For All Mankind:
Freedom to Fail
An interview with Tim Spencer & Mike McEveety
By David Daut
“What are we saying here?” That’s the question that motivated the camera operating team of Tim Spencer and Mike McEveety in their work on For All Mankind, for which they were nominated for Camera Operators of the Year in Television.
Set in an alternate history where the Soviets beat the United States to the Moon, For All Mankind explores the question of “what if the space race never ended?” For All Mankind was created by Ronald D. Moore, Matt Wolpert, and Ben Nedivi and is streaming on Apple TV+.
The series highlights characters who have to navigate the turbulent waters of politics and foreign relations as they attempt to push humanity toward the stars, taking risks, knowing they might fail, knowing they might make enemies, but knowing that the risk is worth it.
Though the stakes of a television production are not necessarily as dramatic as the looming threat of nuclear war, that freedom to take chances creatively—the leeway to potentially fail and then try again—is crucial to achieving something of real worth.
In their conversation with Camera Operator, Spencer and McEveety go deep into both the benefits and the potential pitfalls of modern filmmaking technology. As much as these developments have unlocked new opportunities to tell new types of stories, there is risk in letting that technology get in the way of creative problem-solving and a collaborative spirit.
As with the progression of time in the series, technology marches ever onward, but when it comes to telling stories about humanity, we humans must continue to find a way to work together.
Camera Operator: So, I know you two have both worked on other space shows in the past—Tim, I know you worked on Battlestar Galactica and Mike, you worked on Star Trek: Enterprise and Babylon 5 back in the day. How would you say that your work on For All Mankind compares to those more sort of fantastical depictions of space?
Tim Spencer: I don’t think they differ a lot. For All Mankind is by the same creator as Battlestar Galactica. So, essentially, what we’re doing, as I understand, is a poli-sci show. Basically, we’re discussing political science. And as I have heard, we like to choose the genre of science fiction because we’re not under the scrutiny of society. We can say what we want and pretend what we want, and talk, or relate it to our current culture. So, the truth is the two shows are somewhat similar. We’re leaving a message. We started with the space race, and then we’ve used an alternate reality so that we can say, okay, look, this is what might have happened instead of what has actually happened. In For All Mankind Season 3, we start to investigate the discussion of governance versus corporatism, which we are experiencing now; it parallels what’s happening to America and around the globe. So, the writers are a year, two years, four years, five years in advance with their message. It’s not me—I’m literally just shooting it—but it is the producers’ and the writers’ message, I think.
For Season 1, the director of photography Stephen McNutt and I discussed that the show should have a classical cinematic look. I have always been taken with the way The Paper Chase was shot. We approached it with the dolly and gear head and only used the Steadicam to get from one place to another, but for the most part, we are trying to shoot it like how it was in 1970 and 1980 and 1990. So, I think they’re kind of similar, and then if Battlestar Galactica becomes a part of the story, we move to another level of desperation to survive. One in control and the next, almost out of control.
I think that when they say in Battlestar Galactica that “everything that is old is new again,” then we might be able to link into that what we’re shooting now on For All Mankind. Essentially, it’s circuitous. This is us as humans. This is the shit we do as humans. This is who we are. If we look into the collapse of mankind—and we are there now, are we not? We’re starting to discover that we grow to a point where we actually collapse in on ourselves. So if we were looking at these recent mass shootings, for example, it’s an 18-year-old who’s been radicalized. And now we’re learning that it’s probably an algorithm that’s helping to root it, an algorithm that we created. I believe that we started looking into that in Battlestar Galactica and its prequel, Caprica, and that is what I feel might just be being said in Caprica. We build it and then it starts to control us. Of course, this is all my personal opinion.
CO: I think there’s a lot of interesting stuff to dig into there. In the show, you’re showing this alternate history, but it’s not unlike—intentionally so—the reality that we’re living in today. A lot of the stuff that we are facing today sort of had its roots back in that time period. The way the show is showing it, it takes a slightly different path through those things, but it’s arriving at similar conclusions.
Spencer: I wonder if we’re asking: Is our civilization going to be any different if women were running it? Are the politics going to be any different? Would the outcome have been any different?
CO: That’s a really good question! Obviously you know a little bit more about where the show is going since you’ve already shot Season 3, but even towards the end of Season 2 you have these setups where it’s primarily women running the show, whether that’s at NASA or in the bridge between NASA and the US government, and maybe even moving into the US government itself. It’s very interesting where the show is going from this point.
Mike McEveety: Even though the show takes place decades ago—we started in the ’60s, and now, Season 3, we’re in the ’90s—all the things that we’re talking about and trying to show, it’s all happening now, today. We’re definitely intertwining current situations and making them all happen much earlier than they would have normally.
Spencer: It’s sort of interesting because you’re asking about the show, but any of these conversations are going to lead us into a political science arena, which I find fascinating. On the show I’m on now (not For All Mankind), I read the script and I called the script coordinator and said, “Okay, it’s a script about time.” Having the opportunity that day, I turned to the director, who’s also the writer, and I say, “Whether you know it or not, this is a script about time.” He said, “What are you talking about?” And I said, “Well, there’s subjective or objective timing here, right? Everything that’s going on in this story is about timing.” He says, “That’s interesting you noticed that, and you’re sort of right.” He hadn’t thought about it in that way. He was kind enough to not brush me off and we started a friendship of our own. So, in a way, it’s a matter of what we individually bring to it. It may be obvious now, as we are so far into it—and my understanding of what is being said has expanded greatly—but fundamentally my original thought of time gave me, personally, a perspective to approach the operating from, a way to get involved, until the director and the DP help me better understand what is deeply being said.
As an operator, I always look for a level of interest so I have a base place to start with respect to what am I reaching for. It seems apparent to me that everything in life is fluid. It comes in many shades of gray. “Life isn’t black and white.” Politics is not black and white. Things are up and then upside down. That is really my interpretation of one of the themes of For All Mankind. I might be reading a script and have also read an article, or looked at a painting or photograph, and draw a similarity between the two. If I’m reading a script from For All Mankind and then I listen to this documentary about some political issue, and I would understand an equivalence. Understand a random madness to it all. It’s all kind of circuitous in terms of the politics. So when we talk about For All Mankind, and we talk about the politics that happen, this is the crazy shit that we live with, that we create. Every time one thinks they may know what the answer is, in the end we don’t. That is our lives, and that is politics. It’s sort of like, one thing happens, and another thing happens, and when you get down to the bottom of it, it is some sort of quantum entanglement. I see it in our business. It’s absolutely fascinating to me that as human beings we behave this way.
And I think maybe in a kind of strange, fucked-up way, that this is what we’re are saying in For All Mankind. Now, we can’t talk much about Season 3, but when you watch it, you will see it moves into the White House, and the politics of how our history, and futures, are developed.
What am I saying with respect to the camera operating? I think my original point may have been that on For All Mankind, I found a place of understanding to get involved. To have a discussion with the creators, with the crew, and it helps us develop an understanding to why, or how, we should shoot something. Perhaps I’m just spit-balling to your question and trying to be entertaining at the same time.
CO: You were talking a little bit about the aesthetics of the show and wanting to have a kind of classical approach to shooting it, and we’ve talked a little bit about moving through the different decades each season is set in. How much did the changing of the timelines affect your approach to shooting each of those seasons?
McEveety: I’m going to say not much difference at all. We used the same cameras, the same filters, the same tools. What’s great about our show is it does have a large budget, so we don’t skimp on doing things right. We’ve got great use of cranes, a lot of swooping motions, and Tim, obviously, with his Steadicam, really can take over a scene with the movement that he can create. Same lenses, everything pretty much the same; the only thing that really changes is the content, the writing, and the progression of the characters. But from filmmaking, I don’t see much difference between each of the seasons.
Spencer: It also has to do with the director. On Battlestar, we did have a producer who was the creative producer, who was always there. We always had these really fantastic rehearsals where you might hear an actor say, “Okay, hmm, I didn’t read it that way.” And the director might be saying, “Well, I read it this way.” And if there was ever a question to the meaning with respect to the ongoing story, then they would get Ron on the phone, and he would say, “Well, this is kind of what we’re trying to say, but we want you to have your own way around it.” We are approaching it that way on For All Mankind, and I’m sure all those discussions are happening in the tone meetings and pre-production, and our writers are always present to help the directors and actors with that insight. Everybody has their input, and it’s just about being sort of malleable. It really is quite collaborative.
From our end, we just want to make it look good. Look real. Between Mike and I, we ask, “does this look good?” And Mike, you’ll say, “yeah, no,” and I think, “what would look better?” We have a team effort that way, and we’re always discussing the look and trying to leave our egos out of it so that we come up with the best that we can do in the time allotted. To answer your question, though, I don’t think the operating has changed much from time period to time period. The framing will change however, and the DPs are always creating the feel they have planned and help us with our struggles. The directors come prepared—some very well—and with a vision. I expect the edit is an important joint process. I wish I could watch that process.
CO: Could you talk a little bit more about that collaboration on set and working together to find that look to make it look as good as you can?
McEveety: Again, like Timmy was saying, it starts with the director. Like any show, they’ll come in and they’ll have their vision and the actors will have their say, then Steve McNutt or Ross Berryman will say “let’s do this,” and then Tim and I take over. What’s great about For All Mankind is they really let us do our jobs. There are so many shows I’m on where there’s so much hand-holding and micromanaging, so what’s great about For All Mankind is they let Tim and I go. Generally they give us an idea and then we go from there. We’ll pick the lens, we’ll pick the height, we’ll pick the movement right or left, we’ll kind of find our spots, and Tim and I are really good at making sure we don’t do duplicating stuff. Tim will say, “I’ve got this” and I’ll say, “I’ve got that,” so it’s covered. He’ll do his one thing and I’ll make sure that I’m not doing the same thing. So, to answer that question, it’s just all about communication coming down from the top. The directors know we have that freedom, so they tell the DP and the DP tells us and then we go.
Spencer: It’s a matter of being collaborative amongst all of us. I think I’ll always continue to be that way. It seems like the mature way to approach a project that you are being hired on. It may be our age; as you get a little older, you don’t have as much to prove, maybe. I don’t really know. Basically it’s a jar of jam, and we’re trying to sell the jam, aren’t we? So we make the best jar of jam we can, and we put it on the shelf in a store, and we label it and we say, “Okay, this is what’s in our jar of jam, and this is what we’re trying to do, trying to say.” Hopefully it sells and we all get hired again.
It is my impression from our last season that we were studying the idea of governance versus corporatism. Literally today, we are seeing that, living that, with corporations and their exposure to Wall Street, and the Feds needing to play along to the stock market pressures, and with the governments continuing to print our way out of our setbacks with low interest rates—how relevant that is. One might look at someone like Elon Musk—and that is essentially what we’re talking about—which is corporations saying, “We’re gonna go to space, and we’re going to do whatever the fuck we want. And nobody’s going to tell us what to do or not what to do.” While NASA’s caught up in budgets and politics of governance, the corporations are saying, “We’re going into space, and we’re going to launch 1,000 satellites. In fact, we’re going to launch 10,000 of them, and we’re going to put them all around the planet, and there’s nothing you can do about it because you haven’t written the laws for space yet. And then, by the way, we’re going to Mars.” Oh, what’s on Mars? Well, Mars is close to the asteroid belt. What are they going to do? They’re going to grab the asteroids, bring them back to Mars, and mine them. Most of humanity can’t even imagine that that is what they are planning. And someone like Jeff Bezos is thinking, “Well, we’re going to do the same thing, but with all the data that we have been collecting from studying our employees that we’ll use to build an AI for our venture.” Sound familiar? Battlestar Galactica. Caprica.
It’s our human behavior. This is who we are. In some respects, it is capitalism, isn’t it?
The show is reaching out to an area that most humans haven’t thought about quite yet. I’m probably getting way off topic, but ironically we are sort of at the center of what you’re asking. You may be asking, how do you frame it? And I’m thinking well, I don’t know. I just kind of do whatever it is to get the message across. But in terms of how the producers deal with things—and I learned this on Battlestar—we have a script, and we follow the script, but the scripts are all intertwined with one another. So they may not cut it the way it is scripted, it may be cut in a different order, and things may be moved around a bit. What we’re trying to do, I think—and I may be wrong—is leave a legacy behind, and a message. Mike is a soldier, and I am a devoted Battlestar acolyte. We do what we’re asked to do. Nobody’s shown up yet and said “don’t do that.”
That is kind of what Ron said in the beginning when we were doing Battlestar. He did show up once and said to me “try less frantic.” I was trying to create the feeling of a human struggle to survive. I suppose my operating was getting too jittery, and it really needed a look of a more mindful struggle. With respect to For All Mankind, nobody has shown up to say anything like that to us yet—or maybe they have, I can’t remember—but as I have said we are trying to be classical and I have more years under me now. Personally I am channeling Gordon Willis when I approach a scene. Designed simply and directly, with respect to the master and its coverage. Not too much “look what we can do.”
We have the two top writers and producers, Ben [Nedivi] and Matt [Wolpert], and they are fantastic humans and always lots of fun. They’re involved in all of this, of course, as they are the creators. They have a very experienced writing team in David Weddle, Brad Thompson, and Nichole Beattie. It really is wonderful to work with them all, and they are a great group of people that will discuss and answer any questions about what we are trying to say.
We have the same challenges and problems that every production has. For the most part we work together to solve them. It is fantastic working on the show, because as Mike says, they give us freedom to be creative.
CO: Can you talk a little bit about finding creative solutions to some of those challenges using technology? I was reading a little bit about how you used the Sony Rialto camera extension system to help you in some of the more confined spaces. What other kinds of equipment did you use and how did you solve some of those problems when they came up?
Spencer: Oh, well, the Rialto is really great. I love that thing. I think it’s quite good. I guess it’s sort of like trying to come up with an idea. We’ll all sort of troubleshoot as a camera department. We say, “Okay, this is what we want to do, and how are we going to go about it?” For the most part we all—as a camera crew—say, okay, this is not going to fit in the room, and the room isn’t moving, and the side isn’t moving, but we do want to put the lens here, how are we going to do that? And we’ll say okay, we’ll take a snorkel, we’ll put a 90 degree on it, and we stick it in there. Do we have the stop? The DP may say yay or nay, and we move on to the next logical step. We work within the budget.
It’s complex because it may not be the director. It may have to do with the construction department, it may have to do with some decisions that were made in preproduction. One part of the budget was overspent in one area, so it has to come out of another area. And you’re sort of watching it, but I think it’s very important on a camera level, and on an operator level, to stay out of it. I think it’s very important on a political science level to not point and blame, because that’ll cost you. It’s not helpful to point and blame, because the problem is the problem in front of you. That’s the part we lucked out on, being able to collaborate together as a crew and not be strong-armed by any one individual ego.
Ultimately, it’s like a funnel. The problems go in, and they’re spinning around and around and eventually they’re pushed out a small hole at the bottom. Where it comes out, that’s us. That’s the camera department. If we looked back up and said, “Okay, well, if we were in the Southern hemisphere, it’d spin the other way, and who put all this in here at the same time, and why doesn’t the dolly grip read the script?” All this shit, it’s irrelevant. We have to deal with the pressure of the time and the size of the hole spitting it out, and we say, “Okay, this is what we have at our disposal right now, would this work?” And that’s a great process in itself, because you are up against time and clearly you can see that some of these decisions are based upon production and circumstance. Who knows what goes on up in the office? I have no clue. Mike has more of a clue because his father was a director, and I have learned a bit from him and from years in the business, so it’s all kind of in prep, I guess. But we just have to solve these problems to the best of our abilities.
Solving with technology? I did note how complex and useful the Oculus 4 Axis Gimbal Head was for us. We used it often on the Technocranes in space or on Mars. Having the ability to nose mount it was very helpful in that its signature from top to bottom was a lot smaller then having to hang or top mounting a head. The single light source used for the sun when in space can be dealt with easier as is the seemingly continual problem of having a camera shadow.
McEveety: All those discussions don’t translate to the crew. They all keep it amongst themselves. They all have these things in their heads for weeks, and then they come in and they try to translate it to us, and it doesn’t translate because their vision and what we have to work with—the decisions they made, whether they ordered a crane, or whether they said “well, we’re going to do it with this piece of equipment.” And then Tim goes, “How are you going to do that? You want to do this, but you have this piece of equipment, this was not discussed? What if you came to us? What if you came to us and said, here’s our plan, guys.” And it happens sometimes; sometimes they’ll get a heads-up, they’ll go to the DP and the DP will be like, “I need a few brains on this one, we got to figure this out. Next week, we’re going to do this.” And then it runs through the department and then we we get the right piece of equipment. And we’re able to do it. You mentioned the Rialto, which was pretty much the big fix on Season 3, you know, we use the Rialto a lot because of the tight spaces. And generally the problem is tight spaces.
It’s a struggle. One of the things I thought when I moved up to be a camera operator was that I wasn’t going to have to bust my ass anymore. You know, as an assistant, you’re carrying cases and you’re pushing carts and you’re prepping and wrapping and all that. As an operator, I figured I just point the camera, but it’s a very physical job. Your body’s in incredible positions for long amounts of time. And because it’s digital—and it has been for a long time now, so I’m not going to say anything new—but we hold the cameras for take after take after take so that the actors can get their dialogue and get in the moment and not break it up with a cut. They just roll right into it and we go and we go and we go, so it’s very physically demanding. The smaller the camera, like the Rialto, really helps. And with the tight spaces, I’m a big fan of the slider to fix shots and keep the camera in the position that it needs to be in. Using that smaller footprint and squeezing into those small spaces as best you can. Going to the primes.
Spencer: The primes are great! The project I am on now is an anamorphic film. It’s a feature, and I’m learning to be disciplined with respect to the frame. I started on it as the B camera/Steadicam operator, but the director and the DP moved me onto A camera. They’re very specific with the frames and the operating, but they’re a very kind group and I’m really enjoying the project. I’m learning a great deal about anamorphic lenses, their fall off, and all that. I hope I can have more experiences like this to learn and grow with new techniques, but I have been asked back to For All Mankind, and there I shall go. I will, however, be taking with me what I have learned here and try to apply it to this fourth season.
One of the fun things about being an operator on the show is watching. You’ve read it, and you have an interpretation of what the story is, but then you show up and there’s the character, and you think, “Wow, they’re fantastic! I didn’t read it that way, but this is fantastic, this person is fantastic!” That’s the benefit: we get to watch it. We have to operate it, and we have to deal with all those set problems, but for the most part I’m not part of any of the production end problems. I didn’t cast them, I’m literally just there to shoot it. I don’t see myself in these later years of my life with much of an ego. I’m literally a mechanic of sorts. Here to help the process along and mitigate the timing.
When I consider the project I’m on right at this moment, I have a pretty good idea of how it is going to go. When one has years of operating, you develop an instinct. You get to a point where you don’t really have a discussion about it, you just know, and you may turn to your guys, as I’ll turn to [1st AC Stephen Pazanti], and say, “This is what I think is going to happen here. I think this is what they want, but I think we have to prepare that this is what’s actually going to happen. I’m going to go and dig deep, and you’re going to rack deep, and then we’re going to grab that piece of dialogue and story, and pull forward again.” And you’ll do that and with any luck they’ll think “wow!” and they’ll like it, and it’s all because you’re on top of the script. You read it, you understand it, then you read the sides again, and you know that this is where the story is. Steve has fantastic instincts and it extremely talented—I suspect because of his years in the drivers seat. He truly is a world class focus puller and 1st AC.
In our world, you only have a certain amount of time to tell the story. As long as the story is there and we’re on top of it, then we can get in and get out. I think that’s the skill of being an operator, along with the DP, focus pullers, and the whole camera team. And there are benefits to age and knowing what’s going on, how it can all go wrong, and how to get it back on track if it’s going sideways. If we’re going to talk about old versus new, I think there is a tendency for the next generation to say, “Look, we have this and we have that, we can get a Mōvi so we can move all over the room and do all these fun shots.” Okay, great, but we can’t light it. We really should be lighting one direction to make it look great. Maybe we could light for two directions, but we can’t light 15 directions. So, now we have new products that we can move about with, but I don’t know that it enables us to tell the story any better, and you’re certainly making it more complicated in other aspects.
And then next, someone shows up and says, “Put this headset on and we’ll tell you what to do.” And I think, “I don’t need you to tell me what to do. I know what to do.” We could simply discuss it ahead of time, and if you ever want to talk to me, you know where to find me. The headsets may be useful on occasion, but to use them all day, every day, is invasive to one’s health and one’s independence. I have my own ideas, and if you’re not interested in my ideas, in collaborating, then I’m probably not the person that you need working for you. Saying that might have just cost me some work, but I’m being honest here and that has to be worth something in today’s climate. Personally, I just don’t think I can work that way. It really has to be a collaboration.
CO: You want to feel like you are important and valued as a collaborator rather than just sort of a living remote control.
Spencer: Let me trust my instincts here. I think I understand what we’re saying on an academic level. We can have that discussion, because that’s what makes it all so fantastic. That’s what makes it this beautiful place to work. There’s a microcosm of intellect that’s happening, and if we’re going to dumb it all down, then I don’t know if that’s the place for me. As I get older, I’m starting to realize that I probably should not be working on facile projects. I really need to be working with some substance and some depth because, not only does that help show humanity the way forward, it shows us the direction to go in operating. What are we saying here? What is the meaning of what we’re doing?
McEveety: I’m going to add to what you just said about the headsets. I’ll day-play on shows where I don’t know the characters very well. I’ll know the character name but not the actor’s name, and there are ten people in a scene. And I’ve got the DP in my ear going “tilt up, pan right, zoom in, zoom out” and I’m trying to listen to the dialogue, hear my cues, because I know what my plan is, but I’ve got him in my ear, and it’s stressful.
Spencer: It is stressful!
McEveety: It’s just a terrible way to work. I think what I opened up with about the freedom that we have on For All Mankind that we’re not on headsets, and the DP just goes “give me a single or give me a two.” And then I talk to the dolly grip, we set it up, and we do the shot. “Oh, you didn’t like that one? Okay, what do you want me to do on take two? Great.” Instead of the headsets—headsets drive me crazy.
CO: Can you think of any specific moments on For All Mankind where having that freedom to be familiar with the material and make intuitive decisions on your own felt really particularly rewarding? Maybe a particular moment where you got to contribute something to a shot or a scene that you felt elevated that part of it?
Spencer: I don’t know if I can pinpoint one, but I can tell you that it happens constantly. And, you know, I’m gonna go to the same place. On a political level, we talk about America, we talk about Russia. What is one of the most fundamental things about America? It’s freedom. The freedom to take chances, the freedom to not be controlled by the ruling party. The freedom of thought. It’s only by that, that we have a society where iPhones are invented. We have this opportunity to fail. Failure is expected. We take chances. I worked with a focus puller on a show many years ago, and the DP came up—and he was a good friend of mine—and said to me, “What are we going to do? This stuff just looks like shit.” I said, “I know, it’s because he doesn’t take any chances. I’ll have a talk with him.” And I had that talk with the focus puller—this was years before I was working with Mike—but I said, “You’ll see me go over there, I want you to snap that focus there and then snap it back and I’ll operate to it. It may be wrong, but let’s take a chance, see if it works out.”
Mike will be laughing here because I used to tell him, “Snap it! Snap the focus!” And he’d say, “No, it won’t work.” This other focus puller was the same way. I’d say, “please just try it,” but this particular focus puller wouldn’t take any chances. He just wanted it all to be easy. I was trying to get him to stop looking at it like a simple job, but rather understand what the camera is doing, the story it was telling. So, where’s the story? Have you read the script? No? Oh, boy. Okay, now we have a problem. It took me a long time to get him to take some chances.
I remember we were doing a scene and it actually was a space show. They had these exercise machines on a spaceship, and there was a guy running on the machine, and the focus puller racked deep. He took a chance, but it just wasn’t right and the director yelled at him. I became quite upset at the director. I was younger back then. I approached the director and explained myself, I said, “Look, you’re here for one episode, I’m doing all of them, and I’m trying to get this guy to take some chances.” It’s the cracks that let the sunlight in. That’s the great thing about America. You take a chance or step out of the box every once in a while. Step out of your comfort zone. Break the mold. Do something different. Hemingway did that, right? He’s the one who turned around and said, “You know what, I’m going to simplify all this shit, knock all the crap out, and we’re just gonna go straight for the message.”
I think, as an operator, having the opportunity and having the leadership from the production and the DP to allow you to take the headset off, and have the freedom to discuss it all prior and post makes your product better. I think that your options are better. I think the work becomes more engaging. I think asking an operator to put a headset on and have a director of photography who’s commenting based upon the visuals and not upon the intellect of the story is not helpful.
McEveety: There are times when the headsets work. When you have multiple cameras and they’re all looking at the monitors and they know all they need is this piece and they’ve got the scene, they can whisper, “Hey, B camera, tighten up and get this.” Boom! Scene complete. That’s when they’re useful. Other than that, forget it.
To answer your question, David, I see it every day with Tim. Everybody wants their piece of dialogue and when they get it, they say cut, but Tim sees that the actor’s in a mood and his tear’s about to drop, something’s happening, and Tim will keep rolling. He’s always looking to improve every shot, not just get the piece that the director asked for. He’s always looking for more. That’s what I see. For me, I’m always rolling and looking for things because B camera can. A camera’s got the master, they can’t vary from that too much. I get to search and destroy. So, there are times for me when I get those moments, and I’m really proud of myself when I’m going from one thing to another and the timing is just right there.
Spencer: What a wonderful piece of American ideology. To have freedom to take the reins off, the freedom to make mistakes, to fail, to try again and not be persecuted for free thought.
I think with this technology, hopefully you have someone with intellect enough to understand that it also could be a crutch. Now we have this technology and everything can be level all the time, but I don’t want it to be level. Right now, at this moment, I don’t want it to be level. And right now, at this moment, I would like to be making this decision because, guess what, the actor made a new decision. He turned this way and now he’s gonna go that way. If you deal with Joel [Kinnaman] on our show, he’ll never do the same take twice. Thinking that you’re going to live in a world where there’s a constant comes back to the theme of the show and humanity in general. There isn’t a constant, and nor should there be because the world isn’t constant. The butterflies that are here today won’t be here tomorrow. Space and time and life is in flux.
I’m always looking for levels and that’s what I do on the show I’m on right now. What is it exactly that we’re saying? And I see correlations between where we are right now, and I think that the director who wrote the show thinks that’s great of me, that I’m that involved in what we’re doing. We have a great opportunity as camera people to be involved intellectually in what we’re saying, and that’s much more helpful on For All Mankind, because that is the whole point.
CO: I think getting to the heart of what you’re saying, the advances in technology can be great, but at the end of the day they are tools and they have to be in service of telling a story and making these bigger points. The technology can’t get to a place where it is pulling the cart.
Spencer: That’s right! And, ironically, are we not there right now when we’re saying that we have built these algorithms that are pulling the cart? You know, Cambridge Analytica, this and that, what’s going to happen? We’re better off now than we were in 2016 because we’re aware of what is going on, but we’re all still learning about this technology that has been leading us. We do not have the answers yet. It may be another 15 or 20 years or beyond our lifetime, but it’s exactly what you’re saying. If you are an operator and they have put a headset on you, then you are going to have to make a decision. It’s a lot like what we’re saying on For All Mankind. Ed Baldwin makes a decision to not fire on the Soviets, to not start a World War. So we are saying the same things here. I have a choice right here and right now to basically be insubordinate to the DP.
But I don’t mean to be insubordinate. I don’t want to be insubordinate. Charles Dickens said that one of the greatest failures of our education is that we have lost our ability to communicate because of our limited vocabulary. Without a discipline of vocabulary, we cannot directly explain how we feel. Our ideas, our emotions. All that leads to indignation that can last generations. Just as it does in politics. So, you’re going to be at a point, at some point in your life, where you’re saying, “Okay, I’m either going to listen to this person or not listen to them.” Right now they’re telling me to do something that’s going to blow the shot. Alright, I’m going to blow the shot, then I’m going to approach them afterwards. Am I going to tell them that I blew the shot because they didn’t understand what is happening on set, or from the story point, or from the changing orders of the director, or am I just going to let them have it their way, knowing I could have done better, so that I can be hired again? Are they going to hate me? What are they going to do?
The relationship I had with the DP on For All Mankind—he is very good friend of mine—so I might ignore him, and then explain myself afterwards. He may get mad at me, but our friendship is so tight, it’s not enough that he would come after me later. That is the special friendship that we have and it may not ever happen to me again. It takes many years to build that sort of relationship. He knows I’m committed to the show and our friendship and his success, and in turn he allowed me to be a free thinker. But now that he’s retired, I have this problem. Am I working for the director? Am I working for the producers? Am I working for the project? Or am I working for the director of photography? I have to battle with all of that if I’m gonna go out on a limb to be singular and take a chance that this idea of mine is going to work out. And when it does work out, they may say “that’s fantastic!”
And yet, we’re making shows about people that move America. People that move the world forward by not just doing what they’re told, but by taking chances. I look at all these superhero shows, and then as we were shooting Season 1 of For All Mankind, I’m going, “Good God, these guys were superheroes! They were mavericks. They went to space in a tin can!” We actually were inside the replica capsules that they practiced in. Mikey and I were crammed in there, and in a quiet moment I looked around me and thought, “Good God! They went into space in this!” They’re superheroes! That’s courage.
McEveety: Going back to that theme of freedom, for me it’s just an honor to work on a show where we have that freedom. Just being able to do our job.
Camera Operator Summer 2022
Photos courtesy of Apple
TECH ON SET
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Tim Spencer attended Sedbergh School in Montebello, Quebec, from 1971 to 1979. It was at Sedbergh that the values of hard work, honesty, and free thought were instilled in him. From there, Tim attended Northern Secondary School for Photography in Toronto from 1980 to 1982, after which he spent three years living in various parts of Europe and the Middle East. Tim began working in the film industry in 1985 and, during his 37 years in the business, he has been a part of six different departments. He eventually found a home in the camera department, where he has been working for the last 22 years.
Born in Encino in 1966, Mike McEveety became the third generation in a film industry family after his father, a director, and his grandfather, a UPM/1st AD. Mike attended several years of junior college before transferring to Loyola Marymount University, but ultimately left early for an opportunity to work as a loader/2nd AC on the feature Hot Shots. Beyond his father and grandfather, Mike has a number of cousins and uncles who were also in the business. For most of his career he was often recognized by whom he was related to, but he is now is one of the few members of his family still in the business. Mike hopes the McEveety legacy will continue with his son, Tanner, an aspiring writer currently enrolled as a visual media arts major at Emerson College. After 30 years in the business, Mike still loves what he does and hopes to continue for at least another ten. He considers working on For All Mankind to be a highlight of his career.
A writer and film critic for close to ten years, David Daut specializes in analysis of genre cinema and immersive media with bylines at Lewton Bus, No Proscenium, and Heroic Hollywood. David studied at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and currently works as a freelance writer based out of Orange County, California.