So You Want to Be a Camera Assistant?
November 9, 2011
The camera assistant position is similar to that of a production assistant because each one's job is to make things go smoothly on the set. The camera assistant differs because that person's focus is on the camera operator. Some technical know-how is helpful but if you can catch on quickly, you can be taught to be an AC. Do your research. Find out what a camera assistant does. It would help if you took a class or read a book about cameras and lighting. There is a lot of equipment that you need to have basic knowledge about. Look for jobs as a grip, a lighting and rigging technician, or AC on different film sets. It may be easier to start out as a grip because you can be a 3rd grip, company grip or gang grip, which are more entry level positions that take direction from the key grip. Make sure you network with the camera and audio guys while shooting. Camera ops like to have a good rapport with people they hire as ACs so relationship building is important. Besides these same people will send you work if you do a good job. Stay current. All technical equipment like cameras and things are constantly being upgraded and improved. It helps to stay up to date with the latest technology. If you walk on a set talking about equipment that is outdated that could affect the camera operator's confidence in you.
And, after you’ve secured your first gig, remember these handy tips:
Eat before you arrive. As soon as the grip truck arrives your main priority is to unload the camera equipment, load the mags for the day, and help build camera. Once all that’s done, you can maybe grab a bite to eat if they’re still setting up the shot. Learn how to load mags quickly but carefully. You’re the only person that physically touches the film. Everyone’s hard work is in your hands.
Make sure a fresh mag is always on standby. Do this when you have some down time. Production should not have to stop for ten minutes when they run out of film because you have to load a new mag. Wear cargo pants or get an AC pouch. You’ll be stuffing lens and mag covers in them as well as pens and a tape measure. You’ll also need some tools. For the bare minimum, I’d get a D-Ring and dry erase marker with eraser. Get the slate ready for each shot. When slating use a word for the letter, so it’s clear what you’re saying. So for scene 2B, say “Two-Bravo.” You can also get creative and come up with slating themes. Just make sure it’s okay with the director and doesn’t throw the actors off by making them laugh. Apparently scene “Thirteen Admiral Ackbar” can do this. Keep pre-torn pieces of red tape on your pants. You’ll need to access these quickly to give the actors foot marks. Live near the camera. Someone always has to be by the camera, and that will either be you or the 1 AC.
You’re the 1 AC’s arms and legs. Keep the lenses nearby since that’s what you’ll most likely be running to get. At the end of the day, download the film, possibly load a new roll for the next day, and help break down the camera.