What is a First Assistant Camera and What is their Job on Set?
A First Assistant Camera is responsible for adjusting or adapting the focus to accommodate changes to the focal length (distance of the camera lens from the subject) when characters are moving closer or further away from the camera. The First Assistant Camera (AC) is usually requested by the Director of Photography or the Camera Operator and works on a freelance basis. Working hours are long and demanding in this role.
First Assistant Camera Job
Previously known as the Focus Puller, the First Assistant Camera has a highly skilled position and is responsible for consistently focusing and refocusing the camera lens as actors are moving within the frame of the shot. First ACs don’t use the lens to guide their adjustments to the camera but instead pull focus according to various complex marks that are placed on the set during the Director’s rehearsal time with the cast. These marks are placed on the floor, props, and in various locations. First Assistant Cameras utilize instinct and their experience, which improves over time, to judge focal lengths. They won’t know just how sharp the focus was until the rushes are screened, and, since re-shooting is expensive, First ACs must be extremely reliable in the instinct and experience to ensure the shoot is effective the first time.
First Assistant Camera Responsibilities
First Assistant Cameras have several responsibilities in relation to focus including maintaining camera equipment such as lenses, filters and matte boxes and properly assembling the camera for upcoming shots. As such, they often arrive on set or in the studio before much of the production team to ensure that the camera and all lenses required are prepared and ready before the day’s shoot is set to begin.
The First Assistant Camera will work with the Director of Photography to adjust camera specifications and tryout different lenses allowing them to look through the eyepiece to assess the shot. When the shooting day commences, First ACs are responsible for properly cleaning and packing away camera equipment in preparation for the following day. If problems arise with the rushes, such as scratched film or other related incidents, the First AC will liaise with the Film Lab to correct any problems with camera equipment or stock and ensure proper filming takes place.
First Assistant Camera Skills
Several essential duties are carried out by the First Assistant Camera each day on set. They must instinctively pull focus which requires them to utilize deep knowledge of cameras, equipment, lenses and production to ensure their technique is spot on, always. They must also have expert knowledge of film processing including photo-chemical and digital processes.
Responsibilities and skills of the First Assistant Camera may include:
- Utilizing exception eyesight to accurately judge the distance between camera and actors.
- Ability to use agile movement and speed to the advantage to pull focus quickly and effectively.
- Strong physical stamina and endurance.
- Precision and strong focus on detail.
- Intuitive focus and the sensitivity to work with actors, artists and crew members to achieve desired results.
- Inherent knowledge of Health and Safety legislation to ensure safety on set.
Film Nexus uploaded a short but informative video on the role of a First Assistant Camera: