Salma Salah - A Day in the Life of a Camera Operator
This summer we welcomed Salma Salah, an A-Level Film Studies student from Fitzalan High School, to partake in some work shadowing. She got the opportunity to gain some experience in the cinematography department at Wolf Studios Wales. Whilst here, she got to see some the filming of His Dark Materials season 3 up close and experienced first-hand the inner workings of a high-end TV drama.
Salma has written a piece about her experience here at Bad Wolf and what she learnt working with the Camera department. A huge thank you to Salma for writing this wonderful article, we are so pleased you got so much out of your time here. We hope your time with us has strengthened your passion for film and TV and we hope to see you again as a crew member on future productions!
Salma Salah- My Experience at Bad Wolf Studios 16th August 2021 I was afforded the amazing opportunity of visiting Bad Wolf Studios and completing a day’s worth of shadowing with the cinematography department. The experience was incredible and exceeded all expectations. I was able to visit and work on the set of the BBC and HBO show “His Dark Materials” available to watch on BBC iPlayer. As the first under 18 to do so with Screen Alliance, my day consisted of shadowing various camera operators who played a vital part role in the crew and production team - AKA the people who help make it all happen.
So, who are Bad Wolf Studios? Bad Wolf Studios are responsible for productions such as “I hate Suzie”, “A Discovery of Witches”, “The Night Of” and “Industry”, producing multiple series. Screen Alliance also work with S4C, HBO and BAFTA Cymru. As you can imagine, I felt very lucky to have spent time with such experienced and distinguished organisations.
How It All Started As an A-level Film Studies student I wanted industry experience to inform my future employment choices as well as my studies in school, especially the audio-visual component of my coursework. During the summer term of year 12, I spontaneously contacted Screen Alliance Wales who were instrumental in helping me secure the placement. Sarah O’Keefe, who guided me through the entire process of shadowing, was incredibly supportive. Our discussions entailed Covid Tests, trainee courses, and a brief history of how Bad Wolf was created. I opted to work with the camera operators as I find the process of a film’s journey from camera to the big screen most interesting (I also wanted to see all the expensive equipment up close and personal).
A Day in The Life of a Camera Operator
From the outset, I was shown around the studio (which was MASSIVE by the way) and saw how they numbered each individual studio, from 1-6 (it was enormous-in fact-the scale was unlike anything I had ever seen before). I met the camera team who I spent the day with, and two ladies named Rew and Ella who were extremely helpful and answered all the questions I had. I was first introduced to Rew whose first words to me were “Great to have another girl on the team,” making me realise how male oriented the camera department was compared to others. However, everyone I met on the production was very welcoming and equally supportive. So welcoming in fact, that I engaged in lots of conversations about the TV/Film workspace and what brought each individual into the industry.
Rew was the person I shadowed for most of the day and she demonstrated how to switch out batteries for the cameras on set. She was a trainee who made sure I understood everything that the role entailed. I was lucky enough to see some of the specialist equipment, including the various tripods, batteries and a range of different contraptions lining the walls. From the insight gained, a typical day of a camera operator consisted of switching batteries out for each camera in order for them to run continuously. I was permitted hands-on-experience and tasked with the role of taking care of the different coloured tape the actors and camera crew used to mark the floor, indicating where to stand. An additional responsibility of camera operators is also to take care of lighting, so they have an eye for capturing the action-their job really is vital in ensuring production runs smoothly.
While there was a great deal of observing, I loved watching the scenes unfold during rehearsals and observing the director, well, direct, was extremely interesting. It was almost surreal seeing the actors acting right in front of you, since we’re all so used to watching them on the big screen. To ensure members of the different departments were able to communicate, headsets were required- yes, the studios really were that big! When I received my own headset, I really felt part of the team and could hear instructions and amusing conversations taking place within the department.
There were lots of different toggles on the radio for different departments like costume, makeup, locations and more. As a trainee, Rew gave me all the pointers of what being new entails as part of a production. Watching the scene being rehearsed whilst sipping my first ever flat white, we suddenly spotted two pigeons that had somehow flown onto the set which was a bit distracting, especially when we were all supposed to be quiet for rehearsals. However, it seemed like this happened from time-to-time on set as another person from the props team showed me how they had caught a whole seagull in their designated area the previous day. I was privileged enough to see most of the high- end camera equipment and it was remarkable to observe how the scenes came together through the use of different cameras, each specifically chosen to capture a particular mood, effect or point of view. Screens big and small littered around the set showing various angles of the scenes. As a spectator, you would never guess or even imagine how much work is required behind the scenes until you see for yourself; it really was an eye-opening experience for me.
Seeing the actors in full costume and in their element was something to behold. A personal highlight was when I was permitted to hold the ending slate (THE REALLY IMPORTANT BIT THAT ONLY CAMERA PEOPLE DO AND THEY LET ME DO IT), which was probably the biggest responsibility of my life as only myself and the actor were allowed to be on the set. I was poised, I stood on the side-lines so once they were done with their acting, they called me to step in and hold the slate in front of the camera. It wasn’t as daunting as I thought it would be but still very exciting all the same.
As my experience drew to an end, I was overwhelmed by the well wishes I received. I was lucky enough to speak with the director and members from the sound and location departments as well as the runner of the production who wished me luck with my future endeavours and interest in the industry.
Putting Theory into Practice As I am currently taking Film Studies for my A-Levels, I paid particular attention to how lighting creates effect, and how camera angles convey certain moods and emotions. Having to produce my own short film as part of my coursework, this experience aided me in how to direct well and adapt to unexpected situations whilst filming. Moreover, putting theory into practice really enabled me to see how the key elements of film form combine to shape meaning. And how camera operators and crew on set, dedicate themselves to their roles and work as a collective to ensure the smooth running of the production. I was thrilled to have this opportunity and take on practical experience in order to strengthen my theoretical study of film in Film Studies.
My Future Aspirations The experience was invaluable as it sparked my interest in Film and Media Production and Production Arts. There are so many aspects of the TV and Film industry that stood out to me such as directing and cinematography. I’m also interested in the other departments that I didn’t get a chance to experience such as costume and locations. Observing and absorbing the sheer size and complexity of the production helped me obtain some very valuable work experience and inspired me to continue pursuing a career within the industry. I hope I can continue my ventures into experiences like these before I make that step up into university. I’d like to thank all the production staff who I spoke to for taking such great care of me on set- I learnt so much. Thank you also to Sarah O’Keefe for allowing me to have this experience and being so accommodating. Finally, I’d like to thank my Film Studies teachers Miss Ahmed and Miss Millard.
A-level Film Studies If you're in year 11 and due to select you’re A- Level subjects soon and are interested in the Creative Industries, choose Film Studies! The industry, especially here in Wales, is making huge waves and taking the world by storm. There are so many different departments, avenues, and valuable opportunities to gain from working in it. Ranging from journalism to TV shows, the industry is fascinating, and Film Studies could help elevate your interest in that so don’t be afraid to try something new!
Salma Salah Year 13 Film Studies Student