In 30 years as lead handheld camera operator for CBS Sports, Davey Finch has defined the use of the handheld. From the days of loaded, cumbersome cameras that weighed almost as much as the operator to today’s versatile minis, he has turned the mechanical instrument into a paintbrush, creating an artistic platform for the mini-camera and changing the look of sports on TV.
“As a director, I always thought that Davey was the innovator and the standard-setter in handheld cameras,” says CBS Sports director Steve Milton. “Regardless of the game — football, basketball, or golf — he pushed the envelope and set the standard, and everybody followed him.”
Born in Tulsa, OK, Finch landed his first job at the local ABC affiliate, KTUL-TV. While still enrolled at the University of Tulsa, he began his television career in 1970, working the 2-10 p.m. shift as a studio camera operator.
“Davey and a couple other guys came to CBS from a particular station in Tulsa, where they must have had great training,” says CBS Sports director Bob Fishman. “He had the talent to move on to Los Angeles and the network.”
Indeed, with just 13 credits remaining in his last semester of college, Finch left school and headed west, to Hollywood, where a job was waiting for him at CBS’s TV City. From 1975 to ’78, he worked in the studios on variety shows, but it was not long before he moved into sports. He filmed his first Masters golf tournament in 1977 and quickly became the lead handheld operator on CBS’s golf coverage.
“Davey gives you more than just one option,” explains Lance Barrow, coordinating producer of golf and NFL on CBS. “He is always looking for the best shot; he’s not satisfied by just getting a base shot. Usually his shots are the best anyway, but he is always working to improve, always looking for that perfect shot.”
From offering multiple looks to pioneering the now-standard shot of walking alongside a golfer, Finch single-handedly — or single-shoulder-edly — changed the way golf is shown on television.
“David Finch created a new art form in television with that camera hooked to his tiny shoulder,” says Frank Chirkinian, former coordinating producer of golf on CBS. “He created pictures and images and scenarios that a normal director wouldn’t even call for. David is without a doubt a television director walking around with a camera on his shoulder. He did so much to make our telecasts on CBS as great as they were.”
In addition to his work on golf courses around the world, Finch has made his mark on NFL, NBA, USTA, NASCAR, and NCAA basketball broadcasts, as well as three winter Olympics (Albertville, France; Lillehammer, Norway; and Nagano, Japan). His experience makes him one of the most versatile camera operators in the business.
“His scope of work is unparalleled,” Fishman says. “Without question, he is one of the most talented, passionate, good people this business has ever had the pleasure to have among its brethren. His shot composition transcends sports. There are a lot of guys who just point and shoot, but Davey will give you different angles and looks. He changes framing, and you never have to ask because it’s always there. He has provided as many great moments through his lens as anybody in the history of our medium. He’s just a master of his craft.”
Finch’s talents on the field, court, and course are complemented by his temperament off of it. His easy-going personality helps athletes warm to him, which often provides him with opportunities for shots that not every operator can get.
“David seemed to have some kind of personal rapport with every player on the tour. He has an incredible ability to endear himself with his camera and his personality to the likes of every golfer that I’ve ever known.”
Adds Milton, “Whether he walked with a golfer or found a new position on the basketball floor or ran on a kickoff, he did things with a mini camera that were copied constantly throughout his career. It didn’t matter to me what sport or what format that he was shooting; he brought a sense of professionalism and creativity and mixed both of those into this talented cocktail of camera operation and set the standard for everybody to follow. He made everybody better because he set the standard so high.”
Today, in addition to working live golf and tennis events for CBS, Finch continues to shoot features and opening pieces for CBS Sports.
“His career made a change a few years ago when people kept requesting him for specialty shooting,” Fishman explains. “In many ways, he has transcended shooting live events into a filmmaking area. He knows lenses, lighting, composition, story, everything. He could be doing major motion pictures, he’s that good.”
The way in which Finch frames his shots has shaped the next generation of great camera operators, both at CBS Sports and beyond. His talents in live sports and ENG are legendary throughout the business, and, without realizing it, he pushes all of his co-workers to work harder to match his level of excellence. The premier shooter for a multitude of award-winning features and the standard-bearer of the handheld era, Davey Finch has forever changed the look of sports production.