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    Help me understand Hollywood camera crews
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    Senior Member roxics's Avatar
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    I was watching a video yesterday about the Amira versus the Alexa and they mentioned that the Alexa has all the main controls on the other side of the camera away from the operator, whereas the Amira is a single operator camera. I first heard of this when the URSA came out but never investigated it. Now I'm curious as I've never used any of these mentioned cameras.

    I've always been a camera crew of one person, whether I was shooting a low budget indie film or a corporate piece. I understand that a remote focus puller would be helpful for certain shots where the camera operator is handheld or on a steadicam and can't easily pull focus. I've been in some situations myself where I wish I had someone like that on hand. But what's the deal with someone else on the other side of the camera setting their ISO and stuff? What exactly is left for the camera operator to do at that point if they aren't doing that stuff themselves, just framing?

    Again I can understand if this stuff was remotely controlled and you're trying to follow actors handheld from an indoor to outdoor scene and it would be helpful for someone else to handle exposure changes while you're just trying to keep things in frame and not trip over objects on the ground. But the fact the controls are on the other side of the camera tells me that this other person is right there, physically on the other side of the camera. So if the camera is on sticks or something, why can't the operator make those changes?


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    The camera operator is at times listening to a director about camera framing/movement, and it's better if someone else controls other settings (like you mentioned).

    If someone is using the camera for a simple shot (like on sticks), they can of course reach over and change the settings if needed.

    You'll find that crews operate differently all over the world and/or based on the project. You don't need someone doing that for you at all times, but it makes the task easier with much more complex productions. You can still operate the Alexa like the Amira, but the Amira was primarily designed for that one-man band/shooter.

    The big URSA has its controls (and screens) on both sides.


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    In general, camera operators on large schedule productions are indeed limited to "just framing" regarding their physical interaction with the camera as the AC's manage settings and configuration. I use quotes because the actual operation of the camera is likely less than a third of the camera operator's job--probably a subject for a different post. That said, I have noticed on Amira jobs that the operators do tend to make the ISO and ND changes themselves when I call them in for the very reasons listed above as they are closest to the controls and it's just easier and faster.

    In terms for the assistant being "right there", it's almost never the case any more. All of my AC's pull focus remotely, regardless of the shot. There are still crews that limit this to handheld/Steadicam/remote heads and switch to pulling off a hard follow focus on the dolly, but I find it much faster to keep the remote focus system on throughout. This change came in when we moved to digital from film.

    Ideally, we'd be using an ROP system and have remote access to all of the parameters of the camera and be able to make changes from the DIT cart, but I have yet to see these systems have enough range to be able to rely on them.
    Charles Papert


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    Quote Originally Posted by CharlesPapert View Post
    Ideally, we'd be using an ROP system and have remote access to all of the parameters of the camera and be able to make changes from the DIT cart, but I have yet to see these systems have enough range to be able to rely on them.
    I'm actually kind of surprised that with these types of systems becoming more and more prevalent on cameras that productions don't just use some type of wifi range extending/repeater system, especially since those are so simple to implement, now.


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    Senior Member JPNola's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by roxics View Post
    I was watching a video yesterday about the Amira versus the Alexa and they mentioned that the Alexa has all the main controls on the other side of the camera away from the operator, whereas the Amira is a single operator camera. I first heard of this when the URSA came out but never investigated it. Now I'm curious as I've never used any of these mentioned cameras.

    I've always been a camera crew of one person, whether I was shooting a low budget indie film or a corporate piece. I understand that a remote focus puller would be helpful for certain shots where the camera operator is handheld or on a steadicam and can't easily pull focus. I've been in some situations myself where I wish I had someone like that on hand. But what's the deal with someone else on the other side of the camera setting their ISO and stuff? What exactly is left for the camera operator to do at that point if they aren't doing that stuff themselves, just framing?

    Again I can understand if this stuff was remotely controlled and you're trying to follow actors handheld from an indoor to outdoor scene and it would be helpful for someone else to handle exposure changes while you're just trying to keep things in frame and not trip over objects on the ground. But the fact the controls are on the other side of the camera tells me that this other person is right there, physically on the other side of the camera. So if the camera is on sticks or something, why can't the operator make those changes?

    In simple terms, the tasks are split between two or more individuals because the standards are high. The standards are more "critical". Tolerances for error are less. In the type of work where the cam op does it all, the standard for focus accuracy and framing isn't as high. Often the framing is being done on the fly and the operator isn't having to achieve a framing that was worked out in advance. Same with riding the iris- often times in "high end" productions, for lack of a better term, the exposure changes are worked out in advance of the take and during the take those changes to the iris need to be hit as planned out in advance.

    Having an assistant pull focus frees the Cam Op to concentrate only on the framing. Too, in the days of shooting film, a camera operator could not take their eye away from the eyepiece during a take because that would result in light striking the film through the optical viewfinder. As a result the operator could not see the witness marks on the lens and thus could not pull focus to marks on the lens. A focus puller wasn't so much a luxury as a necessity if you wanted to accurately hit focus and not have to "hunt" for focus as is done in single-operation.

    Focus-pulling Camera Assistants would work from the opposite side of the camera from the operator as matter of convenience ( the camera operators head did not block access to controls on the camera body or view of displays / counters on the camera body and also in order not to block the view of the camera operator's left eye. The left eye sometimes used by a camera operator to see action outside of the frame. To see the ground during a walking shot. Or to see an object ( person, vehicle, etc. ) approaching the frame, and to anticipate a camera move accordingly with the arrival of that object in frame. It just made sense to have the two individuals working in their own space on opposite sides of the camera rather than both individuals competing for the same space on one side of the camera as they went about their tasks.

    In the electronic camera age it is often forgotten that at one time Camera Ops could not come off the VF without ruining the shot. That fact made operating quite the ballet at times. For instance, performing a dolly shot where the camera spins 180 degrees while also booming up or booming down and the Op has to keep his or her eye socket against the camera viewfinder the entire time or ruin the take. The Camera Op would at times "walk" on the surfaces of the dolly as the panning of the camera was performed. And the AC would be pulling focus without actually being able to see the shot, purely from witness marks on the lens, the entire time making sure not to interfere with the camera movement or Operator's movement. No wireless follow focus. No monitor because there was no video "tap". When video taps did come into being it was years before the quality was good enough to pull focus from.

    Charles? How am I doing here? Is any of this complete nonsense in your opinion or do you generally concur?
    Big sources matter.


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    Traditionally, in the US, first AC's tended to work on the OFF side or dumb side or rear of the camera. If you look at the Panavison (American designed and made) film cameras they tend to have all the AC / camera adjustment / monitoring on the off side / dumb side. And other Cadillac style features like sunglass holders on the operator side or the back of the camera.

    In Europe, Australia, the UK, they tended to be on the ON side / operator side. Therefore Arri / Aaton / Movicam et al all set up their displays on the ON side / Smart side / operator side.

    This was in the film days.

    Once the Alexa launched, with so many more functions, Arri decided to move all that control to the dumb side. And it makes sense, because there's more to do now. Film was much simpler.

    I think a lot of people forget on an Alexa that you can also do a lot as an operator with the EVF controls...

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    Quote Originally Posted by JPNola View Post
    Charles? How am I doing here? Is any of this complete nonsense in your opinion or do you generally concur?
    All correct, I couldn't have put it better myself.

    It's been enough years that it is starting to become a distant memory, of "clambering around the boards" of a dolly with my eye sealed to the eyepiece for a complex shot. Learning all the pieces and options for various dollies and how to configure them was itself a fair chunk of knowledge...asking the dolly grip for the shovel nose and the low sideboard for the Fisher, or the extendable sideboard and the front porch for the Chapman etc. I was just thinking about this yesterday as i pulled up a clip I've always been fond of--multiple 360 revolutions which mean the operator walking around the dolly and most likely on a Mitchell wtih geared head: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYDxyIzPe98&t=108s, from the beginning to 1:22. The first part is the most bombastic, with dolly rolling off a scissor lift (!) but watch the nuance of the work inside the main chamber, again while walking around the dolly.

    Yes, in these days of operating off a monitor I think it is more possible for an operator to be able to theoretically divert energy into other areas such as pulling their own focus... but I still don't think a good idea for mission-critical work as is the case with S35 or larger sensors and fast lenses. I'm really just wrapping my head around the workload of a one-man camera department. Lighting, operating, pulling focus, managing lenses and accessories, loading...that's bordering on the surreal.
    Charles Papert


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    Senior Member Batutta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CharlesPapert View Post
    I'm really just wrapping my head around the workload of a one-man camera department. Lighting, operating, pulling focus, managing lenses and accessories, loading...that's bordering on the surreal.
    I've done it. It's hard, but as long as you keep your equipment light (I mean physically light), it's do-able. Pulling your own focus is the hardest part. An A-B follow focus is essential. But I did wish I had someone I could trust pulling focus, or a really good autofocus. I think in a couple years we will have intelligent enough autofocus that, with a couple programmable focus points and speed adjustment settings, it could be as reliable as a dedicated focus puller.
    "Money doesn't make films...You just do it and take the initiative." - Werner Herzog


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    Quote Originally Posted by Batutta View Post
    I've done it. It's hard, but as long as you keep your equipment light (I mean physically light), it's do-able. Pulling your own focus is the hardest part. An A-B follow focus is essential. But I did wish I had someone I could trust pulling focus, or a really good autofocus. I think in a couple years we will have intelligent enough autofocus that, with a couple programmable focus points and speed adjustment settings, it could be as reliable as a dedicated focus puller.
    We may have it but I don't think it will be about programmable focus points. For narrative work, the tough stuff is all about the human factor, whether in front of or behind the camera. You can take marks all day but in the end, will the actor lean in the same way twice, will the operator land on exactly the same mark? I just put my AC into the delightful situation of a magic-hour 85mm T1.8 Steadicam tracking back with talent. Very little depth to work with. He got it though!
    Charles Papert


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    Senior Member Batutta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CharlesPapert View Post
    We may have it but I don't think it will be about programmable focus points. For narrative work, the tough stuff is all about the human factor, whether in front of or behind the camera. You can take marks all day but in the end, will the actor lean in the same way twice, will the operator land on exactly the same mark?
    I meant the programmable points in addition to really smart autofocus that can track a person perfectly. Like say you have person A and person B and you want to shift the autofocus back and forth between them off dialogue cues. You'd need a programmable button to signal the autofocus to shift. Or be following a person, then rack focus to something behind them while they're still in the shot.
    "Money doesn't make films...You just do it and take the initiative." - Werner Herzog


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