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York St John Alumni

Updates and stories from the Alumni team at York St John University

Behind the Camera: Life as a Clapper Loader

I studied Film and Television Production at York St John University from 2013 to 2016. Since graduating, I have worked in the film and television industry as a camera assistant, otherwise known as a clapper loader.

I knew I wanted to work in the camera department when I left university, but getting my foot in the door was not the easiest. I have now worked on jobs ranging from Indie films to multimillion-pound TV series.

Every day is different; new locations, new scenes, new stories. One minute I’m in London, the next I’m in Spain. I could be working in a studio set or out in the wilderness.

High stakes and hot coffee

As a Camera Assistant, I maintain the camera equipment. I am responsible for the rushes, which is the footage at the end of the shooting day. The role is technical and requires dedication – there is a lot at stake if something fails. I also order things that we need as a camera department (coffee!) and keep track of all the camera equipment coming in and out of the production.

We could be using anything from cranes to drones. It’s my responsibility to keep track of it all. On top of that, I make sure the camera has sufficient battery and storage, then I clap some sticks to sync the sound and visuals.

Sophie Hardcastle holds a clapperboard in front of a propeller plane and blue sky.

Big break

My first official job was on Dickinson’s Real Deal as a leafleter and a runner. Rather uneventful, but I did have a pie with the tanned man himself so I called it a colossal win. You can find the back of my head on the Doncaster episode, forever saved on my mum’s Tivo. From there I did various jobs, including Emmerdale, The X Factor and Flog It! to name drop a few.

My ‘big break’ was on a show called Still Open All Hours (ask your grandparents). I put on my first clapperboard about 6 inches away from David Jason’s face, while he told me not to “mess it up” (I’m using a polite version here). I learnt a lot on the job – it confirmed that the camera department was the place for me.

Later, I was accepted onto a ScreenSkills scheme, which I encourage any student or graduate wanting to get into the industry to consider. Because of that opportunity, I got a job on the BBC’s production of The War of The Worlds. It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever done and it really kickstarted my career in the camera department. On this shoot I got to stand on a beach in the pouring rain filming people run away from imaginary aliens (spoiler alert). It was a fantastic job, with some incredible sets: some that looked like the 1800s, others like the desolated aftermath of the aliens.

A professional film camera in front of a misty and atmospheric set

Travelling by Tardis

A dream came true for me when I worked on the eleventh and twelfth series of Dr Who. Although it meant moving out of Yorkshire, it was incredible to be on the Tardis, watching The Doctor fly around the console and reel off made-up planets and aliens. The job also allowed me to travel to Spain for the first time (or 1940s India, as production called it). I bonded with
Jodie Whittaker over the fact that we were the only Yorkshire members of the crew. I had an amazing time, even when I was hauling batteries in 30-degree heat.

My job as a clapper loader takes me to remarkable places that I would have never otherwise been to, plus I get to briefly meet ‘famous’ people. My job is unpredictable in most aspects but that’s exactly why I love it.

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Sophie Hardcastle with arms raised above her head and LA countryside in the background

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2 Comments

  1. Eileen Graham March 31, 2020

    I loved reading this as I knew nothing about this industry. So interesting as I enjoy hearing about a typical day or experience in people’s lives.

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