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sowing seeds

Marcus Allemann

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[this post is specifically aimed at Australian assistants but any working professionals, feel free to chime in]


My position is thus:


I've just got back from travelling overseas. When I left I had been out of film school for about 9 months (before I had to stop working on film shoots and start earning more money for my trip.


I have been on as many film shoots as I possibly could have been without collapsing of sleep deprivation and have spent more hours on film sets than I have in most of my classes (just narrowly passing with my attendance).


I am thoroughly devoted to becoming a loader. Maybe one day, a focus puller. But that's what I'm set on, no grand vision of becoming a DOP. And although loading takes up most of my experience on film sets, 75% of these have been either student films or low budget independant productions with perhaps 10-15% being on a professional shoot.


So my question is "how did you start out from your wee fresh life as a starry eyed kid wanting to work as a camera assistant?"


Since coming back, I have been chasing up attachments but everything that I know that is out has full crews and last I checked (before I left), I didn't have enough high end productions on my belt to be considered by agencies.


I plan to pick out a few assistants to target specifically to work with and see if they'll let me learn from them and offer my services for free just in order to do so. I've also been trying to regularly make my way down to camera rental houses to get my head around the equipment and see if I can get a job when the opening comes.


I have spoken to a few DOP's and assistants but would like to widen the pool of advice.


Is there something I'm not doing that I should? Otherwise, I'll just have to stick it out with the small shoots and keep applying the above methods. I'm not looking for an overnight success and will wait as long as I have to because I really don't think I can be truly happy working anywhere else.


Would be really appreciate your words and hopefully the chance to work with you sometime perhaps. If anyone is interested to see exactly what my experience is, I'm more than happy to send you my CV if you give me a buzz at:






Kind Regards,


Marcus Allemann

0422 664 979

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Hi Marcus,


Where in Australia are you based? I'm from Adelaide, and was in a very similar position to you about a year ago, but have been lucky enough to get some work on features, so here's how I did it. Obviously every situation is different, and a lot of it comes down to being in the right place at the right time. I've been lucky in many cases.


I did a 3 year Bachelor of Creative Arts, then specialised in cinematography for my Honours year in 2007, which meant that I got to shoot three short dramas, a few TVCs and some promotional videos as part of my studies. Two of the dramas were shot on film, and I had also assisted on a couple of student films shot on 16mm the year before.


At the same time, I did as you did and volunteered on student productions, low budget shorts and other films outside of uni, which led to me getting to know some DPs and camera assistants in SA. When it came time to do my industry placement for uni, there happened to be a very low budget feature in town, and I was lucky enough to get a position on it as clapper loader (on digital - Panasonic Varicam), and learnt a huge amount from the DP, and focus puller. I did it for free as part of my uni studies, which required 120 hours of work experience, and I think we did that in the first week and a half. I then stayed on for the rest of the shoot, which was 4 weeks total.


After that, I heard about another low budget feature, this time shooting on Panasonic P2, and after speaking to the DP about my prior experience, was able to work on it on a deferred payment basis (which the whole crew was on). There were four of us in the camera department - the DP (also the Director), camera operator (a very experienced former focus puller who was a great teacher/mentor), and two 1st AC/gaffer/grips (myself and another recent graduate shared these roles).


So after that finished I'd done a lot of free assisting work - short films, corporate work, etc, and knew I had to make the next step up to start getting paid work. I'd done a couple of TVCs through contacts I'd made on short films, and had shot some short videos for the company I worked at part-time (in their multimedia department) but apart from that didn't really have any "real world" experience.


I read a newspaper article about some feature films that were coming to Adelaide, and googled the names of the productions and all of the details I had for them. Some came up blank, but I was able to find an email address for the producer of one of the films (a 35mm feature) that would be here in a couple of months. I sent her an email explaining the experience I had, and attached my CV, and never heard back from her. I then contacted the SAFC (SA Film Corporation) about the possibility of getting an attachment on one of the upcoming features, and asking for contact details for anyone I could speak to about work. I was given the name of the producer's assistant on the same film, so emailed her, and again got no response. A couple of weeks after that, I found out the name of the DP, so sent him an email, only to find out that the producer had passed my CV on to him with regards to an attachment position. When he was next in Adelaide, we met up for coffee and talked about the film. At that stage, he wasn't sure if there would be an attachment funded through the SAFC or not, but said he would let me know. Soon after that, I got a call saying that unfortunately there would be no attachment funding for camera department, but he'd be happy to recommend me for video split if I was interested and the focus puller was happy to take me on, which ended up being the case.


That film was an amazing learning experience, and through learning from the focus puller and practising loading, I was then given the chance to load on a 16mm feature late last year. I've also gotten further jobs on TVCs, short films and a TV pilot out of the contacts and experience I have gained from that work.


So, my advice for you (despite it sounding like you're already doing the right thing):


- work as much as you can, even if it's unpaid, because it will lead to paid work eventually.

- join the ACS. I'm not sure what state you're in, but it doesn't cost much, and you get a lot of networking opportunities out of it. Go to all of their trade nights and functions, because that's where you'll meet the DPs, camera assistants and other related people who will give you work

- go to courses. AFTRS runs courses in every state, and if you happen to be in NSW, they offer a 6 (?) week assisting course and the opportunity to work on their student productions... whose DPs may continue to use you as an assistant after they graduate. Any camera course is generally run by local DPs though, so if you impress them with your attitude, you may get some work (paid or unpaid) out of it

- sign up to all of the industry emails you can find. AFI, Inside Film, ACS, SAFC (or your local state body) all send out newsletters that will keep you in touch with courses and what shoots are coming up in your state.

- it may be worth signing up with an agent, depending on how much experience you have and where you're based. Mine simply gives out my contact details and CV to people ringing up looking for available people for productions, and I then work out everything with the production company direct. Just another way of getting extra work that you may not have heard about.

- look up agencies and crew databases online to find a list of focus pullers in your state, then email them your CV and ask for an opportunity to work with them. Try http://www.toptechsmanagement.com.au, or the Film Victoria or SAFC crew databases.

- Same thing with production managers, especially if you find out they're on a job (ask your state film body for upcoming features). Be polite but persistent.


Not sure what else to say, but feel free to ask if you have any questions. It's not easy to get that first job but everything tends to snowball the more you work.


Good luck, and hopefully I'll see you on a job sometime in the future!

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I started a year ago doing exactly the same thing (save the school part). It's been working out very well for me so far, so let that be an encouragement to you that you're doing the right thing so far - or else we're both failing teriffically! :) I did three features last year and I have strong leads on 5 more this year. Quite a few people know who I am and so far every person I've ever worked with has said that they will have me back again. That's a work ethic speaking; I'm not really all that exciting to be around! So that's the first thing.


If I were you, I would do two things, if possible:


- Hang around the local rental house. That's where AC's go. Even if they've already booked their loader, it's a name for you. If you make yourself useful or show indication of above ordinary intelligence, they'll probably remember who you are. Or, you might get hired by the rental house, which is a great way to start as well.


- Do any day shoots that come around. I love to drive so I'm not afraid to travel 14 hours roundtrip to do a day's shoot (only if they pay my fuel, which they do because they like me). As a result, I made quite a few good contacts through those few shoots. One of the guys has a vision for a feature in and about Congo, and if that ever becomes a reality, I'll be on it - all because I did a one-day job for him!


I specialize in RED, which helps me a little because it attaches me to a certain line of equipment, so as soon as somebody that knows me thinks about shooting on RED, they think of me. It probably hurts me as well that I don't have any 35mm experience, but then again I don't know anybody that shoots on film yet.

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how forgetful of me, I am based in Melbourne.


I did go to AFTRS for their camera assistant course and would consider going to sydney if the right job came by, but otherwise, I'm rock solid on staying a Melbourne boy.


I also joined the ACS a long while ago but my application got muddled up and lost into a void somewhere and I never ended up sorting it out, so I must renew.


I always keep my eyes peeled on what's shooting in Melbourne and am just about to start making regular apperances at camera rental houses (if anything just to muck around with the cameras when they are not busy) and trying to contact some focus pullers I would like to work under.


So I'll see how that works out.

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