How (Not) to Become a Camera Assistant

If you Google the words "camera assistant," only a few results from the top is an article from eHow.com titled How to Become a Camera Assistant (AC). You don't have to be a pro to find this article horribly misinformed. So let's break down what eHow says and why their method is not the direction you want to go.

If you Google the words “camera assistant,” only a few results from the top is an article from eHow.com titled How to Become a Camera Assistant (AC)

You don’t have to be a pro to find this article horribly misinformed when the first line is “the camera assistant position is similar to that of a production assistant because each ones job is to make things go smoothly on the set”

Well, sort of, but, not really. Everyone’s job is to make things go smoothly on set. Beyond that, an AC and a production assistant don’t have much in common.

Read on and the article continues, unphased, providing more misinformation each step of the way. So let’s break down what eHow says it takes to become a camera assistant and find out why their method is not the direction you want to go.

1. Research

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 a basic knowledge about.

What’s wrong with it? Nothing, really. The only gripe is that, in most cases, you need more than a basic knowledge about equipment to be an AC unless you’re starting out as a camera PA or trainee.

2. Pursue

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.

The only thing camera assistants have in common with the grip department is they both take direction from the director of photography (DP). Beyond that, they’re two different worlds.

Taking jobs as a grip is not the way to get gigs in the camera department. You get jobs in the camera department by looking for jobs in the camera department: 1st AC, 2nd AC, or Camera PA/Trainee/Loader if you’re just starting out.

Lastly, I am not sure why eHow advises to find a job as a grip to “take direction from the key grip.” A key grip may have dabbled in camera here or there, but they didn’t become the head honcho of grip-land by knowing how to slate or pull focus.

3. Network

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.

The basic premise of this step is correct: networking and relationship building is important. And if done correctly, it will send you work in reward for a job well done.

With that said, the “audio guys” are not the people to be focusing on. Yes you can (and should) become friends with them, but most audio guys will only network you with other audio guys. Unless you want to be a videographer, then don’t assume the sound guys will be hooking you up with gigs.

I will concede that eHow nailed it with, “camera ops [or DP's] like to have a good rapport with people they hire as ACs.” That’s more true than you’d care to admit.

4. Stay current

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 set talking about equipment that is outdated that could affect the camera operator’s confidence in you.

This is actually a very important step to sustaining a career as an AC once you have established yourself. You need to be able to ride the tide, so to speak, of cameras and gear.

Once you have a base understanding of cinematography and how cameras work, however, learning each new camera takes a shorter amount of time than the one before.

“So, there’s nothing wrong with this step?” you ask. Well, not so fast.

If you walk on set talking about equipment that is outdated, the camera operator’s confidence isn’t going to go down. They’ll probably crack a smile and start talking shop with you. Just don’t pretend the old camera is anything like the new one.

Difficulty: Moderate

Each eHow article has a difficulty rating attached to it with the instructions. In this case, eHow rates becoming a camera assistant to be of “moderate” difficulty.

To put that in perspective, here are some synonyms for moderate:

  • Average
  • Ordinary
  • Mediocre
  • Medium
  • Unremarkable

I’ll stop before it makes me feel too depressed about my job.

If the rating is based on simply becoming a camera assistant, then it’s easy. Call yourself one and get a job. You’re done.

I’m guessing you don’t want to settle for that though.

You don’t want to be just any camera assistant, but a great camera assistant. Becoming a great camera assistant is not an unremarkable experience nor is it of average difficulty – it’s full of incredible experiences and, most of all, it’s hard.

Synonyms for hard? Challenging, demanding, tough, strenuous, difficult.

Which option sounds like the more rewarding process to you?

If you’re serious about becoming a better camera assistant (not a mediocre one) then follow me on Twitter and become a fan of The Black and Blue Facebook page.