As a big believer in collaboration, especially in this field, I am starting to interview other filmmakers to shed light on different roles on set. Today I am talking with Evan Luzi of The Black and Blue. Evan is a camera assistant and has a blog tailored to his experiences and to teach others about the role of camera assisting.
When Evan was first starting out as a camera assistant he realized that there wasn’t any resources online for him to learn more about the role and expectations. I am a big fan of the blog and make sure that any AC I work with is familiar with his posts. So, lets get to know the guy behind The Black and Blue a little better.
RR: Evan thanks for taking the time to be on my blog. Let’s first start off by telling everyone how you got into the film business.
I had known since middle school that I wanted to be involved in filmmaking, but was unsure how that would actually manifest itself. As I grew older, it became increasingly apparent that you don’t just become a director and start making Hollywood blockbusters. I knew that I would have to start at the bottom as a PA and work my way up.
As a sophomore in college, I was reading the blog of Washington Redskins football player Chris Cooley and he had put up a post announcing his involvement with an independent film being shot only 30-minutes from my parents house in Virginia. I looked up the production company Cooley had mentioned, got their contact email address, and sent them a note saying that I’d love to be involved in the project and that I’d be willing to work for free as an intern/PA – that I just wanted to be on set.
After a few days, I received a note back asking for my resume. Next thing I know I’m interviewing with the first AD and get offered the position of Camera PA. I happily accept. When I showed up on set there was no 2nd AC, so I became the de-facto 2nd camera assistant performing all the necessary duties. I was lucky to have an extremely skilled 1st AC and DP on that shoot show me the ropes and be patient with me as I made mistakes and got my footing.
I’ve been an AC ever since and still work frequently with the DP from that shoot.
RR: Was the AC role something you immediately fell in love with and if not, was there other roles you wanted to do?
It was something I fell in love with. When I talked to the production coordinator on that first job, she asked me what department I’d like to PA in – I was offered a few options like grip, production, and camera. I chose camera because I figured that would keep me closest to the action and the director and that I’d learn the most about the atmosphere of a set from that vantage point. After working that feature as an AC, I really enjoyed it and the crew encouraged me to pursue it.
I will say that directing is something I had always wanted to do simply because I grew up making my own films, but there’s so many complexities to that role that I only realized once I started working in the industry. So that urge has sort of died out as I focus on camera assisting.
I am content right now working as an AC, but who knows how I’ll feel 5, 10, 15 years from now. I’m sure my ambitions will grow with my experience.
RR: I understand you started this blog because there wasn’t one like it out there. Why did you want to share your knowledge for free? Are you worried about competition?
One of the things I do when I get into something new is obsessively research it. So when I started camera assisting, I wanted to read anything and everything I could about the job. Doing so helps me feel more prepared and relaxed on set because if I prepare as much as possible then the only obstacle to doing the job well is execution and effort – things I can control.
But as I started to research camera assisting back in 2008/2009, I realized there wasn’t much on the internet about it except forum posts. And I’m not the biggest fan of forums. Sometimes you have to dig really deep to find useful information and there’s a lot of noise between people bickering or going off-topic or whatever.
So as I gained experience, I decided to fill that gap and write posts about my AC work and things that I was learning as I went along. Eventually that started to pick up momentum and I think people connected with it because I was always honest about my experiences working below-the-line.
It wasn’t so much that I wanted to share my knowledge for free as I felt like expressing myself and helping others like me who maybe got thrown into AC work and needed some guidance.
I never worry about competition. In fact, whenever I can I encourage others to blog about their experiences in the film industry. My feeling is that all boats rise with the tide which is to say that as the online filmmaking community grows, everybody benefits. And there’s often new things I can learn from others and that’s always exciting to me.
RR: What can we expect to see on your blog?
My blog has connected with people mostly through long-form articles that are entertaining, useful, or honest (or a combination of the three), so you can always expect to see that. Lately, I’ve been posting shorter posts that link to other articles I see pop up on Twitter or forums. Since I’ve started my blog, I’ve seen an explosion in writing about filmmaking and it’s important to me that I pass along relevant info to my readers. But you’ll always see longer articles with the intent to inform take prominence on The Black and Blue. That’s my bread and butter. I’m also always thinking of new resources to put out like my pocket guides – such as ebooks or apps.
RR: Who do you look up to in the film world? What about Acs?
It sounds cheesy, but I admire all the other crew on set. Most of them are doing jobs I would be terrible at, so there’s a respect for their skill set that would take me years, if ever, to develop.
In terms of specific people, I’m forever grateful to 1st AC Matt Kelly for training me the right way on my first gig. I owe a lot to DP Kuni Ohi who took a chance on me several times early in my career and continues to give me work. And I’m a big admirer of Roger Deakins, ASC who has one of the most level-headed attitudes towards the craft of cinematography while continually exemplifying excellence with it.
RR: For those new to the field, how would you describe the AC role?
The AC is the technical counterpart to the cinematographer or camera operator. So where the cinematographer is in charge of creative decisions about lighting, composition, framing, focus, and blocking, the camera assistant takes care of all the technical stuff like equipment maintenance, lens changes, moving the camera, magazine reloads, and battery charging (among many more duties).
Basically, the AC is there to keep the camera running so the cinematographer can focus on creative challenges.
RR: What makes a good AC?
Resourcefulness, efficiency, and a positive attitude. You have to be able to adapt to many different situations, do your job quickly without holding up the set, and be able to do it all with a calmness and positivity that keeps things running smoothly.
Additionally, attention to detail is huge in the camera department. An inch can be the difference between a shot being in focus or a simple mistake could lead to an entire memory card’s worth of footage being erased.
RR: Other than reading your blog, what advice would you give someone that wants to be an AC?
Learn the basics of cinematography – both digital and film – so that you understand the fundamentals of how cameras work and can have an educated conversation about it with the cinematographer. You don’t need to be a master of lens optics, but you should know things like how aperture affects depth-of-field or standards for frame rates and shutter speed.
Read Doug Hart’s The Camera Assistant: A Complete Professional Handbook and then read David Elkins’ The Camera Assistant’s Manual. They are similar in scope, but each cover various aspects of the job. In terms of education you can do away from set, those are the gold standard.
Finally, get on a set – ideally in the camera department as a trainee or PA, but really any position that puts you on set – and watch the AC’s work. Ask them questions when they aren’t busy like at lunch or at wrap when they’re breaking everything down. Offer to help them on future projects and hope they call.
RR: Do you see yourself doing any other roles on set? And why/why not?
As of now and in the next few years, I don’t. I like camera assisting and I’m confident in my abilities to do the job well, so it’s not something I want to transition away from. That said, I could see myself moving up the ladder to camera operator or cinematographer eventually. If not that, then I could see myself getting into directing which is what I went through all of high school and college dreaming about doing.
RR: My favorite question: What is the best and worst advice you’ve been given in this field?
On my 2nd feature job when I was “Camera Utility,” I got a stern talking to by the 1st AC after I had messed with a piece of equipment because he wasn’t around and the DP needed help. He told me not to do anything I don’t know how to do and to always go through him when there’s an issue. That was a valuable lesson for me about the importance of hierarchy in the film industry, but also in being able to acknowledge when you don’t know something. The advice was unsolicited and disguised in a lecture yet I’ve carried it with me throughout my career.
As for worst advice, I can’t think of any instance where bad advice was given directly to me. Or, if it was, I probably blocked it from my memory. I did once get told by a rental house to “keep on limping by” when we had some hard drive failures while shooting with a RED One. Looking back, it was as good advice as you could give someone in our situation, but it wasn’t particularly useful!
Be sure to check out The Black and Blue often and if you haven’t been there before, be sure to check Evan’s old posts. There’s a ton of information in there for anyone interested in the film industry.