“How do I become a professional Camera Operator or Jib Operator?” That’s a question nearly every film student and independent videographer asks. For the sake of brevity, this discussion will focus on becoming a freelance Camera Operator for multi-camera broadcasts (EFP) at live events such as sports and concerts.
Become an Assistant First – We recommend first that you gain hands-on experience in the industry as an assistant, and then work your way towards running camera or jib. This process SHOULD take a few years, even if you already have a degree in film or broadcasting. Working as an assistant is a valuable step that will establish your reputation and strengthen your understanding of how the industry works.
Gain Experience – A great way to gain experience and build your resume is by volunteering at a large church that has a multi-camera setup, or by contacting a local production company (like us) and ask to work on a shoot as a Camera Utility, Production Assistant, or Jib Assist. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, and use it to build a reputation as a hard worker who shows up early and stays focused from load-in to load-out.
Connect with the Right Companies – If you already have a solid resume and respectable references, the next step would be to contact your local IATSE, IBEW, or NABET office and ask a Crew Coordinator to add you to their call list as a Utility, Camera Operator, or whatever position you have experience in. There are also large production companies with regional offices that you could contact (NEP, Yes Productions, and Mobile TV Group are some examples). After sending them your info, it might be several months before you get a call back; but if you’re persistent without being annoying, you’ll eventually get called. In the meantime, you could also contact your local sports arena and apply for a part-time position on their in-house production crew for minor-league games or music events.
Work Hard, Learn, Be Patient – When you finally do get your first couple of calls for broadcast gigs, don’t turn the opportunities down. Show up to the gigs early, and be prepared to sweat and get dirty if needed. If you don’t know something, don’t try to fake it… ask. The humble, hard workers are the ones who get called to work again. Keep in mind, it’s common when you’re starting out as a freelancer to only work 1 day every month or two… you’ll be at the bottom of the call list, and you’ll have to work your way up. Eventually you’ll begin to build professional relationships based on your work ethic and reputation, and that’s what will carry you forward in your career.