There’s an old camera department joke that asks, “How many camera assistants does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
The answer: 5 — one to do it and four to tell you how they did it on the last job.
It’s a great joke about the stubborn individuality with which camera assistants approach their job. Nowhere on this site is this quality more prevalent than in Comment Corner.
Each week, through experience and intellect, you’ll find plenty of camera assistants telling you the right way to screw in a light bulb — or at least how they would do it.
This Week’s Comments
Here are this week’s comments in no particular order
1. Adam Richlin on It’s Always Your Fault, So Stop Making Excuses
I was working with a young electric who was cleaning up a set during a location move. It was a small gig, and he was the only electric on for the day. He did all the setup and takedown for lighting gear, but was not exactly experienced enough to be calling the shots for gaffing.
So that afternoon, he picked up a Joker 400 or 800 HMI with interchangeable lenses, not knowing the lens was not secured on the front of the head. Lamp comes up, lens crashes down and explodes in a fine mist of glass shards like an expensive firework. He stands there for a second. The whole set is staring at him, *dead* silent.
He’s alone in the middle of the room.
He puts his hand on his chin, thinks for a second. Stands straight up, puts one hand on his hip and points at the remains of the lens. He loudly proclaims (with a sense of humor)”That! That. Thaaa-ooooh dear… Not it!”We all busted out laughing at it. He got a laugh, too. Later he got his ass kicked by the producer, admitted his mistake hat-in-hand, and the day went on.
Still works for me all the time, too. Only now I have someone else carry the Jokers.
2. Jared Abrams on Do You Make Marks on the Lens or Follow Focus?
I would suggest a few things here.
Marking the lens via lens chart tape works well. This will also let you add marks that might not be there by the manufacture. Marking on the lens itself via a grease pen works well too. This was the gold standard in 35mm motion picture.
Another suggestion would be to use small triangles of cloth tape on your follow focus disc rather than using a pen. This makes for fast changes and does not leave any marks on the disc.
Best practice would be to use the force and know where you want to be on the lens without any marks at all. It’s not like the actor is actually going to hit the mark anyway.
Today I was chatting with the DP of the gig I’m on, and he used to be a legendary camera assistant here. He said something very similar to “use the force.”
He said that if you want to be a good focus puller, your job is to learn to judge distance and then use that knowledge almost by instinct or second nature. He also dismissed assistants measuring everything and using laser rangefinders, and of course he’s totally against those who pull focus by watching a monitor, whether it’s a small one on the camera or a HD away from it.
He said something like: “If you want to pull focus, your job is to learn how to judge distances and master it. Then you can be creative and you can get in the scene, and that’s the whole point. If you measure everything, you’re not a focus puller, you’re a guy who measure distances. And if you use one of those laser rangefinders all the time, it tells me only one thing about you; you’re lazy”.
4. Michael on Do You Make Marks on the Lens or Follow Focus?
What I don’t agree with, is that people still oppose watching a monitor.
In times of 4K HD productions being able to judge focus is crucial. I’m not talking about pulling focus only by watching a monitor, that’s nearly impossible and you’ll always be “to late”. But it’s nice to have a reference and sometimes being able to readjust focus especially when you have very shallow depth of field.
5. Steveo on What to Do When You Fly with Film and Video Gear
When you start to figure in the baggage costs ( always request MEDIA RATE, have some proof of work, even if its a note on prod co letterhead ) it may be faster / simpler / easier to rent on the other end then deal with the hassle and expense never mind risk… or fly private charter :)
Share Your Voice
Even if I asked you to, I could never learn all your neat tips and tricks — but it doesn’t hurt to try!
So if you’ve got a question or piece of advice, I invite you to share it in the comments section of this site. It helps those who are just starting out and hey — it’s good Karma.
You do want good Karma, right?