negatives were required so that the second one could be expeditiously sent to Europe for that concurrent movie market. Often two cameras were operated at the same site so as to generate two original negatives.]
It was the first cameraman's responsibility to determine the position of the camera[s], the lens, the f-stop, the focus, the lighting balance and to adjust the muslin and/or to have the studio rotated to maintain proper relationship to sunlight. When sodium vapor lamps were adapted to motion picture use, it made it possible to film on sets in studio interiors. The first cameraman had to spend much time adjusting or supervising the adjustment of the lamps in order to properly illuminate the studio settings and balance the lighting on the actors. With these heavy lights, he was given an assistant, a chief electrician, to place, connect and adjust the lights. The chief electrician would often save himself the trouble of using a ladder to adjust each light by using a boat gaff stick to reach up and tilt, turn or swing each light to a desired position, or to switch a light on or off; hence, the term, gaffer.
With the advent of sound in 1926 for major studio production, lighting procedures, handling large crews and the multiple-camera requirements of sound recording finally divorced the first cameraman from operating a camera. Each camera had a constant-speed electric motor set to run at 24 fps but, because the silent era did not require silent running, produced an unacceptably high noise level for production-quality sound. In addition, the strong lights made the studios extremely hot and uncomfortable.
Compounding the problem, the recording of production sound required that all cameras and their operators be enclosed in soundproofed, non-air-conditioned cabinets [called 'hot boxes']. Up to ten cameras, two to a booth, were used to film heavily-rehearsed sequences in one full-load take [up to 11 minutes per 1,000' load]. In order to avoid this torture, soundproofing blimps were soon developed to contain the noise of the silent-era production cameras and self-blimped cameras were promptly put on the drawing boards.
Microphone and boom shadows were everywhere and had to be controlled. The first cameraman, now called the director of photography, had to be on the floor to be able to see what was happening, monitoring his lighting and the action, ready to take immediate corrective action. The responsibility for operating the camera, and keeping microphone, microphone booms and their shadows out of frame, fell to the second cameraman to whom the title, camera operator, was applied.
The camera operator, the person looking through the viewfinder, has always been responsible for framing the action and including essential parts of that action in frame. In the days before video assist, the camera operator saw the framed action first and was the only one able to say accurately whether the take was pictorially acceptable or not until dailies were looked at the following day.
The heavier, bulkier precision production sound cameras with their gear heads required assistance to move, set up and operate. What had been possible for a camera operator, operating a smaller camera on a friction head - making adjustments while panning and tilting such as, focus, shutter angle, irising, sliding diffusion, etc. - became impossible or impractical to accomplish with both hands on the control wheels of a heavy-duty gear head. So the camera assistant became the first assistant camera operator [focus puller] and the second assistant camera operator helped the first assistant and slated scenes, while a loader kept film magazines loaded, downloaded and exposed film properly identified. [From article by Bill Hines, SOC, in the Spring 1993 issue of 'The Operating Cameraman'.]