“Hold still!” I yell at the computer monitor.

“Excuse me?” my producer asks, looking up from her computer? “I’m not doing anything.”

I whip off my headphones (we share the edit bay). “This camera guy. He won’t hold a shot still for more than 2 seconds.”

“Why are you yelling? He can’t hear you or anything.”

True. He can’t. But that doesn’t stop me from yelling. I tend to do this often. I express my displeasure with the cameraman a lot, and the computer monitor takes the brunt of it. What are my biggest complaints? What are the most common issues that I as an editor have with camera guys? Well, I will outline a few. But first I will be political and state that 90% of the footage I get is good. DPs and camera operators talk with me and we discuss what sort of stuff I would like to have in post. How should they shoot things, why kind of b-roll might I look for. Or more technical questions like what frame rates we will be working with and they provide test footage in order for me to figure this stuff out.

So much of the collaboration I have with camera people is good. But there are some bumpy spots. So I’d like to express a few issues I see regularly with camera operators in hopes that they can correct them.

1) Let’s revisit the issue that caused me to yell at the monitor at the beginning of this post. Please, when you are shooting a subject, or object, like say a water tower in New York, please hold the shot still for more than a second or two. And take your hands OFF of the camera if possible. This reduces the amount of shake on a shot. I know a lot of people know this, this is intended for those that might not. And when you start on an object then either pan or zoom…hold for 10 seconds, then do the move, settle, then STAY STILL for 10 seconds. Sometimes we need this steady shot and would prefer not to make a still out of it…it looks weird.

2) Please only do the shaky cam when the show calls for it. Please talk to the other camera people and the director to get on the same page. I was on a show where we had two camera operators on a shoot and one was on a tripod and did nice fluid movements following people. The other camera operator shot like he was on ice with bare rubber shoes. The shot NEVER settled. Well, once, for a second, but it was the rare occurance. Please find the shot and settle, hold for a few seconds. Sure, get critical focus when needed but then reframe and HOLD.

3) Be aware of your reflections. There was this great shot pan/tilting from a bridge to the cabin of a tug boat and two guys inside. GREAT shot. Fantastic. Except reflected in the window was a VERY visible camera man. So as much as I loved the shot and wanted to use it, I couldn’t. This holds true for car windows, store fronts, hub caps, sunglasses (ugh, that happens a lot) and water. Also, if you can, wear dark clothes. Avoid anything that will draw the eye.

4) If there is audio happening in the shot that would be pertinent to the scene, please refrain from talking. We use the audio from the b-roll that you shoot. Showing footage of waves crashing on the shore without the sound of the waves crashing on the shore can really take the viewer out of the moment. So when the soldiers are disembarking from the rowboat I really would like to hear the boots of the men on the wood, the tinkling of their canteens and rifles. That adds to the moment, and is very time consuming and expensive to add in post.

I mention this in a full post back in summer of ’07. Apparently I use the same examples too. I thought this sounded familiar…

Although I REALLY like it when, at the head of every shot, you tell me the location. That is ÜBER helpful.

4) Please turn off all cell phones and pagers. Not silent please…off. Many phones, primarily Blackberries, iPhones or other phones that are constantly searching for e-mail and data, emit this “dit, di-di-dit, di-di-dit” sound that the camera picks up. I get the same sound when I set my iPhone too near unshielded speakers in the edit bay, or in my car. That can make an interview useless. It is good when the audio guy hears this and says that you need to start over…but still, you have taken the interviewee out of the moment and interrupted his train of thought.

5) If you shoot with multiple cameras on set, and are shooting the same subject…if you can, please shoot a common slate. A simple hand clap will do. And a verbal marker will be helpful as well, like a time stamp. “4:15 PM, marker!” or something like that. So that if I have several takes of a documentary scene or reality show that might not have a scene number, this way I can find the two shots that match.

NOTE! Please note this. If you shoot the common slate, DO NOT IMMEDIATELY TURN YOUR CAMERA OFF OR PRESS THE RECORD BUTTON AGAIN THUS STOPPING RECORDING. This renders the common slate useless. While this is rare, it does happen. Please, this isn’t an MOS film slate to signify the scene…we are using this to multiclip the cameras so we can have them gang synced so we can easily cut from one to another. Thank you.

6) If you are using an actual slate with scene and take and all that other stuff, please write legibly. It would really be helpful if we could read the information you are trying to provide. This is more for the camera assistant, but I had to throw it in there.

7) ROOM TONE. Please record at least 20-30 seconds of ambient audio in any location you might be in. When you are done shooting, just ask everyone to stop for a moment, be quiet…and press record. And no whispering while this is happening, we can hear you. We need this audio for a variety of reasons. WE might cut up an interview byte, or need to add a pause where there is none (some interviewees just talk and talk and talk without pause, and some directors/producers don’t pause long enough after the person stopped talking before they reply). Sometimes there is an odd sound in the background that we need to mask, or microphone hit, or something. Having clean ambient audio for every location is nice to have.

Now, the following are for you guys and gals shooting green screen.

8) Be aware of the green screen markers on the background. Please be sure that you don’t place any that will disappear behind talent or props. This makes it difficult for the FX person who will be compositing the shot. Also, clear it with your EFX guru, but green tape on a green screen is often GREAT for tracking and doesn’t have to be painted out after, the key can be adjusted to include the green of the tape.

9) Please make sure that the green is one uniform color. Giving me a shot with 4 different shades of green tends to make life difficult. Be aware of shadows and sunlight on the screen Make sure that the green you place on objects that you intend for us to also composite out of the picture is the same green as the green screen.

10) There is blue screen, and green screen. There is no such thing as PURPLE SCREEN. Especially when the subject as RED HAIR. Please, blue or green only. OH, and also there is no such thing as WHITE screen. That had a friend of mine pulling his hair out for days. He had enough trouble dealing with the purple screen shot I gave him with the red head. And there DEFINITELY is NO SUCH THING AS A RED SCREEN – people’s skin tone, while it may not look it to you is RED (from the blood in their capillaries). Same friend actually had someone give him a person sitting in a red chair to key and it was impossible…he had to roto.

There’s my top ten. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below. BE NICE. I had to tone a few of my suggestions down a bit. Not polite to say “Shut the hell up!”


A coworker of mine mentioned one more (I heard her yelling at her monitor this morning).

11) Please shoot the b-roll at a different angle and frame size than you had when you shot the subject in front of it. Most of the b-roll she is dealing with is as if they shot the subject, then asked him to move, then just shot the background. That makes the footage pretty much useless as cutaway material. JUMP CUT! Even if the B-roll you have is limited, shoot it with as many angles and frame sizes as time permits. We editor crave, and need, options.