How does one become a professional video cameraman?
January 24, 2006 7:14 AM   Subscribe

How does one become a professional video cameraman?

NBA, NFL, reality TV, etc. - (1) what qualifications do those who operate video cameras for various TV shows have? I'm in college -- most of the way through an unrelated degree (and not interested in switching) -- but have harbored interest in operating a video camera professionally for some time. (2) Is there a specific type of degree that camerapeople have - possibly from a specialty school? (3) How tough of an industry is this to break in to? (4) If one wanted to become a cameraman like this, what would be the first step?
posted by nitsuj to Media & Arts (9 answers total)
I've got a friend who does camera work for NBC News (mostly remote stuff, but a little studio work too). He started out in his teens shooting weddings and *Mitzvahs for a local videography company. He moved onto local cable news a little later (since he'd had experience shooting and editing), and eventually went to school for "communications," whatever that means. Through his school, he managed a few internships at MTV, VH1, etc., and after graduation landed the freelance gig he has now.

It's a lot of hours (I don't know anyone who works like him; he never, ever turns down a shift), but the pay is excellent (and unionized) and he really likes doing it. But, in any case, no, he doesn't have a specialty degree of any sort. As for how hard it is to break into, he busts his ass, but was not particularly connected. You will definitely want to get some experience behind a camera or an editing deck before you go trying to get professional work, and wedding photography really isn't a bad idea (I also know a video editor who is working along the same path). Good luck!
posted by uncleozzy at 7:53 AM on January 24, 2006

I went to a tech (high)school in Canada (Central Tech) and took a course in Video and computer graphics. It took a year, two semesters, two credits. I left the career choice after that, but some of my classmates actually ended up at the local TV stations as camera-persons. (*cough*)

All they had was a highschool diploma and a co-op program that wedged them in during their teen years. I don't see how you can't do the same. You can't expec to do big shows from the get-go though - my old friends were following the street interviews for a full year before working in the studio. We all have to start somewhere...
posted by Sallysings at 7:53 AM on January 24, 2006

I sometimes do contract camera work (today, even), and I know about ten others folks in my area who do the same thing. We, for the most part, fell into it around high school or college, where we were in the various media-related classes.

/me dons other hat

As an owner of a company who hires cameramen, if I didn't know you were a good shooter, you wouldn't be on my list. You would be better off working up from the ground, which in the specific niche I'm in, means being a production assistant or cable puller.

Being a cable puller tends to be low-paying dirty work, but you can follow a real cameraman around and find out how they do what they do.

Being a production assistant means getting coffee. For everyone. Mostly joking here, but think glorified errand runner. Not as much exposure to actual OTJ training.
posted by tomierna at 8:02 AM on January 24, 2006

You could start by looking up the local branch of the International Association of Theatrical and Stagehand Employees, and asking for some advice - They'll probably know the local options, and might even offer training of their own, as well.

(Disclosure - I've been a journeyman in IATSE for about 5 years.)
posted by Orb2069 at 8:04 AM on January 24, 2006

You might want to think about which route is more appealing: news/documentary style/out in the field single camera work or studio/sporting event/multi-camera work and start to go one way or another. Typically for the studio/sporting event/fixed camera stuff you'll start out as a grip and work your way up. On the news/single camera side a demo reel will be more important.
posted by starman at 8:05 AM on January 24, 2006

The public university I went to had a communications program that had an emphasis in broadcasting. You could specialize in broadcast journalism or production. The college had their own public access TV station which helped the students to prepare for the real world. It shouldn't be too hard to find something similar in Missouri, probably at Colombia which has one of the best journalism programs in the country.
posted by JJ86 at 8:38 AM on January 24, 2006

I've personally seen people move from small, local TV station to national television within 4 years. But be prepared to start at $9.00 an hour at the local level.
posted by ryanissuper at 10:13 AM on January 24, 2006

1) No degree needed. Hard work, long hours, please.
2) No - but they must have an eye for it.
3) Semi tough. Lots of apprentice time - waiting for a break to go higher up.
4) First step. Shoot.

Then go see if your local cable/news/college, needs someone to run cable (preferable for live events, like a football game).

You'll work your way up the food chain, lugging equipment and cables...being the eyes for a cameraman who is sprinting downfield.

Then, you'll progress and shoot some second camera (or work in the truck.)
Then you'll look outside your small pond, working your way up.
posted by filmgeek at 11:30 AM on January 24, 2006

Much of this information is right on. However, having an "interest in operating a video camera professionally" is probably not enough motivation to get you through the crappy work and low pay.

Since you are in college, you should investigate the possibility of taking video production classes in the Communications department. I did that in college, and ended up starting my career in television as a result.

It would either be enough to satisfy your bug, or enough exposure to push you toward a career. Either way, it's credits toward graduation, and your home movies will always look better than the other dads'.
posted by MrZero at 1:20 PM on January 24, 2006

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