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What is a Camera Assistant?

What is a Camera Assistant?

We are going back to basics. Now, I know this might be very basic for some of my readers out there, because I know a lot of you actually work in the industry and you're camera assistants, or you generally work in the camera department.

So I just wanna say a massive thank you to the people who have reached out recently and sent me emails, and posted comments, just saying how much my articles have been helpful to you, so thank you very, very much for leaving those really kind words.

Onwards to the topic of today, and our topic is 'What is a camera assistant, and what do they do?'

This really does depend largely on how big the production is, and how many people are on the crew.

Entry-level position

Let's start way at the beginning. So, an entry-level position. We're talking 'camera PA,' AKA 'camera intern,' AKA 'camera trainee.' This role kind of sometimes pops up in Australia, not really as often as I've seen it pop up in the US. In Australia we tend to have camera trainee, if we're talking like, huge jobs, so, feature films or long-form, any long-form production will have a camera trainee or they'll have a truck loader, and then sometimes they'll also have a vid split, and that's how I got my start in TV, was working as a vid split on a couple of TV shows.

But anyway, you can call it any of the above, you can call it camera trainee, you can call it camera PA, truck loader, they all kind of do varying things, but those are all the entry-level jobs.

Main Responsibilities

Let's talk about the main responsibilities in most cases. You'll be responsible for battery charging, collection, and distribution, which means you will take those batteries off the second AC, you'll go put them on a charge, and you'll refresh the ones that are in their kit. That is a constant job. You'll probably also take the batteries home at the end of the day, and give them a charge for the next day. Keeping the camera truck looking clean.

If we're talking video split or vid split, you'd be setting up the monitors for the client. In the event that you are running things wired to the monitors, you'll also be running those leads and picking up slack. Do you guys want an article on how to wrap cables, or is that gonna be too boring and too quick of an article? Let me know.

And generally, you'll be assisting the second AC in whatever they need. So, the second AC is your boss. Now generally, you'll see this role on larger productions, like I was saying earlier. You'll see them on any long forms, but you don't typically see a camera trainee on a commercial shoot.

This is a learning role, and well, even though you're learning in every single role and every single day you work in this industry, this is the entry-level to the camera department.

Second AC

Let's move on to the second AC, AKA clapper loader, or second camera assistant. You'll be responsible for the slate. That means marking and keeping track of shots. You're also responsible for swinging lenses with the first AC. You're also responsible for the camera cards and the media, as well as batteries and making sure you're on top of that, especially if you're on a commercial shoot because you don't have that camera trainee to back you up, so you pick up the slack of that.

And a good second AC does this seamlessly. They don't wait on anybody else to give them the nod to actually go and do that. They will change cards, they'll swing batteries, as seamlessly as they can, to not hinder the rest of the production.

If you're a DP, you'll definitely know a good AC when things just run smoothly and you don't need to actually even say to them, "Hey, the battery's running low," or, "Hey, we've only got a minute left on this card." They will have already done that. You'll probably also be placing marks down for actors, which means you'll have all of the tapes.

Camera notes/ reports/ sheets

Basically, camera notes or a camera log are a copy of all of the details of a shot. So, you'll have the scene, the take number, everything on there, including lens information, so the focal length, how far away you are from the subject, the f-stop, everything you need in order to know exactly how a shot was achieved.

This will go through the whole post-production process. That piece of paper will stay with the data for the whole process, and that way if you need to go back and shoot something, you've got the exact details for how you did it in the first place.

You will get a carbon copy notebook just to write down all of the details about the shot that you've done. And then certain copies will go off to certain people, depending on the color. So many colors. A lot of the time, especially on commercials.

The second AC will also do data wrangling. Any small production where you don't have a dedicated data wrangler, the second AC will usually pick up the slack there. If there's no trainee, you'll also be charging batteries as well. And when you're a second AC, your boss is the first AC or the focus puller, and they pull focus. But wait, there's more.

You take your notes directly from the DP. And then you relay that information to your second AC or the rest of the team, or whoever needs to know, and then in turn the second AC will help you when you need assistance.

You build the camera and you also do a gear check, which is performed before a shoot.

You're also responsible for the transport of the camera equipment from location to location, but in terms of picking up the camera and actually moving it from one spot to another spot, often you'll have a grip on set who will assist you in doing that, and you'll carry the camera and they'll carry the sticks, but you kind of work it out with them on the day. Sometimes it's different, it depends on who you've got and how many hands you have on set.

Tech knowledge

You know that kit back to front, much like the second AC, which I forgot to mention earlier. They also know that kit back to front and know exactly where everything is. You're usually the one who rolls and cuts the camera, and you're the one that says "Mark." Now sometimes, just sometimes, you may be the only AC, and those jobs sometimes suck. But not always.

In the case where you are the only AC, don't stress. You just end up picking up a couple of extra responsibilities that I've mentioned earlier. Unless this is organized with production earlier and they have other people to assist you in the process.

So generally it means you will be building the camera, you'll be performing the gear check, you'll be pulling focus, sometimes you'll be slating, unless they've been really nice and they've got somebody else to slate for you, you'll be swinging lenses, you'll be responsible for data and charging all of the batteries.

But you probably won't have to do camera reports, so that's pretty good. And there we go, that's it in a nutshell.

These are three roles in the camera department and their responsibilities, and as you can see, it varies greatly depending on how big the production is and how much help you have.

Very important skill

I do wanna mention one very important skill that all camera assistants should either have or definitely need to be a successful camera assistant. And that is really strong listening skills. I'm talking, really strong.

Like, your ears are constantly listening out for the next command, or the next movement that you will need to be making, whether it be from the DP or from the first AC, you've just gotta pick these things up and roll with it, and just be as prepared as possible.

It just makes things flow a lot easier when you are on the ball like that. Anyway, thank you very much for reading this article,  I hope you found this helpful then let me know in the comment section below.

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