Evan Day 11 Slate

50 Things That Suck for Camera Assistants (and 50 Things That Don’t)

Filmmaking isn't always fun. Sometimes it can suck -- and suck pretty hard. The public persona of Hollywood may be glitz and glam, but there's definitely moments when that facade falls apart, especially below the line.

Filmmaking isn’t always fun. Sometimes it can suck — and suck pretty hard.

I’ve made no secret of that fact having been dragged through 17 hour days, dealt with executive producers on power trips, and making mistakes of my own.

But those are big picture items and the truth is, it’s the little things that annoy us the most.

So when I read a post at Dollygrippery succinctly titled “Things That Suck,” it clicked with me. Even though I’ve never been a dolly grip, I connected with the list of small troubles that quickly add up. And my mind raced with things that I, as a camera assistant, have to deal with that suck.

Let’s just say it didn’t take me long to come up with 50 of them.

50 Things That Suck

1. Rush Hour Call Times. Where I live, the only difference between an 8 AM call and a 9 AM call is the extra hour I sit in traffic. I still have to wake up and leave at the same time.

2. Shooting the rehearsal.

3. Directors who joke about soft focus. Unless we’ve worked together before, I don’t usually find this funny. If anything, it makes me paranoid.

4. DP’s who start toying with gear. Technically you’re my boss, true, but the camera and its accessories are my domain. Let me lift the filters because last time you got a print on it and the 2nd AC had to go back to the cart and clean it.

5. Shooting handheld.

6. Being yelled at about video village. Yeah I know it’s not up right now. That’s because I’m fetching a lens, swapping a filter, and then sticking the camera up to eye level. I could patch you in right now, but you’d only see my out-of-focus disgruntled face in the frame anyway.

7. Pulling focus wide open.

8. Pulling focus without marks.

9. Pulling focus in general. Unless the lens is an 18mm at T 8.0. (Just kidding, it can be fun…)

10. Logging camera reports as the only AC. I’ll write what I can, but I can’t promise it’ll be legible.

11. Actors who miss their mark inconsistently. It’s one thing if you miss your mark by an inch every time – I can deal with that. But 1 foot on Take 3 and 3 inches on Take 4; I can’t keep up!

12. Hearing “Second Sticks.” You waste film, the crew knows you messed up, and it’s stressful to reorient yourself.

13. Pizza for lunch.

14. Forced call times

15. Not having a camera cart.

16. Watching the camera you bolted on a jib or crane swing for the first time. That feeling of overwhelming “What if…” is like the worst nightmare you’ve ever had.

17. Call times that go from sunset to sunrise.

18. Booting a RED camera. Like Forrest Gump said, “you’re never know what you’re gonna get.”

19. Sharing a witness monitor with a director or DP.

20. Being blamed for in-camera sound issues. If the camera reads a clean test signal from the sound mixer, it’s not my job to do anything else.

21. Producers who don’t understand your job. You hired me and have no idea what I do? Then don’t try to tell me what to do.

22. Soft lens cases or bags.

23. Pushing a magliner with the fixed wheels in the wrong direction. Getting in an elevator has never been so hard.

24. Locations without a freight elevator.

25. Moving car scenes. Even with a process trailer, the whole affair is claustrophobic and difficult. Being inside the car is another bag of worms.

26. Last-minute lens changes. There go all my marks.

27. Screw-on DSLR filters. It’s like putting a USB stick into your computer — you never get the threading right on the first attempt.

28. Follow-focus play. Off by a few millimeters on follow focus = off by a few feet of DOF.

29. Waiting for call sheets to be emailed before you go to sleep. Waking up at 9 AM with a pushed call to 12 PM sucks.

30. Parking tickets from DC because they ignored signs explaining production’s permit to park. True story — location manager had to write 30 letters on the crew’s behalf to get the fines dropped.

31. Producers who take your liquor to serve at the wrap party.

32. Couch “accommodations.” I’m not picky, but if I’m working for free for more than week, a hotel room or a bed would be nice!

33. Forgetting to charge batteries overnight. A mistake that catches up to you very quickly.

34. Doorway dollies.

35. Using a whip. The feedback just isn’t the same as having your hand on the FF or lens.

36. Putting the camera on the operator’s shoulder too early. That’s right — lift it up and down a few more times before we’re actually ready to roll.

37. Shooting in-camera sound. So many cables, so much hassle.

38. AD’s who care more about being liked than sticking to a schedule. At the time, everyone may look annoyed, but they’ll be happy when you send them home after 12 hours instead of 17.

39. Being told “you’re fired at the end of the day!” on the last day of a shoot. It was funny when I was on my first shoot — then it got old real quick.

40. Extras who decimate craft services. I guess if I had nothing to do for most of the day, I would ravage crafty too.

41. Directors who call “action!” before you can get comfortable after slating. In a creaky wooden house, it gets real uncomfortable, real fast.

42. Having no air conditioning because it interferes with the sound.

43. Airplanes during room tone.

44. Best Boys who act like jerks when you need power for a monitor/computer/charger. Would you rather me just jack in somewhere and not tell you about it?

45. No kit rental fee.

46. Setting backfocus yourself. On set. In the morning. An hour before roll.

47. Six day weeks.

48. Sitting on a half-apple box.

49. Calling the rental house in an emergency and getting a voicemail. Even worse is trying to download a camera’s manual with only one bar of signal.

50. Never being sent your DVD copy of the film. Of all the projects that promised me a copy of the finished movie, only one has followed through.

50 Things That Don’t Suck

For as much as we crew love to bitch about our work, we also realize how lucky we are to have an opportunity to work in the film industry. We put up with long hours, mean producers, and low rates just to get a taste of the Hollywood dream.

And — just like the things that suck — it’s the little moments that make our below-the-line ball-bustings worthwhile.

Here’s 50 of such things that make you stop and think, “I love my job.”

1. Watching from beside the camera. Whether it’s watching an amazing performance or grips move heavy stuff, it’s nice to watch from the sidelines.

2. A dolly grip who never misses a mark. Or who helps you get yours. (This one’s for you, D!)

3. Pretty actresses or handsome actors in skimpy costumes. It’s not my fault I have to watch the monitor for my job!

4. One take wonders.

5. Getting to take the camera where the rest of the crew aren’t allowed. Like inside the octagon with Wanderlei Silva.

6. Second meal. It helps take the sting off extended hours.

7. Shooting B-Roll. No pressure. No actors. All fun.

8. Open-bar wrap parties.

9. Meeting celebrities. It’s not so much I get star-struck as I enjoy the awesome stories they share.

10. Hot breakfast. Omelette > Muffin > Granola bar.

11. Getting repaid for favors. Whether it’s repaid in money or repaid in favors, cashing in is sweet.

12. When talent sees your tape measure and holds it up to their eyes for your mark.

13. Crew t-shirts. It doesn’t matter how hard a shoot has been, SWAG always eases the tension.

14. Compliments from production about your work ethic. Nobody below the line works for praise, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy when we’re noticed for how hard we’ve been busting our ass.

15. Grips who keep an apple box on standby for the camera.

16. Courtesy flags on a hot day.

17. Wrapping in time for happy hour.

18. When the DP lets you compose the shot. Whether it’s B-Roll or you just got it right when you set down the camera, it’s nice to know you put your creative touch on a project.

19. That moment at the end of a funny scene when everyone busts out laughing. It’s a nice reminder that filmmaking doesn’t have to be so serious all the damn time.

20. Doing your best work with people you know. There’s no pressure to deliver, but everyone is operating on their A game.

21. Delivering when the pressure is on. Complicated focus pulls, difficult camera moves, and jobs above your experience are all chock full of risk — to pass through unharmed is truly amazing.

22. Getting goosebumps from a performance.

23. Improvising a rack focus. The DP didn’t ask for it, but it felt right and turns out it was right.

24. Being the first to play with a new camera.

25. Velcro.

26. Talent who aren’t afraid to go out with crew after wrap.

27. Music on set during setups/wrap-outs.

28. Electricians who give me a few stingers to “live” with camera.

29. Watching a finished film and nothing is out-of-focus. You can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

30. Asking camera PA’s to find the bag of T-Stops. Never gets old!

31. Slow motion dolly shots. Satisfying to shoot, satisfying to watch.

32. Having your “weekend” in the middle of the week.

33. 10 hour days.

34. Having a producer tell you, “When I call back and ask for your rate, make sure you give me your full rate and I’ll be able to pay it.” That’s what happens when you work enough low-budget stuff with said producer.

35. Spending the first 4 hours of a day watching G&E do their thing. It only takes 30 minutes max to get a camera ready and, after that, well, you can’t just leave it by itself!

36. When a DP rescues your impossible focus pull by doing it themselves.

38. DP’s and directors who make sure you have focus marks before they’re ready to roll.

37. Tax write-offs for camera gear. 

39. The ARRI Alexa’s menu UI. It’s miles ahead of anyone else in the game.

40. Cutting a take JUST before the camera rolls out on film / data.

41. Getting a gig from a DP for the 2nd time. It’s confirmation that you did a great job for them.

42. Family friends who “are into film” who are actually legitimate filmmakers/crew. Anybody can be into film with a camcorder and iMovie, but a legit contact in the industry is a bit more rare.

43. Stunt scenes that have no problems. Doesn’t matter if it’s a 6 foot fall or a gun shooting blanks, I’m always relieved when everyone is OK afterward.

44. Women on set. Sometimes film crews are too manly. It’s good for everyone’s sanity to have females around in every department.

45. Extra expendables you get to walkaway with.

46. Walkies. You never realize how much it helps having walkies until you don’t.

47. Getting a cameo in the film.

48. The first time you saw your name listed on IMDB.

49. $5,000 lenses that don’t break even if you drop them.

50. You — for reading all the way through this list! See something not listed here? Things that suck, things that don’t, things you wish would happen more — please share in the comments!

P.S.  Make sure you check out Dollygrippery’s Things That Suck and Things That Don’t Suck
Both great articles that I owe the idea of this post to.

  • Paul

    As I was reading this the home owners dog ran outside right past me and I had to case him down the street tryin to catch him. Add that one to the list.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Haha! Man, it never gets old to hear about people reading The Black and Blue while on set. Hope you caught the dog!

  • Brian

    “sitting on a half apple box”

    so true and hilarious.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      The real test of skill is sitting on a quarter apple

      • Distrakktion

        How about a pancake?

  • http://www.facebook.com/diego.chalita Diego Chalita

    That smile you get at the end of principal photography or that perfect ambient light shot with absolutely no extra gear.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      That smile for me comes, I think, when I drive away after dropping off all the gear. It always feels good to have put a project away. Thanks for that comment, Diego

  • Tubby

    Velcro hahahahaha!! Gold. I would say getting the clapper board after wrap. Ive managed to get a few with some being signed.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Nice! Signed by the cast and crew?

  • http://twitter.com/rgesualdo Ronald Gesualdo

    Things that dont suck? Someone from the industry that doesn’t forget where he/she comes from and are willing to share with the ones coming up, THANK YOU

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      **Looks around** are you talking to me? Aw shucks! *Blush*

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tom-Jensen/525076086 Tom Jensen

    Sucks: Being a camera assistant. Does not suck: Big checks! I always hated shooting at the beach and when the AD said, “We’re on the wrong location,” everyone walks away empty handed and you have 15 cases, no cart and no help.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      No cart on the beach — that’s brutal!

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tom-Jensen/525076086 Tom Jensen

        Obviously, you can’t roll a cart onto the beach but there are ATV’s as you know but they always seem to forget us. :-)

        • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

          I was thinking you could roll a cart on the beach if you swapped out the normal wheels for some big ol’ fat ones.

  • Cornelius O’Donoghue

    Sucks: Boom in the shot.
    Don’t: Boom in the shot when you flubbed focus.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Bonus tip: befriend the boom guy and have him drop in when you mess up focus and in exchange you blow focus when he drops in!

      (Just kidding don’t actually do this… unless the DP asks you to mess up focus because he hates the shot the director asked for. In which case, follow your heart.)

  • http://ForgottenGulf.com Marion Laney

    Loved the 1/2 apple box comment!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Glad to know I’m not the only one who’s tried to shape my butt around one of those!

      • http://ForgottenGulf.com Marion Laney

        “Like”

  • Ricky

    “27. Music on set during setups/wrap-outs.”

    This is why I have a nice stereo system in my truck ;) Paradise City is the theme song of the grip department every time theres a change! m/

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Why am I not surprised to read about a Guns N Roses song and grips in the same sentence? :P Rock on, brotha!

  • Justin

    suck: tethered sound

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      As a MOD, you’d think I’d be able to upvote you to oblivion — because I would if I could.

  • Justin

    I can totally picture a disgruntled soft evan luzi staring into the lens while trying to fix the mangled eyebrow that the intern broke that morning while the producer and director are yelling clear frame.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Haha it’s not a pretty sight, trust me!

  • Matthew DeBonis

    Things that Suck

    When you are shooting 85mm wide open at night and hit all your marks…..but the boom came in shot. “Lets do it again!” FML.

    Loading film for the first time. (why was this an entry level job?)

    Things that Don’t suck

    Shooting on location and waking up to a sunrise every morning in the mountains on a lake.

    Shooting on location and Stripping down with the whole cast and crew and jumping in a lake at midnight right after wrap was called.

    When the lead actor at wrap gives you a six pack and says thank you. I know I missed my marks but you never missed yours.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Shooting on location almost always doesn’t suck — you really get to visit and see places few people do.

      And your story about the lead actor — that’s priceless. What a class act!

  • Lauren Wolfe

    I seriously love the hell out of your blog. The way you write feels patient and conversational to me, not to mention how freakin’ useful the info is and relatable the scenarios are. Forever live.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Thanks Lauren! That’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever received :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/PhilJago Phillip Jago

    I got in good with the Producer after saving the Grip truck at the hotel that had a dead battery. I was the only person on set with a good set of Jumper Cables and that knew how to jump a Double battery setup on a large truck. It was already 1 hour past call time by the time they got on location after I helped them. Funny thing was on the way back from rescuing the griptruck, then my truck ran out of gas and the Producer had to get me a gas can with gas. Got my 1st IMDB credit and a funny story to tell.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Haha sounds like an adventure for sure!

  • http://www.facebook.com/PhilJago Phillip Jago

    There is nothing better than wrapping at 6am and then going to the local dinner and ordering breakfast and Beer with the crew before going to bed.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Except maybe wrapping at 6 pm and staying out all night ;)

  • http://twitter.com/joshrandall Josh Randall

    Kind of corny – but making friends for life…

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Not corny at all if it’s true, Josh

  • Marie (french 1er AC)

    Hi Evan! Every time I come on your website to read some posts I’m surprised to see the good words in the good way about how i feel the work and all around. And with fun! Thanks.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Hey Marie! Happy that so far I have a 100% track record with you enjoying the site :)

  • Jay

    Hi Evan, seriously diggin’ this list. I did lots of free work where I befriended many great people. Some time ago it paid off big time. Because of these connections I landed a big international gig for a corporate client. Hurray for perseveirance!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mknlsn Mike Nelson

    #30 about the DC parking tickets is SPOT ON. I was working a production recently in DC and we had permits posted on the street as well as permits in our windows. We all still got tickets o_O

  • Eric

    Great read. though I am curious what your issue is with doorway dollys. Granted a fisher is so much more fun to play with

  • slateboy83

    Things that sucks:

    being connected to the video village by a HDMI cable because the production can’t afford a real HD monitor so they brought the director’s tv

    20 or more takes of the same shot (you do the first 5 correctly, you nail the next 10, then you start to see the actors missing their marks, miss their line, miss everything)

    the last shot of the day with a 135mm, handheld, f/2.8 and (of course) no time for marks

    Things that DON’T sucks:

    When the DP thanks you for your great job

    when you improvise a focus rack and the director at the end of the shot start to clap and whole crew follow him (it actually happen to me a week ago)

  • sam

    funny and very true!!! number 25 is my personal favorite :)

  • Gleb

    Win: getting the sticks higher/lower leg by leg, only to find they’re already perfectly level!

  • Patrick Aubert

    This is a great list!
    I’m a script supervisor… What do you like/dislike about a scripty?

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Hm I like that they keep track of the slate when I am too forgetful to. I don’t like when they call me out on it when I’m in the middle of slating in front of the camera :P

  • http://www.facebook.com/amishjim Amish Schulze

    As a Best Boy, I would have to say that there should almost never be a problem if an AC needs power. Camera is King, after all. We can’t do anything without out it. I would also add that this is something a Set Electric could take care of, ask the BB at the beginning of the show “Do you want me to come to you for power every time or can I just ask any Electric?” More than likely, he’s going to let a 3rd take care of that. 99 out of 100 times just “jacking in” probably won’t harm anything. But, that one time you do it and it blows a circuit, guaranteed, you will be slandered on Channel 7. Sure, the lights will come back on, but if you plugged in to,say, do a transfer to an external HDD and you lose power, you could also potentially lose data, too. I wouldn’t want to be the guy that has to tell the DP or Producer you just lost clips because you didn’t follow protocol.
    Good Read, I always like to see others perspectives about set life. We so often wear blinders where we only see our craft, and never really realize what others are doing.

  • The Flying Scotsman

    If you’ve asked a PA to get T-Stops for you more than once you’re a jerk. Period!