A Day in the Life

Clapper Loader / 2nd Assistant Cameraman

Lovely drive East into the sun. Starving. 07:40
Arrive at Pinewood. Get to A Stage. Grab a bacon roll and head straight to our canning-up room. Beaten Mark the Cam Op here as usual. 08:00
Using changing tent as I don’t trust the van’s dark room. Panavision and Moviecam mags to load, times four. Mixed stocks – make sure I’ve got right one (twice). Allow Laura our trainee to load last mag. Good work. Finish breakfast. Checked over both cameras with the FP and built them up. Mounted A Camera on dolly with Grip. Ready to roll. 08:25
Cam in position, director on set. Replace Macro 35 with a 50mm on Cam Op’s suggestion. Director prefers Macro. Mark spots for actors. Slate prepped, first take. Morning Julia, looking lovely. 09:00
Prep B cam for Steadicam op. Low slung for stair climbing shot, with small mag. 09:40
Third mag change. Little mags, short ends, more changes. Laura able fetch lenses for me. 10:00
Try to update shot info from last takes but need to fetch crew a coffee when I get chance. Laura a real help, fetches coffees. Cake for DOP. 10:55
Turning around on the set, lights already set, so v. quick. 11:00
Director wants two angles on same take so am pulling focus on A camera as Rich(FP) is operating B cam for this shot - good practice for both of us. Laura claps. 11:30
Thanks to some slo-mo stuff we’ve got through 2000 foot already and over six mag changes including some short ends. 12:10
Run off my feet but grab a few nibbles for the guys while the Super Techno sets up. Get director an espresso too – never hurts. Given Laura job of cleaning out cam van 12:30
Crane’s ready and everything’s run by remote. Did I set the footage counter? Help. 13:10
Crane shot’s in the bag – with 18’ in the mag. Perfectly judged…. Quick unload and time for lunch. After three weeks that’s a wrap on the stage...locations this afternoon. 13:15
Lunch in the (awful) canteen as the caterers left after brekkie. Time to catch up with the guys… 13:50
In the director’s trailer, this makes a nice change. Private viewing of yesterdays’ rushes with Director, DOP, Cam Op and FP… and Laura fetches me a coffee. Nice. 14:00
Everything’s packed on the van in double quick time. Nearly left a battery behind. But only nearly. 14:15
Race the Cam Op’s Range Rover in Rich’s Alfa back to London. Both mad! 14:30
After high speed chase on A4 stuck in traffic in Chiswick High St. Rich ignores Locations map and we head for the river. 15:00
Half an hour early thanks to Rich’s navigating. Starting to rain – typical. 15:30
Sparks have erected key lamps. DOP’s going to backlight rain and make feature of it. No sign of Brian, the camera van driver. Put on wet weather gear. 15:45
Where the hell’s our van? Everyone here now, outside theatre. Make most of time by getting crew teas with Laura and cleaning changing tent and lenses. 16:00
This is not funny anymore. It’s pissing wet, we’re supposed to roll… nowish and we still have no cameras. 16:04
Brian turns up, at last. Poor bastard got a puncture – he could have bloody phoned though and gets an earful all round. Thankfully we can set up under our E-Z-Up but tight squeeze with Sue (the SS), DOP, Director, Producer and video playback kit. Get your own tent! 16:30
Knock off three takes, then it stops raining… do it all again sans rain 16:40
Rain’s on again! I change mags. Get Laura to update shot info and prep lab sheets. 16:45
Loading a fresh mag as DOP wants to change stocks… why me? 18:20
Have been dodging rain drops, playing the will it won’t it game. Help the grips get the last of the damp dancefloor on their van since we’ve the cams inside now. Leave dripping jacket on radiator. 18:45
Helped grips carry a heavy Fisher dolly up two flights of stairs. Who chose a theatre without a lift? 19:00
High angle on 10:1 from balcony means I’m on stage with the big sticks. Julia complains to director that I’m ruining her concentration with sticks “in her face”. Head down, on with job. 19:20
Dolly down stairs into orchestra pit. Julia apologises to me. So amazed think I blushed. Rest of crew eating sandwiches, have time for one bite only. 19:30
Time really against us now, need to be out of here by eight. Pressure full on as I have to run to van, unload two mags and replace with a 120’ short end in what feels like 20 seconds. Laura gets chance to use clapperboard. 19:38
That was as quick as anyone could manage. Footage counter reads 60’ after one take. Tell Rich. With no time to change again, we take the gamble. 19:45
We wrap, thank God and I’ve got less than 10’ on the counter. That’s quite close enough thanks. 19:50
Pat on the back from DOP as I prep all the cans and report sheets for the courier. Nice to be appreciated. Laura fetches wet gear from radiators. 20:00
Everything’s packed on the van – a place for all and all in it’s place. See the days’ cans safely off and catch a lift with Rich and Laura for a drink. Absolutely knackered. And we get to do it all again tomorrow…

What you do: The range of 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!

Qualities: What you need to be able to do the job?

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.

Career path: 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.

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