Unscripted TV

Jib operator

Also known as: crane operator, jimmy jib operator

Jib operator

What does a jib operator do?

Jib operators are camera operators who’ve also trained to use a jib (known as a jimmy jib).

A jib is a special kind of crane at the end of which you attach a camera; there’s a counterweight at the other end for balance. It’s used to capture a variety of shots, such as overhead or long sweeping moves, and can film a complete 360 degree shot. Jibs are lightweight alternatives to the cranes that are used for filming similar shots on large-budget films and TV dramas, so can be rigged in a shorter amount of time and used in smaller or more challenging locations.

Jib operators capture the shots that the camera supervisor or director asks for. They swing the jib to move the camera, creating moving shots while adjusting the pan, focus, tilt and zoom. They also set up the jib and maintain it, fixing mechanical issues as they arise, and they’re responsible for health and safety – jibs can be very hazardous.

Jib shots (sometimes known as boom shots) can be used on any productions but are particularly useful for filming sport. Jib operators often work on live productions and multi-camera productions. They are often freelance and sometimes even own their own equipment. Or they might be employed by an equipment rental company.

Watch and read

What's a jib operator good at?

  • Photography: have a good eye and understanding of composition, light, colour, focus and framing
  • Knowledge of cameras and supports: understand how cameras and jib arms work, and how to operate the dollies or pedestals to which they’re attached
  • Communication: listen, do what’s asked and ensure everyone knows what you are doing and where you are taking the jib
  • Health and safety: know how to operate the jib safely, be aware of those around you and the environment you are working in
  • Lifting: know how to move heavy kit safely, be physically fit and resilient

Who does a jib operator work with?

On a production, jib operators follow the instructions of the camera supervisor or director of photography and director. They work with grips to rig and de-rig the jib camera setup. They may work with camera assistants, who either help to operate the jib or receive training from the jib operator on the job.

How do I become a jib operator?

You need to get a few years of experience working as a camera assistant or grip before you can become a jib operator. In some cases, camera assistants may be known as jib assistants when they want to specialise in jib operation. The Guild of British Camera Technicians runs a trainee scheme.

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 as a 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 jib operator. There are, however, degree courses that specialise in television production and photography that you can 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.

Take a short course:
Hone your skills in jib operating by taking a specialist course. Go to the list of training courses recommended by ScreenSkills to see if there is one about 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 or camera supervisor in the unscripted TV industry. You might also be interested in being a camera operator in the film and TV drama industries or a director of photography in film and TV drama.

Further resources