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Am I Too Small?

Indy (a college student) writes in:

I’m currently in college, and I’m interested in working behind the scenes for film and television. I would love to someday become a cinematographer, but one question that I’ve always wondered is if I’m too small to hold and operate a camera for long periods of time.

I’m very petite, just a little over 5 foot tall and weigh no more than 100 pounds, I was wondering if my lack of height and perhaps muscle would ultimately ruin my chances of becoming a cinematographer?

Do you think using a Steadicam would be too challenging? I have no experience in using camera equipment or even holding a camera so I have no clue. Sadly, I have no idea if I’m too short to capture the actors on camera (besides low angle shots) and I’ve only ever seen men handling the cameras.

Cameras are getting smaller all the time, but you sound extremely petite, even in this modern era of DSLRs and prosumer cameras on professional film sets.

Working your way up the ranks, though, is going to take time. No one’s going to let you anywhere near a camera just yet. First, you’ll have to be a set PA, then move over to camera PA, then 2nd AC, 1st AC, then operator. Granted, the ACs have to lug the cameras around plenty, but still, you’ve got a good five years to bulk up and practice, at least.

Steadicams are indeed heavy, but that’s also a specialized skill. Not every operator uses a steadicam. Heck, not every movie even uses handheld cameras at all. Most everything is shot on sticks or a dolly.

Women work in the camera department all the time. I’ve been a loader, and the first 1st AC I worked under was a woman. The show I’m on now has a female DP. From my own personal experience, among the “hard crew,”1 I’d say the camera department is the most open to women.2

Don’t assume your limitations will be an impediment. Your small hands might make it easier for you to make on-the-fly repairs to camera and gear, squeezing into small spaces and such. Get yourself out there and do your best.

You might make a fantastic cinematographer some day.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Grips, electrics, camera, sound, ADs.
  2. Sound off in the comments if your experience is different.
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7 Responses

  1. Hey! If you’re still looking at this — I’m in the same position as well. I agree with what everyone has said, you’ll occasionally get some sexist comments and you might sometimes feel less confident for being petite. But this is what you love and none of this should not stop you from pursuing your dream! The weights of the equipment you have to lug around will get bigger and heavier as you go on higher budget shoots. I’m currently doing a lot of strength training at the gym because I think I will feel much more confident about my job and it will prepare me for the future. You could consider doing that while you still have time 🙂 Good luck

  2. I am in the EXACT same situation as you are! I’m a woman at the Camera Assistant stage right now and I am even more petite than you are! People will def. hire you but there will be times when the hire-up’s will question your abilities to do things. I just wrapped a huge shoot today actually, and they for sure thought that I’d be bigger. I don’t know how they thought that I was…but OK. Today the 1st AC (I was 2nd) put an Optimo lens w/case on the ground and asked me if I could lift it, not in a tone of “oh, can you lift that and put it somewhere” but more in a tone of “hey, can you lift this so that I can see if I should bother utilizing you on another set.” Honestly, I could hardly lift the one that we had and all he said was “huh, OK” and walked away. It was so completely disheartening but I’m hoping my attempt at lifting it made the cut for future work. Us shorties just gotta keep trying the best we can in this ridiculous camera department world!

  3. I’m a woman in the camera department; I typically work as an AC on bigger shows and as DP/Op on smaller shows. You could say I’m transitioning from one to the other.

    I’m not as petite as OP, but I am 5’3″ and I sometimes feel disadvantaged because of my height. But, honestly, there’s always something around to stand on when you get in a pinch, and it’s not something to worry about – even large dude Ops sometimes call for an applebox or two. I wouldn’t worry about Steadicaming either. It’s a super specialized skill that very few actually master and then that becomes all that they do. And make tons of money doing. All Steadicam ops I’ve met are bulkier (you have to be), but not necessarily that tall.

    What’s more annoying is the constant sexual harassment on set as a woman in the camera department (especially a woman god forbid carrying SOMETHING HEAVY, which is often), as evidenced by skeezy art department dudes asking if “you’d like help with that?” (yep, that happens), or asshole grips asking if you’d “like to come over later and help do the laundry?” (I’m not even sure how that’s a sexual innuendo, but have been asked that more than once… Yeah, because nothing turns me on more than doing laundry?!?!! smh).

    You learn to develop a tough skin and be “one of the dudes” or at least ignore dumb sex/poop jokes. Or just roll with it… In the end, just do what you want. Be confident in what you want to achieve and go and get it. We need more women on set and more women storytellers. Good luck!

    1. Thank you for the help! (everyone in the comments, as well) it was nice getting some insight from all of you.

  4. Hmmm that shouldn’t be a problem. Many movies I’ve worked on the DP will handle a camera but there’s usually a camera operator who handles the steadicam. Most DPs I’ve worked with will occasionally get the camera but are more focused on the look of the shot and the lighting.

  5. Operating a steadicam is a specialty-craft — most steadicam operators own their rigs and are hired only for the days (weeks, whatever) that a steadicam is required on set. I can’t say it never happens, but I’ve personally never seen a DP operate a steadicam. On most union gigs, the DP doesn’t operate a camera at all, but sits at the digital monitors overseeing the actual camera operators. DPs often operate in the non-union/Indy world, but unless the show involves endless hand-held work, small size shouldn’t be a limiting factor. When shooting inside a car or another equally-cramped location, it can be a real advantage to have a small operator.

    I’ve worked with a number of female DP’s over the years, and most were petite women — but as TAPA rightly points out, very few people are born a DP. Working your way up through the ranks is a good path to becoming a good DP, and camera assistants do have to wrangle a lot of heavy cases all day long. Still, doing that work will build up your strength while you learn.

    I see more and more women — very few of them muscular Amazons — working in camera these days, so don’t worry about your size. If you’re good at your job, you’ll do fine, and will rise as far as your talent, determination, and luck allow.

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