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14 May 2019

Training courses for Multicamera

With tons of experience, Peter Bakker and Julian Marks agree: operating a camera is a hands-on craft. As heads of Camera at Multicamera they are perfectly placed to witness staff development and to train new talent.

Qualified camera operators just starting at United think they have arrived, but find out that their real training has only just begun. Apart from technical theory and practice training, a lot more is needed. Julian: “Our profession mostly implies working with your hands. What goes for a plasterer, goes for camera operators too: you need to become adroit by clocking up the mileage. But you also need to be able to co-operate.” New staff start a training route at United, first at a safe position where mistakes are allowed, in order to grow step by step. This often takes years. Peter: “We often hire young colleagues who are midway in their development. We first try to find out if they are technically skillful. They don’t even have to be proficient at anything, as long as they take guidance from experienced colleagues. That, to us, is an important first step. Camera professionals, such as ourselves, will monitor their progress. We keep track of their performance and incorporate that into our short-term planning. There is a name for it: ‘Planning along growth lines’.”

Obstacle course

Peter tells us how hard it is to train camera operators hands-on. “Mistakes are less and less permissable since there is usually no time to rehearse, and customers, however gracious they are, demand high standards.” In addition to bi-weekly practising during football games of the Ajax ladies, special training days are organized by and at United. Recently, we surprised ten camera operators with two challenging half-day assignments. We had designed an obstacle course with the assignment to keep getting ideal shots in spite of difficult environment factors, according to the ‘anything goes’ principle. Julian: “Once you’ve learned how to cycle, wouldn’t you love to do a wheelie? That is what you can try here, in a safe environment, among ourselves.” United’s training approach is quite modern. “Once upon a time you were obliged to practise long and hard using a zoom board. We still use these boards, but combine them with other, more playful, exercises. We also test our staff’s social and communicative skills: do they look you in the eyes when talking to you, do they pay attention to someone else’s words? That kind of interaction is very important,” Julian says. Peter adds: “How do they eat when joined by a customer at the table. Do they keep their caps on? That may sound a bit lame, but we know that tips like these are greatly appreciated.”

Learning how to multitask

Once you have mastered the technical skills and your way of filming has loosened up, you can focus on the content of what you are filming. After all, it will be something new every time. First a football game, then a round-table discussion. You need to keep track of more conversations simultaneously, while the director is giving all kinds of instructions in your ear. At some stage, you will have so much experience that you can anticipate the course of things, says Julian. “A colleague of ours once said that he could only keep track of the story after eight years.”

Peter gives an example of an exercise: “Our colleague Frank Dokter had kept the radio switched on during a talk. Afterwards he asked the trainees what the radio discussion was about. They didn’t know. The trick is to be able to do two things at once, to stay focused and connect the dots. During the second day, the trainees did much better.” Julian explains that things can get very personal during camera work. “The director might call out that camera 4 has made a mistake. Everyone who is on the intercom can hear that. This makes you more vulnerable. Turbulence in your head is reflected by what your hands do. So, during the training, you learn to filter information. And you also have to learn to let things rest.”

You are never on your own

Peter: “The good thing about multicamera work is: you do it together. At first, you see people wanting to get the entire shot, out of some sense of their own responsibility. They don’t seem to realize that they are standing next to someone who is perfectly capable of getting the next shot. That is something else we want to teach them during training. Once you’ve learned to co-operate, the fulfillment is immense. Even when you are not responsible for the best shot, you are all responsible as a group.” Within the group, a good atmosphere is essential. Julian: “Even though the programme’s title may sound ever so good, it is more important who you work with than what you do. When you are unloading a truck at six in the morning on Christmas day, you want an enjoyable atmosphere. Keeping an eye on your colleagues and taking care of one another, that is what we at United stand for. We support one another at all times.”

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