What advice would give someone looking to be an AC or Camera PA

Hey, everyone so I have to decided to enter the camera department. I have finished Film School at Cal State Long Beach. I want to eventually be a DP, but I know I must start as either an Camera PA or 2nd AC. What advice would you give to find opportunities?

Dan MaxXx

Work at a camera Rental house in Los Angeles. From there, meet the next younger wave of ACs and 2nds.

David Trotti

Dan's suggestion of working at a rental house is solid. It'll give you access to equipment and knowledgeable people. But if you want to be a DP you should go be a DP outside the IA and do shorts and non-union features till you build up a reel and connect with Directors who will bring you onto a Local 600 project as a DP. Being a camera assistant 9 times out of 10 leads to being a camera assistant for your whole career and maybe moving up to operator if you're lucky. It's not like it was in the early days of the business where film required years of experience to master because you didn't have the ability to see what you're capturing live and making a mistake was incredibly costly. If you can show artistic skill lighting and composing shots and gain a solid technical understanding of the equipment, a non-union DP with an amazing reel is much more likely to make the transition to Union DP than a 2nd AC who spends years moving up to 1st AC then years moving up to Operator, then years moving up to DP. But either way is a hard road.

Royce Allen Dudley

Another road, a very valid one, to DP is through electric. Electricians may rise the ranks to CLT or gaffer, but even if you do not, your experience on set lighting for myriad DPs will be educational. Particularly today, DP hopefuls skimp on the lighting education when in fact it is as important as all things camera. I have never personally even thought of light and lens as seperate, and while the artificial segregation of departments has practical workflow reasons, one who lights superbly may make a better DP than one who operates superbly. Just my 2 cents worth.

Royce Allen Dudley

I suggest you consider eventually migrating to the camera dept after solid time spent lighting. Working as an electric under many gaffers and DPs will have as much and perhaps more ultimate value than coming up through the camera dept. for the same number of days on set. Electric is as valid a road to DP as camera dept.

Andrew Sobkovich

Kristina, at CSLB did you take any classes from Jack Anderson? What an incredible resource for the students to have. Bright guy and the real deal. An opportunity that most “film schools” do not offer.

Working in a rental house works for a short time. You get to know the gear and have short interactions with some crew members. I think it is better to get onto the set in any way you can. Express interest and ask questions of the DP, Operator and 1st AC. The questions and your interest will be noticed. It always is. Let them know of your interest and follow up on contacts.

Becoming a DP has many components. It has not changed in decades. Sorry but it will take 20 years or so of work to amass the experience and knowledge needed. Of course knowledge of lenses and cameras, but as Royce pointed out, knowledge of lighting is of equal or more importance. Knowledge, or better some hands on, of every job on the set. Good exposure to other visual art forms like painting and photography and the only visual art unique to movie-making…editing. All of this and more combines to make a DP. As a DP, reading the script is more than understanding the story and seeing the key points. Reading the script also invokes images of what the movie will look like, the first impressions of light, colour, angles, movement, and the arc of those elements through the story. This leads to choosing the combinations of cameras, lenses, filters, colours, etc that will form your approach to the picture. When you see the images, you will also see the lighting. But first you need to learn to see the light, its qualities and how it plays across the surface of your subject. Most importantly, how light interacts with faces and the effects and emotions this can bring. I light most shows months before we shoot, creating a plot from the images in my head. I know what it will look like, what the angles will be and what the people look like, so 4am in front of a computer is where it is done. On the set those images in my head are what I will create for my cameras to capture. This is most certainly not done by staring at a monitor. If someone is staring at a monitor and having the poor crew shuffle stuff around until they see something that someone else says looks nice, they are not a DP. Knowing what can be done on set and what might be faster to do in post is also critical. You have to know both to be able to save time and money on set and unfortunately to protect yourself from some folks in post who think they will save the picture from your images. Putting all those things together and more is what makes a DP. Its why it takes so long.

Get out and meet folks, which can be hard for those of us who are inherently shy. Learn to sell yourself, something I am still really bad at. Every single person I know in the industry can tell you about someone who was in a position to reach out and give them a break to get ahead. Everyone of us has gotten a break or more likely many. Sadly breaks can go both ways. Sometimes the best folks just don’t get the breaks they deserve. Luck plays a huge part in an industry that is far from a meritocracy. Be persistent and learn and work hard so that if your chance comes you can take it.

John Ellis

That's all good stuff, but if S32 works as it claims...Kristina, you should be able to search out DPs, Cam Ops, Key Grips and so on, here on Stage32 and ask to join their crew as AC or Cam PA on whatever they're working on...I mean, that's kind of the point of this network, right?

Michael LaVoie

Study business or law or both. If you can produce your own films and raise the capitol and secure distribution, you can literally take any job on set you want. Everything else is both a ton of hard work and a huge amount of luck because you are always waiting for other people to hire you.

Andrew Sobkovich

Instead of a lawyer probably the best would be to become a physicist. Invent time travel. Go back in time and create a path for your parents to become VIPs in the industry. Once you were born, nepotism would ensure your pathway to success.
But of course since you would then be successful in the industry you would not be a physicist and would not have traveled back in time to change your parents so you couldn't be ... drat. I'll get back to you on this one.

John Ellis

Andrew Sobkovich that's why I don't write time-travel stories! :/

Kristina Smith

Thank you, everyone, for your advice, I did apply to many camera rentals houses, I got an interview at The Camera Division in Los Angeles, I made it to the second interview round, but sadly did not make the cut. I did have a really good interview experience though and found out that my classmate got a job there. I congratulated him and so happy to see someone I know to get a spot there. Is there anyone here have a second AC or camera pa job position available.

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