Why Focus Puller Plays an Important Role in Filmmaking?

Some people have a perception that the focus puller is the silliest job ever, but I beg to differ with this statement. Because in my opinion, a focus puller, or a 1st assistant camera, is the unsung hero of filmmaking. They play a very crucial role when it comes to making high quality films.

The job of a focus puller is to sit next to the movie camera and hold onto the lens focusing ring. And then, in a pre-rehearsed dance, they slowly shift the focus of the lens as the cameraman keeps the actors in the frame following the given action.

I’d say that being a focus puller is the hardest job on a film set and there are a myriad of reasons making for fact why. Being a member of the camera department of a film crew, their main responsibility is to maintain a consistent level of image sharpness on any action or subject that’s being filmed.

What is “pulling focus” or “rack focusing?”

It refers to the act of changing the focus distance setting of the lens in agreement to a moving physical distance of a subject from the focal plane.

For instance, if an actor moves from 9m to 4m away from the focal plane within a shot, the 1st AC will change the distance setting on the lens during the take in accurate relation to the actor’s changing position. In addition, the focus puller may shift focus from one subject to some other one within the frame.

Who’s a focus puller?

A good focus puller or 1st AC will have the right knowledge of not only cinematographic but optical theory as well. It all depends on the factors of a given shot and there’s often less room for errors to take place. There’s no escaping the fact that the job of a focus puller is exceptionally essential within the arena of a film production.

One ought to take into account that an actor may not have (much needed) ability for duplicating his/her best performance in a succeeding take, this is the reason why the focus puller is expected to do their job to the best of his ability. They’re a very important person on a film set who’s expected to perform flawlessly on every take. It’s because of these elements, some people in production deem the focus puller job to be the toughest on set.

What’s the last thing you think about when you see a movie?

It’s definition, isn’t it? You’ll keep thinking about it unless it’s not there. Considering this, focus pullers are very important.

Let’s take an example of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar — that great epic you must have heard or read about. You must have even seen it. Some scenes in the movie that seemed out of focus in the movie sprung up a chain of comments on the internet about the significance of accurate focus as well as the work of the focus puller or 1st Assistant Camera. No matter it was done on purpose or became an accidental affair, the value of focus precision on movies took a drastic turn and it soon became evident.

What exactly does a focus puller do?

The role of a focus puller, also called the First Assistant Camera, 1st AC, or 1st Assistant Camera) is one of the most skilled jobs on a film crew.

These are the people who hold the responsibility for both focusing and refocusing the camers lens as actors move within the frame of each shot. They don’t look through the lens in order to carry out their job but do ‘pull focus’ considering a set of intricate marks which are placed on the floor, set, props and so on when the rehearsal is in process.

As it’s next to impossible for the focus puller to see whether the focus is sharp until the raw footage are screened, these people count on experience as well as instinct for each focal adjustment. Because re-shooting some scenes can cost an arm and a leg and actors may not be able to reanimate their most effective take, focus pullers or 1st ACs need to be exceptionally trustworthy and good at their work. That’s not all! They should be able to deal with stressful situations in an effective manner

Focus pullers are the ones who’re held accountable for camera equipment, including:

Lenses,
Filters and
Matt Boxes.

They’re also responsible for assembling the camera and its accessories for every shot (of course, a different one).

They make it to the set or in the studio before the Director, Director of Photography and Camera Operator. They make sure that the camera as well as all the other lenses are prepared for the shoot likely to take place during the day. If the DoP or Director wants to experiment with a particular lens, the focus puller or 1st AC will assemble the camera so that they can look through the eyepiece for evaluating the shot.

When the shooting day comes to end, focus pullers ensure that they clean the gear and pack it up for the next day shooting.

Pulling focus has become essential in filmmaking projects nowadays. Moving to digital makes so clear for us that we’re moving faster and taking less time when it comes to rehearsing with actors. I’d say that pulling focus has become more of an art. You’ll have to pick up how to feel the emotion of a scene so you can become “one” with the characters. Not only do you need to learn, you also need to learn to feel the attitude of each actor on set. You need to keep your team ready for the take and keep yourself organized.

Focus pullers are also the most senior camera assistant on a program. They’re often responsible for running the camera department when a camera operator isn’t there (A camera operator here is the director of photography). They give more hands-on support to camera operators and DPs as well.