For Sean Savage, being a camera operator is more than just helping frame a shot.
Savage, who shot the films The Last Kingdom, Elizabeth and is the ‘A’ camera operator on the dragon production team for Game of Thrones, sees himself more of a visual interpreter than just a camera operator.
“I’m translating [the director’s] words, his desires, into pictures that then tell the story that he imagined he was going to tell,” says Savage.
Savage was a key-note speaker at the Story Summit and shared his insights on the camera/script relationship and creative collaboration. It is within this creative collaboration that Savage’s talents flourish.
Some directors are more visual than others and are more definitive about what they want from him, and because of this, Savage has to temper his input. With that said, Savage knows that it is also his job to speak up if needed.
“If a director is specific in what they want, that is fine, that is still my job and I’ll give him what he wants,” he says. “But when I get a greater degree of input it is even better. I can start to put my translation of the shot in each frame.
There used to be an old-fashioned rule that a camera operator was to work to instruction. That is, to do their job and what the director or DOP tells them. According to Savage, this has changed.
“If I feel there is a better way to do it, I will never hold back, and I’m well known for that,” Savage says. “If I don’t feel like we are doing our best work, I will make it clear.”
Over the years, Savage had learned a lot. He is of the ‘listen much and speak little’ school of thinking. From when he first started out using actual film, to now where everything is digitized, he has adapted to the technological changes. But one thing that hasn’t changed are the people and the relationships that come along with them. And with those relationships comes great responsibility.
“I have a responsibility outside the DP and the director,” Savage says. “I have a responsibility to the producers and the production.”
Savage points a situation where the director may want a series of very specific things, but Savage knows that they only have an hour and a half to shoot what is needed, and they are not going to be back in that location anytime soon. At this point, his responsibilities grow outside the realm of the shooter. It is this dedication that has put Savage where he is. And at the same time, he knows who signs his cheques and how to keep them happy too.
“If we are going to talk in commercial terms, it is the producer that butters my bread,” he says with a smile. “They pay for my kid’s education. That is the modern world.”
The Story Summit runs from February 23 to 25 a the Banff Centre in Banff, Alberta. For more information visit storysummit.ca.