By Roy H. Wagner ASC
Courtesy SOC Magazine

Several months ago I accepted a small independent feature from a director I had worked with before. On that previous film I chose to operate because I couldn’t find a qualified operator who would work for the rate. Little did I know what conflict this would bring to my relationship with that director in future projects. It had been years since I had operated and so when he suggested that he liked my operating and would really like for me to do it once again, I thought it might be fun to try my hand at being a director of photography/operator. The experience was extraordinary but in the midst of production I discovered a bone chilling reason why a cinematographer should never operate.

In my thirteen-year struggle to get into the Union, I had not only learned to survive as a director of photography, but as an operator. Throughout those years I never had the luxury of an operator. Much like today’s geniuses that guide our Industry and decide our future, I began to wonder why a cinematographer needed an operator.

Prominent cinematographers would visit my set and question, “How can you do both jobs?” “How can you judge lighting, or an actor’s make up through a ground glass while constantly chasing the frame line for compositional changes?” “How could you judge the density of smoke through the camera?” Alas, I didn’t understand what I was missing. The one question I was not asked was, “how does it affect your relationship with the director?”

When I finally was able to hire an operator, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I stood behind the camera like an umpire at a baseball game. I had become a very good operator with very specific ideas about composition and movement. I had learned to supervise the lighting and operate while trying to collaborate with the directors who had hired me. It all seemed to be working well. How naïve I was. more...

Tea Leoni and Camera Operator.

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