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Who is the best Jib Operator in LA or the world?

Well there is no such thing as the best. Some are better than others.. Jib Operators fall into four categories: 1) Excellent; 2) Very Good; 3) Good; and, 4) Unacceptable. The last is usually someone who is training or is a dolly, pedestal, or hand-held camera operator who thinks they are capable of working a Jib.

There are three elements of operating a Jib to be considered when evaluating the quality of the operator.


The first element is technical expertise. Is the Jib Operator capable of panning, tilting, zooming, and moving the arm of the Jib in a precise and consistent manner? This means he or she can zoom the camera to the longest element of the lens and maintain a very usable shot throughout. Is focus accurately maintained? About 60% of the Jib Operators in LA are fully capable of this. Technical skill also includes being able to use the wheels as a dolly and create even greater shots, floor surface allowing. Being able to dolly the whole rig gives the jib even broader capabilities, and many Jib Operators simply cannot execute dolly moves while operating the jib. WARNING: There are times, especially on film shoots with long arms, that it is very difficult and sometimes impossible to move the jib base because of weight or floor conditions. These can often be overcome with a fully qualified dolly grip, and the use of plywood or Masonite to reduce or eliminate floor issues. Be aware that the Dolly Grip must have excellent skills. Quick dolly starts and stops, wheel adjustments, etc. are greatly amplified by the length of the arm.

One careful consideration in determining the skill level of the jib operator is their ability to work on the longest element of a zoom. Every Jib operator will always ask if you are using a wide-angle lens. The choice of lens is critical both for the Jib operator and for the production. A long lens such as a 20:1 in video or 10:1 in film, gives your extraordinary reach with the Jib, but the skill level of the operator is now significantly more critical. The longer lenses allow you to shoot product shots, close-ups of items, etc. A wide angle lens gives you significantly wider shots, making the set look enormous, and can allow coverage of show elements in a tightly confined area. But the wide angle also disguises the inadequacy of the Jib Operator. If you carefully watch the Jib operator's shots, is he or she staying on the widest or almost widest element all the time, or are they zooming to the longest element of the lens. The Operators who zoom in all the way are the ones who are truly skilled. SPECIAL NOTE: When operating a 20:1 or 18:1 lens on the longest element you may see "gear chatter". This is when the frame moves in a clicking manner, as the teeth of the pan gears engage and disengage. It can be greatly reduced by applying special lubricants to the gears, making them a bit more slippery. This should not be considered operator error, but rather a limitation of the rig. A great Jib Operator can often reduce or eliminate this effect, but may be restricted if the jib is operating in tight quarters.

The need for repeated or unrelenting rehearsals is also a sign that a Jib Operator lacks the skill to execute shots. A great Jib Operator needs little, if any rehearsal, except for highly complex shots where the blocking of the actors is very critical. It is often the actors that make or break a shot because they miss a critical mark, rather than operator error. Wayne Norman has superb technical expertise and can deliver the results you need quickly, effortlessly, and to the satisfaction of the Director, Director of Photography, and Producers.


The next element is creative fluency. Is the Jib operator capable of creating shots that take full advantage of the jib, and complement the material and director's vision? This is possibly the most critical in determining the quality of the jib operator. Many jib operators are technically competent but when you evaluate their creative skills they fall short. Only about 30% of the jib operators meet this criterion. Creative fluency also means the jib operator is fully capable of maintaining a usable shot at all times, except when being immediately repositioned by the director. Great jib operators will always provide an excellent usable shot, one that can often save the editor enormous headaches. A usable iso does not include a Jimmy Jib that has settled into a motionless position. Instead it is a moving, fluid shot that enhances the production value, and matches the style and vision of the director.

Creative fluency also includes the ability of the Jib Operator to keep out of the other camera's shots. Jib Operators tend to be very greedy. They think they have the perfect shot all of the time and often are not considerate of the other cameras. This type of operator, even though they are giving the director great shots are also limiting the performance of the other cameras. Sometimes, the Jib does have to break into another camera's shot to execute the desired look, but how quickly the Jib Operator evacuates after the shot is executed is what determines their skill level. Some Jib Ops are so unaware of their surroundings that they will linger and destroy one or more shots on other cameras.

Another significant element in creative fluency is shadows. Jibs are working in an environment where they compete with lights for space, thus placement of the lights is crucial when working with a Jib. A great Director of Photography or Lighting Director will leave alley ways and holes in their lighting set up so the Jib arm has room to work. But even the best DPs and LDs are often forced to encroach on areas where the Jib is working, and then it is up to the Jib Operator to BEAT THE SHADOW. There are times when the shadow simply cannot be beat without significantly changing the shot. Sometimes it means a light MUST be moved or the director has to compromise on how the shot is executed. A great Jib Operator will offer solutions that will give the director what he or she wants with a minimum of compromise. An Important note!!! There are DPs and LDs who are not willing to accommodate the Jib. They place lights that give a great look, but the Jib has absolutely no way to execute a shot. In these situations it must be understood that the Jib Operator is working under conditions that place great limits on the creative fluency of the operator and the Jib.


The final element is logistical capability. The jib operator has to be able to determine how to execute the shot, and do it without hitting people or things. This can be crucial especially in tight environments where you have to "thread the needle", and work around lights, stands, scenery and PEOPLE. Hitting things is not as crucial as hitting people. Great Jib Operators NEVER hit people, but they may glance off things. In a "rich" environment of objects you have to be extraordinarily careful, and often jib operators will have a safety person to assist in negotiating a route for the arm. \

Included in the logistical skill arena is the ability to plan out and execute a shot that requires sophisticated arm and dolly movement. Where should the Jib's dolly be placed to start and where should it end to get the maximum effect. What length of arm should be used to execute the shot, fit in the room, and stay out of the shots of other cameras? What support gear is required to make the shot work? Is there a prompter and does it affect the position of the Jib in terms of the talent being able to see the prompter. What lens is being used? How fast can they set up a shot? And when they execute it, does it accomplish what the director asks for. Logistical consideration also includes the ability of the Jib operator to reliably execute the shot repeatedly. Being able to demonstrate a shot in rehearsal, then being able to repeat the shot during a take is very critical. Sometimes Jib Operators will enhance the shot from rehearsal to take, but if the shot is critical, can the Operator perform it repeatedly? This is a sign of a great operator. PLEASE NOTE: There are times when it is impossible to repeat the shot. During rehearsal the shot may work extremely well, but when it comes to the take, other elements such as lights, props, scenery, cast members, missed marks, other cameras, crew members and other factors may be out of position, causing the Jib Operator to alter the shot for safety, or set limitations.

Another Logistical consideration is the weight of the camera being used. The heavier the camera, the more weights required to counter balance it. The more weight the greater the momentum of the arm. This means a 30-foot arm with a 5:1 lens, a Panavision Gold, with a 1000 foot magazine will require approximately 700 pounds to counterbalance it. It will take a very large effort to move the arm, and an equally large effort to stop it. This also means that safety is an even greater consideration. Really fast and speedy arm movements are much more difficulty to execute, and thus a shot may have to be compromised. But for 90% of the shots required from an arm of this length, they can be accomplished with no difficulty.

With the introduction of HDTV, the Jib has enormous potential, but also can be impeded by the technology. If the HDTV camera is placed on a Jib, the operator MUST have an HDTV monitor, if the Jib Operator is to ride the focus. If a down converter is used to a conventional 4:3 high-resolution monitor, it is very difficult for the Jib Operator to properly judge focus. The down converter simply does not offer the Jib Operator enough resolution to be assured of accurate focus. In addition, the down converter has a small delay, and can often "combine" frames so the Jib Operator does not have an accurate frame reference, especially when quick moves are involved. A Camera Assistant may be required to make the necessary focus adjustments. If a high-resolution monitor is available for the Operator, then the Jib Operator can usually maintain accurate focus.

The final logistical consideration is that video jib operators are different from those who have a great deal of film experience and expertise. Jib Operators who shoot 90% video rarely have the expertise or sense required to operate a Film Jib. The best film Jib Operators are those who have a strong video background, but have years of episodic and/or Sit-Com experience. These operators are can easily and flawlessly move between the two production disciplines.


So how do you judge the "greatness" of your jib operator? One factor is to look at the position of the control knobs on their electronics. They should have the ramping control no greater then 10%, and the speed should be at least 50%, or greater, except for the rare special shot which may need exceptional slow responses. The next consideration is what element of the lens do they work at. If they are always fully wide or almost always wide, they lack critical capabilities. Next, do they provide the director with exceptionally beautiful and skillful shots, or are they plain and basic. Great Jib Operators will always present phenomenal shots for consideration, often they are technically risky and pushing the envelope of the Jib. But the one thing that truly shows how great a Jib Operator is, do they maintain a usable iso almost no matter what? If they are constantly blowing off shots, or adjusting frame or movements, then you know it is time to look for someone new, someone better.

I know I am up to this "Greatness" and can provide the production with exceptional production value and minimal logistical interference. My shots are always exceptional and match the style of the director or production. Editors love my work because they know when every other camera fails to provide a workable shot, mine is always rock solid and enhances the look and feel of the show.

One final note: Be very wary of DPs and Camera Operators who do not own their own Jimmy Jibs and ask you to rent one for them. Only owner/operators have the skills to operate a Jimmy Jib accurately. Because Owner Operators run their rigs on a very regular basis they are more likely to possess the skills necessary to executive complex shots.


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Jimmy Jib Owner/Operator  Camera Credits  |   Film, Video, and HDTV
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Wayne Norman - Jib/Owner Operator - 888-449-2963 (888-44-WAYNE)