Born and raised in Australia, John Adderley entered the television industry as an assistant in the camera department at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Sydney. John moved to the UK in 1971 and , after a couple of years as a freelancer, joined the BBC on a permanent basis as a camera assistant in the film department.
John spent almost 15 years as a camera assistant before becoming a fully fledged camera operator.
The work of the camera assistant was multifaceted and vital to a successful film shoot. It was the responsibility of the assistant to help organise, transport, and set up the camera equipment needed throughout the shoot. This usually involved preparing equipment the night before and was hard physical work, as much of the equipment was heavy and unwieldy, particularly the large wooden tripods.
During a shoot, the camera assistant was responsible for a number of tasks, but none was more important than ensuring that film was loaded into spare magazines, and ready to go, at all times. With a standard 16mm reel lasting for just 11 minutes, each camera would be accompanied by three spare magazines that had to be seamlessly unloaded and reloaded with film so as to not disrupt filming.
This difficult and fiddly task – which needed to be done by touch alone, with unexposed film reels hidden in a light tight bag – became second nature to camera assistants who, with some practice, could get this done in under five minutes. As well as speed and efficiency, this task required great care from the assistant due to the delicate nature of the film stock and the unforgiving environments in which many location shoots took place.
In addition to these tasks, camera assistants were required to develop a keen eye for camera operation. Throughout the shoot, the assistant would be expected to anticipate the needs of the camera operator and be ready with assist or provide the correct equipment at any time. It was usually the assistant’s responsibility to set up the position of the camera for a given shot. A good knowledge of shot composition and lens choice was essential to working effectively and efficiently as a camera assistant. Overall, the job of the camera assistant was to allow the cameraman to place his time and energy into the task of interpreting the wishes of the director.
During his years at the BBC, John worked on a range of programmes, including Everyman, Panorama, and Under the Sun. John would continue to work in the Film Department until 1995 when he left the BBC and continued his work as a freelance cinematographer for TV and film.
Over the course of his career, John has worked on over 90 productions including schools television, documentary, and drama. John now specialises in historic camera equipment and has become an expert at working with antique hand-cranked cameras.