Gail Jenkinson: camera operator

With an impressive list of credits to her name from Skins to Sherlock, freelance camera operator Gail Jenkinson has built up a wealth of experience. She shares her views on how to stay ahead.

Briefly - what is your job and what are your key responsibilities?
My job is primarily as a camera operator.  This varies between having the sole responsibility for the visuals for a production, or being a 2nd camera operator to an overseeing main camera or DOP (director of photography). I am also often employed to work a crane, jib, timelapse rig or as a team shooting high speed. I work underwater as an operator and assistant or occasionally as safety for an actor/presenter.  My role is very varied; I consider myself camera crew and am very much a team player.

"There is a wealth of learning to be done on set and it’s usually not done by staring at your iPhone." – Gail Jenkinson

What was your first job in your area and how did you get it?
I first worked as a camera trainee on a drama.  The production was going to be shot on super 16mm film and I heard about the position through Kodak as I had been involved in their test shooting for the then new Vision 2 film stock.  This gave me a contact in the camera department, which I keenly followed up.

How long did it take you from there to where you are now?
That was eight years ago. The team took a risk on an inexperienced trainee.  I’m glad they did and they instilled in me a solid working discipline that I continue to stick to today.

Did you do any formal training?
I didn’t have formal training in film or television but I studied photography, which I believe has been very valuable creatively.

Has there been a moment where you’ve thought, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this!”?
During work on a documentary filming mountain gorillas in Uganda I had that very special, “I’m being paid to do this!” moment.

Most useful skill you’ve developed?
To anticipate.  Listen, be aware of what is occurring around you and strive to be one step ahead.

Which tools do you use to keep up to date on the industry?
I use Twitter and follow an array of camera operators and directors. A lot of the information seems to come from America where they are very clued up on technology and are willing to share.

What three tips would you give someone wanting to do your job?

Networking
Get out there and go to events, trade shows, talks, etc.  It’s not easy and can be pretty draining talking to strangers, but if you can make a connection and a contact for the future, it will last.  Be keen, but know when to let people go, be gracious and yourself.  I believe people like to work with people they like; you might be spending an awful lot of time together so best to be yourself.

Be an assistant
Assist somebody because you want him or her to be able to do their best job possible. It’s a team effort so work together - no matter what it is you are doing, it’s all towards a common goal. That’s a great feeling, being part of a well-oiled machine.

Listen
Suck up all the information possible.  Listen and learn, learn from the successes and the failures. There is a wealth of learning to be done on set and it’s usually not done by staring at your iPhone.