Breaking Down the Camera
Once lunch is called and before heading to crafty, the first thing you should do is start breaking down the camera. Other camera assistants may do things slightly different, but this is the process that works for me:
1. Power it down
“Well, duh!” you might be thinking, and you’d be right. Having the camera pulling juice all the while you’re munching away on some catering would be a bad mistake. Nonetheless, this is an important step and so it is listed.
2. Move the camera to a safe place or staging area
The moment I hear official word that it’s lunch time, I move the camera to a safe place on the set or in the staging area with the rest of the camera equipment.
These places are usually:
- In the corner of a room or against a wall
- Away from lights, props, dolly’s
- In places that have low foot-traffic
- Where people won’t be eating
Generally speaking, you want some place low key and away from the action. The camera department staging area is usually the best to take the camera because only those within your department should be venturing there.
3. Get the camera as low as possible
This doesn’t mean that you have to put the camera on a hi-hat, but having the tripod at its lowest is best. Another option is to place the camera on the camera cart if it has a mount.
During lunch you’ll be stepping away from the camera and you don’t want it falling over on its own. I know that sounds silly, but why would you risk it? Take the time to stick down on the tripod and let the camera rest at a comfortable height where it will be more stable.
One last thing, don’t leave the camera tilted up or down — it should always be left level.
4. Remove the lens and filters
Again, in case an accident were to happen, you don’t want a couple thousand dollars worth of lens to break. Second to keeping the camera safe is keeping the lenses safe. I also will remove filters before lunch since they are delicate pieces of glass. How much you decide to remove from the camera after that is really up to preference.
5. Cover the camera
I’ve been on sets where people have thought it was silly that I do this step, but I believe camera assisting is about details and doing it right. Covering the camera = doing it right.
I invested a small amount of money in a space/all-weather blanket (affiliate link) that I throw over the camera. I then use a large “grip clip” to bunch it together around the legs of the tripod.
My bright blue space blanket also lets others who aren’t supposed to be snooping near the camera know to stay away!
Side note: Not only does this space blanket come in handy when breaking for lunch, but it’s also great when shooting exteriors. When I shot in the Valley of Fire, for instance, having a reflective cover for the camera kept the already toasty RED One from overheating in between takes.
Locking Down the Camera
In some instances, you may not be able to move the camera to a safe staging area because you’ll be coming back to the same shot/setup. In that case, attempt to do as many of the steps above as possible. At the very least, you should be able to remove the lens and bring the camera to a lower height.
If you are ever unsure or wary about how you are leaving the camera, express your concerns to the director of photography (DP). If he/she still doesn’t want you to move the camera in any way, have some grips help you secure it with either sandbags or some type of rigging.
It’s your responsibility to speak up if you don’t think the camera is stabilized. Production might think they’re saving time by leaving the camera in place, but if the camera is accidentally tipped over, there won’t be any movie to shoot.
Eat in Peace
Once you have done all this, you’ll be able to enjoy your meal without worrying about the camera. Make the most of it because it is likely the only time during the day where you won’t be watching the camera like a hawk. Of course, all of this assumes that you’ll be able to eat at all.