What does a vision mixer do?
Vision mixers work on multi-camera TV programmes. They select what the viewers see on their televisions at home. Sitting next to the studio director in the production gallery, in front of an array of monitors, they cut between the different pictures available in real time. Often, the vision mixer follows the director’s instructions on which camera to select, but at times they make their own decisions while the director is doing something else, like preparing for the next sequence or dealing with an unexpected problem.
A vision mixer needs to be able to concentrate for long periods, as some programmes may run for two or three hours without a break. They can’t afford to miss an important reaction on the face of a contributor or guest. If they capture a special moment, it will enhance the programme and could be in the archives for decades; if they miss it, it will be lost forever.
There are other things to think about too.. On recorded programmes, they need to consider selecting extra camera shots for post-production so the picture editor has alternatives when editing a difficult sequence. Vision mixers increasingly need to layer graphics over the picture such as those used for replays in sporting events.
Sometimes, in addition to providing the main programme output, vision mixers also have to select sources to additional feeds such as in-vision screens.
To do a good job, a vision mixer needs to know the programme content very well, so they often specialise in genres they love, such as entertainment, sport, politics or music (if the latter, it helps if they can read a music score). It can be seen as a technical job, but far more important is the ability to know which shots will cut well together, and to judge the precise moment of when to take a shot. The very best vision mixers are storytellers, capable of capturing the programme or event as it unfolds in front of them, with an almost supernatural instinct for when to cut.
Vision mixers are always ready for the unexpected. Many go on to become multi-camera directors, but others prefer to excel in the vision-mixing role. They are usually freelance.
What’s a vision mixer good at?
- Storytelling: know how to use sequences to make the story clear and engaging
- Multi-tasking: look at different screens, listen to the director, and operate the mixing desk at the same time
- Staying calm under pressure: make smart decisions with split-second timing
- Visual awareness: have an instinctive or learnt understanding of what makes a good picture
- Knowledge of the subject matter: whether it’s a particular sport, type of music or event, know the subject so you understand where to focus the attention