James Frater SOC ACO is a UK-based camera/Steadicam operator. James was recently the A Camera / Steadicam Operator on season II of The Witcher and has been nominated for the BSC Operators award. Recently James has been putting Anton/Bauer's V-Mount DIONIC XT batteries to the ultimate test on-set.
With The Witcher, Netflix have their own Game Of Thrones. A parallel universe derived from the original books and games. Sword and sorcery seem to be a golden ticket for continued seasons of episodic television and The Witcher is the latest entry – welcoming hordes of new fans in to its universe. Even more with season two on the way.
Camera ‘A’ operator, James Frater SOC, ACO, worked on the first season and has carried on to the second, running his Alien Revolution Steadicam rig, this time powered by Anton/Bauer Dionic XT batteries.
The second season of The Witcher has been James’ first project with Anton/Bauer and the experience for him has been very positive.
“I’ve always wanted to get Anton/Bauer batteries. They’re the industry standard. All the forums say that. Previously I had a battery brand which I couldn’t travel with so whenever I worked abroad I had to get the rental company to organise the batteries for me. With the Dionics I don’t have that problem.
Shooting this season of The Witcher, James was running a couple of V-Mount Dionic XT 90s on his Steadicam rig. They were lasting up to five hours of shooting with ARRI’s Mini LF camera and lenses on-board, giving him a huge amount of confidence. “I would set it up in the morning and didn’t have to think about whether I was going to run out of power for the entire day. I mostly ran with two batteries but sometimes three depending on the size of the camera.”
Battery management was organised by James’ assistants on set. “I take care of the artistic side of everything and they'll be managing the batteries. They love the easy access to the battery level read-out, very handy in managing run time of the batteries, insuring they never run out during a take.”
Season two concentrated more on a continually moving camera, which meant more work for James. “Season two has evolved. For instance there’s a lot more Steadicam; in fact the entire feel of the show has changed quite a lot from the first series. It’s a lot bigger in its scope. In terms of the size of the sets and locations. This allowed us to start moving the camera much more than we had before.”
Leading man Henry Cavill does all his own stunts which is a producer’s nightmare but a dream for the camera operator as James explains. "First season, fight scenes were mainly handheld - a couple of shots that were Steadicam. We took a different approach for the fight scenes in this second season."
“We worked together with the stunt coordinator and their previsualisation – short films they would shoot of an upcoming fight scene. The approach was all Steadicam. Because Henry Cavill does his own stunts and he’s so good at it, sword work and action - it’s better to have a steady frame so you can see exactly what he’s doing."
“You don’t have to use handheld to hide all the nasty mistakes that the actors are making, or to hide the fact that you’re using a stunt double. You keep Henry in the frame. As a result you can get the action and drama within the same shots.”
The Anton/Bauer V-Mount Dionic XT90s were powering James’ entire rig including camera, sled and Steadicam.
“It’s important that I have strong reliable batteries, so that I can feel confident I won’t run in to power issues. The Anton/Bauer Dionics allow me to run everything all day with minimal battery changes.”
James’ Steadicam rig warns him if power is running low. “I can run the rig for four or five hours before it starts giving me a warning.” Says James. “Two green lights on the rig start flashing amber when the voltage gets low, this gives me time to hot swap batteries and then I’m back on green”.
James’ talents with his Steadicam had caught the eye of the directors in the way he worked with the actors. His martial arts training really helps him move around the action and second guess their movements – sometimes it’s a simple matter of keeping an eye on their hips and shoulders so he’s not behind the movement.
Looking back at the first season, James can see that that camera movement has increased hugely, “The very first director in season one set the tone. He’s a very good director but has a ‘David Fincher’ approach as in everything is quite static. The sets were also a lot smaller in the first season and very contained.” “You need a camera that is moving but not just for the sake of it but for a reason and a purpose. That’s what we wanted in season two.”
On the subject of reliable battery power for productions, the advantage is clear.
“There's so much money being spent, and the schedule is so tight, there's very little room for error." says James. "Especially with the camera department, if things have been held up by the camera department, everybody's looking at you and there's very little tolerance for it. So, things like batteries running flat, it’s not an option. There is no compromise.”