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My first professional PAID crew gig...


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#1 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 08 May 2007 - 05:27 PM

So this morning, around 1:30am, I got home from and ended possibly the most hectic 3 days of my life thus far. Here's the backstory?

I'm an intern at Film Arts Foundation here in SF, so pretty much anyone who's anyTHING in the SF film community at least sets foot in there at one point or another. One Saturday a group of filmmakers from India rented a room for holding auditions. They seemed nice enough. Once they finished for the day, the director came up to me and asked me if I was familiar with shooting 16mm and working with 16mm cameras, to which I replied "Of course!". And just for having shot a few rolls of 16mm in my lifetime, I was immediately hired to be 1st Camera Assistant. The pay was way under scale, but I didn't really care, I was just glad to get paid SOMETHING on a film shoot for once.

I wasn't aware at the time, but the Director of Photography that I was to AC (Assistant Camera) for was non other than Barry Stone, CSC. I'd already seen a couple of his films (one of my City College instructors having produced and couple of them and shown them in class), so I was pretty familiar with his work. He gave me a call and asked if I had experience with the Aaton XTR. I told him I'd shot with the Arriflex SR on various occasions so he said "Fair enough, why don't you come on over Thursday and just get familiar with the gear so you'll be set for Friday's shoot." So I got there on Thursday, played around with everything for a couple of hours until I felt quite comfortable and went back home to read up on my Cameraman's Handbook to make sure I knew the camera inside and out. The XTR really is a fantastic piece of equipment, and the ergonomics are awesome. So much lighter than an Arri SR too.

Friday's shoot was pretty simple. We went to some mall out in San Jose where we were to shoot in front of a café on one side of an alley, then in the afternoon switch over to a bar, which was on the other side. Very simple setup, minimal lighting apart from a pair of 4-bank Kinoflo's, but everything went really smooth and we managed to get out of that bar by 5 when the dinner crowd began to show up. My eye for distances while pulling focus immediately began to grow quite acute and we seemed to be working at a pace that was pleasing the producer and director. I was actually surprised at how fast we were going, considering the fact that I was the only AC (and practically only grip on set). I was doing EVERYTHING from moving equipment, loading & unloading film, moving the camera, fetching, cleaning and attaching prime lenses, pulling focus, dolly moves, video assist, slate, camera reports, the list goes on and on.

It was so funny to go over some the observations we made for the first day. For example, the director, during rehearsals before every scene would continually say "Correct!" AS the actor was reciting his/her lines. And since he's Indian, it sounded more like "Codect!" So for the rest of the shoot, instead of "Yes" or "OK", whenever Barry and I were asking eachother a question or something, we'd say "Codect!"

I couldn't make it to the Saturday shoot, so I got my friend Alex(andria) to fill in for me for the day. Alex is a great girl, and I've actually AC'd for her once, but I guess the pace just really got to her and she came close to breaking down when there was a mishap with a film magazine and it fell and busted. There was a bunch of drama on set because the producers hadn't signed Barry's liability clause and as a result of his demands he was actually fired from the set for a couple hours. Well, everyone calmed down, Barry was rehired and since they were 2 hours behind schedule, they began working at breakneck speed and got it done by midnight. They say everyone in the film business makes every mistake in the business at least once, and that was Alex's. Mine was probably not freeing up my schedule to work that Saturday. Not to say I didn't make a lot of mistakes during the shoot, but that was probably my most noticeable one.

Sunday I couldn't have asked for an easier day of shooting. It was all at one location. One scene was just a dolly shot in some old man's personal library, which we converted, into a murder scene. Then a couple of quick handheld shots covering the detectives investigating the scene and some b-roll of the library itself. We then moved a small crew to a phone booth outside of Sears' auto shop in Pleasant Hill for a quick handheld shot of a detective on the payphone. We then broke for lunch at Blondie's and finished up the night with a couple of exterior shots back at the house. Lucky for us, a representative named Jim from Photoflex showed up because they were sponsoring Barry's shoot and allowing him to experiment with some of their softboxes. I already love Photoflex's stuff myself, so I was glad Barry had the chance to get to know'em. (Turns out at the end of the shoot, they just GAVE him 2 free Octodome lights with a bunch of free bulbs! Lucky dog!) We finished up the few shots we had and went home for a 2pm call the next day.

Man it was hot yesterday morning here in SF, and with our location way out in Livermore, I was sure it was going to be even more of a scorcher. The scene was at a wine vineyard, a very nice setup with a dolly track shot to start out a heavy dialogue scene. The shot looked great and as Barry noted, "It added a little class to the film." We moved along quickly there with just a couple of shot/reverse shot stuff and moved on to a community church for a funeral scene. This portion went alarmingly well, smooth, relaxed as if we were now a well oiled machine. If another filmmaker wanted a crew for the next day, he could have hired us and we probably would have made the most efficient crew ever. But unfortunately, it could only last until the end of the night. We had a small amount of extras, and an old Russian lady who was the mother of the lead actress who didn't know a word of English, but she had some awesome moles on her face. I got to work the dolly again and I got quite good at it. The key is to cut down on jerkiness and keep it completely smooth, so I feel quite prepared to grab onto the dolly if I'm asked to on a future shoot.

The shoot ended well, we're not sure what'll happen with the film itself. The dialogue is quite strange, the story is kinda weak (think of a bizaar episode of Law & Order) but it'll at least look good.

To sum it all up, I learned so much on this shoot. Especially since I was the ONLY AC. There was rarely a moment I didn't hear my name being called because someone needed something, so I had to stay on my toes, light on my feet and careful and precise with my hands. During the drive home, Barry was impressed with my work and considered himself lucky to have gotten me for this shoot, as he didn't have the luxury of choosing his own AC for the job due to budgetary constraints. Hey, I was just glad to work with a professional DP and see him at work. He said I acted like a pro myself, he was comfortable working with me and he liked that we were able to develop a short hand of communication and have a laugh from time to time as the shoot went on. Which is a compliment I will take any day.

He said he has a couple of features coming up soon, and that he'd love to have me aboard. I will be awaiting that call.
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#2 Chien Huey

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Posted 08 May 2007 - 08:29 PM

Congrats, it sounds like you're on your way. What ends up happening is that you cross paths with someone who is established in the business, you do a great job and then things start to happen for you. That's how it happened for me and it sounds like you're on your way.

About the single AC thing. Unfortunately, that's more and more common these days. I've done my share of pulling and loading. It's really not ideal because your hands start to shake from running around so much. These days video jobs are all pretty much single AC gigs. The best thing you can do is just to be cool and try to decompress during meal breaks. Trying to get ahead by working during breaks will usually lead to you making a mistake later.
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#3 Xavier Plaza

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Posted 09 May 2007 - 01:16 AM

it sounds like a dream come true, wow man i think you make one of the majors hopes or dreams of any AC, congratulations and good luck in your futures features... ;)
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#4 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 09 May 2007 - 02:21 AM

Congrats, Jonathan! Sounds like a hectic gig, especially working for someone like Barry.

I worked on a feature as a PA/2nd AC that he shot several years ago and learned a ton myself (made an embarrassing amount of mistakes too). He can be quite tough and demanding so it's doubly impressive that you were able to impress him by handling so much all by yourself. I have to admit when I worked with him, I found him to be pretty intimidating.

Anyway, keep up the good work -- it sounds like you won't be an intern for very long.
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#5 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 09 May 2007 - 03:18 AM

Satsuki, it's so strange that we both know all the same people and yet we've never met, ha ha

I guess that's the nature of the SF filmmaking community, so few people to know, then there are some that EVERYONE knows.
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#6 Matthew Buick

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Posted 02 June 2007 - 12:42 PM

This is brilliant news. I think you'll be ASC one day. :P
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#7 Delorme Jean-Marie

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Posted 02 June 2007 - 02:03 PM

congrats !
now yo also learn how important it is to have peaple in your team you trust and you can rely on.
a good AC is also a man/woman with a crew.
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