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A focus puller, or 1st assistant camera, is a member of a film crew's camera department whose primary responsibility is to maintain image sharpness on whatever subject or action is being filmed.
"Pulling focus" or "rack focusing" refers to the act of changing the lens's focus distance setting in correspondence to a moving subject's physical distance from the focal plane. For example, if an actor moves from 8m to 3m away from the focal plane within a shot, the focus puller will change the distance setting on the lens during the take in precise relation to the changing position of the actor. Additionally, the focus puller may shift focus from one subject to another within the frame, as dictated by the specific requirements of the shot.
A good focus puller will have an intimate knowledge of cinematographic and optical theory. Depending on the parameters of a given shot, there is often very little room for error. As such, the role of a focus puller is extremely important within the realm of a film production; a "soft" image will, in most circumstances, be considered unusable, since there is no way to fix such an error in post-production. One must also consider that an actor may not be able to duplicate his or her best performance in a subsequent take, so the focus puller is expected to perform flawlessly on every take. Because of these factors, some production personnel consider the focus puller to have the most difficult job on set.
British cinematographer Oliver Stapleton has written:
The 1st AC (or Focus Puller) has one of the hardest jobs on the set. And it's one of those jobs that are never noticed until it is wrong. Then you get an almighty bollocking, or you get fired ... Focus Pulling not only involves what it sounds like, but also the Focus Puller "runs" the department, in the sense of taking care of all the camera gear, and making sure that everything is tickety-boo. I have my own camera, so it's treated very well! A focus puller relies heavily on the Operator to tell him if the shot is out of focus — after all only the operator is actually looking through the lens.
During production, 1st ACs are also responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of all camera equipment and accessories, including; lenses, filters, batteries, film magazines/recording media, matte boxes, etc., as well as configuring the camera and its accessories in multiple ways for different setups. 1st ACs arrive on set before the director, director of photography (DoP) and camera operator, and ensures the camera and all required lenses are prepared for the day's shoot. During filming, the 1st AC is responsible for moving the camera to each setup as directed by the Director of Photography. On larger budget productions, the camera is usually mounted on a dolly for most of the day, which is operated by the Dolly Grip. At the end of each shooting day, 1st ACs clean the equipment and pack it up in preparation for the next day. If there is a problem with the rushes (such as a scratch on the film), the focus puller communicates with the film lab to fix any faults with the camera or film stock.Read more...
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