Welcome to the third installment of Raw Stock: an article series where I answer readers questions that come to me via email. This week brings us an interesting mix of topics:
- The dangers of running on set
- Why TV looks different from movies
- And what titles should be used on business cards
As always, please share your own thoughts and opinions in the comments. Part of what makes the filmmaking community – and this website – great are the different stories, experiences, and perspectives crew have. So don’t be shy to help answer these questions yourself!
Now on to the first one…
Do You Think I Should Avoid Running On Set?
I usually work as a 2nd [Assistant Camera] or Camera PA, so I fetch things for the department, often when the truck is very far away. I have good stamina so in such situations I usually run, rather than walk, to go get it. My thought is that this is good because it cuts the time I take in half, and I can’t imagine making the crew wait ten minutes or even longer for whatever I was sent to get, and that being willing to do that may get me some favor to be hired again. But after my most recent shoot, my 1st [Assistant Camera] explained that he doesn’t think you should ever run on set because 1) you could get hurt and 2) it makes you look stupid/like you forgot something.
Do you think this is true, and that it is worth walking when you could run? Would you think badly of your 2nd because she walked the quarter mile back to the truck when you desperately needed something brought to set?
– Rinny W.
The explanation your 1st Assistant Camera (AC) gave you is well-accepted within the film industry for precisely the two reasons you were given. If you were to ignore the 1st AC and continue running to the truck/camera cart/staging area on another set, eventually you’d be told the same thing again. So whether you inherently agree with it or not, I’d heed the advice.
Also, I do think it’s true. Running on set is potentially a safety hazard – for you and those you may potentially collide with – and it does give the impression of a panic. Neither of which are good.
Just because you can’t run, however, doesn’t mean you can’t be quick. When you’re advised to walk, that doesn’t mean you should take a leisurely stroll to the truck as if walking on the beach. Instead you should walk quickly at a brisk pace. You know how fast you walk through the airport when you’re worried about making a connecting flight? That’s the pace you should be hoofing it.
In most cases, this will be fast enough for a film crew waiting on a filter or a lens or whatever.
I would never think badly of a 2nd AC for walking when I’m desperate for a piece of gear, unless, as mentioned above, it was at an unbearably slow pace.
To be honest, as a 1st AC, it’s my responsibility to keep what I think is needed near the set either in a ditty bag or in a staging area. If there’s something left in the truck, I understand that I must atone for leaving it there by waiting a few moments for myself or someone in my department to get it. I make sure the Cinematographer/Camera Operator/1st Assistant Director all know that it’s going to be a moment before it will arrive.
So take your 1st’s advice to avoid running, but walk quickly and show an earnest effort to be swift.
Of course, every “rule” on a film set has its loopholes and if there’s a genuine emergency like a fire or a camera falling or gear being stolen, I think most crew would make an exception and understand. And if you ever get scolded for walking (doubtful), simply explain that’s what you were taught and why.
Why Do Some TV Shows Look More Like Movies?
I really appreciate your blog, it’s full of helpful experience! I’ve got a question and I thought you might know the answer. I noticed that some visual material looks TV-ish, for example recent Agents of SHIELD, compared to more film-ish looks of House of Cards or Hannibal. Why is that? It’s because of the camera the production uses? Thank you!
– Jakub B.
There could be several reasons why something looks more like a television production than a movie:
- Camera format
As well as many more nuanced factors. Most of the time, however, whenever someone notices something looking more “TV-ish” than filmic, it’s a function of frame-rate.
For television, in the United States, most shows are shot at 30 frames-per-second (fps) whereas films and movies are shot at 24 fps. The difference is subtle, but has a substantial effect on how we perceive motion in those various productions, especially if it’s something you start consciously looking for. Basically, these standards were developed over a long period of time (and in fact we covered a brief moment of that in the first Raw Stock) and so we have grown accustomed to the “look” it provides.
So why does 30fps and 24fps look so different? Because of how the varying framerates handle motion and motion blur. With more frames-per-second, television productions appear smoother with less motion-blur. Films, on the other hand, have much more motion-blur because there are 6 less frames being shot every second.
(Some of this also has to do with the shutter in relation to the frame-rate, but for now it’s simpler to regard them as each a part of the same end effect: motion-blur.)
Television manufacturers have recently tried to overcome this motion-blur phenomenon by increasing the refresh rate of televisions and “smoothing” it out with a feature called motion smoothing. The effect this creates is some shows look hyper-realistic and movies to suddenly appear uncinematic.
As Stu Maschwitz describes it at Prolost, “This “feature,” which goes by different names, is associated with sets that tout “120Hz” or “240Hz.” Those are refresh rates, and LCD sets need to tout fast refresh rates, because in the early days of LCDs, they suffered from poor, smeary motion rendering. Those days are gone, and a modern LCD is perfectly capable of displaying 60 clean images per second, which is perfect for NTSC video.”
Because of these faster refresh rates, televisions with motion-smoothing enabled interpolate additional frames into videos making them appear with greater framerates than 24 or 30 fps.
Stu continues and, ultimately, answers your question much more eloquently than myself: “Filmmakers were not content to make movies with video cameras until those cameras could shoot 24p, because video, with its many-frames-per-second, looks like reality, like the evening news, like a live broadcast or a daytime soap opera; whereas 24p film, by showing us less, looks somehow larger than life, like a dream, like a story being told rather than an event being documented. This seemingly technical issue turns out to have an enoumous emotional effect on the viewer.”
As I mentioned above, there could be many other reasons why you think a show looks more like TV than a movie, but framerate is generally the answer for most people who perceive a difference.
What Title Do I Put on My Business Card?
Now that I’m working more, I would like to get business cards. But I ran into a problem with what title to give myself? I thought about just putting AC [Assistant Camera], but I don’t want to sell myself short of possibly being an operator. But then I don’t want people to look at the card and laugh because I am “claiming to be an operator.” I also want to leave myself open for Camera PA or Camera Utility Jobs. Heck, ideally I’d like to keep Set PA jobs on the table.
So you see my dilemma, want to have AC, but also want to have Operator option, with Camera PA/Utility. Is there some sort of catch all term that I could put on my business card? What’s your opinion on the business card stuff?
– Brian R.
There are a few options you could consider:
Make alternate business cards. Relatively speaking, business cards are cheap to print. ClubFlyers.com – which I’ve used in the past – will print 500 of them for $21. That’s chump change if it gets you a well paying gig. So consider making alternate versions of the same card with your title changed – one with Camera Assistant, one with Camera Operator, and the other with Production Assistant. Then, depending on which job you’re doing at the time, hand out that particular card. Or hand out whichever one you want the person you’re giving it to to identify you as. Your initial investment in different cards may be higher, but eventually you’ll climb the ladder and stop doing work as a PA or as an AC and only have to print one type of business cards.
Don’t use a title at all. This one is a bit tricky because its success depends a lot on the context in which you hand out the cards and the design. If you can appropriately design the card, you may not need to use a title at all. For instance, my first business card was designed to look like a film strip with my name, my website, and my phone number on it. That’s it. I figured people could infer I was involved in film by the film strip and, on my website, they would find my resume listing whatever jobs I was doing (at this point I was also taking whatever I could and hadn’t quite settled yet into the AC role).
Write your title on a case-by-case basis. Leave the title off, but have a blank area on the card. Whenever you hand one out, write your title on the card along with the project you’re working on. This helps personalize it for the person you’re giving it to – making it more likely that they’ll remember who you are – and also helps you meld the card to whatever you want to be in that moment.
Define yourself by the department, not by the title. The best “catch-all” I can think of is to use the name of your department. In this case, that’s the Camera Department. It wouldn’t be strange to see a business card listing “John Doe, Camera Department,” which would allow you the flexibility of any position within the camera department while also giving you the recognition of what you actually do. In this case, it’s the most accurate description, too.
One last thing: if you’re looking to get Camera PA or Camera Utility jobs, it’s OK to have Camera Assistant listed on your business card. A lot of AC’s understand that you’ll fluctuate between 1st AC, 2nd AC, and Camera PA gigs as necessary for your career and financial situation.
Overall, you’ll find that business cards don’t matter as much as you think, so don’t spend too much time fretting over them. After all, people only need a name and contact info to give you that gig you really want. I understand why you want to get it right, however, so hopefully these options work!
Have a Question of Your Own?
If you’ve got a question about camera assisting or working on a film set, shoot me an email and I may answer it here on Raw Stock. If you’d prefer to remain anonymous, that’s cool too.
No question is off-limits, so don’t be shy!