How To Become a First Assistant Cameraperson

How to become a First Assistant Cameraperson

What is a First Assistant Cameraperson?

Whilst the Director of Photography designs the lighting, framing and camera angles of each shot, and the Camera Operator is busy moving the camera to follow the scene, the First Assistant Cameraperson is responsible for focusing and refocusing the shot, always getting a clear image of the action.

What is the Job?
Previously known as Focus Puller, the main task of the First Assistant Cameraperson is to focus and refocus the camera lens as the actors move within the frames. They are not always able to see the footage in real time as it is being shot, therefore much of their expertise relies on being able to ‘pull focus’ correctly, based on experience, instinct, and memory. 1st ACs are also in charge of maintaining and assembling the cameras, lenses and other shooting equipment before each shot.

They are therefore required to arrive on set before the Director, the DoP and the Camera Operator, in order to set up the necessary gear, and to stay after they leave to clean and pack up everything that has been used. 1st ACs usually work on a freelance basis and are usually asked for by the DoP or the Camera Operator.

Key Skills

  • Knowledge and ease in handling cameras and lenses is clearly a requirement for this role, together with preparation regarding the relevant shooting techniques.
  • Having a good eye for distances and movement, and being able to react quickly and precisely is what determines a really good 1st AC.
  • Also, as part of a team and having to work closely with both the Camera Operator and the DoP, diplomacy and interpersonal skills can prove valuable for this job.

Salary and working hours 

Salary depends upon the type of production, your experience and the location of the production. According to BECTU, the salary for a 50 hour week is £1591 when working on a TV drama. However, when working on a major motion picture the salary for a 50-hour week increases to £2,100. You can find out more about these rates here.

How to become a First Assistant Cameraperson
By its essence, this job requires a lot of hands-on experience, enough to be able to judge and determine focal length in a blink of an eye. Therefore, the most valuable training to become a 1st AC is to spend as much time as possible on set, handling equipment and becoming familiar with it.

The career path usually starts with an apprenticeship as a Camera Trainee (or 3rd AC), before progressing to 2nd AC and finally to 1st AC. Despite experience being the true determinant of the value of an aspiring 1st AC, courses and degrees in film making or photography related subjects are often useful to learn the basics.

Specific short courses for Camera Assistants are also available, providing the essential skills for the job. The MetFilm School provides a variety of undergraduate, post-graduate and short courses for those looking to improve their skills. You can find out more about the MetFilm School here.

Where can it take you?
Some 1st ACs progress towards Director of Photography positions. However, very good Focus Pullers keep themselves within their own area of expertise and can make a good living out of it.

Become a First Assistant Camera Person today

If you are ready for the next step in your career, why not take a look at the latest First Assistant Camera Person vacancies on our jobs board? You can view our latest vacancies here.