Unscripted TV

Camera assistant

Also known as: Assistant camera operator (AC), Jib assistant

Entry level

Camera assistant

What does a camera assistant do?

Camera assistants give essential support to the other members of the camera department. They work with camera operators or camera supervisors, helping with the photography of a TV programme in any way necessary.

This can include labelling tape and materials as they’re used, setting up camera rigs or making teas and coffees for the rest of the camera team. Experienced camera assistants often operate a second camera when needed on a shoot.

When camera assistants work on location, they help unload and set up the equipment, make sure camera batteries are charged, cards are ready, monitors working and have any other camera accessories like lenses or filters ready for the camera operator. They are often required to set up and adjust lights during filming and provide basic camera maintenance.

They can work on single-camera location shoots or in multi-camera studio shows like sports broadcast, reality ob-docs and entertainment programmes. Camera assistants can operate as freelancers.

Watch and read

What’s a camera assistant good at?

  • Photography: have a good eye and understanding of composition, light, colour, focus and framing
  • Technical knowledge of cameras: have a good understanding of the latest motion picture equipment, cameras, lens, filters monitors and lights
  • Taking instruction: listen, do what’s asked accurately, stay calm under pressure, pay close attention to detail
  • Communication: work well with crew members, onscreen contributors, presenters and production staff, be responsive
  • Handling cameras: be well coordinated, prepared to lift and move heavy camera equipment frequently throughout a shoot

Who does a camera assistant work with?

Camera assistants work with camera operators and camera supervisors. They support them shooting unscripted TV productions. Some camera assistants may want to become a jib operator, in which case they may be referred to as a jib assistant and will work with the operator. Camera assistants also work with grips to transport camera equipment.

How do I become a camera assistant?

Camera assistant is a junior role but it’s not usually entry level. It’s most common to become a camera assistant having been a kit room assistant, runner or camera trainee first.

 At school or college:
You can take A-levels or Highers in a combination of subjects that includes art, art and design, graphic communication and photography, along with maths and physics.

If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:

  • BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • BTEC National Extended Diploma in Creative Digital Media Production
  • NCFE Applied General Certificate in Art and Design
  • UAL Applied General Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Production
  • BTEC National Diploma in Photography OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image and Audio Production)
  • UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Creative Media Production and Technology

Get an apprenticeship:
Apprenticeships are jobs with training. They’re a great opportunity to earn while you learn. Some of the major broadcasters offer apprenticeships. Check out the schemes with ITV.

If you can’t get an apprenticeship with a broadcaster, it might be worth trying to find one outside the TV industry, where you can develop your skills and your craft. You can then move into TV at a later point. In England, there’s a Level 3 apprenticeship for photographic assistant.

Before taking any apprenticeship, check what you’ll be learning with your prospective employer and college, so you can be sure it will give you the skills you want. Go to where can I find an apprenticeship? to learn how to find apprenticeships in your region, or approach companies directly.

Work for an equipment company:
Contact an equipment rental company like Panavision, Provision or ARRI Rentals. Ask if you can become a kit room assistant for them. That way you will get to learn more about the kit and build up contacts.

Get a degree:
It’s not essential to have a degree in order to become a camera assistant. There are, however, degree courses that specialise in television production and photography that you could consider. Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in unscripted TV or search for "camera". We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the unscripted TV industry.

Get work experience:
Try to get work experience by writing to local production companies and asking if they offer any. Keep an eye out for work experience opportunities at the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, and the PACT Indie Diversity Training Scheme.

Look outside the industry:
You might consider seeking entry-level work in the film and TV drama industries in order to gain useful experience, such as being a camera trainee, and then turn to the unscripted TV industry to become a camera assistant.

Take a short course:
Hone your camera assistant skills by taking a specialist course. Go to the list of training courses recommended by ScreenSkills to see if there is one about camera or camera work.

Network:
Get to know people in the unscripted TV industry by attending events. Meet professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest in and knowledge of the industry. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to how to network well to learn how to do this.

Network online:
Create a LinkedIn profile. See if there are Facebook pages or other social media groups for people making unscripted TV in your area. There might even be groups for runners and trainees. Join them. Create a ScreenSkills profile. There are a lot of crewing agencies that will charge you to be on their books. Sign up to the free ones initially. Wales ScreenNorthern Ireland Screen and other areas offer free crew databases. Find a film office near you and get connected. If you do sign up to paid sites, make sure they specialise in the areas in which you’re interested.

Search for jobs:
Research unscripted TV production companies that you’d like to work for and watch the programmes that they make. Regularly check their websites and job listings websites to see if they are advertising for roles. You can also send in a short speculative letter with your CV to the production manager. Register your CV on websites like The Talent Manager, which is used by most broadcasters and independent production companies when looking for staff. StartinTV offers tips on creating your CV and attending interviews, as well as some advice for your first day working in TV.

You might also be interested in…

Being a camera operator, jib operator or grip in the unscripted TV industry. You might also be interested in being a camera operator in film and TV drama.

Further resources