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Job Title: Camera Car Operator And Picture Car Coordinator

Job Overview

The camera car operator drives the camera car or process trailer.

“The camera car is a specially designed vehicle, usually built on a pickup truck chassis. It looks like a large director's set on wheels,” explains coordinator Gary Duncan, “due to all the aluminum pipe, known as speed rail, and camera plates and mounts. The purpose is so you can mount a camera anywhere onto the camera car. The camera operator, the director of photography, the camera assistant, and the director can ride on the vehicle while operating the camera and looking at video monitors to make sure they are capturing the actual moving shot they need. If you're following a kid on a skateboard or a person on horseback, the camera car moves down the street alongside. The camera car driver is responsible for maintaining the speed that the kid on the skateboard is maintaining, so that the camera operator can keep the camera focused on the kid without a lot of forward or backward movement in the frame. That is called free running: the camera car is moving and your subject is moving. You try to stay in a tandem speed, as if you are attached.”

The camera car is also equipped with a tow bar to pull the picture car behind, so that the camera can look directly into the car and film the talent as though they are driving. “The actors do their dialogue with the background moving, as if it were an actual car driving down the road.”

The process trailer is a flatbed trailer pulled behind the camera car, and carries the picture car the talent is riding in. It enables the camera crew to shoot directly into the front window of the car. “A good example of this is Driving Miss Daisy or Thelma and Louise. Those two movies made extensive use of picture cars sitting on the process trailer and being towed by the camera car.”

A picture car is any vehicle that will appear on film. The picture car coordinator locates, arranges for, and supplies camera and picture cars, which can be classic cars, vintage cars, period correct cars, special interest cars, stunt cars, or any other requested vehicle.

Special Skills

Excellent driving ability and quick reflexes are a necessity.

Advice for Someone Seeking This Job

If you have a collection of cars that you want to rent to movies, photograph them, and send a copy of the prints with a letter of introduction to companies that provide picture cars. If you want to be a camera car operator, contact companies who already provide vehicles and apply to work for them. Working for an existing company will afford you the opportunity to see how the industry works and to make contacts, before venturing out on your own.

Professional Profile: Gary Duncan, Picture Car Coordinator/Camera Car Operator

“I never really chose this profession; I fell into it,” says Georgia native Gary Duncan. The owner of an automotive body shop, Duncan repaired wrecked cars and provided special fabrication work on race cars. “In the mid-70s, Georgia was becoming a hot spot for location filming. [For Smokey and the Bandit], I was approached to paint and repair the stock cars they damaged during the day of filming. I rebuilt them overnight so they could be used again the next day.

What do you like least about your job?

“All jobs have things you don't like about them.”Gary Duncan

What do you love most about your job?

Duncan enjoys “the travel and meeting interesting people.”

“They had that gold and black TransAm. There were five of them. One was the beauty car, the car that you saw Burt Reynolds and Sally Field in for their close-ups. It looked spotless and immaculate. The rest of them were stunt cars and they had various degrees of roll cages on them, just like a race car … Instead of having 50 cars, you have five that have various types of rigging for the stunts, and then you keep rebuilding them as you go through the show. Economically, it's more feasible to rebuild five than it is to have 50 and dispose of them as you crash them.”

Next, Duncan's shop was selected as one of numerous shops that built and repaired cars for The Dukes of Hazzard television series. With those two credits to his name, more and more offers came in.

At the time, camera cars were not available in the South and were shipped in from the West Coast. Together with a person he met on the set, Duncan decided to build a camera car and try to rent it to the many productions coming to the area. Finding success in renting, they built another one and another one. Along the way, he also began providing picture cars for feature films such as The Big Chill, Witness, When Harry Met Sally, Patriot Games, Forest Gump, Inspector Gadget, and Hannibal. He has served as picture car coordinator on Striking Distance, A Time to Kill, and Hearts in Atlantis, to name a few.


* “Nowadays, many people enjoy picking movies apart for the errors. If you're providing a car for the year 1962, you have to know the car you choose is proper and correct for the time period.”Gary Duncan

“I'm fortunate that this industry has been very good to me financially. I've enjoyed it and met a lot of great people that I would never have met, had it not been for the film business.”

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