Sharath Chandra is one of the busiest guys in Hollywood right now – and that’s the way he likes it. And that’s the way we like it, too because his work is always excellent and he continually brings talent, creativity and knowledge to every project he works on. We recently saw one of his movies Shake Off The World and were thrilled by the great story, fine acting and terrific camera work. Sharath’s job on that feature film was First Assistant Camera and now he works as a camera operator.
We weren’t quite sure what being an Assistant Camera person entailed so we asked a few veteran movie people and this is what we found out. We were told that the word assistant is really a misnomer because a person in Sharath’s position on that feature does way more than just assist someone else. Okay, technically, he is assisting the cinematographer, also known as the Director of Photography, but his job is so much more complex than that. The First Assistant Camera has to know cameras inside and out – literally. He has to actually understand the workings of that dark chamber, the camera obscura.
The First Assistant Camera person is considered by many to be one of the most skilled positions on the movie crew. Of course, the cinematographer is extremely knowledgeable and let’s not forget that he or she usually worked at some point as a camera assistant too. Sharath has worked most of the jobs on the camera crew, including camera operator and cinematographer among other things so he knows every phase of camera work from setting the tripod an dolly up, cleaning the camera thoroughly, loading film in the camera in the dark or by using a changing bag. Of course, film is almost obsolete now but many of the more experienced camera people have learned all the old camera methods and techniques including loading real film in real film cameras.
Sharath, when he was First Assistant Camera, was also the focus puller on Shake Off The World. He had to use a tape measure to mark the exact distance from the actor to the film plane (where the film runs past the lens) or to a position just behind the lens for digital cameras. Then as the actor or camera moves or dollies from one place to another, Sharath had to physically turn the lens in order to keep the actor in focus.
We certainly enjoyed the movie but now we can appreciate it even more since we found out about what Sharath did in it. Without the camera crew and especially the First Assistant Camera person, the movie wouldn’t stay in focus very long. Since then, Sharath has moved on to the job of camera operator and we’ll explore that job’s duties in another article.