What’s the one major ingredient you need when filming a movie or TV show or commercial? Well, other than actors and a director, the camera men are key. Who else would capture those well directed performances? Daniel Henshaw, a motion picture camera operator for the last 3 years and in the camera department for the last 20, was kind enough to sit down with me and fill me in on what it’s like to work behind the lens, how he got there, and some interesting things in between. Check out my interview with him if you want to be in the know!
Brighter Scribe: How did you get started in the film making arena?
Daniel Henshaw: It’s kind of a long story. A lot of people that I’ve read about got into the film business because they loved movies. There was a particular movie that came along and inspired them to get into the film business. For me, that movie was Star Wars. As kids, we’d go and see every movie that came to town. Once the theater closed in our town, we would collect pop bottles and get a bus ticket and go to Montreal. A bunch of us would save all our pennies and go into the city. Sometimes our parents didn’t even know where we were. Even though we were underage, we would go to see The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, things like that. We were movie crazy.
Brighter Scribe: Did you always know you wanted to work in film, or was it something that just happened?
Daniel Henshaw: On some level, I always knew I wanted to work in film, yeah. But we were from a small town in Quebec just south of Montreal called Ormstown, that’s near Huntingdon about 20 miles from the US border. The thing is that, that’s the furthest away from Hollywood that you’d ever want to be. So the thing was how to get into the movie business from there. I did eventually go down to California for a year and took a couple of film courses at a community college level, and then I thought, maybe there’s something in Montreal. So, I did my research and found out there were film classes. When I got into film class, it was ’81 or ’82, I think. I graduated in ’85 and there was no real film boom as it were in Montreal. People were looking at the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) or the NFB (Nation Film Board of Canada) when you graduated, and the chances of getting into the NFB were very, very slim to none. So a lot of the producers that came to see us students were telling us how lucky we were to be able to have a film program where we could get involved with a camera, make a little story, or direct a little film, or whatever. Because when we graduated we probably weren’t going to be able to do that. It would be very, very, very difficult to do that. Later, when I was in Toronto, on a whim I called up the union and asked if they had any introductory training programs and they said yes they did. And the rest, as they say, is history. I finished the training program and was in “Hollywood“ — I’ve done most of my work in Vancouver and Toronto — in about 6 months and found myself on my first feature film.
Brighter Scribe: I hear so many people say that Star Wars really inspired them. It just goes to show you how amazing Star Wars was. I was a little kid and I thought, “Wow!” So for you, what was it about Star Wars that inspired you?
Daniel Henshaw: It was the scope of it, the bigness of it that was so impressive. Star Wars was the film that broke the camel’s back. But even before Star Wars, we were always movie madness. We were always fantasizing. When we played with our little toys or playing cowboys and Indians, we would go out and play our little part as if we were in a movie. So I think it’s all a part of that same thing. Our fantasy world had aspects of the movie world.
Brighter Scribe: What was your first feature film?
Daniel Henshaw: Three Men and a Baby.
Brighter Scribe: What camera were you?
Daniel Henshaw: Trainees are always assigned to the 1st camera, so Camera A, but you have to be there to help everybody. There’s a 6 week rotation on a feature film, so you’re there for 6 weeks learning how to make movies. In a very basic perspective, you’re there to be a camera assistant. So you learn all the duties of the 1st assistant and the 2nd assistant. Once your trainee/internship is over, you generally become a 2nd assistant, and then you work your way up to camera operator and start lighting and things like this. But it doesn’t always follow that rule.
Brighter Scribe: Did you always know you wanted to be a camera operator?
Daniel Henshaw: Well, I got into the film program at Concordia University by fluke because everybody wanted to be a writer, everybody wanted to be a director, but nobody wanted to be a cinematographer. I was the only one there that they interviewed at that particular point in time who wanted to be a cinematographer, and they needed cinematographers. Who’s going to make movies if you don’t have the camera guys? And I really wanted to be a cinematographer, so it all worked out.
Brighter Scribe: What is a majority of the work you’ve done?
Daniel Henshaw: Throughout my assistant career it was a mixed bag. I’d say an even amount of features, TV shows and commercials. The trick is to stay fresh no matter what you’re doing. You’re reinventing yourself every 6 months.
Brighter Scribe: What do you prefer? Features, TV or commercials?
Daniel Henshaw: I like commercials a lot. You have to be very creative and I really like working with creative people. I’ve worked with Robert Yeoman who was Wes Anderson‘s DP who did The Life Aquatic. I’ve worked with another DP Stefan Czapsky who did Edward Scissorhands. Dion Beebe who did Chicago. I’ve worked a lot with Phil Linzey, a local DP. I’m working with him right now on a show called Tower Prepped. But there’s a lot of really great cinematographers.
Brighter Scribe: What is it like to be on set?
Daniel Henshaw: A lot of pressure. A lot of fun. There’s always a certain degree of damage control. It can be like crisis management all the time. The better prepped you are it’s less likely for things that can go wrong will go wrong. And you can be dealing with extremely volatile personalities.
Brighter Scribe: Actors?
Daniel Henshaw: No, just people in general. Actors can be the least of your worries. Actors are really laid back. Watching the clock is the difficult part. Trying to get the day done. There can be yelling and screaming, lol.
Brighter Scribe: What are your usual hours like?
Daniel Henshaw: A standard day is 12 hours. 7 – 7 usually. Or 7 – 7:30 ’cause you take half an hour out for lunch.
Brighter Scribe: Have you ever started at any crazy hours?
Daniel Henshaw: Oh, yeah. I did. X-Files for 4 years. That was a show that sort of dictated itself. I often
said that the beginning of X-Files, like Day 1, was a beast you got on and you didn’t get off until it wrapped. The whole show. First day of the first episode, last day of the last episode, and then there’s a whole bunch of stuff that happens in between. And usually you’re always behind. It was so involved, it was so demanding that we could go 14 hour Mondays for sure. So if you started on 7am on Monday to 7:30pm, with your 10 hour turnaround (which means rest before the next day), because you have to have a certain amount of time to turnaround, and actors usually have a longer turnaround. Usually the AD tries to get the key actors out who are going to play the following day out a little earlier. So that they can start at 7am the next day in an ideal world. The crew gets a 10 hour turnaround. So, by 9:30pm we would have to be off the clock in order to have a 10 hour turnaround for the next day. Then you pack up the trucks so it would be 10:30pm. So maybe we’ll start for 8am the next day.
Daniel Henshaw on burnout: On X-Files, when you had a 14 hour shooting day, actors are doing the 14 hours then you have to give them the 14 hour turnaround. So the next day you start later, and the next day you start later, and by the time Friday rolls around, you’re starting anywhere from 1pm to 5pm and you still have to do a full 12 hours, plus whatever it takes to get the day done. You can burn out. I burned out in the 4th season. One of the big, big signs of burn out is, you finish one season, you get two months off, then you go back to the next season. A couple of hours into the new season, it feels like you never left, lol. All that holiday time and it feels like you’d never taken it. You might as well have worked all the way through. You’re just as tired, you’re just as exhausted, you’re fried.
Daniel Henshaw on aspects of the job:One of the things about the business is everyone’s job is compartmentalized and there is a certain degree of routine. Each set up, you find the camera positions, you lay down the marks for the actors, the actors go away for make up and what not, you set up your camera, the actors come back, you do the scene. When you’re done with it, you move on to the next one and you set that one up in essentially the same way. The 2nd assistant is responsible for getting the equipment you need on that particular day to the truck. Ordering the film or the videotape if it’s videotape being used, and getting it to the 1st assistant who puts it onto the camera, or gets it to the digital imaging technician who puts it in the tape deck assuming that you’re off camera. Then gathering up all that material and sending it to the laboratory at the end of the day. So it becomes very routine.
Brighter Scribe: So it’s synchronized, ordered chaos.
Daniel Henshaw: And it’s generally when all the yelling and screaming starts [a big smile here from Daniel]. ‘Cause that’s when usually somebody forgot to order something, or didn’t get it there on time, or it’s not what they wanted, or we’re behind schedule. Things go wrong. It’s generally the more experienced, or those who have the cooler heads that are the successful shows, who make it. Less stress. Stress is the killer. Working on TV is like a marathon. You have to have the stamina. Features are a little different. Technically there is a lot more time. 10 hour days instead of 12. It depends. You can wait for weather. You can wait for light. If you have a TV show that has to be done in 7 days — well, so a feature is say, 2 hours, and you have 2 months or 16 weeks to get it done. A TV show is 47 minutes. You have 7 days to get it done. There’s much more pressure to get it done in 7 days. The movies have a different kind of pressure. If you’re a skilled technician, you’re much more in tune with what is needed, time lapse, effects, visual style, but it can be more of a challenge, too. Usually everyone’s on the same page, but you can get creative differences.
Brighter Scribe: What is your favorite part of the job?
Daniel Henshaw: First day and last day, lol! Knowing that you survived the job.
Brighter Scribe: What’s your least favorite?
Daniel Henshaw: The politics. Before, you could walk away from a show if you didn’t like something. You can’t do that now or you’ll get a bad reputation and may not get another show. The whole landscape has changed. When I started they were looking for people. It was a growth industry. The industry peaked in the mid ’90’s to the later ’90’s. It really peaked and it hasn’t been the same since. Now you have to be a really good networker. It’s all about networking. And now I don’t get out to see many movies now.
Brighter Scribe: Avatar is on everybody’s lips these days. With the arrival of the Avatar technology on the scene, where do you see the future of film making headed in your opinion?
Daniel Henshaw: It depends on the budget. Technology is very expensive. Some people are going to be able to take advantage of that and some people aren’t. I think the accessibility to smaller cameras and things like that are going to open things up. There seems to be an insatiable demand for images on certain levels and so consequently, not just 3D technology, but technology in general is allowing everybody to make movies. It’s a new way to make movies. The business is always changing because of technology.
Brighter Scribe: In addition to being a camera operator, you’re also a photographer. I had a look at your great website at www.danielhenshawphotography.com and I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about it.
Daniel Henshaw: It’s a work in progress. I made it myself after getting some help in the beginning. I know a bit about HTML and coding. It’s a collection of photo essays. Wedding. Corporate. A stock page. But it’s a work in progress. And then I have my own galleries that I’ve gotten minimal feedback from. one thing I did find out is you can tell if someone’s not necessarily working a lot ’cause they’re spending a lot more time on their website. If you see the same pictures all the time, they’re always working and they don’t have any time to devote to their website — unless you have someone to update it all the time.
Brighter Scribe: What can you tell me about the gallery 180 days in Nepal? I understand it’s also a fundraiser to help children in Nepal.
Daniel Henshaw: We’re trying to work on that. It’s still fledgling. I want to be able to focus on it 100%. We’re trying to come up with an idea to make it work. We were hoping to sell photographs to give a certain amount of the proceeds to the children center in Nepal where our daughter came from, and we’ve only sold a few. They’re still available at Cafe Kathmandu. You can see them and they can be purchased. Yeah, so Abi still has them hanging there and they can be viewed. Or, if you appreciate the picture, you enjoyed the picture, we’re thinking of a “leave a donation” type idea, but we haven’t got the jar yet to do that. Of course, we want to bring awareness and tell a story, and the pictures tell a story. So far we’ve just been doing things out of our own pockets. Nepal really changed our lives. We’ll be forever grateful.
One thing I learned about Daniel Henshaw throughout the course of this interview is that whether he’s doing film or still photography, he always wants to do justice to the story and honor the subject he’s working on. I had a great time sitting down to chat with Daniel, so thanks a million Daniel!
For a list of Daniel Henshaw‘s film credits check him out at IMDB. To see his stunning photography and the services offered, visit www.danielhenshawphotography.com, and if you’re in the neighborhood, check out Cafe Kathmandu located at 2779 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC and see the pics from 180 Days in Nepal.