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Focus Pullers


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#1 Shawn Murphy

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Posted 01 June 2005 - 03:56 AM

I understand what the job of a puller is, but I can't seem to figure out where these people come from, I mean, do pullers usually start out doing something else, and do they usually end up doing something else? ...or are they like steadicam operators, highly specialized and really enjoy what they do? It just seems like a very strange passion and I would imagine one of the more challenging jobs on any set, and not something you just waltz into one day when your regular puller calls in sick! Also, are there heroes of the puller world, you know, pullers with legendary status, Zen masters that can pull with their eyes closed! ;-)

Thanks in advance for any information as this has been on my mind for some time. I read all the posts I could find after doing a search on "pullers", but didn't really find anything that explains the history, culture, and psychology/philosophy of this position and the people that do it.
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#2 Bob Hayes

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Posted 01 June 2005 - 09:51 AM

I think most ?focus pullers? are folks who want to be DP?s initially and see it as a stepping stone. You must have great hand eye coordination, keep cool under pressure, and be able handle the technical demands of work as a camera technician. There are many who are drawn to the job because of the challenge. Once succeeding at it some may like the autonomy and predictability that comes with the position and stay there. Also, because there is a huge competition of people wanting to work in the industry, by choosing a career few can pull of you have really limited the pack you must compete with. You want his job? Pull focus on a 180mm lens wide open on an actor who won?t hit his marks and you can have it.
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#3 Tim Tyler

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Posted 01 June 2005 - 10:50 AM

Focus pulling is generally the job of the 1st Assistant Camera person here in the US. Other responsibilites include just about anything that has to do with the camera besides operating it. This includes changing lenses, changing magazines, moving the camera/tripod, adding and removing filters, keeping the camera clean and safe, and managing the other assistant camera people, loaders and camera PA's. 1st AC's are usually also responsible for checking the camera out at the rental house before the shoot begins.

1st AC's were often 2nd AC's previously. 2nd AC's were often loaders or camera PA's previously.

Some 1st AC's make it their career. A 1st AC who knows how to set focus marks quickly and is able pull focus accurately is invaluable to a production, especially on 35mm productions where DOF is often shallow.
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#4 Shawn Murphy

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Posted 01 June 2005 - 12:40 PM

Focus pulling is generally the job of the 1st Assistant Camera person here in the US...


I wasn't aware of this, and that they normally handle all of those other camera related responsibilities: lenses, filters, maintenance, etc. Thx.
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#5 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 01 June 2005 - 06:48 PM

I would love to be the Zen master of pulling focus! :lol:

I am currently working on a friend's film as a 1st AC and it's been great, to the point where I have decided I want to make a living as a camera assistant. As much as I enjoy operating, I somehow get a greater satisfaction out of standing to the side of the camera and, well, assisting. So while we're on the subject, I'm trying to be polite here but it's sort of a blunt question... I guess I'll just come forth and ask: do camera assistants make a lot of money? If I do indeed become the Zen master of focus, how comfortably can I expect to live?
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#6 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 01 June 2005 - 08:00 PM

You can earn good money, just like all technicians can. You can go to the next job the day after and earn money - something I as a DP almost never can do. For me it's meetings and pre-production, tests and so on that I rarely get paid for.

Many AC's earn a lot, lot more than I do. Don't know the US rates, but I'd think somewhere in the $500-800 region a day is normal. Keep that up for 5 days a week with some extra overtime and you're pulling in a lot of money....

Edited by AdamFrisch, 01 June 2005 - 08:02 PM.

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#7 J. Lamar King

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Posted 01 June 2005 - 08:17 PM

Plus there is usually 2 to 3 AC's needed for a shoot so you have 2 to 3 times more chance to get hired. I could have made more money AC'ing this year than DP'ing in my region because so many shows bring DP's from L.A. but I don't particularly enjoy AC'ing. I don't mind operating though. I could DP more in my home state if I moved to L.A. first.
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#8 Bob Hayes

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 12:36 AM

A first AC is also a valuable collaborator with the DP and Operator. Believe it or not they often subtly advise the DP on lighting, lens, and filter selection. A good AC noticing a bad reflection on a car window might casually ask ?Would you like a Pola on this shot??. If they have a good relationship with the DP they may notice a scene looks a bit over lit and challenge the DP on it.

They help the operator also by careful watching the action. They may sense the operator has forgotten the actor bends over in the scene and a casual reminder can save the shot. Maybe even the operator?s job.

It requires tact and an amazing ability to judge the DP?s and operator's mood. A first AC can sort of be like a skilled golf caddie. Making recommendations on wind, break, and club selection. The AC can also be a sounding board for a DP?s who like to spend a lot of lighting time near the camera. The AC needs to be near the camera and so it is natural for the DP to share thoughts with the AC.
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#9 Shawn Murphy

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 02:44 AM

A first AC is also a valuable collaborator with the DP and Operator...

...The AC needs to be near the camera and so it is natural for the DP to share thoughts with the AC.


Sounds like a great opportunity to learn, especially if you develop that rapport with a DP you respect and/or admire.
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#10 Rolfe Klement

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 04:38 AM

I was in a resturant with a focus puller who worked on the radio controlled remote helicopters and the whole time we were there he was using an invisible focus dial preston FZI while looking around. Measuring focus and turning the invisible dial.

And it was subconsious

Talk about obsessed! but for some of the steadicam, remote (helicopters, crane etc) world - it has to be your calling

I have got into the bad habit of pulling my own focus while DPing - but I am going through a whole "documentary look" to 35mm thing at the moment

thanks

Rolfe
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#11 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 04:40 AM

Hi,

> Many AC's earn a lot, lot more than I do.

Yes, but you're in the UK, which does curtail your (and my) earning potential by, I'd guess, over eighty percent compared to the US!

Phil
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#12 Andrea Altgayer

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 01:47 PM

Hi Rolfe,

Why do you say that pulling your own focus is a bad habit of yours? I thought it was really interesting, because here in South Africa, many production budgets have been cut drastically, so it is not uncommon to find camera crew doing two jobs simultaneously, eg a loader who is also the focus puller, etc.

To me, pulling your own focus would mean that there wouldnt be any misunderstandings between the focus puller and DP, because as a DP, you know exactly what you want and how you think, so I would consider it to be an advantage.

I would love to hear your response!

Bye,

Andrea
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#13 Rolfe Klement

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Posted 03 June 2005 - 04:21 AM

Well :) It is a good skill but bad habit because

I wind up doing too much - framing, scanning frame edges for issues, flare checks and focusing - so if something goes wrong it goes horribly wrong
Multiple jobs is fine but not at the same time so a 2nd AC and 1st AC can be the same person but a 1st AC and Dp being the same person is harder
It is better to delegate to trusted co-workers
Finance - I never get paid what a DP and FP would get paid

Off the point I was in Cape Town in Feb and was shocked at how expensive everything is. The price changes in 2 years since I was last there. Even dealing in pounds. Spoke to some companies out there and they were complaining about all the commercial work going to Chile and Argentina this season - apparently a third of the cost...

But even the cost of living has gone through the roof and loads of poor poor people with nothing. I was shocked

my 2 cents

thanks

Rolfe

Edited by Rolfe Klement, 03 June 2005 - 04:25 AM.

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