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What does she need to ʻmake itʼ in the film industry?

09 Mar 2021 10:20 AM | Amber Wakefield (Administrator)

Charlotte Panoho, from Marlborough, attended the NZCS Assistant Camera workshop with her sister, hoping to gain answers in preparing for her first camera assistant job on a feature film.

As Peata (my younger sister) and I departed Blenheim, a glorious sun rose over the Pacific Ocean, radiantly greeting us as we entered Kaikoura and keeping us company all the way down to Christchurchʼs CBD. Our call time at Lightworks Studio was 0945. Upon arrival we met two other young women and joined a friendly crowd being ushered into a low lit studio to be seated before our hosts.

Michael Paletta, first assistant cameraman and designer of the course, was introduced to us before beginning his powerpoint presentation. He offered experience and advice from years of working in the industry, with content ranging from schedule management and networking, to perspective and survival in the industry. Each tip was accompanied by helpful anecdotes and a good measure of common sense. My favorite slide, his on-set etiquette, included points such as “if youʼre on time youʼre late” and “no call outs and bus throws” (incidentally I had a literal near-miss bus experience only a few weeks later). A “can do” attitude is everything.


The second part of the workshop took us through a day in the life of a camera assistant. Covering rental houses, camera kit, and tasks, Michael and the team enacted many of the varied scenarios that would take place on the job and responded to questions from us all. At this point I found serious blanks in my knowledge. Only a few ʻtermsʼ from my theatre technician background could be transferred to my new camera assistant role (eg... “barn door” is the theatre equivalent of “top chop” etc...). The topics and different techniques presented were comprehendible but until you are ʻonsetʼ there is nothing that can really prepare you for this part of the job.

My old arch-enemies - self doubt and ʻfear of failureʼ, started getting the better of me… until I heard Michael tell a story of dropping a filter early in his career and still being cautious 10 years later. Evidently, even the best make mistakes! More juicy stories involving mistakes, hazards and injuries kept us thoroughly engaged and my fears gave way to an appreciation and renewed passion for film-making.

Having worked as a 2nd AC recently, I wish now that I could revisit this particular part of the workshop. Experience makes all the difference in retaining new lingo, which my oversaturated brain was at first impervious to.

The final section of the workshop was a real-life studio shoot which gave us all the practical hands-on opportunities we needed, to apply what we had learnt.

Rotating around the studio set, each one of us practiced slating, calling, marking and focus pulling with personal tuition from Michael, Zac and the rest of the team. This one-on-one tuition was possibly the biggest highlight of the workshop.

For me the kinesthetic learning on this course was really helpful. Onset a few weeks later, I started to proactively assist the 1st AC with marks. If I hadn't observed the laser measure being demoed in the workshop and practiced it myself on course, it would have taken me some time to realise what the 1st AC was actually doing. While everyone was taking turns onset we had opportunity to meet others and make some valuable connections. The age range of attendees was diverse, and professions represented included videographers, photographers, actors, signwriters, business owners and students. I enjoyed having a laugh with the creatives from Maui Studios, the first film makers I have come across to work fully immersed in te reo Maori.

By the end of the day, the room was buzzing and people were reluctant to leave. We exchanged email addresses (or instagram accounts) and farewelled our new film buddies, camaraderie already evident after only a few hours together.

Jumping back in the car, we headed up north to Kaikoura again for a late dinner, finally reaching home around midnight and falling into bed exhausted, but content. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Definitely.

This workshop was an informative, productive, professional rundown of a 1st ACʼs working life and the opportunity to apply new information in a “real-life” studio shoot. I gained a confidence to be better prepared onset and was reassured that the most helpful asset that I can cultivate is a positive, teachable, “can-do” attitude.

Charlotte Panoho ~

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