Clapper-Loader / 2nd Assistant Cameraman
What you do in the job?
A Clapper-Loader or 2nd Assistant Cameraman(2nd AC) has the highest responsibility to pay ratio of any crewmember, being singularly responsible for safely loading and unloading film camera magazines.
Responsibilities are numerous and begin with pre production chores such as obtaining all expendables (camera tape, black bags, camera report sheets, etc, etc) to testing and prepping the camera package with their immediate superior and closest colleague, the 1st Assistant Cameraman or Focus Puller.
During shooting, the 2nd ACs role is to assist in ensuring that the running of the camera department is as smooth as possible. From preparing the camera truck and maintaining supplies to loading and unloading magazines quickly and diligently. Minimising wasted film stock is vital. Holding your nerve while the footage counter heads under 30 feet can be part of the job.
The Loader must be ready and willing to leap into the Focus Pullers shoes for any reason and at any time, so a good familiarity with their role is vital too. But as the 2nd AC will work closely with the entire camera department (Cinematographer, Camera Operator, Focus Puller and Grip, plus Script Supervisor and Video Playback), it is important to understand all these roles to a reasonable degree and be able to help any of them.
The 2nd AC is responsible for slating each take, that is the clapper part of the job. It is important after all, this is how the separate sound recording is synchronised with the film image.
The 2nd AC collates shot information from the Script Supervisor (continuity person) during shooting and records the information on a camera report sheet at the end of each day. This includes lab instructions, lens type, focal length, T Stop, stock details and more.
Responsible for the exposed rolls of film until they hand them (very carefully) to the laboratory courier or production company runner, the 2nd AC will have unloaded, labelled, taped and protected the work of the entire production.
Also, if there is no Camera Trainee on the production, then it is the Clapper Loader who will be fetching the camera department tea and buns as well!
What qualities are required?
The 2nd AC quite literally holds the producers entire investment (the exposed negative) in his or her hands every day and in total darkness too. There are a lot of economic implications in a Loaders work, minimising stock waste, for example, so an acceptance of responsibility is a major requirement.
Like all aspects of camera assisting, there is a knack to presenting a clapperboard to the camera accurately and efficiently, each and every time. As this is done in front of the whole crew you will need to able to handle this pressure and many others simultaneously.
Time is always against a film crew, so speed with accuracy is essential.
Attention to detail is vital. The Loader will be detailing instructions from the Cinematographer to the laboratory and all other details for the production on the camera report sheets.
Sound knowledge of the most popular film cameras is a must. You could be using an Arriflex 435 today, a Movicam SL tomorrow and a Panavision or other camera next week. Increasingly, a knowledge of Hi Def video is important.
Be organised, efficient, diligent, with plenty of stamina. Accuracy and attention to detail are vital. So is common sense and honesty. If you make a mistake, say so immediately, you will be respected for it and avoid being fired later.
Concentration, timekeeping and physical fitness are important too. Above all else, communicate well and be helpful. A film crew is a team and you have to pull your weight.
Do try not to let the responsibility or pressure put you off. The buzz of working at the sharp end is ample compensation. Gender is no barrier and women are continually increasing their presence in the camera department.
How you start and where you can go with it?
Start as a Camera Trainee on a bigger production, one that can afford a Trainee or work in a rental house to familiarise yourself with equipment. Film school or a short film course will improve your standing. Clapper Loader,2nd AC, then Focus Puller,1st AC, to Camera Operator and maybe Cinematographer or Director of Photography.
There are also many career Focus Pullers and Camera Operators. You could spend ten years in each grade or more or less.