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Camera Prep / Etiquette question


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#1 Yveline Garnier

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Posted 17 June 2008 - 04:47 AM

A few weeks back I went into a commercial shoot without a camera prep; production called me last minute, at about 8 in the evening for the day after. Was unable to tell me what camera it was going to be, and neither could the D.P. Told me we'd find out the day of the shoot. Very odd.
I ended up having to work without a follow focus, and a 15mm lens that was completely busted; had to put it on infinity to get it to focus at 3 feet. Ended up testing all the other lenses on set, and we were unable to get a replacement for the 15mm so we had to work around that lens for two days. Not fun.
Looking back, there really was no way for me to do a prep, but I still felt as if I was at fault somehow. Any tips on what the best action is at a situation like that?

Next question;
In two weeks I'm starting as 1st AC on the second unit of a feature film. It's not my first feature, but it will be my first time on a second unit. What's the proper etiquette for having two 1st ACs on set? Do I answer to him, or am I on equal foot, or do we both just stick to our own unit?

The camera will be the Sony HDW-F900R, so if anybody has any tips on that model, it would be appreciated. I've already picked up that the backfocus of that camera can be a pain to stay locked, so I'm hoping to find out in prep just how fragile it is. Will probably end up re-checking it for every shot anyway.


(my first post, hooray...)
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#2 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 17 June 2008 - 03:42 PM

In two weeks I'm starting as 1st AC on the second unit of a feature film. It's not my first feature, but it will be my first time on a second unit. What's the proper etiquette for having two 1st ACs on set? Do I answer to him, or am I on equal foot, or do we both just stick to our own unit?

If you're doing 2nd Unit then you probably won't interact with the main unit 1st very much. You may not even meet him/her.

The camera will be the Sony HDW-F900R, so if anybody has any tips on that model, it would be appreciated. I've already picked up that the backfocus of that camera can be a pain to stay locked, so I'm hoping to find out in prep just how fragile it is. Will probably end up re-checking it for every shot anyway.

Don't check the backfocus for every shot. You'll drive your operator nuts and you'll slow everything down. Check it periodically during the day when you have a few minutes of down time and if/when you suspect the backfocus is out. Also, when you change lenses you can check it, but it's not mandatory to check it constantly.
Good luck.
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#3 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 17 June 2008 - 06:53 PM

Looking back, there really was no way for me to do a prep, but I still felt as if I was at fault somehow.

In no way are these issues your fault! It sounds like you did the best you could under the circumstances. However, in the future I would make it very clear to production beforehand that if there is no prep then you cannot and will not be held accountable for camera problems on the day of the shoot. If they still insist on not budgeting time or money for a prep, then at least you can say "I told you so" when something does go wrong. You have to cover your ass (CYA).

The camera will be the Sony HDW-F900R, so if anybody has any tips on that model, it would be appreciated. I've already picked up that the backfocus of that camera can be a pain to stay locked, so I'm hoping to find out in prep just how fragile it is. Will probably end up re-checking it for every shot anyway.

Backfocus can really be a big problem - I've noticed that even after you've just checked it during a lens change, it can still drift out during the same setup. The wider lenses (like around 7-14mm) are the most critical. Don't assume that because the camera's been on all morning and you haven't changing locations that the back focus is still good, it doesn't take much to have it go out of whack on you. Try to get production to rent a Zeiss Sharpmax collimator, it will make checking backfocus much faster. I like to use a waveform to check the backfocus - you will see the signal spike sharply in the middle when the Siemens star is sharpest. Double check your sharps on the tech's big monitor when you have time and don't rely solely on the lens marks. If you can get a remote focus, I'd pull from the monitor before using the lens marks if at all possible, especially on longer lens stuff where the depth of focus behind the lens is not as critical.

As Brad mentioned, the trick is not slow down the production or drive the operator nuts (helps if the DP is operating since he'll have more things to keep him occupied while you do your thing). If you can check your sharps on a focus-critical monitor, then you can be less vigilant about checking on a long lens since you can grab eye-focus marks for yourself. But for wide lenses or steadicam shots where you have no choice but to rely on the lens marks, then it is well worth the time to check and you need to make the DP understand this. Again, CYA.
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#4 Chris Keth

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Posted 17 June 2008 - 07:30 PM

My experience with the f900R is that the backfocus isn't all that big a problem, actually. I spent a month in the desert with one and would set it in the morning and at lunch, generally. There were other times it got out and needed reset but I don't remember it being all that often.
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#5 Johnathan Holmes

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 12:23 AM

I may be wrong, but I thought back-focus adjustments were made on the video lens and not on the camera body? The SharpMax is a life-saver for me as well.

Also, be sure to check black balance periodically throughout the day. My Achilles Heel!
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#6 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 02:20 AM

I may be wrong, but I thought back-focus adjustments were made on the video lens and not on the camera body?

You're not wrong. :)

Chris, did you rent the F900R from Clairmont Cameras? I've read that they replace the optical block and lens mount on their F900s which makes the backfocus much more stable.
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#7 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 03:34 AM

Last time I worked with the F900R we had some DigiZooms, and I really only had to check backfocus in the morning using a SharpMax, and then I checked periodically after obvious temperature changes just to make sure. But I never really needed to adjust it during the shoot. Guess I was lucky ;)
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#8 Yveline Garnier

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 04:59 AM

Thanks much for the insight guys! I actually think the operator mentioned the collimator on the list, but I'll doublecheck to be sure.
Prep apparently won't be until the 25th, which will make it interesting; first shooting day is the 30th.

About first and second unit; we'll actually be shooting side by side quite a bit if I understand it right; lots of scenes that we'll just shoot from two angles at the same time to speed things up, since we only have 20 shooting days to wrap the film.
There won't be a second A.C., but we do get a Video Assist, probably a (hopefully enthousiastic) film student.
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#9 Chris Keth

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 09:32 PM

You're not wrong. :)

Chris, did you rent the F900R from Clairmont Cameras? I've read that they replace the optical block and lens mount on their F900s which makes the backfocus much more stable.


No, our f900R was from Wintech Video in Sherman Oaks. It could just be that we were in remarkably stable conditions throughout our day: hot, outside, in the sun all the time. :P
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#10 Robert Tagliaferri

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Posted 19 June 2008 - 05:43 PM

I'm just starting out as an AC, and I've only done smaller low-budget shoots, but I've been dinged a couple times as a result of not doing check-outs.

The first was this very ambitious WWI film (shot skillfully by Stephen Whitehead- a board member), when the film school I was attending re-kitted the 416 and the production took care of all the rentals. When I showed up to set I realized we were missing the tripod and the set of primes the DP wanted to use. Luckily, we are able to improvise but I learned a valuable lesson. No one had checked any of the gear or opened any of the boxes, and I discovered later that a couple of the lenses the DP wanted weren't calibrated properly.


I always insist on doing a prep day now, and it just recently saved the production's a** big time. I was 1st on this low-budget commercial for the Ontario Film Review Board (apparently the government doesn't have money to make ads so they created a 'contest' for young filmmakers to make ads for them at bargain prices- way to exploit young workers Ontario!). Anyway, since they were short on cash, the production had arranged to rent an old Moviecam Super America from a private owner. Since the DP had just used the camera for some table top stuff a couple days before, the production told me a prep day wouldn't be necessary. I knew that the camera was old and not in great shape, so I insisted I get a chance to do a checkout, because I knew it would be my problem if something went wrong.

Halfway through the checkout I popped on a 1000ft mag and the mag started taking up slack at full force for a few seconds and then just stopped taking up altogether. Found out later the mag short-circuited some circuitry associated with the slack take up. Luckily, it was still 2 days to the shoot, and the production was able to arrange a 535B with a set of 8 beautiful S4s for a similar price because of the situation. So it was a blessing in disguise, really.



So I learned to always do a full and thorough checkout. If a production tells me they don't need or can't afford one, I usually say "I'm not comfortable ACing without doing a full checkout of all the gear. There are just too many things that can go wrong."
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#11 Chris Keth

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 10:31 PM

I have often told producers that, because I didn't get a proper checkout, that any problems with damaged or missing equipment would be none of my responsibility. I have also often said, "I told you so" to producers, though in much more polite and diplomatic words.
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