When people ask me what I do for work, I tell them I’m usually working as a Multirotor Safety Officer or a 2nd AC. As you can guess, that typically doesn’t help them much. What in the world is a 2nd AC?
What Does 2nd AC Mean?
For most people, deconstructing the term “2nd AC” doesn’t really help much either. 2nd AC stands for Second Assistant Camera, but needs a little more expansion to make sense to people outside the film industry. Really, a 2nd AC is the second assistant to the camera operator. Now, this doesn’t mean I get coffee for my Cam Op and pick up his dry cleaning. On a film set, there are departments, each of which has a chain of command. The Director of Photography is over the Camera Department, but he’s also commanding the Grip and Electric departments, so the Camera Operator is considered the head of the Camera Department. Next in the chain is the 1st AC (the Camera Department key), then the 2nd AC. The 1st and 2nd ACs essentially exist to assist the Cam Op with the camera. The 1st does so by pulling focus and handling front-of-camera, the 2nd does so by slating and handling off-camera.
So now that you know that a 2nd AC is the second camera assistant, let’s talk about the various work a 2nd AC is responsible for.
Slating is the primary job of the 2nd AC, and it’s a seemingly simple task that can end up being complicated more often than you would think. The slate is the “clapper board” that has become an icon of filmmaking and lists essential information about the current shot for use in the editorial process. The 2nd AC must stay in sync with the shot list (a good script supervisor is a 2nd AC’s best friend) and constantly making sure the information on the slate is accurate. We are also constantly analyzing the shot setup to determine how to get our slate in frame, stay out of the talent’s way as much as possible, and get out of the shot as quickly and safely as possible. Did I mention we have to flawlessly speed-talk our way through the essential information on the slate before clapping the sticks? Like I said, it can get complicated real fast.
Empty and used media cards are the 2nd AC’s responsibility unless they are in the camera or delivered to the DIT. This means it’s the 2nd AC’s duty to transport full cards with care and to have empty cards on-hand when needed. The 2nd AC works in tandem with the Cam Op to make sure there is enough media to complete the next shot, or else swap cards.
Much like with media, the 2nd AC works with the Cam Op to make sure camera batteries are operational and to swap when needed. In addition, the 2nd AC is responsible for getting depleted batteries on the charger and keeping a healthy supply of charged batteries ready to go.
The 2nd AC works with the 1st AC to swap lenses. When a new lens is requested, the 2nd will retrieve it from the case and bring it to the 1st who will swap it for the lens currently on the camera. Then, the 2nd will make sure all caps are back on the unattached lens and will return it safely to the case. Thus, the 1st swaps the lenses and the 2nd transports the lenses.
Assisting With Camera Setups
When the camera moves to a new setup, typically the 1st AC will transport the camera itself and the 2nd will transport whatever the camera will be attached to. If it’s a tripod setup, the 2nd will carry the tripod to the new spot. If it’s going on dolly, the 2nd will carry the head to the dolly and place it whenever Grip is ready. As a general rule, the 2nd should make sure the 1st can mount the camera as soon as they arrive at the new setup.
Maintaining the Camera Cart
The camera cart is a magical, wheeled contraption that holds everything a camera team needs to do their jobs well. Unfortunately, it is also very prone to becoming a disorganized mess. The 2nd AC is tasked with keeping important tools and components at hand and everything else well-organized and safe on the cart.
Maintaining Monitor Feed
The Director’s monitor feed is important, and you can’t get a shot without it (in 99% of cases). The 2nd AC is tasked with making sure it’s always up when it needs to be. Usually, this is by keeping a BNC cable tapped out of the camera to the Director’s monitor. Every time the camera moves, the cable has to be unattached for safety, then reattached in the new location. With a wireless setup, the 2nd AC will make sure the transmitter and receiver are linked and have power. In either case, the 2nd AC will also need to secure power for the monitor itself.
Ahhhh, everyone’s favorite part of filmmaking. The 2nd AC is responsible for the Camera Log, a fun little booklet filled with all the information needed to be able to exactly recreate any shot. This is kept so that the Director of Photography can refer back to any settings he wants to match on other shots, so that Editorial will know the exact specifications of a shot during post-production, or so that reshoots can be performed with precision if something isn’t quite right the first time. In addition to this, the 2nd AC is also responsible for preparing and turning in timesheets for the rest of the Camera Department.
Assisting the 1st AC and Cam Op
Sometimes the 1st or the Op will need help with a camera build or something else that doesn’t quite fit under the other duties I’ve described. The 2nd AC does his best to assist his team in whatever way is needed. Often this involves making trips to crafty for water and snacks for the team, and occasionally telling jokes about the other departments. How many Boom Ops does it take to screw in a lightbulb, anyway?
I hope this article helps you understand what 2nd ACs do and helps you appreciate their hard work! If you’re hoping to become a 2nd AC someday, I highly recommend reading up on camera assisting articles on IndieFilm.org and The Black & Blue Blog! If you’re a 2nd AC already, comment below with your favorite or least favorite parts of your job!