I was helping a friend with a short film over the weekend. I was the camera assistant, or “AC.” Don’t ask me why the letters get inverted in the acronym.

It’s been a while since I’ve ACed, and to tell the truth, I forgot how much influence a camera assistant can have.

I knew an AC who had a signal worked out with the director. Whenever the director didn’t like the take, but didn’t want to make the actors self-conscious, he’d have the AC announce that the focus was soft, even when it was fine. Sometimes, the AC would make the announcement when he didn’t like the take.

I didn’t actually do that, because we have, thankfully, a great cast. But there’s a subtler form of influence an AC has.

Sometimes, a director or DP will stand on a spot and hold their hand at the level they want the camera.

And whats with that hair?
No one ever actually does this.

Other times, they’ll just vaguely gesture in some direction, and say they want a wide shot, or whatever.

At which point, it’s up to the AC to actually pick the location, find the right height, set the focal length. You know, frame the shot.

Of course, the DP will check the frame, and occasionally they will pan a little or move the camera up or down, but generally, they leave the camera where it is. From a given location, there are a finite number of compositions that can actually work.

Granted, this is a very squishy and indefinable artistic contribution to the project (unlike the line I suggested: “Hurry up! I’ve got an appointment at 3:00, and Chavez isn’t going to assassinate himself.”), but I’ll take what I can get.

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One Response

  1. In an earlier life, I was a DP (DoP on one in Canada) on 16 feature films. The range of direction that I received from directors went from one extreme to the other, as in:

    a: See that cafe across the street? Two actors are going to walk in and then sit down and have a short conversation.


    b: I want the lens to start here, at 3.5 feet high, with a 50mm lens, and shoot it at 4-5.6 split to get me the back wall at least a bit in focus. Snap the focus from this napkin holder to the actors as they enter camera right to left, dolly left to right to counter their move, and have the camera end up at 5 feet high at the end of the track.

    This is why I’m working as a sound mixer these days, I seldom feel like cutting off the flow of oxygen to anyone anymore.

    Jerry w

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