10 Days as Mark Hobz'z Second AC | By Frederique Imbert
Mark Hobson, Hobz, (but I call him Aussie, cause he's Australian) works in the Cinema business. As his brand manager, I have to promote his camera and production business, that's my job.
One day, he sends me a message on Facebook.
-Hey, I am going back to the US to be a cam operator. Wanna come and shoot with me in the USA?
- Uuuuuuh..... You're kidding me, right?
- No, not at all! I just want to take some of my best with me because I want to invest in them. So among other people, I thought of you.
- I got no money to follow you to the US, Aussie. But thanks for thinking of me!
- Well, I am inviting you. I am spending my salary to buy you guys a ticket and accommodation.
What do you want to say to that, apart from a big fat yes?! Of course I followed Aussie. He got me a part in a job he was coaching me with for months: he made me a 2nd Assistant camera.
So what are your duties as a second assistant camera?
First thing you gotta learn? What are the main parts of the job? What are the tips and tricks you should keep in mind ?
But before starting, I wanna give a warning message.
My point of view is totally subjective because this was the one and only title I had as a Second AC. So no, I am not a film school rat lab, I only know the job on the field, on a camera that I know pretty well now, a red epic dragon. And I worked with a single camera, camera A. Pros will certainly will have a lot to say about it. But you gotta start somewhere, right?
Your job is to make the camera crew - operator and 1st AC'S - jobs as easy and smooth as possible, from providing power to make sure the recorded material is in the right hands as soon as it is printed. It means you are the first link.from the camera to the editing room, not only because you hanf the memory card to the DIT, but also thanks to all the information you provide on a slate you clap before every take of a scene
. With this info, the movie editor can do 2 things. First, he finds the right takes easily among the hundreds that have been shot, thanks to the scene and take number you put on the slate . Second, he can synchronise the video and the sound.
As you may need to work with each and every one in the crew, get to know everyone's role, even more if you want to make it in meaningful productions, like the American or the australian ones.
Open your eyes and ears.
When you tech scout, check out the Director's and DP'S vision of the shots.
It's the camera operator's job to reckon the kind of gear for each scene, but knowing the inventory will make your life easy to assist him. As time is money when you gotta shoot, you will make the most of the camera crew's time to know what gear is needed, where and when. So get ready to know the checklist, whether the gear is complete and works properly and the riggged camera is handled at the right time, to the right operator.
On the shooting site, first set the video village while the cam operator is preparing the camera. Many people in the crew use these splits: the director, the script supervisor, the director of photography, the first AD, the make up artists, the dressing crew, the art crew, the boom crew, the light and grip crew... everyone locks what happens on the screen, before rolling.
Juice for the crew
now we're on set, the routine starts: set out the video village while the cam operator deals with the camera.
I made sure I had power for all the gear, from the remotest monitor to every charging station. Keep in mind that the more you use the power switch the better.
If you are in a remote location where you have no direct access to a power station, have some mobile batteries ready and fully charged. In the case of and Indie movie like the one I am working, your charging station might be close to the gaffer or the boom team, who will gracefully provide the power you need. Have stingers / extension cables and switch boards. The camera is connected to a radio transmitter, make sure the monitors / splits get that signal.
Setting a video village
Per se, it's not very complicated. From a transmitter you connect to the camera, which is connected to a receiver that is connected through a SDI cable to the split / monitor. Connect as many monitors as you need wether with additional cables and receivers.
Aaaaah, that's the super cool part of the job and the only thing people remember about the camera work. Clapping is so cool, hey? Your place on the set is central thanks to the slating. You get very close to your actors, making sometimes pretty funny situations.
When you slate, you help the editing room find its way in the dozens of Terabytes of footage, thanks to the information you put on the slate. You call the slate out loud to give the sound engineers the exact position where the sound plays on the video footage. The clapping of the sticks gives the mark to position sound and image perfectly. In thé editing room, they used to check which frame of the slate was perfectly sharp when slating. But now, with the universal tile code on the set, a way to sinchronze bt the frame image and sound, slates were equipped with digital time code freezing when the slate was clapped.
The script supervisors is your best resource on set. He or she gives you the scene number.
General rules for a movie us to give a number plus a letter. The first scene is a number, and every different angle of the same scene is sub-divided with letters.
The only thing I know? I had 3 different slates in hand and they all looked different.
Preparing your slate
A slate is composed of 2 parts:
- the information board.
- the sticks.
PRO TIP: cut two strips of the soft part of a velcro. Roll them around the whiteboard marker. Stick a long band of the hard part of the velcro behind the slate. Voilà! Your marker will stick to the slate effortlessly.
Updating the slate
Generally, slates require:
Production name, director name, camera operator or DP's name, and camera number. You can prepare these in advance, writing it down on a piece of gaffer tape on gaffer or print them ahead, as you will not need to update this information for the whole time of the job.
Depending on the slates and the editing room data required, you will include:
- the number of frames per second / FPS
- the lens type,
- the ND type,
How to slate properly?
Recording the shots
Obviously, when scenes have been recorded, first thing you want is to make the hot potato to the DIT, who can be anyone in the crew in small indie films like I have done with Project Eden.
Another great tip from my coach: tape the memory cards with tape on the reading side of the card, so that the DIT knows it has not been unloaded yet.
It helps the actors and camera crew to embrace rhe director's vision of the shot. Professional T markers are heavy enough to be windproof, made of metal or filled with sand. If you have no choice and make some yourself, make them not too thick, to avoid anyone to stumble upon them. Sometimes, if the floor material allows it, gaffer tape does the trick.
PRO TIP: the steady cam operator cannot see the T marks on the floor because he is watching his screen. When he has to move during rolling, not only hewas guided by rhe main cam operator whi would guide jim by holding him by the back of the best, but he also asked me to make a V shaped gaffer tape mark, long enough so he could see them a couple of steps before landing on his mark, so his eyes can catch the mark a couple of steps before landing on it. Perfect when he walks backwards.
2nd AC tool checklist is extensive but there are some basics you will need:
- a rag to clean the lenses and NDs. It's part of your job that they are always neat, fingerprint and dust free.
- For the sticky, greasy stains, get some antistatic product and some tissues to wipe off any excess product.
- You can also have a blower, but they might just blow the dust into the devices themselves, so use them toroughly, only if you have no other option.
- several whiteboard markers. You will need them to write on the slate. You should also have a fine spare one in case you first AC needs it to write his marks on the focus pulling ring.
- gaffer tape. Useful for marking the avtors, slating, fixing cables... Get fine ones (1-inch / 3 cm thick) and in at least 3 different colours to cope with any situation.
- permanent markers, a pen, a chalk pen, to write down on any surface.
- T markers.
- a mini torch light. Very useful when the set is dark, check the lenses in depth, or to light the sticks on the slate.
Other useful tools include:
- cable wraps
- a level bubble
- camera wedges / chims, for small adjustments of the camera angle,
- a voltmeter,
- a screwdriver
As the cam crew, you get prime access to info on set. Even if it's not your job, you should listen to the conversations between the director, 1st AD, DP and Cam operator. You will get to know and anticipate their needs for lense or ND change, moving a monitor,
As un any tech job, troubleshoot solving us pretty common. Losing a split, or power is very common so be ready to deal with it in addition to the work you have to do between takes.
Written by Frederique Imbert