Smooth and steady.
Today, we shot one scene in which the main characters meet for the first time to discuss the space mission they’re about to embark on at a banquet held in their honor. It was a “dinner table” scene with four kids and we had to get enough coverage to cut between the criss-crossing conversation.
Other than a few inserts of the characters’ parents in the background and our piano-playing Assistant Director filling in as an organist, the entire day was spent shooting the table conversation.
(I was reminded of watching a director’s roundtable with Peter Jackson where he said he hates filming these scenes and was completely overwhelmed by the amount of coverage needed in the meeting of the fellowship scene in the first Lord of the Rings. Thank God we only had four characters!)
None of the work the crew does matters if what’s inside the frame sucks. Sure we get paid and some people still get good-looking stuff for their reel, but ultimately the work is more rewarding when it’s a movie you enjoy watching.
So it was a relief to see our kid talent do an excellent job in their acting. One of the kids who’s meant to be a brat played it so well that I had to remind myself between takes not to dismiss him as a person because of who his character is.
As I mentioned in the Day 1 post, if something crazy had happened it’d make for a more dramatic blog post, but the day was cut-and-dry. So instead, that makes for a more relaxed me. A fair trade.
Dolly In, Dolly Out, Dolly Side-to-Side
The camera spent a sizable part of the day on the dolly: pushing in, pushing out, and our first shot was a right-to-left lateral move.
When not on the dolly, the camera was otherwise on sticks which, as a camera assistant, makes my job easier. When the camera is on solid ground versus handheld on the camera operator’s shoulder, it means I don’t have to baby it between setups and can get more reliable focus marks.
I always make sure to grab at least three marks on dolly moves:
- Start mark (number 1 position)
- End mark (number 2 position)
- Middle mark (between both)
The key is to know the right place to grab the middle mark. I suggest not going for directly in the middle since distance markings on lenses are on a logarithmic scale – that means the closer you get to a subject, the longer you have to turn the focus ring to cover a certain distance.
Because of that, it’s actually best to get your “middle” mark closer to whichever start or end mark is closest to the subject. So, as an example, if you’re doing a dolly push-in from 15 feet to 5 feet, you’d get your “middle” mark around 8 feet.
Of course, none of your marks matter without a reliable dolly grip and the grip crew on this production treats us camera folk nicely by landing on their marks with precision (thus preserving mine) and entertaining constant requests to “go back to one” or “keep going, I’ll tell you when to stop.”
So thank you to Nate and “Magic” Mike – I’ll owe you a beer by the end of this shoot, I’m sure.
Focus Pulling is Simple, Right?
I’ve talked a lot about focus pulling in this first week and that’s no accident. As 1st Assistant Camera, it is one of my primary responsibilities and arguably the most important. It is one of the few things I do that has a direct influence on the quality of the visuals and an audience’s perception of the film.
Because of that, I spend much of my time on-set making sure shots are in focus.
Sometimes this is as easy as getting a single mark for a master wide shot, setting it, and not touching the follow focus wheel.
Sometimes it means “winging it” with your hand constantly toggling the focus wheel while using a single “homebase” mark as an actor or actress leans forward and back throughout a scene.
Sometimes the process is more complicated, like when on a dolly, and involves grabbing many marks and remembering line-readings, distances, and other touchstones in your head to stay in control of the focal plane.
Even then, focus pulling isn’t that complicated. The idea is simple: match the distance of the lens focus ring to the distance of what you want in focus.
As Sam Garwood eloquently puts it, focus pulling is a “really simple, difficult job.”
And it’s a job I enjoy doing and have enjoyed doing thus far on Assassinaut. With a great crew – amongst whom many are friends – of talented individuals both in-front-of and behind the camera, I’m happy to be able to contribute in some way.
Day 3 Wrap Out
• I have decided to grow an “Assassinaut Beard” and not shave until we wrap the movie. I fully expect the beard to contribute and correlate with an increase in gripping skills.
• My 2nd AC has started wearing my old AC pouch (which is really just a belt pack) that I bought before Ghosts Don’t Exist when I had no experience on a set. Ah, nostalgia. It makes me proud that it lives on to serve for another feature!
• The ability to deflect people from outside your department using your paper tape is an art I feel I have mastered. At $6/roll, I guard my tape like it’s my retirement savings.
• Parking always seems like a clusterf**k when shooting in a city. I was relieved that I managed to find the right lot after 5 loops around the block and I didn’t go home with a parking ticket.
I love the wad of paper tape, kimwipes, and candy wrappers that comes out of my back pocket at the end of everyday #cameraassistantlife
— Evan Luzi (@evanluzi) July 11, 2015