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Focus Puller and camera operator: is a (short) workshop class really worth it?

Diego Treves

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Yesterday I came across a focus pulller operator workshop class which will be held here in Italy, starting next February.


The class will have a duration of two (2) weekends, so I guess about 8 hours per day for two consecutive week ends, 4 days totally. I haven't had access to the detailed schedule yet but I assume, comparing to similar Labs they provide, that it won't be two full days: so may be the first day (say on saturday) you will get 8 hours and the second one maybe something less.


It will be pretty much intense anyway, I guess.


Now, I don't want to attach a link to this school because they didn't act very professionally so far, based on a e-mail exchange we had yesterday, so I don't want to provide any sort of publicity to what they do.



But I was wondering: is a kind of class like this one really helpful? I mean, of course learning always is, and especially learning from working professionals and by the aid of professional gear, but how much can you really learn from a 4-days class?


Especially assuming that you won't be doing focus pulling from the very beginning, but you will probably be introduced with the different kind of cameras and the kind of gear you will be using, during the first hours.


And then take into account that you won't be alone: some other students will be there with you and you'll probably have to take turns to operate the camera, and so on.


So I guess that by the end of the course you will have a basic operative knowledge of focus pulling, a few hours of field experience (if you're lucky), but I definitely guess you won't be absolutely "ready for work", not even for a small short with friends!!



May be youl'll be able to recognise a real follow focus when you see one on the set: that's more likely.


Now of course I am a bit exaggerating here, but I really don't like this way of doing business, which is very common in the educational field here in Italy: aware of the huge appeal that some areas or activities may bear, some kind of people tend to give very little for a very high price, and usually to naif and passionate young girls and boys who would like to learn more or, in most cases, learn a profession for their futures.


I am not saying there's a scam going on: of course you can always ask for information before applying for a class, and it is your duty indeed to do so, so that you know what you are paying for, but the information they provide is not always clear, not from the beginning at least.

(the description they provide for the course on their internet page is very vague, and smells like the usual "resumé-upsizing kind of language")


And, most importantly, what you pay for is definitely overpriced for the kind and quantity of training you get, in my opinion.


Professional education and training is a very strong business here, and what you get is not always worth what you pay for, especially if you consider that, partly due to a peculiar job situation, partly to a typical italian mindset, the very same people who train you (which are usually working professionals), don't really care about being helpful to introduce you to the job, usually because this may conflict with their own interests.


I guess it's not the same in United States, probably because that kind of harsh competition for work that we are experiencing now in the last five-ten years, you already had quite some years ago.

Italy is a very cinical country at the present time.


Some time ago I was listening to an interview to comedian Steve Kaplan for Film Courage (YT channel) and it struck me when, demanded to provide some advice to beginner writers, he finally said: ".. and then you can alway ask. I mean here in Los Angeles people are happy if they can help other people."




That's completely impossible for Italy. There's a really strange approach to these matters in this country. A discussion board like this one for example, where trained and working professionals will answer your questions or curiosities, actually advancing your expertise and knowledge on the job, is quite inconceivable. And there is none in fact.



Anyway, let me go back to the topic now.


what I want to ask is:


- except that I will be training on professional gear,

- except that I will receive some kind of theoretical and technical background,


will it really be helpful taking a short class like this one, if my ultimate goal is to actually learn to pull focus on the field, not just simply knowing how focus pulling works?


I mean: let me say again I don't know the price of this specific course, but I can guess it will be between 500€ and 800€: can't I buy some decent gear for the same price and practice on my own?


I know you can't buy a dslr AND a follow focus AND a good shoulder rig AND a good external display with that money, but a dear friend of mine already owns a good dslr camera and wants to learn shooting too. So I was thinking we could split the costs, buy some basic stuff on amazon and start practicing during week ends, taking turns alternatively: shooting and focus pulling.


I know it's not the same as working with professional gear in a supervised milieu, where a teacher oversees your job and corrects your mistakes, but how much experience can you really get from a 4-day training?


I guess focus pulling, as well as camera shooting, is mostly about experience, about practice.


And by the way, I was reading some days ago a nice discussion on this board, which I cant find now, where an experienced assistant operator was explaining how the job is changing at the present time: how more and more you are asked to focus pull from the external monitor, sometimes disregarding or ignoring completely the marks you made for the actors, provided you had time to do that.


And I can understand that: partly because, as he said, new directors don't even know these procedure and routines, partly because you don't always have much time, and partly because the nature of the shot may cause your marks to be completely useless (correct me if I am wrong).


So this all tells me even more how much an extended practice is critical to this specific job..


What do you think, what's your opinion?



thanks for reading

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These short courses can be extemely good. It really depends on who's giving the course and the equipment they have available. The Intenational Film Workshops in Rockport, Maine USA used to run high end workshops which working film & TV professionals attended, however, they don't seem to be at the same level these days. The NFTS in the UK run short courses as well, part of the ongoing training people need these days.

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I see what you mean and I generally agree.

but in my specific situation I dont know if that fits.


I still need to learn the basics: I am almost starting from scratch.


The more I think about it, the more I am persuaded that I should be starting by myself, with small tasks at first.


Attending a workshop class should probably be a susequent step, like an improvement.


Anyway I will try and post the gear they have and show in their page. Surely its all good, I have no doubt about that.

as I told you my concerns are more "ethical".

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