ASSISTANT CAMERAPERSON, USA
MATRIX: What does being an Assistant Cameraperson entail?
STEVEN: A First Assistant Cameraperson is responsible for setting up the camera and pulling the focus, which probably sounds a lot simpler than it really is, because you just turn a knob to get the focus. But it is actually quite complicated, with actors walking all over the set and sometimes hitting their mark, and sometimes being slightly off, and of course the focus being really critical in some areas. You can have an ear in focus and an eye out of focus, or one eye in focus and one eye out of focus. It’s very hard for the Camera Operator, who is actually looking through the lens, to really tell if it is in focus when the camera is running. You really only find out if things aren’t in focus when you see the dailies. It can be a challenging job. It can be incredibly hard to concentrate on the frame line as well as figuring out the focus, it has to be quite precise with measuring and everything as well.
MATRIX: The Assistant Cameraperson is not looking through the camera, so how can you tell when to pull the focus?
STEVEN: We measure everything out ahead of time and put marks all over the ground. We sometimes use lasers and other little tricks to do it, but basically you just have to see where people and things are going and happening. Sometimes the camera is moving and the actors are moving at the same time, so you just have to have it sorted out so you’re on it at all times.
MATRIX: So it’s a constant job; as soon as an actor moves you have to twist that knob?
STEVEN: Exactly. We’re floating the focus in most shots, certainly any wide shot that would have crowds or the whole set in it, for those the focus remains often the same. Any close up with an actor, of course, must have precise focus, so we’re pretty much sweating it during those tight shots.
MATRIX: Have there been any particularly challenging moments on any of these three US sets?
STEVEN: Yes, there has been some challenging focus pulling on this job, although not so much here on the set we’re working on now, which is the huge Zion Temple set. Bill Pope and the brothers [Larry & Andy Wachowski, Writers/Directors] are mostly shooting with wider lenses to get the whole set and the number of people there, so that’s not quite as difficult. When we were working out on the freeway, we had some more challenging shots with car crashes and stunts that happened pretty quickly, and you’re on a moving vehicle as well, most of the time. On this film I’ve been on a camera car, I’ve been strapped into the inside of a police car that’s about to get crashed, and I’ve been on the back of a sidecar motorcycle rig, which has been popular rig on this show. You’re flying down the freeway at fifty miles an hour, cars are exploding and automatic gun fire is going off everywhere, and you have to just concentrate on what you’re doing, and keep the damn thing in focus.
MATRIX: When you’re sitting in the sidecar of a motorcycle camera rig, is there also a Camera Operator in there with you?
STEVEN: Yes, that’s right. One particular set up on this film is a side car built onto a motorcycle that holds three people: one guy drives the motorcycle, the Camera Operator sits and actually operates the camera in the sidecar, and I sort of get tucked behind him with a remote control focus rig. We’d go flying down the freeway like that, which was quite exciting.
MATRIX: Was that one of the first times you had ever done something like that?
STEVEN: Not really, although, when we were out on the freeway, I’d never seen such a big stunt before. I’ve worked on some big films, but that definitely topped anything I’d ever seen. We often shoot with things like that for anything from car commercials to regular scenes, even dialogue scenes, but there’s nothing quite as dramatic in Zion.
MATRIX: There’s obviously a bit of pressure on focus pulling for the freeway sequences, with all the stunts going on; how do you feel before those shots?
STEVEN: Things get pretty intense when they’re doing a big stunt. I think they usually had at least two takes of whatever they were going to flip, explode, or crash, but not always, so it’s kind of important to get it right. Plus all these stunt guys are putting themselves at considerable risk. They’re completely prepared and they seem like they’re the absolute best at what they do, and everything seems to go off without a hitch, but you still have to be careful.
MATRIX: What was your most memorable shot on the freeway?
STEVEN: I think we had a total of nine cameras rolling, and we’re flying down the freeway, I think we’re going 50 miles an hour, and we’re leading all the cars, at least the camera I’m on is leading. Behind us, two cars were towing pipe ramps hidden from our cameras, and other cars were coming up as well, so I assume if we were going 50 miles an hour, they must have been going 70, or whatever it takes, because when they hit the back of the cars with the pipe ramps, they both flipped upside down. I’m trying to concentrate on my focus, but this car flips upside down, forward crashes and slides. I think there were thirty stunt drivers out there, and I’m watching all these cars sliding not far my camera while I’m trying to concentrate on my focus. I’m watching all this going on and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I have to concentrate on the focus’, and of course somebody is spraying automatic gunfire during the whole sequence. I think at the very end an 18 wheeler jack knifed, and cleaned up the whole thing. It was pretty impressive.
MATRIX: Were you ever afraid at any point?
STEVEN: On my first day I filled in for someone who was having a baby, so I was kind of thrown in it right away. I was put into a police car, pulling focus with Chris Moseley, one of the Camera Operators, and one of the stunt drivers doubling for an Agent. Chris said to the driver, “Hey, we don’t want to crash”, and he said, “Okay, we won’t crash.” Well, I think the car that flipped in front of us was a little bit off of pace, it was supposed to crash and land on its hood, and we were supposed to just go by it, but it landed on its hood and slid directly out in front of us – I was sort of tucked under the dashboard looking over it to see everything. Our driver did a fantastic job; the car was sliding on its hood and he just swerved round it, we must have missed it by like 12 inches. That had my heart pumping a little bit then, and I was like, “Okay, that’s the kind of job we’re into here”, so it was fun.
MATRIX: Did the Burly Brawl on the Park set pose any difficulties with the actors being on wires?
STEVEN: We were following actors who were on wires, so that was challenging, humans don’t normally move like that. Again, it was very well choreographed and rehearsed, so we had a pretty good idea, after watching a couple of rehearsals, of what they do. Then they do it, and boom, they hit it the same every time, so that made our job a lot easier.
MATRIX: What is your background?
STEVEN: I’ve done a lot of things semi related to the movie industry: I worked in video post-production for a while, I was a video editor, and I used to shoot in video a lot. I got tired of being inside a dark room looking at TV monitors and pushing buttons all day, so that’s when I decided to go into the camera department and do motion pictures. I also do quite a few television commercials and some documentary work, and things like that.
MATRIX: Have you done many motion pictures as an Assistant Cameraman?
STEVEN: Here in San Francisco I’ve done some fill-in work. A lot of these big movies hire a lot of assistants, but we’re not always on for the whole length of the show. I’ve worked on The Rock here, as well as Nine Months, and a couple of other things like that.
MATRIX: How long have you been on this production so far?
STEVEN: I guess a couple of months now, but again, it’s been on and off for me. I’ve been on all of this week and last week, I come and go – I had to go off and do another job the week before that, a commercial. I was out on the Freeway set with Second Unit for a while as well. It’s been good.
MATRIX: Were you a fan of the Matrix before you began working here?
STEVEN: I saw THE MATRIX and I really loved it, I really liked the concept.
MATRIX: Do you have any idea of where today’s filming fits into the next two films?
STEVEN: I haven’t read the script, I don’t think many people have, but I have been given a basic idea of what goes on in the next stories.
MATRIX: From what you know, will the fans of THE MATRIX be happy?
STEVEN: I think so. I think they’re ready for it.
MATRIX: Thanks Steven.
Interview by REDPILL