When you get a call for a shoot where the rate is $$$, you’re mostly thinking, “I hope I’m available.” Especially if it’s with a solid crew or a really cool concept. But in the middle of this COVID-19 pandemic, you also need to be aware of the exposure risks you’re accepting when you say: “Yes, I can do it!”
Filmmaking Tips and Advice
Get Answers to These 9 Coronavirus Safety Questions Before Taking a Job
12 Pieces of Coronavirus Advice for Camera Assistants
10 Ways Production Can Improve COVID-19 Sets (and Why Testing Won’t Help)
Pulling Focus in a Pandemic: What It’s Like to Go Back to Set During COVID-19
Jennifer Garner to 1st AC’s: “I Miss You Guys”
Watch Now: ‘Keeping It Sharp’ Interview with Fellow AC Meghan Commons
As camera assistants, we work with some of the most high-touch equipment on set and there’s plenty of departmental interactions from reloading the camera to changing lenses. The work is the same, and our skills still relevant, but it requires rethinking how to make things safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since coronavirus lockdowns began, producers and production crew have been on the front lines hustling to get us back to work safely while having to prep for more logistical chaos than they already dealt with before. While I’ve been cautiously optimistic about these plans, their execution could be improved. So, here’s ten ways production can make film shoots safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After a solid three months of no work, I was given a few opportunities in the past few weeks to dip my toes back into production. It goes without saying: filmmaking in the age of coronavirus isn’t what you’re used to. So put on your mask, sanitize those hands, and buckle up for our brave new world.
Actress Jennifer Garner talks about the “dance” that takes place between her, the camera operator, the focus puller, and the boom operator – and how it’s one of the things she misses most right now.
Adam B. Vary writing for Variety:
The shutdown had just started to soften this month, as a handful of U.S. productions — ABC’s “The Bachelorette,” CBS’s “The Bold and the Beautiful”— began slowly getting back to work, with others quietly preparing to start up again in the coming months. Those plans were predicated, however, on the assumption that COVID-19 cases were either leveling off or dropping nationwide, providing a safer environment for productions to move forward.
Instead, cases have exploded. On Monday and Tuesday, California hit record numbers of daily confirmed cases, led by Los Angeles county, which has hit over 103,000 total cases of the over 230,000 total cases statewide. Cases are similarly skyrocketing in Florida, Texas, and Arizona, while the popular production hubs of Louisiana, Georgia and New Mexico are seeing a precipitous rise as well.
The facts on the ground are swiftly placing the industry into an excruciating double-bind between literal and figurative life and death.
Film production in the United States is currently at a crawl. There is some work to be had (I’ll be sharing my few COVID work experiences soon), but it’s nowhere close to pre-pandemic levels. Most of our peers in the major production cities or working on big shows are sitting at home waiting for things to settle – except the opposite is happening.
With dwindling options in the U.S., some productions are beginning to entertain moving to Europe, where COVID-19 spread is far more under control.
It’s shameful that an uncoordinated, inconsistent, and scattershot approach to COVID-19 from the leadership of the United States has resulted in our industry and below-the-line crew (among many others) losing out on valuable work. It’s maddening that the simplest, most affordable, and most effective weapon we have against coronavirus – mask wearing – has been politicized into another line in the sand in which sides are taken. It’s frustrating that we endured lockdowns, unemployment, and numerous stressors only to end up backtracking.
Until productions can be done safely, which is perilous in areas of abundant community spread, a lot of crew will be left out of work as unions, above-the-liners, studios, and crew themselves prefer to mitigate their risk of COVID-19 infection.
So: please, wear the mask!
In the age of COVID-19, as work slowly trickles back into the industry, remote monitoring of a camera’s feed is becoming increasingly important. There are several options to achieve this, but if you have the right Teradek model lying around, you can take advantage of their built-in capability to be seen as a webcam on a computer:
Here are the compatible Teradek models:
- 2nd generation Bolt 300
- 2nd generation Bolt 600 / 2000
- 3rd generation Bolt 500
- 3rd generation Bolt 1000 / 3000
Or, more simply, any of the models that have a USB 3.0 output on their receivers.
To set it up, you simply plug your Bolt receiver into a computer via the USB 3.0 port and it should show up as a webcam option in popular software like Zoom or VLC.
I recently did this on a shoot last week to allow the director in Los Angeles and the agency at their homes on the East Coast to all monitor our on-set feed and collaborate via Zoom.
One note: I ran into issues getting my Mac to recognize the Teradek when using a USB 3.0 to USB-C converter, so if you can go directly into a regular old square USB 3.0 port or get the proper USB-C cable, you can avoid those problems.
Update: Thank you Meghan for having me on as your guest! You can watch the full interview below:
It’s been a minute, huh? What better way to find myself back onto your screens (and in your hearts) than an interview with fellow camera assistant Meghan Commons on her new podcast / Instagram live show, “Keeping it Sharp” – a show about camera assisting, hosted by a focus puller.
Tune in here at her Instagram profile on Saturday June 6th (that’s today!) at 2 PM central time.
If you aren’t able to catch it live, it will be reposted on Meghan’s profile (@meghphoenix) afterward and also on the @keeping_it_sharp Instagram page after the live cast ends. You can also head there to check out previous interviews with other AC’s including Brian Aichlmayr, Matthew Debonis, and Dany Racine.
Hope to see you there!
In an interview with American Cinematographer originally published five years ago:
I probably look for the same qualities everyone else looks for when they hire people. I generally look for someone who’s both pleasant and technically astute. For example, if I’m hiring a camera operator, he has to be able to fulfill his primary function, but I also want that person to be able to help the assistant get everything put together properly, anticipate any problems that might arise, and so on. I don’t want a situation where he’s operating one moment and making phone calls the next. The operator has to be intelligent and able to relate well to actors. I feel most comfortable with someone who’s smart, specific and easy to deal with. It’s the same with the assistant cameraman — who, I think, has one of the most difficult jobs on the set.
Being technically competent is an obvious prerequisite for the camera department and everyone wants to work with someone who’s smart, but being “pleasant” and “easy to deal with” are two underrated qualities that make those above-the-line more likely to hire you for the next job.
The rest of the interview is well-worth reading for more of the late cinematographer’s pragmatic wisdom and sarcastic cynicism: “…that’s the nature of the business: It’s okay to approve an extra 20 feet for the star’s trailer, but if you need one more grip for a day, you can forget it!”
Today was payday on day 11 of Assassinaut and while all of us received checks or deposits, some lucky crew received some bonus payments in the form of a fresh currency known as “Kuni Bucks”