If you want it done right…

I recently 1st ACd a pilot for MTV that at its best was… Organized chaos. The rest of the time, well, don’t ask. 15-minutes scheduled for load-out the first day, 7 cameras (2 F800s, 2 EX3s, 3 go pros) and no prep day scheduled? Sure, I took a day to get into the gear room (ok, didnt even have a gear room until 8PM the night before we started filming, so it was a LONG night of cam prep, and they paid me for it later, but if I hadn’t demanded access…. Whooeee, it coulda been fun!) but that really set the tone for how things would be organized.

So, seeing a storm coming, I took every pre-emotive step possible. Production will be a mess, but cameras will be ready right out the gate at every location, charging stations set, and everything I can do to make sure it’s never my department holding us back will be done.

My 2nd AC was less helpful. In retrospect, even though he was a friends of someone higher up, I should have demanded a replacement. I’m not sure that I’d have gotten one, but sometimes it happens. He was more prone to be across the parking lot hanging out in the van with the PAs and spare crafty (what were PAs doing there?! No idea!) than anywhere near set.

One day in particular, showed me that if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself. It was a long day – we were into OT, and still had another scene to go. The producers decided to take the 2 EX3s and go shoot something themselves. The 2nd AC was to help them prep cameras, then send them on their way. Producers would tear down in the morning after leaving a camera rolling overnight. 2nd AC would help them, then meet all of us at the next day’s location 2 1/2 hours away, in another state. Recipe for disaster much?

After it was all said and done, I copied over media at the end of that 2nd day, and there was nothing from one card. The one that ran overnight. I was the media manager, with a fool-proof system, because you need one when you’re offloading, in OT, at the end of a long, grueling day. All cards, shot or not (and it was hard to tell the difference, as I couldn’t get the 2nd AC to label them *or* turn on write-protection. I was just handed a handful of cards and a couple of cameras) went on the table by the computer. Offload, file size verification, visual verification with EX Clip Browser, comparing the card to the 2 drives. Then pull the card, walk it over the the camera, re-visually verify that the media on it is the same as on the drives, format, pack it away for tomorrow. Start the next card. 8 cards, 8 times through the process, one at a time. Somehow, no media from one camera from the overnight.

Where did things get messed up? Was it the AC? Did he format somewhere along the way? Was it the producers who were shooting? I’m not sure, but every single time that I’ve allowed cameras out without operators or at the very least a competent AC, I’ve seen there be problems. Missing footage, out of focus footage, shaky footage, broken gear… The works. There’s never any explanation, and no one ever takes credit, but it happens every time.

There’s nothing worse than the “where’s that media?” call, especially when you weren’t allowed to be there every step of the way to make sure there would be media. I knew once I was done offloading that we had a problem, and informed them, but by that time it was just too late. Next time, I’d gladly skip sleep to make sure things happen the right way. Let me do my job and make sure you’ve got your footage. I know you don’t like making people work on a short turnaround, but I don’t like when cameras that are out of my hands wind up having issues.

About Randy Lee
Shooter. Editor. Colorist. Filmmaker. Coffee Addict. Workaholic.
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