REEL LADIES MEMBER – Camera Operator Carrie Richard
CARRIE RICHARD is a jack-of-all-trades and master of one. She’s a results-oriented and creative professional with over 13 years experience in the television production industry working primarily as a studio pedestal camera operator on live, live-to-tape, features, game shows, talk shows, news, sports, music, and entertainment shows with additional experience in commercial operations and as a Jib operator, A2, and Utility.
She began her career as a Studio Technician at ESPN in Bristol, CT before returning to her home state of California to pursue freelance work. Since then, she has worked with over 26 production companies such as E! Entertainment, Fox, The Game Show Network, AMC, The Food Channel, CNN, and PBS to name a few.
Carrie possesses a BA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona as well as an MA in Literature and Creative Writing from Loyola Marymount University. Her extensive knowledge of storytelling coupled with her creativity behind the lens offers a unique perspective as a camera operator.
**READ BELOW CARRIE’S Q&A WITH REEL LADIES!**
RL: WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE INVOLVED IN THE ENERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?
CR: Funny you should ask! I’ve always been, and continue to be, interested in a multitude of areas. I could literally be just as at home running my own boutique, working in politics, teaching, etc., as I am behind a camera. I started out as a Political Science major as an undergrad at the University of Arizona, switched my degree first to Nutritional Science, and then to Media Arts. I recall listening to a classmate of mine talk about how great it was that he got to watch movies during class…and well, that sure sounded a lot more exciting than Anatomy and really appealed to my creative side! So toward the end of my Sophomore year in college I up and switched my major that third time, picked up a few classes I was lacking, and jumped head first into the world of entertainment. I was hooked!
RL: WHAT DREW YOU TO THE TECHNICAL SIDE?
CR: I actually fell into the technical side. Back when I graduated college, we didn’t have all of the websites around that we now take for granted. Such sites as Media-Match.com and Mandy.com weren’t around, so basically, I had to hit the pavement and send resumes and cover letters via snail mail. I grabbed a copy of the Hollywood Creative Directory, sat down and highlighted the Production Companies I was interested in and started making calls (expensive calling from Arizona!). I asked for a name to address a resume to for any entry-level work and then sent out my info to about 120 television and film studios as well as to various magazines. Out of the 120 only ten were for print, fifteen for television, and about fifteen were out of state…the rest were all film and in the state of California. Low and behold, after a few interviews in Los Angeles, I ended up back east in Connecticut working for ESPN of all places. I was hired to work as a Studio Technician and they trained me on set in various aspects of production from camera to audio to commercial operations. I was given creative license to create my own “bump” shots for paid advertisers and enjoyed the hands-on experience of being on set. And when I moved back to Los Angeles, all of my connections lead me to a life of being a freelance Camera Operator. That is what I knew…that was where I could make money.
RL: CAN YOU TELL THE AUDIENCE WHAT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CAMERA OPERATOR AND A CINEMATOGRAPHER IS?
CR: Generally, I think a Cinematographer is synonymous with a Director of Photography (DP). I believe the two names only come into play on a set if the DP is also the Camera Operator.
The hierarchy on a film set in terms of the camera personnel would be as follows: Director> DP (interprets Director’s vision) > Camera Operator (follows the DP’s direction)> First Assistant Camera (1st AC) (responsible for keeping the camera in focus)> Second AC (Clapper/Loads the camera).
I primarily operate a studio pedestal camera for live and live-to-tape television programs on which I am the sole person with relation to my camera. There’s a Director who tells me what to do, but no 1st or 2nd AC. I am all…the DP, CO, 1st and 2nd. If I was on a film set I’d be more apt to frame the shot and set it up with aid from the 1st and 2nd whereas on a news type of set for television, I am responsible for framing, focusing, trucking, dollying, and pedding…all by myself.
RL: WHAT ARE SOME KEY ELEMENTS OR SKILLS THAT CAMERA OPERATORS NEED TO DO THEIR JOB WELL?
CR: Knowing what makes a good shot composition for one. You need to know what looks good and what doesn’t in terms of framing. You know those people you ask to take your picture and it’s basically ALL headroom and they cut you off at the waist? BAD. No one wants to see the ceiling; they want to see YOU. You are the focal point. Knowing how much headroom, nose-room (you shift the talent a tad to the left of the frame if they happen to be looking left, otherwise it will appear as if they are talking to the side of the frame and not to another person), and room for graphics is imperative.
Being able to understand a Director or DP’s vision is also important. The more I work with a Director or a DP, the more I become an extension of his or her arm. They know that I “get them” and what they are trying to do, thus making their life that much simpler on set.
I’d say that on hand-held cameras, knowing focal length is very important. Knowing this in the studio is equally important when you need to rack your focus from one element to another. Going the wrong direction for instance can make your subject out of focus, which definitely won’t help in getting you more work!
RL: ARE THERE MANY WOMEN IN YOUR PARTICULAR FIELD?
CR: In my 13+ years working as a Camera Operator, I’ve only really come across about five or so other women doing the same job. With that said, I believe there are more women working in film as operating camera in that realm tends to, as mentioned previously, have more positions with regard to the camera crew. In fact, I worked on some “Burger King” and “FedEx” spots recently and there were a few women: myself as an operator, a Camera Assistant, and a DIT (Digital Imaging Technician). Generally I’d say the technical side is male dominated, but slowly more and more women are making their mark!
RL: WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE PROJECT TO WORK ON?
CR: While each production has its pros and cons, I’d have to say the documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Everyone involved with the project worked for a relatively low, set fee and worked their tails off for a cause. At the time, Global Warming was just a blip on the radar and I remember thinking, wow, what a great project to be involved with in getting the word out. The Director wasn’t used to shooting with multiple cameras so that was a definite learning experience on my part in terms of capturing his vision. VP Al Gore gave a 2.5-hour presentation three different times and we had two cameras, a jib, and a hand-held. For each presentation, my camera was the only one that physically switched positions. I was responsible for following Al all over the stage, all while keeping an extreme close-up IN FOCUS! My camera was also set on a not-so-stable platform so while I had my camera on an extended lens to get the shots, every shift of my weight would translate on screen with a wobble. So I had to be pretty still the entire time and with very little blinking as so to properly rack the focus. Challenging but well worth it!
RL: WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON CURRENTLY?
CR: Currently I am freelancing here and there as the economy goes through its “hiccup.” I was fortunate to have had not one but three stable and continuous gigs for a few solid years. Unfortunately, due to the runaway productions and the recession, one show moved to New Jersey, one cut a Camera Operator (me!), and the other has scaled back on freelancers in lieu of staffers.
I recently shot a round of commercials for “Burger King” and “FedEx” with Bob Industries (helmed by Bob Odinkirk of SNL). I also freelance once or twice a week on “Larry King Live” for CNN, am booked to shoot “Blizzcon” at the Anaheim Convention Center in late August and am in the works as well to shoot two pilots for E! Entertainment.
RL: YOU HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN THE INDUSTRY FOR A WHILE NOW, LOOKING BACK OVER YOUR CAREER, WOULD YOU HAVE DONE ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY?
CR: I would do a lot differently! I’m realizing with the recent aforementioned “hiccup” that I’m extremely pigeonholed in what I do. While I have worked on an Oscar-winning Documentary and for over 26 production companies, what I do is very specific. I wish I had a bit more to flesh out on paper…even though I’m more than capable of doing a variety of positions within the entertainment industry, it’s difficult to convey that on a resume!
While I absolutely LOVE what I do and know that I’m great at it…I often feel that there’s even more I could be doing. As an operator, you are limited in that you do what others tell you to do. If I could go back, I’d probably go more into the development or producing side…an area in which I could showcase all of my talents and not get entirely stuck behind a camera. I’d love to be in a position in which I could take control of the reigns and move UP with hard work, rather than laterally. Don’t get me wrong, you move up monetarily as a Camera Operator for sure…but it’s the same position, different projects. Sometimes I think it’d be nice to work for one company but in a variety of ways, spice it up a little!
In terms of camera…I’d learn about all of the various types of equipment out there as the field and technology keeps changing so it’s good to know more than just one type of camera.
RL: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE INTERESTED IN PURSUING THIS PARTICULAR FIELD AS A CAREER?
CR: I’d say just blanket production companies with your resume…seek out an entry-level set PA position and watch. Be persistent. Take note of everything that’s happening around you…all of the different facets of the production. If you really want to do camera, start out as a PA or a Camera Utility on a television show. Or if you’re into film, begin as a PA and work your way up from a Clapper/Loader position to operating camera. Just pick the brain of the camera department and fiddle with the equipment when you get a chance. Also, there are plenty of classes you can take at various camera rental facilities…just get on the phone and ask. They have quite a few demos!
I worked on a set that had multiple positions and I just decided to learn camera. I practiced whenever I had a down moment and I’ve found that when I have taken the initiative to learn something, people have always given me an opportunity to shine.
Don’t feel that you have to join this union or that union to be an operator. It’s just not so. There are plenty of non-union gigs out there to get started on so don’t panic and think you have to shell out 7k to join right away. Once you gain the hours, then you can decide if that’s the route you want and need to take.