Before I was lucky enough to have found a great 2nd AC, I would post job listings that produced many resumes of potential hires. Today, I want to help you get your next gig by sharing the process that I went through when choosing a camera assistant to work for me.
10 Questions to Consider
Hiring a 2nd assistant camera (AC) is a crucial decision for a 1st AC. If the gig goes well, a 1st AC and 2nd AC will often work on many future productions as a team and possibly develop a strong friendship.
But before that work relationship can be cultivated, you have to find the right person for the job. And that means reading resumes.
To help cut down on the clutter of resumes I received from job listings, I began asking myself questions that I felt were important in choosing an impressive 2nd AC. Today, I’m going to ask them to you.
Consider this a self-test for the job of your dreams.
1. Do you have experience?
The entire purpose of a resume is to showcase experience, so it’s only natural that this is the first thing that I evaluate. I look for types of productions, dates of productions, and whether I recognize any of the projects that a person has worked on. It is also crucial if you are applying for jobs within the camera department to list the director of photography you worked with on each show in case there is a connection with the job you are applying.
If you don’t have paid work experience, don’t panic. Experience can also come in terms of student films, film classes or other related projects. I have had to hire inexperienced 2nd AC’s before and train them, so I look to see if they have any connection to filmmaking.
2. Have you worked with this camera before?
If the person I’m looking to hire has experience with the camera we’ll be shooting on, I don’t have to worry about showing them the ropes and they will be more useful to me. In fact, they may have some things to teach me about the camera. This is easy if you have plenty of experience — simply list the cameras you’ve worked with alongside the production or in a separate section (i.e. “Camera Experience”).
If you are lacking in this area, point out experience with similar cameras in your cover letter. For instance, if you don’t have experience with Alexa, but plenty with RED, point out that you have used digital cameras before and comprehend the basic theories. Mention that you understand the camera through reading books, manuals or other means. You need to show that you have a basic knowledge of equipment.
3. What skills do you claim to have?
Skills are tangible strengths such as pulling focus, mechanical repair, and loading magazines. Not everybody will have the same skills, though camera assistants should have certain ones (such as those just mentioned). A lot of camera assistants I know will supplant a skills section on their resume with a section that describes what cameras they have experience with since experience with equipment often translates into the skills necessary to use it.
My advice here is not to exaggerate. You either have skills or you don’t. Inflating them may help you get a job, but could lead to embarrassment on set if you are put in a position to execute them. If you are asked about a certain skill that you don’t have in your repertoire yet, say that you understand the concept behind it and you’re willing to learn.
4. What abilities do you claim to have?
Where skills are tangible actions, abilities are intangibles like efficiency, communication and optimism. There is no true measure for these claims, but they can be qualitatively evaluated. I do find abilities as important as skills, especially if I am hiring somebody who does not have much experience.
For those without much experience, this is your time to impress. Turn your passion into a positive by translating it into abilities like “hard worker” or “takes direction well.” If I was going to be training or mentoring you, I’d want to know that you were up to the challenge and willing to bust your butt. I can teach you skills, but I can’t teach you an attitude.
5. Do I get the impression that you love this job?
When I am looking to hire a 2nd AC, I want somebody who loves their job. They need to have a drive for the work that camera assistants do. Film sets are tough and without this sort of attitude, it’s easy to burn out. I know I still have this passion, so I want to work with someone who feels the same way I do.
The easiest way to show this? Always write a cover letter or some kind of note with your resume and make sure you mention why you want the job. It can be as simple as “I love movies” or “I want to learn more about this camera.” Either way, showing that you’re interested in more than the job is the best way to prove you have a passion for what you do.
6. Do I get the impression that you work hard?
Passion almost always breeds hard work. And film work is not easy work: You’re on your feet most of the time, you’re lifting heavy equipment, and there is heavy pressure not to make mistakes. A lack of experience, but passion to learn, is usually an indication of a hard worker. On the opposite end, having a heavy load of experience indicates that you have the propensity to put in a full day of work.
Hard workers care about details so you should use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation on your resume. Proofreading is done by diligent people. Also, take time to craft your resume and pay attention to aesthetics, placement of sections and overall presentation. Don’t let it look lazy.
7. Do you understand what the job is about?
Camera assisting isn’t exactly a job you hear about on career day. I didn’t even know what an AC was until I stumbled into becoming one. So one thing I’m always on the lookout for when hiring within the camera department is to make sure those working for me understand what they’re getting into.
Working in the camera department sounds sexy because you’re near the action, but it can also be technically tedious, physically exhausting, and mentally taxing.
When I look at your resume, are you relaying information to me that makes me think you can handle that?
And, further, are you informed about what skills are needed for the job? If you’re listing how you understand story or that you’re good at running a generator, that’s great, but those aren’t necessary skills for AC’s. They can be complementary and helpful, but they shouldn’t be at the top of your list.
Basically, I want to feel like if I hire you that you won’t be surprised and possibly turned off from the resulting work.
8. Is your resume inflated or does it speak for itself?
After landing my very first camera assisting gig, the cinematographer told me some sage advice: “Take off your resume the fact that you wrote for the student newspaper and were Vice President in your club — nobody f**king cares about that.”
“I was only trying to fill space,” I protested.
He shook his head, “Nobody cares.”
He was right. Try your best not to inflate your resume. A concise one page resume is often more impressive than a lengthy two page resume. The good part about condensing your resume is that it forces you to showcase your best work. In the beginning, it will be tough to avoid inflating your resume, but as you get more experience you can remove the fluff.
When I look to hire a 2nd AC, I want to see real skills, abilities, and experience.
9. Will I end up doing your job because you can’t?
I have been burned so hard with 2nd AC’s who simply can’t do their job. It’s not because they weren’t trying or didn’t want to, they simply weren’t good enough. It sounds harsh, but it slowed everybody down which is unacceptable. It’s tough to be a one man band.
When I read a resume or cover letter, I try to get a feel for the overall chance of this happening. This risk is often a balance between skillset and experience:
- Experienced AC: low risk
- Skilled AC with minimal experience: low to medium risk
- Newbie: High risk
The intangible factor in this equation is passion. With a newbie, is the passion to learn enough to offset a lack of experience? That is the true heart of the matter.
10. If I was doing your job also, would you do it as well or better?
This last one is crucial for me. At one point I lamented to some friends that I wish I could hire myself to do both jobs. That may sound egotistical, but I was really trying to drive home the point that I have a certain way of doing things and I want somebody else to be able to do it better or just as efficiently.
When it comes time to choose a resume, I look for someone that I think could do the job as well or better than me. With the 2nd AC I currently work with, he has more experience than me and I was intimidated by that at first. In the end, I realized that if I wanted to hire myself, this guy was as close as I would get. I still believe he does the job better than me and we work great as a team because of our similar approaches.
One More Tip
I know every job site says it, but always send a cover letter. Especially when cold calling a job, not sending a cover letter (or at least an informal note in an email) is going to sink you to the bottom of the pile. When I was wading through resumes, the cover letter is what helped me determine who really wanted the job and whether they were the right fit.
Lastly, don’t panic. In the end, it’s only a resume and a cover letter. Do the best you can to impress and hope that somebody realizes your potential (possibly for another gig). After that, it’s out of your hands.
What do you do to get your resume noticed? How often do you update it?