The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the average salary for camera operators working in film and television at $41,670 as of May 2008. The middle 50 percent earn between $29,020 and $59,970 with the highest 10 percent earning more than $79,440. The bureau notes that the earnings of freelance camera operators may vary. Also, camera operators may belong to two unions, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and the International Cinemetographers Guild.
Second assistant cameramen are considered crew members on a movie or television set. As such, Movie Staff, an industry resource website geared to assist filmmakers find personnel and equipment, lists the average salary of camera operators at $75,723 annually as of 2008. This salary is only reflective of cameramen working in the movie industry.
A Closer Look
In his book "The Camera Assistant's Manual," Hollywood camera assistant David Elkins provides an in-depth look into the careers of television and film cameramen, which includes second assistant cameramen. Elkins points out that it is customary for a second assistant cameramen and other cameramen to work at least 12-hour days, though they may work longer hours on certain projects. Second assistant cameramen are typically paid a daily rate, which, based on Elkins' conversion table, can range from $50 per day to as much as $500 per day. Elkins also notes that camera assistants may have to start off in non-union productions, in which they may earn a flat fee instead of a daily rate.
Union Versus Non-Union Wages
A second assistant cameraman must determine his own daily rates on a non-union production, according to Elkins. In fact, Elkins states that he charged between $50 and $200 per day when starting off in non-union productions. A second assistant cameraman who performs 100 hours of paid non-union work in a three-year period may submit an application to the International Cinematographers Guild. Union second assistant cameramen may earn between $25 and $47 per hour, according to Elkins, based on International Cinematographer Guild rates. IATSE Local 600 lists the minimum daily rate for second assistant cameramen at $506.15 as of 2007.