One button is responsible for some of the greatest artistic statements of a generation. It really has only one flaw, and, well, it’s not really the button’s fault. It’s easy to blame the tools that built the collapsed house, but at the end of the day, someone is holding the hammer. Just like someone presses the button.
It was my fault. I knew that and I was also the only one who knew what had just happened. There was a whirlwind of inner turmoil, the kind of storm that brews between a guilty conscience and a knowing instinct. Instinct knows that announcing bad news makes things worst.
But what was I supposed to do? I HAD to tell someone. It wouldn’t make me look good, but neither would not telling anyone. This is what is commonly referred to as a “lose-lose” situation.
The way I work on set is to methodically break down problems before I bring them to the attention of anyone else. Problems solved without anyone knowing a problem existed in the first place are the best because they stay invisible. It keeps stress levels low and expectations on par. A true professional knows when to ask for help, but also when not to panic others.
This time, however, I don’t think there was a fix to a problem. I had forgotten to hit that button. The slate clapped, the director said “action!” and I had forgotten to hit that tiny red circle that triggers the red light, throws a “REC” on the monitor, and captures the images thrown into the lens.
It wasn’t until the next setup was being lit that I found out my mistake. I went to check if there was a misslate and started to playback the footage. I knew we had done three takes, but I only had two clips of the one shot. My heart dropped.
There are tons of mistakes that can be made by a camera assistant, and plenty of them forgivable. Soft focus is acceptable every now and then because it’s attributable to human error with tons of factors involved. A delay on camera due to a dirty lens or a depleted battery are issues that arise without the control of an AC. But not even recording on a take is inexcusable.
By now the day had already been 10 hours long with the throes of the shoot in the bag. The director of photography was stressed and everyone was weary. I immediately asked my 2nd to watch the camera as I left to go deliver the somber news to the DP.
When I found him outside smoking, I knew this wasn’t going to go well. He only smoked when he was stressed out and had been trying to quit for sometime. I politely pulled him aside and told him, “I really hate to have to tell you this, but that last take of that last scene, I didn’t hit record. We didn’t get it”
He took a long draw of his cigarette and said, “well, I’m not gonna go tell [the director]. You have to go tell him”
I nodded and left to find our director, understanding that it was my responsibility. Before I left, however, the DP reminded me, “that was the only take where we racked.” He was referring to a rack focus between the two characters, a decision to do so was only made on the last take.
Once back on set, I found the director and quickly told him the scenario. He took the news rather well, explaining that it was OK because we had other takes and it was only a close-up. He certainly could’ve been more angry than he was and I would’ve understood. I’m glad he wasn’t.
Guilt ridden with what I had done, I went back to the camera to triple confirm that indeed the take was gone. I didn’t think it would really be there – I just wanted to see if I had racked focus on any of the other takes.
Take one… nope.
Take two… nope.
I let it play out to the end of the scene and then realized the clip hadn’t ended. It was still playing and suddenly a slate popped into the screen: TAKE 3. I laughed at myself and smiled, it hadn’t been deleted or not recorded at all! I just forgot to cut after take two, a mistake still, but a much more harmless one nonetheless (and less costly since it was a digital shoot).
I immediately tracked down the director and told him to forget what I said, to which he was too busy with something else to care anyway. I also found the DP to let him know it was all OK and that I indeed had NOT screwed up majorly and hopefully to quell whatever annoyance he had with me at the moment. He was relieved but still stern in his reaction. For him, it wasn’t a bygone-be-bygone, it was a close-call that could’ve gone the other way.
Though I had escaped unscathed by the incident, it didn’t come without its healthy serving of humble pie. For a brief few minutes, I had to ingest my pride and take responsibility for what was a silly mistake. From now on, whenever I am on set, I remember the humility that I felt that day and strive to work better from it. It also showed me that people can be understanding if you are honest with what has happened and don’t try to cover it up. “In the end, it’s only a movie,” I always say.
So, next time your finger brushes that red “REC” button on the side of a camera, remember how easy it is to miss the moment. For as powerful as the camera is, none of it matters until that button clicks.