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Here’s What Your Camera Assistant Wants You to Know

Paula Goldberg

In this article, we round up some tips from the filmmakers below the line on how you can set them up for success in your next film or video project.

Cover image via Scarc.

The director may get all the attention, but industry folks know it takes a village to create a professional film. Most advice you’ll hear comes from the top down, but any well-structured production begins with a strong foundation, and no unit is more solid than the camera assistants. Here’s some advice a few ACs shared with me.

Have a Plan

Here's What Your Camera Assistant Wants You to Know — Plan
Image via guruXOX.

The cinematographer’s first AC is in charge of everything related to the camera. He or she is the first to arrive on set before the director, the DP, or the camera operator and ensure that the camera equipment is ready for the day’s shoot.  This is a skilled position that requires organization and efficiency.

Therefore, the first piece of advice for fledgling filmmakers is come prepared. That doesn’t mean adjustments can’t happen on set, but having expectations in advance will guide all the first AC’s hiring (will additional crew be necessary for certain days, for example), prep the right lenses and gear, and determine point of focus.

Scheduling Your Day

Here's What Your Camera Assistant Wants You to Know — Schedule
Image via Evgeniy Kurt.

As in any relationship, the basis on set is trust. Does the crew trust the director? If a set-up is complicated — but well thought-out, vetted by all the principals, and properly scheduled – the crew will get behind the director and work harder as a team.

Moving Parts Need Communication

Here's What Your Camera Assistant Wants You to Know — Communication
Image via Scarc.

The director has a vision, a plan, and the trust of the crew. Terrific! With so many departments tasked with bringing the director’s vision to life, clear communication from the top is essential for coordination and understanding.

Typically, the first AC and the rest of the assistants will watch a blocking rehearsal to get an idea for camera placement. A director may know (or need consultation with the DP to determine) exactly how to handle a particular shot (studio, handheld, Steadicam), and sometimes the talent will determine the blocking, but until all of these decisions are settled, the first and second ACs can’t go build the camera and communicate the scene’s needs to the dolly grips, gaffers, and key grips — if they’re necessary for support.

The Best-Laid Plans

Here's What Your Camera Assistant Wants You to Know — Plans
Image via farvatar.

You’ve got a vision and a plan, and you communicate well with your crew, who’ve placed their trust in you. Now, step away. Honestly, if you are working with a professional cast and crew, the best thing you can do is just let them do their jobs. If you try to micromanage actors instead of listening to their instincts, you’re bound to get stilted results. Consult with your DP and get input on how to get the coverage you need as efficiently as possible.

Snacks and Swag

Here's What Your Camera Assistant Wants You to Know — Snacks and Swag
Image via gnepphoto.

Finally, remember to feed your crew well, show appreciation, and let them have fun! Here are a few final words from the ACs that tell the tale about food and gifts.

  • “I love to bake, and every year around the holidays I make a huge amount of regular fudge and butterscotch fudge, always a hit.”
  • “People are funny about snacks. Everyone always wants to know what you’re eating. Did they miss something that was put out or hidden on the craft service truck?”
  • “The funniest thing is how people are with Panavision swag in general. Everyone wants shirts and hats from there more than show swag. If there is a Panavision logo with the show name on the same shirt or hat, people lose their minds!”

Looking for more filmmaking tips and tricks? Check out these articles.

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