Camera Assistant (1st)

What do Camera Assistant (1st)s do?

When characters in films run out of a burning building or simply walk across a room to open the door, they are usually moving closer or further away from the camera. This means that the focal length — the distance of the camera lens from the subject — is constantly changing. Adapting or "pulling" focus to accommodate these changes is the main responsibility of the 1st Assistant Camera (AC). 1st ACs are usually requested by the director of photography or the camera operator and work on a freelance basis. Hours are long and the work can be physically demanding.

What is the job?
The role of the 1st AC (until recently known as Focus Puller) is one of the most skilled jobs on a film crew. 1st ACs are responsible for focusing and refocusing the camera lens as actors move within the frame of each shot, but they do not look though the lens to do this; they pull focus according to a set of complex marks (which are placed on the set, on the floor, on props, etc., during the director's on set rehearsal time with the cast), and by using their instincts and experience of judging focal lengths. As it is impossible to see whether the focus is sharp until the rushes are screened, 1st ACs rely on experience and instinct for each focal adjustment. Because reshooting scenes is expensive, and actors may be unable to recreate their best take, 1st ACs must be extremely reliable and good at their work, and should be able to cope effectively in stressful situations.

1st ACs are also responsible for camera equipment such as lenses, filters and matte boxes, and for assembling the camera and its accessories for different shots. 1st ACs arrive on set or in the studio before the director, director of photography and camera operator, and ensure that the camera and all required lenses are prepared for the day's shoot. If the director or DoP wants to try out a specific lens, the 1st AC assembles the camera so that they can look through the eyepiece to assess the shot. At the end of each shooting day, 1st ACs clean the equipment and pack it up in preparation for the next day. If there is a problem with the rushes (such as a scratch on the film), focus pullers liaise with the film lab to rectify any faults with the camera or stock.

Typical career routes:
Since becoming a 1st AC is about acquiring hands on experience, it is essential to serve an apprenticeship, starting out as a camera trainee and progressing to become a 2nd then 1st AC. Some 1st ACs may start out by working at a junior level in a film lab or camera equipment facilities house. However, since the essence of the job is learning how to gauge focal length to such a degree that it becomes second nature, being around working cameras and learning how to use them is a crucial part of any apprenticeship. Some of the best 1st ACs see this role as an end in itself and make a good living; others go on to become directors of photography.

Essential knowledge and skills:
1st ACs must develop their ability to pull focus to such a degree that it becomes instinctive. This requires excellent knowledge of cameras, lenses and all related equipment. They must also keep up to date with new techniques and equipment. They need expert knowledge of photochemical and digital film processing.

Key Skills include:
good eyesight and the ability to accurately judge distances
agility and speed
precise attention to detail
ability to collaborate and to work as part of a team
diplomacy and sensitivity when working with artists and crew
physical stamina and strength
knowledge of the requirements of the relevant health and safety legislation and procedures

There are 1851 members with the job title Camera Assistant (1st) on Media Match

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Job description sources include (but are not limited to), and wikipedia.