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Old May 31st, 2002, 04:33 PM   #31
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That's it. . .you people are nuts! I am never ever ever working with film; it's decided. I'll do weddings and Bar Mitzvahs forever, and be the only one who ever touches my sweet baby camera (I named her Lucy).
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Old May 31st, 2002, 04:35 PM   #32
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Also, I was recently hired to shoot something, and the director has myself and another cameraman, and was asking me if he ought to have a third camera person to pull focus. I naturally had no earthly idea what he was talking about. Now I do, but it makes no sense as I'm shooting on an XL1s, and the other camera is more than likely something similar. Someone help!
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Old June 1st, 2002, 03:07 AM   #33
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Josh, how about this...when I shoot on DV, I bring along my right-hand man Erwin, who has the following duties:

Can, if needed, set up all the camera gear if I am tied up with the actors or other issues (lighting, etc).

Wrangles cables to the monitor, moves the monitor around as needed.

Unwraps the tapes, labels them, manages them once they are shot.

Pulls focus when needed (as in my prior post, this is rarely)

I haven't yet found an adequate term to describe what he does--it goes beyond "camera tech" and is a bit more comprehensive than "camera assistant", but what's in a name. I should point out that generally I am directing and/or DP'ing on these things, lest you think I'm sitting back and letting him do all the work--my hands are pretty full! This is a setup I find efficient.
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Old June 1st, 2002, 05:59 AM   #34
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Josh,

when you put that XL1 with an 50-100mm range lens baby on a fast moving dolly or crane and go "Tony Scott Style" on those wedding videos you will know what a great fucus puller does. He weeps and begs for mercy!

I recently tried to shoot a fast tracking close up with a 200mm lens on 35mm. We gave up after a couple of hours of steady shooting. It would have looked cool though. And we almost had it.

:)
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Old June 1st, 2002, 04:56 PM   #35
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Ok I guess I get you guys. It comes down to using a more complicated lens than the ISII lens or the manual zoom, as well a more complex setup. I am humbled.
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Old June 1st, 2002, 09:16 PM   #36
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Robert Rodriguiz, Director of EL MARIACHI and DESPERADO , said when he got to Hollywood he couldn't believe they had someone to focus his lens. He didn't think it was cost effective!
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Old June 2nd, 2002, 12:20 AM   #37
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So when I'm watching Enterprise or something (yes I'm a dork) (that is shot on film, right? or is it HD?) someone's rack focusing, independent of the camera operator?
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Old June 2nd, 2002, 05:21 AM   #38
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B. Moore,

Rodriguez also likes to operate his own steadicam. 35mm on a steadicam without a focus puller is simply not possible (unless your on an 18mm in the desert). Most operators use remote focus for this. Some are transmitted radio wave focus controllers.

Josh Bass,

The answer to that is a big yes. I don't know about the guild rules these days but when Sven Nyqvist came over to Hollywood he was chocked that he was not alowed to operate the camera during takes and that there were a team consisting of camera operator, fucus puller, clapper loader and two assistants on his camera. He had been shooting all the great Bergman films with only a focus puller. Sven is also famous (here in Sweden) for never using more than two or three blondies to light studio sets and exteriors. Go Sven!
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Old June 2nd, 2002, 12:23 PM   #39
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I'm working on several short films and a feature and I have to figure a focus puller into all these jobs. Primarily this is because of the mini35, but in truth I expected this to be the case with my 1/2' camera.

Charles is right, video has great latitude for focus, but when it's off a little, you can REALLY tell. The background will inevitably be crisp and the actor in front will just be a little soft. It just bugs the hell out of me. Again, it's probably because it looks focused in the VF, when it reality it's just a shade off.

But when you're talking about 1 foot of critical focus (at best) you're talking about a whole new ball game.

My crew on these films will most likely consist of:

- DP/Camera op
- Focus Puller/AC
- Gaffer
- Key Grip

A four man team that can set up a non dolly shot in an average of 20 minutes. With a dolly it'll take at minimum of 40.

Within this XL-1 forum there are a lot of different type of shooters doing a wide range of projects. In turn different styles of filmmaking. If I'm shooting a band live, I don't have a focus puller, but if I'm shooting a film, I want one.
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Old June 2nd, 2002, 12:23 PM   #40
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Well, maybe I'm missing something, but it just sounds like not too much fun. For the cameraop.
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Old June 2nd, 2002, 12:54 PM   #41
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In turn, it's not very fun to say to the director that the last brilliant take was out of focus. It's just a different working method.

It's when actors move out of their marks that a puller comes into play. Good ones will compensate and they can do this because they can read the dial much better than the camera op.

You also have to consider the different roles that people play with a camera crew. There is just a lot to do.

- move equipment onto the set
- find power
- set power
- set lights
- lay track
- set camera
- check gate/lens
- white balance/check color
- block actors
- adjust lights /flag/dot/scrim/correct
- measure focus
- check DoF against stop
- load camera
- log film, tape
- match takes / lights
- don't blow any fuses
- check for flares
- rehearse / adjust
- etc.

And then you have to do 80% of that again to cover the same scene from a different angle.

I don't know about you, but I'm already having fun just being one cog in a four person team... ;)

And in my case I would be operator as well as DP.
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Old June 2nd, 2002, 01:18 PM   #42
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As usual, Justin and I are posting at exactly the same time. I wrote a lengthy description of the camera operator's job--I don't think it's too redundant after Justin's post, so I'll go ahead and include it here.

Josh:

I can understand how it looks like these rigid union rules "forcing" one to use a gaggle of assistants to do the work for you seem like b.s. Actually, as an operator, you are free to do any of these tasks yourself, i.e. if you insist on pulling your own focus, you can do so. The reality is that in almost all circumstances, a good focus puller will outperform you and nailing shots is what it's all about--there's only so many retakes for focus allowed before you all get sent home.

For me at least, what is fun about being a camera operator is being able to participate in the design of the shots. On the series "Scrubs" that I work on (we are currently in hiatus between seasons), I have established a relationship with the DP that once the director has roughed out what he wants to happen in a given shot, I am then responsible for the execution of all matters camera-related while the DP lights the set. There are a series of steps involved, here is a sort of flow chart:

1) Determine if the camera should go on Steadicam, dolly or handheld

2) Discuss the choice of focal length, which means selecting a prime if needed or using a zoom ("Scrubs" being shot on Super 16mm, we generally use zooms)
a) If Steadicam, have the assistants mount the camera on the rig and order any special configurations
b) If dolly, discuss with the dolly grip whether to use dance floor or track, and determine the limits of the dolly travel in the shot to determine the positioning of same--also choose either the geared head or the fluid head, and anticipate dolly accessories such as risers or offsets that need to be added to allow the camera to get where it needs to go

3) Once the camera is configured, lay out the parameters of the shot using stand-ins. Often this means altering the marks laid for the original actors to allow for more interesting backgrounds or compositions. One must make judgements whether this will alter the blocking enough that a conference with the director and/or DP is appropriate.

4) When the shot design is complete, work with the gaffer and key grip to give them the framelines of the shot so they can work their gear up to the edges without getting into the picture
a) as the lighting process continues, alert the grip/electric team when flags etc. do infringe into the shot--on a multiple position move, this requires keeping a sharp eye out!
b) watch for flares, kicks and reflections of lights and stands, and help with ways to fix them (sometimes a subtle reposition of the camera will save precious minutes of flagging).

5) work with the art department to position set dressing (props, etc) to make the scene looked "lived in" or more interesting, or to block ugly things in the frame. On an exterior, this includes dressing "greens" (portable trees and shrubs).

6) Rehearse he shot with the focus puller and the dolly grip, adding refinements (is it more interesting to boom up at a certain point, would it be more dynamic if we made a little push in at another point)

7) Make sure that the setup will cut properly with the other shots in the scene, which sometimes involves discussions with the script person regarding direction of eyelines, blocking of the action, "crossing the line" issues (I could write an entire book on that subject)

8) Attempt to achieve as much of the preceding in the time available, which usually ends when set lighting is ready. Try not to have anyone wait on you being ready!

9) When the actors are called in and the rehearsal begins, watch closely to determine if they are doing anything different than the original rehearsals before the shot was laid out, and anticipate changes.

10) Do whatever fine-tuning is possible, again trying not to hold up the process. Much judgement is required here. Work with the actors on their body language and timing of their movements if needed to improve the flow fo the shot, and give them marks for off-camera eyelines.

11) "Picture's up"--time to roll the camera. Hopefully you've had enough opportunity to rehearse the move itself so that it's pretty useable from the first take. If not, continue to fine-tune the framing as the takes progress.

12) If the shot is not working physically and you have a solution, making a suggestion in the appropriate fashion to the director and/or DP. Sometimes requires subtly re-blocking, sometimes a radical change.

13) Continue to patrol the frame for "bogies" i.e. reflections, grip gear, boom shadows etc. The changes made in the previous step may open a can of worms, i.e. moving the camera two feet to the left would reveal all kinds of bogies that would take time to fix. Best not to suggest such a thing in that case! Anticipation is key.

14) Closely watch all elements of the action, including the background extras. In the film world, you have a much clearer view of the action through the eyepiece than the folks watching the monitors (this is reversed in the digital world), so you can see things they can't, and are thus responsible for everything in the frame being in the right place.

15) As discussed before, keep an eye on the focus and give the focus puller feedback if he misses anything, or if his choices of when to rack between two characters seem mis-timed. (Are you starting to see why pulling your own focus is just another duty to pile on top of an already large stack?!)

16) When the director has a take he is satisfied with, inform him if it is good technically. Sometimes they will call "Print! Great! Moving on!" and there is much celebrating, while there could have been a small problem with focus or the operating that they missed. Determining if it is enough of a concern to bring up is another acquired skill!


There is even more than that involved, but you get the point. And this is just working as a camera operator--if you are DP'ing as well, add on all the concerns of lighting, mentally planning the next few setups etc. Nevertheless, many feel that the operator position is the most fun job on the set!

However, on some shows the DP will do much of this work for you, handing the camera over just before we are about to roll, and you simply execute the move he has rehearsed (and very often, find things that he missed but there is no time to fix!) This is a much less desirable setup than the one described.

Martin--the union requirements state that there needs to be certain crew members present. There is nothing stopping the DP from operating the camera himself if he wants (and some do, usually the European DP's); the camera operator will go and sit on the truck all day. I've been there too, it sucks. The reason for the requirements is to protect our jobs from being eliminated, that is the job of the union. If the producers have an option not to hire an operator, they will eliminate the position entirely and force the DP to operate. As an operator who understands the benefit of the position, I am obviously not in favor of this!

I should point out that as I mentioned in item 14), in the digital world the operator has a lesser image to view than those watching the monitor, including the DP. This is an excellent reason to use an operator when working with a digital camera; the DP can keep an eye on the image much more effectively. Even though crews are smaller when shooting digitally, I personally feel it's more important than ever to use an operator for this reason.
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Old June 2nd, 2002, 01:56 PM   #43
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I'm in awe.

I don't know if I should be envious, or in fear. Great write up Charles, you just made mine look like amateur hour.

Oh, and do you know where I misplaced my keys?
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Old June 2nd, 2002, 07:50 PM   #44
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Holy cow Charles. We'll have to archive that one on the site. By the way it was great to see you today at ShowBiz Expo.
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Old June 3rd, 2002, 12:13 AM   #45
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Justin--

armature hour? I didn't realize you did stop motion animation--!!

check between the sofa cushions for those keys...

Chris--

Nice to see you and Brooksie today also.

p.s. off subject, but topical--since I mentioned "Scrubs" here--a couple of people have phoned in to tell me that my mug is appearing on "Scrubs" promos airing on NBC this week, which means Tuesday's show is a rerun of an episode in which I made a tiny cameo appearance. If anyone catches it, I'm the befuddled labtech who pops up from behind a window and makes a goofy hands-up shrugging gesture. It was a spontaneous gag on-set that made the final cut, to my surprise--and somehow ended up in the promos, and even on a recent NBC blooper show. Not ready to switch careers yet, nonetheless.
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