Q&A with Camera/Gimbal Op. Neil Maciejewski

By 07/26/2019Q&A

Neil Maciejewski is a camera and gimbal Operator based in Los Angeles. Some of his recent work includes spots for Oakley, Samsung, Comcast, and Uber.

Neil was gracious enough to share some wisdom and insight from behind the screens:

What do you enjoy most about being behind the camera?

For me, there are a few reasons that I truly enjoy my job. First, I enjoy the challenge of it, especially as a gimbal/steadicam operator. Gimbals and steadicams are amazing tools but you really need to know the ins and outs of the equipment to get the most from it. It pushes me to always learn more about my craft and tools while also honing in my operating skills.

Secondly, I feel like I have a front row seat to the performance or scene being filmed.  I get to see the culmination of every department’s work coming together for the first time. Once you know all the work that goes into these projects, you truly appreciate seeing it all come together.

Behind the scenes on the Oakley Commercial

Behind the scenes on the @oakley Commercial we shot with @wanda_productions and @akqa
DOP Director Micheal Lawrence

Lastly, I enjoy being able to put my personal touch on the project.  At first glance, operating can seem like a simple task of keeping subjects within the lines. But there is much more to it than that, my favorite shots come from the scenes that I am able to anticipate and feel myself, therefore enabling me to move with purpose and enhance the shot.  That is when I truly enjoy my work the most.

What events lead you to become a professional camera operator in LA? 

I began like most people do, working on small budget, homegrown projects.  For me, it was small music videos and some direct to client work in Upstate New York. 

ALEXA Mini and Movi Pro

ALEXA Mini + Movi Pro

As I began to grow as a cinematographer, I made more and more connections which led me to find the niche of “specialty” camera operating (meaning remote head, steadicam and gimbals). Using this equipment let me combine my passion for hands on technical work with the creative expression found through film. 

Then as I felt myself growing out of that market, I had the choice of moving to Atlanta or LA. Both places have their pros and cons but I had already made quite a few connections in LA, and had family here that really supported me so it became clear LA was the right place to be.

Where is the line between the right tools vs. too much tech when it comes to things like camera movement? 

Finding that balance is a lot simpler said than done.  I want gear that allows me to experiment creatively and is proven to be reliable, without ever slowing me down.  My belief is that if you have to think about the tech while operating, it is too much tech.

Therefore, I think everyone has to find where that line is for themselves and learn how to adapt to what they are comfortable with.

It’s always nice to let the dolly do the heavy lifting and sit back with the @1alphatools wheels.

How important is it as a camera operator to be able to adapt quickly and maintain a small footprint during production?

Maintaining a small footprint while still being able to adapt quickly will not only improve your work as an operator, but will help you get that next call!  I think you must begin with the bar set to maximum adaptability.

SmallHD 702 Bright monitor atop a Movi Pro + ALEXA Mini setup

No matter how much prep goes into a job, something is going to change on the day! So figure out what you need to allow maximum adaptability, then keep it compact, organized and ready to go.  This will allow you to focus on operating to your best ability instead of scrambling to keep up.

Production might not always realize the thought you have put into maintaining a small footprint, but they will definitely notice if you are on the other end of the spectrum and are costing them money through excessive gear or wasted time.

You’re kit includes a Movi Pro, Ronin 2, Ready Rig, a set of 1a Alpha Wheels, and a Segway… what are some travel tips when working with this much gear?

When traveling with this much gear, the most important things are to organize, keep it compact, and research!

Last weeks shoot out on the lakebed, with @drivers_eye_la and @scharpie1

To start, keeping everything organized in as few cases as possible works best for me. Nothing is worse than trying to juggle 6 cases while negotiating a foreign train station or airport.  I find it best to use a couple large 1650 pelican cases over a handful of smaller ones.

I try to save the foam packaging that most of my gear came in when I purchased it. In most cases, manufacturers know how to safely transport their goods, so I reuse their foam/packaging as it gives me flexibility in my packing until I get custom foam inserts cut for all of my gear. 

When I say research, I mean researching laws and travel regulations for wherever you are going. This applies to batteries mostly, but educate yourself on what rules might affect your travel, and bring printed copies of those rules so you have something to reference if you have any issues going through TSA or other security.  

Describe the importance of seeing your shot in real-time and how you’ve incorporated SmallHD products into your workflow. 

I could not do my job without having reliable, real time monitoring of what I am shooting.  Therefore, I need a monitor that I know will work and I am also comfortable working with. That is why I have multiple SmallHD monitors.

Whether it is a handheld, gimbal, remote head, in car work, or steadicam; I use the same monitors each time because it gives me a reliable and consistent image. Having that consistency in my monitor, allows me to give more of my attention to the shot rather than worrying about gear.

What is the one thing you appreciate about the SmallHD monitor as a creative professional?

What I appreciate the most and why I use SmallHD monitors, is that I trust the product will perform when I need it.  My monitors have been all over the world with me, and every time I take them out to set, I have total confidence they will do what I need them to do. 

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