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I hated camera assisting!


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#1 Stevie Sneddon

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Posted 19 February 2009 - 10:27 PM

I know that camera assisting offers great experiance, a chance to learn about the kit and to observe experianced DOP's at work but if I am really honest I never enjoyed camera assisting apart from with one particular DOP.
I have shot on film and digital a lot and I love shooting and lighting myself but always found assisting so frustrating. I think this may be in part to living in a small european country where there is very little work available and so the same small group of camera assistance were always trying for the same jobs. If you actually were able to get an assisting job other members of the camera crew were often unhelpful and did not want to provide training to camera trainees in order to protect their jobs which is understandable and of course there were some exceptions, people who were very helpful. I think this would have been okay if I had felt that I was learning about lighting but on most of the pro shoots I worked on the dop's did very little lighting and it seemed that the gaffer would just always come in and do a bog standard lighting set up the same as the one they did for the last TV drama they worked. It just did not seem creative at all and I felt I learnt a lot more shooting low budget or student films.

Perhaps things would be different in a place with a more diverse and vibrant film industry and of course I know that the failure to get much out of assisting is a personal fault. I come from a fine art / still photography background and hated not to be having a creative input especially when the work being done although far technically superior to anything I could do was so dull.

So I wondered if any other camera assistants feel the same as me, do you ever find it frustrating or do you love assisting?

Do you feel you learn more doing your own work or assisting?

Do you assist in the hope of one day becoming a DOP?


Note: Please do not see this as an attack on camera assisting in general and I know it is a respected route into cinematography. I think I personally just do not have the correct temperment to assist well and that is a short coming on my part, I just don't have it in me.

I just wondered how many others felt the same?
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#2 Chris Keth

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Posted 19 February 2009 - 10:37 PM

While I don't necessarily want to assist forever, I do enjoy it a lot. I welcome it as an opportunity to work with a lot of different people and see how they all do things.
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#3 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 12:31 AM

Well, considering that you're posting in the camera assistant forum, I don't think you'll find very many folks who'll agree with you... ;)

I know what you mean though. Having spent the past year assisting full time and shooting only four short projects during that time, I really missed having a creative outlet. On the other hand, I learned a great deal about lighting, gripping, managing a crew, and dealing with clients and producers from the DPs I worked for. I also made a ton of connections from them, which has gotten me more work. And I've been able to borrow a lot of gear from one DP in particular to shoot my own projects. So on the whole, I'd say I learned more from assisting than shooting last year, though how much you get out of each shooting experience depends on how much you stretch yourself to try new things you've never done before.

Anyway, I'm content to assist for now and shoot on the side when projects that interest me come my way. My goal ultimately is to be a feature DP and I know I've still got a lot to learn before I can make a living doing that. I can make living as an AC and learn at the same time, so that's what I'm doing. It's not a path for everyone...
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#4 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 01:47 AM

Definitely, one must have the right attitude and discipline to be a good AC. I don't. I really appreciate and respect good AC's, but I could never be one. I tried and HATED IT.

The whole concept of setting up a camera for someone else to shoot with drives me crazy. Obviously, if everyone thought like me, there would be no AC's, so I appreciate them even more.

At the end of the day, I rather do my own thing, even if it takes me longer to learn and go where I want to go. But then, there is no guarantee that a really good AC will make it to operator, let alone DP. So knowing what I do (and what I don't) want to do at least gives me a clear focus on the target. Getting there is another matter.
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#5 Gregory Irwin

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 12:19 PM

The whole shooting or assisting thing is like a left brain - right brain exercise. Not everyone is necessarily built for both. Personally, I have no interest in operating or shooting my own projects. I definitely have more of a technical/managerial mind with not much artistic creativity. I can actually say that I enjoy pulling focus because not many people understand the craft and view it as some sort of voodoo that they want nothing to do with. Most want to shoot and especially want to operate the camera but when it comes to focus pulling - forget it. I still get a kick out of being able to pull off challenges such as a 180mm anamorphic remote head or steadicam shot successfully. There's not much glory in it but it's personally satisfying. I would modestly say that only a few could do it.

The top assistants also are required to maintain a view of the overall goal of the project and are able to mate the producer's limitations with the DP's needs. Many times I've had to come up with alternate ways of accomplishing the same result that kept both sides happy. It's imperative to understand the broad view of cinematography as much as the cinematographer does in order to be effective for him or her. This also means staying on top of the ever changing technologies that are constantly evolving in order to allow the cinematographer to concentrate on being creative without becoming bogged down with the nuts and bolts stuff.

We assistants simply have to wear multiple hats and be able to constantly shift gears whether it's on the business side dealing with the studio or production company, managing a camera crew to actually making the film. We deal with the camera related details that others don't and in the end it can be on heck of a career.

Best,
Greg
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#6 Yuka Eto

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 03:55 PM

Hello Greg!!
I agree with you 100%- I am not very interested in operating, nor lighting but find the challenges of slating and pulling focus the most rewarding; when you get it bang on that is!
A very experienced 1st AC is a very powerful person on set and has the role to be the decision maker when the DP has technical difficulties in achieving his vision-
Although there are no oscars nor recognition, there is pride and accomplishment in achieving those goals from a purely technical approach.
It was an honor working with you Greg, and I hope to one day become a focus puller/technician with a Panavision garage like you!
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#7 David Rakoczy

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 05:00 PM

It takes a special brand of human to become a 'real' 1st AC... God bless them!
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#8 K Borowski

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 05:25 PM

Owing to how this is fast shaping up to be the 2nd great depression, let me recount a small piece of lyrical wisdom circa the era of the last one. . .

"It's NICE WORK if you can GET IT, and you can GET IT, if you try!"

[emphasis added]

Yeah, sure, there are other ways up the ladder, but often the most direct route is taken by those willing to get their hands dirty.
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#9 Gregory Irwin

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 06:18 PM

Hello Greg!!
I agree with you 100%- I am not very interested in operating, nor lighting but find the challenges of slating and pulling focus the most rewarding; when you get it bang on that is!
A very experienced 1st AC is a very powerful person on set and has the role to be the decision maker when the DP has technical difficulties in achieving his vision-
Although there are no oscars nor recognition, there is pride and accomplishment in achieving those goals from a purely technical approach.
It was an honor working with you Greg, and I hope to one day become a focus puller/technician with a Panavision garage like you!



Hello Yuka! It's been a while since we shot "Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift". Talk about some aggressive cinematography. Wow! We did some great work on that one. We had fun in your city. I think back on it with great memories. Thanks again for all of your hard work and I wish you the best.

Greg
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#10 David Rakoczy

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 07:21 PM

uh Greg... you did not 'shoot' that film... 'pulled' yes... 'shot' no.

But yes.. you guys did some great Pulling on that Show!
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#11 Mike Thorn

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 10:38 PM

I still get a kick out of being able to pull off challenges such as a 180mm anamorphic remote head or steadicam shot successfully. There's not much glory in it but it's personally satisfying. I would modestly say that only a few could do it.

Greg, I'm not one of those few, but I look forward to that day of being able to challenge myself like that and make it. Thanks for the inspiration.

The top assistants also are required to maintain a view of the overall goal of the project and are able to mate the producer's limitations with the DP's needs. Many times I've had to come up with alternate ways of accomplishing the same result that kept both sides happy. It's imperative to understand the broad view of cinematography as much as the cinematographer does in order to be effective for him or her. This also means staying on top of the ever changing technologies that are constantly evolving in order to allow the cinematographer to concentrate on being creative without becoming bogged down with the nuts and bolts stuff.

Can you elaborate on that a little bit? That's a side of assisting I haven't seen yet. Sounds to me like you're describing a relationship between DP and 1st as similar to the relationship between DP and Gaffer - "here's my vision, now go on and make it happen. Here are my ideas, but you can do what you think works best." I've not had the pleasure of that type of challenge before. Is that what you're describing?

in the end it can be on heck of a career.

Amen to that. Especially with a DP that you enjoy working with!
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#12 Sing Howe Yam

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 03:10 AM

I myself do not like camera assisting. I have been DPing as of lately on a lot of music videos and do a few AC gigs (I'll work whatever, I find it challenging and fun, except ACing). I respect AC's though, it is a very hard job and what an AC does is more than just pull focus. My AC i've been using on all these videos is just as important to me as my gaffer. A good AC knows how to read the DoP really well to the point where he makes a DoP not worry about small details with the camera when he should be dealing with the overall image. My AC does things like this take makes him stand out. Whenever I am running around with a viewfinder he is always behind me with his fat max measuring my height and taking notice of what lens I'm looking at. Then I talk to my gaffer about what I want and my AC already has the sticks set to the height and the lens strapped on before I ever said anything. A good AC in general is any AC that makes camera team reliable and fast.

I know everyone has come across a gig where the AC or yourself have not had the proper time or blocking to get correct marks. A lot of people not in the cinematography department might overlook this area and get pissed when they see a slightly soft shot in dailies. An AC has so much pressure on there shoulders and a lot of people don't understand how hard what they do is. A good AC is worth their weight in gold. I can't do the job myself and enjoy it because the pressure of nailing marks freaks me out and I lean more towards an operators mindset of composition. I'm always looking at composition.

In the end of it all, this is the reason why there are so many credits in movies. You can't be the best at every position, but you do hire the best for every position.
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#13 Gregory Irwin

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 01:20 PM

"Can you elaborate on that a little bit? That's a side of assisting I haven't seen yet. Sounds to me like you're describing a relationship between DP and 1st as similar to the relationship between DP and Gaffer - "here's my vision, now go on and make it happen. Here are my ideas, but you can do what you think works best." I've not had the pleasure of that type of challenge before. Is that what you're describing?" - Mike Thorn (sorry, I screwed up the quote thing)



Yes Mike. That's exactly what I'm describing. Once an AC gains the trust of the Cameraman, the AC becomes a collaborator much like the gaffer. I look at it as translating the creativity into technical possibilities. A good example of this is when I was brought onto "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" early on. I'm not trying to show off by mentioning this title but it serves as good evidence of what we are talking about. I got involved in aiding the development of a practical hard drive to record frame by frame camera data (ie. lens, focus distance, exposure, camera tilt & roll, etc) that was generated by time code in order to allow the visual effects artists to have a constant information flow from us when trying to recreate our physical shots in their cyber world. I began this project from home in Southern California and continued working with Arriflex in Munich, Germany and our VFX producers throughout my pre-production. Months later, I finally received the first prototype in Auckland, New Zealand where we began production. The data boxes, when mounted to our Arricams, worked like a charm. The Arri engineers delivered big time for us. This removed much of the guess work by the VFX people when they were recreating already photographed shots many months later and in another country. This type of research and development requires both sides - the engineers and camera people like myself to work together in concert since we have different points of view - the laboratory vs. the end-user in the field. Am I proud of this? Of course.


On a picture called "Hollow Man", I was brought on board about 3 months early to oversee the design of an underwater, motion control system that didn't exist at the time. What do I know about engineering? Not too much. But I did know how to put a team of people together who could make this a reality. Again with both of our sides represented, we were very successful. These are good examples of why we just don't "pull" on movies.

Best,
Greg

Edited by Gregory Irwin, 21 February 2009 - 01:22 PM.

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#14 David Rakoczy

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 01:29 PM

Of course you do more than just 'pull'... but you did not 'shoot' F&F.... that was a stretch. You 'worked on' in a capacity that went far beyond 'pulling'.. but 'shot', no.

The camera ops shouldn't even be making those assertions.
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#15 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 02:08 PM

Of course you do more than just 'pull'... but you did not 'shoot' F&F.... that was a stretch. You 'worked on' in a capacity that went far beyond 'pulling'.. but 'shot', no.

The camera ops shouldn't even be making those assertions.


No wonder I like pulling my own focus while I operate the stuff that I have DP'd on S16. It is all me!!! :P

Though I know 35mm needs its own focus puller . . .
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#16 Gregory Irwin

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 03:53 PM

Of course you do more than just 'pull'... but you did not 'shoot' F&F.... that was a stretch. You 'worked on' in a capacity that went far beyond 'pulling'.. but 'shot', no.

The camera ops shouldn't even be making those assertions.


Oh please. Get over it. No one here is trying to steal your thunder as a DP. The quote is "we shot" to be precise- as in collective effort and team work. I never insinuated that I was the cinematographer. Let's end this pettiness and get back on track. I'm sure that everyone here would appreciate that. Thanks...
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#17 Scott Pelzel

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 04:38 PM

This is a very interesting post and I can relate as I was a Camera Assistant for 5 years after I interned in the Camera Rental Department at Victor Duncan in Detroit straight out of College. The market in Detroit was small when I was assisting and then subsequently shooting as a Cinematographer. When I was an assistant, I assisted a DP that was only a year older than me and a few others. I made the decision to stop assisting and start shooting and also to supplement my income I worked in a record shop and then started editing on Avid as well.

The funny thing is now I still shoot and Edit and I moved to NYC in 1997 and then I lived in Brazil for the past 3 years doing the same...

I like both sides of the process and I am just now starting to shoot more than edit, so I think there is no direct path to anything in this business. I was a very good AC, but I too hated it, however, I also did still assisting for fashion work and traveled to warm places in the winter, but I hated being a still assistant much more than a motion picture AC because being an AC in Motion Picture work holds higher value than a still assistant who gets paid dirt and works their ass off.

So, if you enjoy being an AC that's great and it is something to be proud of, but if you want to take the step to shooting all I can say is do it and find a way to do it or you may end up being an AC for longer than you want to be.
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#18 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 05:01 PM

Greg, thanks for sharing your experiences on the high end of feature production - I find it's a pretty valuable viewpoint since I've never worked on anything remotely this big. I'd like to hear more about the kinds of challenges you have managing a large camera crew with multiple units, and also about how you ended up getting focus for that 180mm 'scope remote head shot. I think I would be tempted to pull by eye from a monitor on such a long lens shot. Any tips and tricks you can share?
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#19 David Rakoczy

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 11:26 PM

No wonder I like pulling my own focus while I operate the stuff that I have DP'd on S16. It is all me!!! :P

Though I know 35mm needs its own focus puller . . .


I never shoot 16mm without a 'real' AC.... I couldn't. Focus is always an issue when I shoot.

Greg, if you feel comfortable with your statement.. then live with it.

btw.. it is not (my) thunder you stole...
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#20 Mike Thorn

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 11:32 PM

Wow, Greg, that's fascinating. Thanks so much for sharing. I feel like I'm pulling nuggets out of a gold mine (and I'm not saying that to get on your good side!). This is really helpful.

To those that "hate" assisting...I think I understand where you're coming from. With some DPs, the AC is the peon of the camera department. Often there's no glory and even less gratefulness for the work you do, just your day rate (sometimes not very much at that), long hours and high expectations. It's nice to be appreciated sometimes. I struggled with that a lot on the last film I was on - the DP (who has been in the business for 30 years) said it was the hardest and most grueling film he's ever worked on. It was only my 2nd feature in a 35mm environment. There was a 2-week stretch in the middle where I hated my job, too.

But ultimately, the joy in the job doesn't come from other people (although it's nice to get confirmation that you're doing your job right sometimes, and not just correction when you do it wrong). The joy of the work comes from being creative, overcoming challenges - even trivial ones like making sure the batteries get back on chargers at the end of an 18-hour day - and taking pride in a job well done. At the end of the day, I can look back at the work I did and say, I did the absolute best I could and gave my very best shot to make sure that production went as smoothly as possible today. That's the joy of the job. That's the joy of any job. Nevermind the fact that some of us want to move up to more creative posts like operator or DP - each day is unto itself. Focus on the task at hand to the best of our abilities and the rest will take care in due time.

I would encourage you to look at the challenges and growth that is so plentiful as an assistant (particularly 1st) and challenge yourself to invent new ways to do your job faster, better, and cheaper (and I don't mean by cutting your day rate!). Do whatever you can do to make yourself worth your wage. You will earn the respect of the men you work with and they, in turn, will work to earn your respect.

Greg, as only ever having pulled on the 1stgen RED lenses, I would be very grateful to learn any wisdom you have about how you pull "faster and better." :) That 180mm anamorphic sounds fascinating - and terrifying! Please do share!! :)
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