This week I had my first glimpse of a large scale production in full flow on set of a TV drama being shot on location with almost 200 cast and crew members. This was a 12 person camera crew shooting on 3 Alexas with Optimo zoom lenses and more feet of BNC cable than you can physically hold. There was the DP running the show and operating on A camera, B camera as steadicam and C camera mostly grabbing another angle of the action or snatching cutaways (or general views, ‘GVs’, as I learnt). C camera, as with the others, had an operator, focus puller, clapper loader and camera trainee. I was a dailies camera trainee and had been waiting and hoping to get on board this production for several weeks so I was very excited and appropriately nervous in equal measure. Big multi camera shoots are incredibly exciting, but also come with their own set of traps for the learning camera assistant.
The scale of the production was the source of most of the nerves and I learnt some very important lessons from the experience. With so many camera crews working at once, it’s very easy to get lost in the speed of the shoot. Our job as trainees was generally to manage the extensive amount of cabling that ran from video village to the three cameras. We also ran batteries (I was happy to take this menial task on to ease up the other trainees’ time as I was the least experienced) to the camera truck (there was a camera truck!), moved or helped the 2nd ACs move mag-liners around (the rugid trolley that the camera accessories boxes are stored on), and generally stuck to our respective crews like glue in case they needed anything to eat, drink, or vent!
It was brilliant fun. I learnt a bunch of stuff: how best to recoil the BNC cables back onto the drum (standard over-under recoiling technique, dump the cable on the floor upside down and the cable should reel in smoothly); found out how to connect a clamshell, what keying a walkie talkie meant (accidentally engaging the walkie talkie so no one else can speak); once again realised how important it is to keep calm, smiling and chat light heartedly with the rest of the crew; a bunch of acronyms (DFI – disregard first information/different fucking idea, that’s a W.R.A.P – Wind, Reel and Print, GVs – General Views, synonym for cutaways); how to fill in camera sheets for the lab/post house to deal with the rushes.
But one thing stood out most of all: how best to deal with the scale of the production while still keeping your own camera crew happy. There were points towards the start of the day where I was so eager to be an asset to the whole of the camera department that I left C camera for too long in order to run around helping the other trainees and crews.
It’s important, even if you aren’t in constant demand for your camera, that you do your best to stay by it in case you are needed.
Towards the end of the morning, in a very diplomatic way, my experienced and ever helpful, smiling 2nd AC explained that I didn’t have to say yes to every request to help other crews and that my priority was to attend to C camera’s needs. If my crew are stuck to the camera and suddenly need something added to their rig, they need me to run and grab it. If they are thirsty, they need me to fetch some drinks and if they need a piss, I should be there to cover that person’s back (metaphorically speaking).
I feel towards the end I struck a better balance, but it’s worth really keeping in mind that if you are on a multi camera shoot, that your priority is your own camera and its specific crew. If you are doing nothing and are absolutely needed elsewhere because someone is struggling, then check with your superior first, go help the others and return as quickly as possible.
Of course there are also great positives to working with a big camera crew like this – I learnt a hell of a lot from the other trainees as well as my own 2nd AC, and got to go have a beer with them all at the end of the day. Overall the day went pretty well and I loved every minute but these experiences are always humbling – so if there was one main thing I learnt from the day, it was to listen and accept what I was asked to do by my own crew, then act on it.
Ultimately, be an asset by helping as much as possible, but don’t neglect your own crew in an attempt to serve the whole department.
There are going to be plenty of other distractions and traps that you can fall into with the rush of a large scale production that I haven’t yet come across. I imagine though, that if you concentrate on the tasks that you need to do and are used to, the principles are all the same and you should be just fine.
Now go enjoy yourself and get stuck in to being part of the film making machine – look, there are two other incredibly expensive cameras all busy shooting exciting things! Wonderful stuff.