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Fit for the Job: Part 2

Updated: Apr 12

What does “Fit for the job.” mean?

I mentioned in my first post that I was a camera assistant for many years.

I loved being an AC. Either as a 1st or 2nd, my profession gave me a satisfaction that nothing else could.  My work was predominately in country music videos, so at get-togethers outside of work, I was able to tell stories about working on this video or that video with this star or that star.

It made my mom proud and my wife laugh.  But, the people I truly enjoyed and became starstruck by were the DPs and crew.

Working in country music during its heyday meant I was on camera teams with some of the best cinematographers in the world.  A litany of ASC members and filming masters would do a short 2 or 3-day stretch on a country video because it was fun. Because of country music, I had the best seat in the house to observe excellent filmmakers execute their craft in a short form.

Sitting or standing beside the best of the best as I did, with me on the knob and the DP or Op in the eyepiece, whispers and curses were shared throughout the day.  A DP would share her real thoughts about an actor or director in a whisper that would only land on my ears.

Thoughts of regret and revelation, “ I should have raised the key a few inches higher or we should shoot this next one on a wide prime rather than this zoom” and sometimes quiet but stern correction, “You’re soft. You’re soft.”

One of the whispers that changed my life, was on a shoot with Rick Flair as the lead talent.

The spot was being shot on 2 Panavision G2s w/ 1000’ mags.  It was a fun day with everyone practicing their own version of the Rick Flair “Woooo”.  We were on sticks and a dolly, inside, at a single location. There were big lighting setups, so the camera team was overly ready to rock.

Then something changed.  I am not sure what happened but our talent’s schedule suddenly accelerated and therefore our shooting style had to adjust in a flash.  Our DP was well-credentialed, highly experienced, and not moved by anyone else’s crisis. He adjusted his plan and made a call-

“Back-sling that 1000’, go to a prime, and let’s shoot the next take with B-cam handheld.”

The B-cam AC jumped into action.  The changes were being made as the cam op walked his way over to the A camera dolly.

“Sir, I don’t shoot handheld,” the B cam op said. “I can operate wheels or fluid head but I don’t shoot handheld.”  He spoke it firmly, without apology. I knew the operator and he was gifted at framing and skilled on the wheels, but the hard life of our business had taken away the strength in his back and he was no longer able to operate in a handheld mode, especially a massive G2 with 1000’ of film.  I hurt for him, but I respected his honesty and confidence.

Unphased, the DP turned to me.  

“Have you operated before?”  

“Yes, I have.”

“Then, you’re up on B camera.”

And to me only at a whisper in my ear, he said,

“You have to be Fit for the Job.”

Those words stick with me every day, even though that exchange was over 10 years ago now.

Our business is opportunistic.  The majority of players who work at this full-time are for-hire freelancers.  Our unions do an excellent job, working hard to be sure our conditions are safe, favorable and equitable. But, when the moment comes to move up, no one else can fight for us. We are either able and prepared for the task, or the opportunity passes us by.  Being fit for the job entails all aspects of our personal skill sets. On this singular day, it meant having a strong back. On another day, it may mean knowledge of a unique camera or lens system. Staying “fit” in its most rudimentary sense means, having the strength to safely and consistently shoulder a camera.  It can also mean having the mental stability to accept harsh direction in a frantic moment to catch a fleeting shot without taking it personally. It could also mean that when the pressure is on, your mind is clear enough to recall the menu path to program the camera correctly for that scenario?

Are you “Fit for the job?”  Are your back, heart, and mind stout enough for this profession?

What have you done to keep yourself in the best condition for the moment when the direct or DP will turn to you and say, “You’re up.”

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