Nobody is perfect – I’m certainly not – and there’s always room for improvement. As we wrapped the short week 1 on Assassinaut, I spent an after-wrap run thinking about, “What could I do better?” After some reflection, I came up with five ways I could up my game as we head into week 2.
Filmmaking Tips and Advice
In case you haven’t heard, I’m currently working on a feature film called “Assassinaut” and am writing about my experience as the 1st AC. I took time this weekend to create a page that collects all of the posts in one spot and helps you keep track of our production.
So head here to catch up on the posts and read all future posts.
“Dolly on the move,” was a familiar phrase on Day 3 of Assassinaut. The camera spent all day either stuck on sticks or being pushed & pulled on dolly as we shot coverage of an important criss-crossing table conversation scene.
Assassinaut, the feature film I’m working on as 1st Assistant Camera, has wrapped on a good day 2 which included dissecting a frog, chicken beauty shots, and amazing hustle by crew, cast, and everyone involved. It was stew, not soup.
It’s day 1 on the feature film Assassinaut which I’m working on as 1st AC. And at the beginning of any shoot, there’s always anxiety, dread, and doubt, but it all gets washed away as soon as you blast off and start rolling on the first shot.
Finding out everything works is always a relief at the camera prep while you learn the gear, meet your team, and get ready for Day 1 – there’s no turning back now…
The AC’s battlefield is behind-the-lens. While I prep to step onto that front, I want you to join me for the adventure as I post a daily production diary of my experiences working on the feature film “Assassinaut” for the next six weeks. Day 1 is tomorrow, but camera prep – and Day 0 – is today.
Todd A writes a damning account of his time working at RED, the digital cinema camera company:
I have a post drafted in my blog titled “My birthday gift to myself this year: Retirement.” It’s dated February 26, 2012. At that time, I’d been working in the online marketing (web) department at RED Digital Cinema for about 5 months. I was sick of complaining about it to my friends and family. I didn’t want to be that guy who is always bitching about his job but never doing anything about it. Yet, I remained at RED for two more years. How is that possible?
Ouch – he already wanted to leave after only 5 months.
It’s surprising to hear such incendiary remarks considering the passion and devotion that usually surrounds RED’s users and fans. However, within the context of founder Jim Jannard’s forum posts and his recent exit into the shadows, it’s unsurprising to hear Todd speak out against, “the president making announcements on the community forum before the employees knew” and writing:
After the stressful product launches in December 2013, things quieted down enormously. Almost too enormously. It was quiet like “this is bad for business” quiet. But I knew NAB — the major broadcasting convention — loomed in April and I knew RED was bound to surprise all its employees with its plans for the show. “Keep the crises rolling” and all that.
Todd goes on to describe broken promises for bonuses and equity, long hours, and an unhealthy lack of organization. And in the comments, someone else named “Brian” added:
I was at RED from the start for 4 years . It is a good characterization of the place. Easy to understand why none of the first employees are no longer there anymore.
As RED matures from the disruptive force it was several years ago into a major player on the digital cinematography field, it’s going to have to address the problems and negative experiences of employees like Todd and Brian – even if they are in the minority.
(Todd wrote another post, too, about how companies can avoid the mistakes he encountered at RED.)
Midnight Rider, the production that camera assistant Sarah Jones was working on when she was killed, has been trying recently to resume production by moving the shoot across the country from Atlanta to Los Angeles. But today, the subject of the biopic, Gregg Allman, asked the film’s director to abandon the production via personal letter:
“When the idea of you producing the film first came about, I was genuinely excited about the possibility of sharing my story with fans around the world. Unfortunately, all of that changed for me on February 20 of this year,” he wrote. “While there may have been a possibility that the production might have resumed shortly after that, the reality of Sarah Jones’ tragic death, the loss suffered by the Jones family and injuries to the others involved has led me to realize that for you to continue production would be wrong.”
This is huge. And it comes after actor William Hurt withdrew from the film. Hurt was set to play Mr. Allman and was on set when the train that killed Sarah Jones and injured several others came barreling down the tracks. Additionally, many crew have proactively stated they won’t work on this shoot.
So to summarize where Midnight Rider stands: the main star dropped out, the subject of the movie wants to pull the plug, and crew across the country have started boycotting their involvement.
What’s the point of moving forward? How do the director and producers exhibit such blindness to the tragedy and lack of guilt for what happened to Sarah? Even if it does move forward, how will they get a crew? It’s common knowledge within industry circles that doing so would amount to career suicide.
Cheers to Gregg Allman for understanding the situation and treating it with reason and sensitivity. Let’s hope that same sensitivity results in the production shutting down and that same reason prevails in a thorough investigation of the incident.
Cinematographer Rob Ruscher, who I had the pleasure of meeting at NAB, interviewed me on his blog for his “Cool Production Peeps” series. Most of the questions cover topics I’ve discussed here on The Black and Blue, but I was happy to nail down an answer to this one I get asked a lot:
RR: What advice would you give someone that wants to be an AC [Camera Assistant]?
Learn the basics of cinematography – both digital and film – so that you understand the fundamentals of how cameras work and can have an educated conversation about it with the cinematographer. You don’t need to be a master of lens optics, but you should know things like how aperture affects depth-of-field or standards for frame rates and shutter speed.
Read Doug Hart’s The Camera Assistant: A Complete Professional Handbook and then read David Elkins’ The Camera Assistant’s Manual. They are similar in scope, but each cover various aspects of the job. In terms of education you can do away from set, those are the gold standard.
Finally, get on a set – ideally in the camera department as a trainee or PA, but really any position that puts you on set – and watch the AC’s work. Ask them questions when they aren’t busy like at lunch or at wrap when they’re breaking everything down. Offer to help them on future projects and hope they call.
There is, of course, much more to becoming a camera assistant, but cinematography basics, reading the AC manuals, and getting on set is the best general advice I can give. Further, as you delve into each of those things, you’ll find yourself branching off to learn more and build your skills.
One more thing: check out my free ebook Becoming the Reel Deal which focuses on starting your filmmaking career in the camera department. Thanks to Rob for the interview!