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What A 2nd AC Does On Set

What A 2nd AC Does On Set

There’s a famous proverb which states that it takes a village to raise a child. This adage is just as transferable to the process of making a film. The film production process relies on a village of people who each bring their own expertise and experiences to the process of making a movie. For anyone who would like to work on sets, having knowledge of your own role is of course a given, but having a basic understanding of the roles of each other department and specific crew roles is a useful and necessary skill.

It’s also important to understand that there is an entire ecosystem of career paths available in the film industry beyond the commonly known director, DP, actor, and producer jobs. So in this first Crew Breakdown video, I’ll go over one such crew position in the camera department, that of the 2nd Assistant Camera, which it’s referred to in the US, or Clapper Loader, which other countries refer to it as. I’m starting this series with this crew position as it’s a role I’m very familiar with, having worked as a 2nd AC myself over many years.


I’ll look at the role or duties which come with this position, a loader’s average day on set, and finally go over a couple of tips that are useful if you’d like to succeed in this position.


Role/job/ responsibilities


The camera department is relatively small and consists of only a few jobs.

At the bottom, there’s the trainee, an apprentice position which is only there on big enough jobs, the 2nd AC or loader, the 1st camera assistant or focus puller, the camera operator, and, right at the top, the director of photography.

What A 2nd AC Does On Set



The two primary duties of the clapper loader can be found in the name.

The first part, ‘clapper’, refers to the clapperboard or slate. The loader writes the correct film or card roll, the scene, the slate, the take, and other necessary information, which could include lens sizes or VFX info, on the slate. 

The sound person rolls the sound, the loader announces the information on the board waits for the camera to roll, and then claps the board when the focus puller tells them to ‘mark’. This allows the video and sound, which are recorded separately, to be easily synchronized in a post by matching the moment the board claps in the footage with the sound of the clap.

The ‘loader’ part of the name refers to the act of loading film stock into a magazine, or more commonly now, loading cards into the camera. An important part of the 2nd’s role is keeping track of what cards or magazines have been exposed and making sure that the footage is transported to the film lab or, for digital footage, the Digital Image Technician (or DIT).

This makes the 2nd’s job of vital importance as they are solely responsible for handling the footage and therefore would be solely to blame should (worst nightmare) any cards get incorrectly formatted or erased, or any film stock incorrectly exposed to light or damaged.

As cinematographer Oliver Stapleton points out: “The loading may not seem like a big job, but it's actually very important. If the wrong film is in the camera, or if it is loaded twice, or lost, or placed in the wrong can, then the scene ... could be lost.'' When this happens, the loader can become deeply unpopular very quickly. . Kubrick fired one loader I know on his first day on the job for walking around the set holding a magazine upside down." “This was a trifle harsh, but there is a right way to do the job,  and the rules are there for a very good reason. If you screw up the minimum cost is about $20,000 and the max any figure you might care to imagine.

In order to track footage, shots, and camera information, the loader is required to take detailed camera notes. These include the lens, stop white balance, asa, filters, and frame rate. This can be done the old school way with a neg report book, which I do, or with an app or spreadsheet. For VFX shots, the 2nd is also required to also record measurements in the report, such as the focus distance, camera height, and inclination of the camera.

Other common duties include helping the focus puller change lenses, changing the camera batteries, marking the position of the actors, and, depending on the 1st AC, helping build the camera.


Average Day On Set

  • Typically the loader is the first in the camera team to arrive on set. The day starts by unloading the gear from the truck to a mag liner, where it is organized and prepared for the first scene. Amongst this camera gear, the loader usually has a personal bag with tools and consumables for the camera. The camera will be built, a lens put on and the slate marked up.

  • The 2nd AC or camera trainee will then locate a good spot to set up a charging station for the batteries throughout the day. Somewhere with power close to the set which is not in the way. As the first scene is blocked or rehearsed the loader will put down marks at the actor's feet which they will need to hit during the scene.

  • This could be a starting position, an end position, or both. These marks are made in the shape of a T to indicate which direction the actor needs to be facing. When positioning is critical and the actors need to hit an extremely precise position I like to make arrow toe markers with tape, so that each foot has an exact stopping point.

  • Next, the 2nd will get the information for the slate from the script supervisor and write it on the board. If there is no script supervisor then the 1st assistant director will usually provide guidance on how the scenes should be slated. Throughout the day this will be repeated whilst changing lenses, cards, and batteries whenever necessary. When changing a card, announce to the 1st AD that the camera is reloading.

  • The 2nd may also need to help reconfigure the camera throughout the day such as for a Steadicam setup, an underwater housing or to go on a crane. After a day’s shooting the equipment needs to be cleaned, packed away, batteries charged, and the day’s camera report handed into production. If shooting on film, the exposed negatives will be labeled and dropped off at the lab with a report detailing any necessary instructions for development, such as push processing.


Tips to be better

  • As the security of the footage lies on the head of the loader, they should always be sure to hand over the cards in person to the DIT or data wrangler. The roll number should be written on gaffer tape, for example, A001, and wrapped around the card or card case so that the DIT knows exactly which card it is.

  • The same applies to film cans or magazines. As you’ll often be busy and have lots to remember, writing notes on gaffer tape about exposed footage, dead batteries or faulty gear is a crucial form of communication. Never forget that your primary job is to assist the camera team. Therefore on top of all the technical requirements, it’s also your job to be a nanny and ensure the camera team is happy, has tea, coffee, snacks, jackets, water, sun cream, or whatever they require. This is the easiest way to get hired again. 

  • When the actors arrive on set I also get their names and write them on tape which I then stick on the camera. That way if the DP wants to communicate with an actor then they have their name right there without awkwardly having to ask it. How to become a Cinematographer.

  • Your job is to make things run as smoothly as possible for the rest of the team. Being able to pre-empt things before they happen is probably the most important skill, this comes with experience but also with always being focused. For example, be near the camera and keep an ear out for anything the 1st AC or DP says. If you hear any murmur of changing to a 35mm lens then you can quickly be there with the correct lens in your hand before it’s even called for.

  • Or if the camera is about to go up on a crane put in a pre-ID front slate before the camera is raised out of reach. Never let the camera battery die or a card roll all the way out. Always pre-empt things before they happen. Before production begins I like to go to the gear check, even if it’s unpaid, as it’s a good way to familiarise yourself with the camera team and the gear on the job before the shoot begins.


Conclusion

There are plenty of other technical tips which can be picked up over time. So come to set being open to learning, with an easy to be around attitude, pay close attention, be quick but never panic, and be prepared for long days and hard work. The life of a loader isn’t always the most glamorous but the skills you can learn from this career are immense. There’s a reason that it’s often the traditional starting job for many aspiring DOPs. I hope you enjoyed this article.

If you’d like to explore videos on filmmaking topics such as cinematography, directing, editing, and many others, Skillshare is the place to go. I use it whenever I need a dose of inspiration or am looking for a fresh perspective on cinematography. I recently enjoyed a class that covered concepts on filming solo content where filmmaker and cinematographer Dandan Liu went over tips for how to work as a one-person crew.

It’s specifically curated for learning, meaning there are no ads and they’re always launching new premium classes so you can stay focused and follow your creativity. Skillshare is less than $10 a month with an annual subscription.

With all this content, projects to create, and a community of fellow creatives, Skillshare empowers you to grow and enhance your skills by offering classes designed for real-life application. So sign up with Skillshare today. I hope you enjoyed this article. If you liked this content then let me know in the comments.

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