30 Tips for being an Outstanding Camera Assistant

23 Nov

How to become a great Camera Assistant:

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Being a professional Camera Assistant can be the hardest job on the crew. It carries more responsibility than most people think and even worse… while everyone else is on a tea break, the Camera Assistant is usually working, loading magazines, filling out Camera Report Sheets or organizing the camera equipment for the next set-up.

The stuff I’ve written here is based on film camera assistants but the rules apply for video assistants too. So, without further ado… let us begin!

All experienced camera crews working at the top end of the film and TV industry such as   Cinematographers, Lighting Camera men/women, Camera Operators and Focus Pullers, have all done their time as Camera Assistants.

My trusty Ronford F4 has proven its worth all over the world! Pah! Look at that flimsy, pathetic thing in the background, quaking in fear of the mighty Ronford! (And I don’t mean the soundman!)

Those who have not done there time as Camera Assistants are generally not in the league that I refer to above!

Sorry I know this may raise a few eyebrows but that’s the way it is. OK I’ve been around a while; I’m ‘Old School’ just look at my photos – I’m no spring chicken! I even have a Ronford F4 tripod to prove it. Not for me the flimsy lightweight carbon fiber efforts you get these days. Indeed even though my trusty three legged friend weighs considerably more than four and a half bags of wet cement and after carrying it for more than ten minutes you need revitalizing with a doughnut and a cup of tea (any excuse!), I wouldn’t swap it for the world. No…I love my trusty Ronford and my shoulders have the scars to prove it! …Anyway back to the story.

Camera Assistants are usually the first people to start work and the last people to finish. You could conclude from this that the Camera Assistants work load is enormous, which of course it is; on the other hand you could mistakenly surmise that the rest of the camera crew are just lazy – how on earth could that possibly be!?

Anyway here goes – My Top 30 Tips for being an outstanding Camera Assistant.

  1. Always be a good time keeper and turn up at least 15 minutes before you are expected to start work. General rule of thumb: “If you’re on time… you’re late!”
  2. Strive to be efficient and organized – Your aim is to be an outstanding Assistant. (Never aim for mediocrity, it won’t get you anywhere.)
  3. When the camera is not in use keep it low on the tripod or preferably keep it in a safe place on the ground. Always place it on a groundsheet and protect it from moisture or dust with the rain cover.  Remember: “If it’s on the ground, it can’t fall any further!”
  4. In extremely hot weather conditions protect the camera from direct sun by shading with an

    My trusty “Magic Arm”… DEFINITELY invest in one of these.

    umbrella. (A Magic Arm is great for clamping an umbrella to a lighting stand or the tripod)

  5. When you are on a shoot, always try to listen in on conversations between the Director and the Cinematographer or Camera Operator. You can pick up on stuff and anticipate what will be needed next. (A big part of being a great Assistant is anticipating and being ready in advance)
  6. Work to a system; don’t make up your own rules and ways of doing things. When you are working with experienced film and TV professionals there’s a proven way of doing things and you will be expected to follow the rules. Experienced crews know the right and wrong way of doing things so don’t try and be clever and re invent the wheel. It will not be appreciated by people who know what they are doing, they’ll just think you are an idiot and they won’t book you again!
  7. Always have camera batteries charged to be ready at a moment’s notice.
  8. If working on film, load Magazines quickly and always have a loaded ‘Mag’ at the ready. (Same applies to tape stock/data cards if on video and digital)
  9. Keep all camera Rushes safe – I cannot overemphasize the importance of this one! Looking after Rushes is your responsibility alone, if you lose footage or the footage gets damaged because of your negligence you will be fired immediately! Be warned.
  10. Be polite and friendly to everyone. (Yes even the soundman!)
  11. Tell lots of really bad jokes, preferably to the detriment of other departments, and naturally never about the flawless work of the camera department!
  12. Look after the rest of the camera crew. If you’ve got any down time during a shoot (which is highly unlikely) fetch teas and coffees for the rest of the crew. (Oh and don’t forget the doughnuts, even if you don’t like doughnuts pretend to eat them in front of the sound department. It’s well worth the effort just to aggravate them all!) 
  13. DON’T hang the Clapper Board off your belt. This is for posers! If you walk off set with the clapper board still in your belt, the cameras can’t roll until you get back. Always leave the clapper board near the camera. And DON’T ever wear your cap backwards… you’ll just look like a pretentious pratt.
  14. Whenever the opportunity arises clean the camera body and accessories feverishly.
  15. Always have the Rain Cover at the ready, even if you work in sunny L.A. and especially if you work in the rainy U.K.!
  16. If you don’t have a rain cover handy (shame on you haha) use your jacket to protect the camera.
  17. Always, always… always use a rain cover when filming on a boat, on the sea or on a beach. Salt water is a killer to camera equipment. Even a gentle sea breeze on a sunny day will contain minute particles of salt water which will get into the equipment. The worse thing about salt water is that the effects aren’t always immediately apparent. If camera kit is exposed to sea water or spray, it may be several months before the corrosive effect of the salt water takes its toll.
  18. Keep lenses and filters clean and protected at all times.
  19. If the camera is on the tripod NEVER lift the camera and tripod using the camera grab handle. This handle is only designed to take the weight of the camera it is NOT designed to take the weight of the tripod as well!
  20. Keep track of all the equipment especially on Night Shoots when equipment can easily go astray and get lost.
  21. The gear always comes first which means using plastic sheeting to keep camera support equipment dry during a rain storm. It’s ok for you to get wet that’s no big deal, if the gear gets wet and stops working… that’s a major deal!
  22. During shooting (especially when shooting with a film camera) stand on the left side of the camera close to the Camera Operator. If the Operator needs you to do something while the camera is turning over and you are on the other side (right hand side) of the camera the Operator can’t get your attention so easily.
  23. If you are using a Clapper Board know how to use it in the correct way. Here’s some excellent advice: 25 Tips to Help You Slate Like a Pro.
  24. Monitor virgin (unused) tape and film stock and keep the camera department aware if stock situation looks like it may be running low.
  25. Don’t fool around while filming or in fact anytime you are working on set. There is a time and a place for everything. You can work hard and play hard but keep the two separate!
  26. Treat hire equipment as if it’s your own. It’s totally unprofessional and unacceptable to mishandle hired camera gear, just because it’s from a rental company. It’s precision equipment, treat it with total respect because if you don’t I guarantee it will be noted by other members of the crew. To professionals, this type of sloppy work ethic is like red rag to a bull!
  27. When carrying the camera always protect it from possible obstacles you are walking past.  Be aware of lighting stands, door frames or anything that would cause damage if the camera hit against.
  28. Use  a good Camera Assistants bag preferably a Porta Brace or a Billingham . Kit your bag out with a comprehensive set of accessories like pens (permanent/non-permanent), cable ties, scissors, dust-off, lens cleaner/tissue and cloth, camera tape (white/black), set of screwdrivers, Swiss-army knife, LED torch, 1” paint brush an so on . Here is a great place to get all this stuff Film Tools
  29. Work with as many different types of cameras as possible so that you can easily switch from one type of job to another. If you want to be a successful freelance Camera Assistant you will need to have a working knowledge of as many cameras as possible, flexibility and versatility are key elements to being exceptional.
  30. Be meticulous, keep up to date with all the current camera technology, learn as much as you can about your craft and perhaps most important of all, know that your job carries great responsibility so take your career seriously and be proud of what you do.

(*WARNING* SHAMELESS PLUG IMMINENT!)
I actually run a Camera Operators Course so click the link or get in touch, if you’re interested in coming and learning in person! I really hope you’ve enjoyed this post, please be sure to share it with your mates (it’s free!!) – I want to try and get this info to the people who want it! Oh and please show your support by following us on facebook and twitter (it’s free!!), and if you’re interested in receiving updates and future e-books then sign up in the email form to the right.

Anyway, I hope you find these tips useful and wish you the best of luck with your now doubt illustrious career! End Board. It’s a wrap!

Free Spirit Film & TV
Film, TV & Online Video Production.

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11 Responses to “30 Tips for being an Outstanding Camera Assistant”

  1. Jamie O'Flynn March 8, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Reblogged this on jamesoflynn.

  2. Phil Mash February 20, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

    Very good. I’d agree with all of that. Watch out mentioning ‘working on film’ though. Most ‘film people’ work on solid state these days. Only features and commercials with huge budgets can afford to shoot on 35mm film. Most Hollywood productions are solid state these says.

    Very good advice for all camera assistants.

    • freespiritfilm February 28, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

      Hi Phil, thanks for the great comment – glad you enjoyed the post.

      I mentioned working on film because it’s still very much part of the industry and I think it’s important that people maintain the standards that go with shooting film; of course many features are being shot digitally these days, but there are still a large percentage of productions that choose film over digital. And this blog was designed for people of all skill levels, not just beginners.

      Hope to see some more comments/feedback from you in the future 🙂 Welcome aboard!

  3. Shmuley September 18, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    Wow, this is the best advise I have found about this topic and work ethics on the web. I would love to feature you and your site on my blog (this is NOT a spam :). I write about entrepreneurial and career hacks for filmmakers. How can I get in touch with you via email?

    • freespiritfilm September 19, 2014 at 10:54 am #

      Looking forward to our chat later today! Thanks for your kind words 🙂

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