Film & TV

Who Is the First Assistant Camera? Who Is the Second Assistant Camera? What Do Camera Assistants Do?

Written by MasterClass

Apr 30, 2019 • 4 min read

The camera department is an essential unit of any video production—they do everything from helping determine the look and feel of the film to cleaning the equipment. Everyone in the camera department reports to the director of photography (also called the cinematographer) for direction. Two important support positions in the department are the first assistant camera and second assistant camera.

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Who Is First Assistant Camera and What Do They Do?

The first assistant camera (also called the 1st assistant camera, 1st AC, first AC, or focus puller) has one main job: they sit next to the camera during filming and operate the lens’s focusing ring. The role of the focus puller is to keep the right subject in focus throughout each scene.

Pulling focus is considered one of the hardest jobs on set—the first AC not only has to get the shot in focus, they have to keep the shot in focus. For example, if an actor walks from the background to the foreground, the first AC has to calculate exactly how much to pull the focus in order to keep the actor sharp in the focal plane. A good focus puller can keep the actor in focus during multiple takes, even if the actor doesn’t move at quite the same speed each time.

The first AC is also in charge of maintaining and organizing all camera equipment and accessories on set—cleaning camera lenses and setting up and taking down the camera each day, so that it’s ready for the next day of filming.

What Skills Does First Assistant Camera Need?

Working as first assistant camera is a tough job, and most first ACs work their way up to it by starting out lower in the camera department. While film school is often the most traditional way to work up to a position as a first AC, it is not required. Succeeding as a first AC requires: To be a good first AC, you’ll need a few key skills:

  • Precision. Focus pulling is a very careful job, and you’ll need to be able to follow focus exactly—all while actors are performing. There’s not a lot of room for error, and if the subject is out of focus, the take will be unusable. You can get good practical experience pulling focus using a DSLR camera.
  • No ego. A sad truth about being first AC is that no one notices your work when you’re doing it well—but that everyone notices when it’s wrong. When you make a mistake, you have to take responsibility for it.
  • Discipline. The camera department as a whole is a very disciplined crew, where you’re expected to repeat instructions back and even hand off lenses in a particular way (with the front element facing the first AC and the focus ring set to infinity). Working in the camera department requires strict attention to the rules in order to avoid ruining takes—or worse, breaking expensive equipment. A great way to learn this on-set etiquette is to be a production assistant or camera trainee, both entry-level positions who help out on set.

Who Is 2nd Assistant Camera and What Do They Do?

The second assistant camera (also called the 2nd assistant camera, 2nd AC, second AC, or clapper loader) works the “clapper board,” the slate that marks the beginning of each take, keeping footage organized for the post-production team. The second AC keeps the information updated on the slate—for instance, which roll, scene, and take is being filmed—and claps it in front of the camera. Additional tasks that the second AC owns on set include:

  • Support the first AC during rehearsal by watching where actors move during scenes and placing focus marks on the ground in tape. This lets the first AC know where to pull focus while filming.
  • Keep a report of every shot, including individual camera settings. This ensures that during subsequent takes and reshoots, the footage looks consistent.
  • Help the first AC maintain and organize camera equipment and, if the movie is being shot on film, loading film stock into the camera.

What Skills Does Second Assistant Camera Need?

The second AC has a less technical job than the first AC, but there are still several key skills that will help you be a good one.

  • Attention to Detail. Camera settings, take numbers, equipment organization—there’s a lot of information that a second AC needs to keep straight.
  • Energy. Any support role will require some running around, and the second AC is no different. Whether it’s setting marks or loading film, you’ll be on your feet all day running all over the set.
  • Discipline. Just like the first AC, the second AC is a part of the camera crew, and the camera department has strict rules to avoid big mistakes. Be prepared to pay attention to these rules if you want to be known as a good assistant camera.

Are There Other Camera Assistants?

Of course, the first and second ACs aren’t the only camera assistants. There are plenty of other positions in the camera department to help film production run smoothly.

  • Camera operator: This is the person who actually runs the camera, including keeping the shot composed and at the right angle.
  • Dolly grip: Some productions have the camera mounted on a dolly during filming, and the dolly grip is the one moving the camera dolly during shots.
  • Camera trainee: This is the most entry-level position in the camera department. Camera trainees do anything that needs done for the department, including running errands and fetching equipment.