Have you ever tried to use a piece of camera tape outdoors to mark an actor?
It isn’t easy. Often the ground is uneven or the texture not well-suited for adhesive tape.
While these difficulties don’t manifest on every shot, they do crop up enough to give them notice. Luckily, 1st AC Brian Andrews has a brilliantly elegant — and cheap! — solution.
I was first made aware of Brian’s idea through the comment he left on my post, The Ultimate Toolkit for Camera Assistants:
One thing I have in my kit is a golf ball and golf tees, but not for goofing around. I use the tees for outdoor markers in grass, dirt, etc. in a shot where the camera might see the ground in front of the talent. They are super hard for the camera to spot and easy for our eyes to spot. I use the golf ball to push the tees into the ground because it’s pretty much the perfect tool for pushing them into hard packed ground. Hope that is useful to others!
After having a camera assistant geek-out moment, I spoke with Brian through email about his method and he was kind enough to share some pictures:
Brian also elaborated more on the process involved:
Basically, I use the cheapest tees I can find. Different colors for either different people or different positions the actors stop at. The golf ball is used to press the tees in. If the ground is hard and you try to use something else, you usually end up breaking the tee. The last picture is about 5 feet from the tee — it’s right in the middle of the shot — but you can’t see it at all unless you look really hard. The camera never picks them up, even when it’s projected onto a big screen. Also, I can’t take all the credit for this: I learned it from an AC friend of mine named Chloe Weaver. She’s a beastful AC who I’ve learned a lot from.
Normally for marking actors outdoors I use a piece of chalk or these DIY steel T-marks, but these methods are blatantly obvious if the camera were to pick them up. Obviously, you can’t expect the audience to suspend their disbelief if they see a group of actors all standing on white “X’s” drawn on the asphalt, so in those situations, I’m left without any marks at all.
What is perfect about Brian’s solution is the golf tee blends into the environment even if the camera catches it on screen. It also isn’t that out of the ordinary to see golf tees strewn about a lawn, field, or grassy area in real life, so these marks “play” more than camera tape.
This is exactly the kind of ingenious creativity that defines camera assisting — you have to be able to find pragmatic solutions to unique problems. Brian and Chloe have solved the issue of hard-to-spot outdoor focus marks in a way that I never would have thought of in my wildest dreams.
Thankfully he was kind enough to share it!
Have you ever tried using golf tees as outdoor marks? Do you use a similar method? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!