Camera trainee Caleb Johnston on his ScreenSkills Select degree

Caleb Johnston always had a passion for cameras and dreamt of a career as a cinematographer. He took a first step towards turning that dream into reality by taking the BA Film Production, a ScreenSkills Select endorsed degree at the University of Portsmouth.

“I applied for a ScreenSkills Select degree because I trusted the course to keep up with the ever-changing pace with which the film industry changes,” he says. “Because equipment improves rapidly it was important to me to choose a course that’s up-to-date with current industry standards. I trusted that a ScreenSkills Select degree would offer me this and more.”

Given his passion for all things camera, being in an environment full of the latest equipment was great. “We were able to borrow pieces of equipment whenever we wanted so we could learn how to use them in our own time and at our own pace,” he explains. “If I ever didn’t understand how to use something I could ask and the patient people from the loan store were always happy to explain.”

The university also encouraged students to attend industry events to build a network. Caleb went to various events in an attempt to get a foot in the door. Eventually that enabled him to get in touch with Barry Basett, the managing director of VMI rental house. “Had Covid-19 not had its own plans for 2020, I’d currently be working at VMI as an intern,” he says. “Due to the pandemic the internship has been delayed, but I’m very excited to work there in the near future.”

Until then he is working as a freelance camera trainee on commercials and music videos. He has found out that being a camera trainee is a good next step in his journey towards becoming a cinematographer. “There is so much to learn and I really want to nail the fundamentals before progressing,” he says. “As a camera trainee, I’m able to learn about equipment and set etiquette, and I can also see how great cinematographers approach shooting different scenarios.”

One of the things he has enjoyed most so far whilst working as a trainee is meeting interesting people. “The film industry is full of such fun characters,” Caleb says. “I’ve been on a set where the talent was sharing their really inspiring life story. I was honoured to be a fly on the wall and hear the story in person…. I have taken home some gems that I’ll forever hold close to my heart.”

He has also discovered that camera trainees can be given quite a lot of responsibility. “I think a misconception many people have is that camera trainees don’t need any technical abilities, but the more on point you are, the more tasks the 2nd AC can give you.”

Caleb hopes that hard work and a positive, cheerful attitude will help him reach his goal of working as a cinematographer on short films and commercials within the next five years. He also hopes to one day work on feature films. “I can say with confidence that I obtained my degree at a reputable institution,” he says. “And I’m always keeping my eyes open for new opportunities. You’d be surprised at how many people in your social circle know camera assistants, producers or directors that they can connect you with.”

His tip for others wanting to get into the industry is to use social media for networking too. “Message camera assistants and directors of photography to let them know you are available to give them a helping hand at their next shoot,” he advises. “And never stop shooting your own stuff, that way people will be able to see that there’s a real passion and intentionality behind your requests.”