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how to learn to be a focus puller?


Abdul Rahman Jamous
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Do I really need to get myself more familiar with determining the distance between myself and the subjects around me? Do I really need to understand "depth of field" deeply? do you guys think that measuring the distance between the camera and the subject that the DP is shooting is really recommended? 

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Yes.  You must do all those things and... these days, you must also be able to pull focus by eye looking at a display.

That you are asking this question of "do I really need to...?" suggests to me, that focus pulling might not be the job for you.

So, maybe take Robin's advice and become an operator instead?

For me, my professional focus pulling career lasted a total of about ... 10 days I think.  It was not the job for me and I went into the Steadicam business instead 🙂 🙂 🙂 

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  • 1 month later...

Practice Practice Practice.   Judging distances is key.   Especially when your monitor dies on you haha.

The main exercise I use is to get my rangefinder (Leica D1, https://www.amazon.com/Leica-DISTO-Distance-Measure-Bluetooth/dp/B01M5CW7CT).   Sit on my couch and pick random points or object in my living room and dining room.  I guess the distance and then check it against the rangefinder.   Take 5min a day to it.

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Focus pulling is story telling. You need to get beyond the mechanics and academics of it in order to see past the nerve racking job. Once you achieve not having to concentrate on the technical aspects of the craft, it all comes  down to story telling and determining where and when to direct the audience’s attention. 
 

G

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4 hours ago, Gregory Irwin said:

Focus pulling is story telling. You need to get beyond the mechanics and academics of it in order to see past the nerve racking job. Once you achieve not having to concentrate on the technical aspects of the craft, it all comes  down to story telling and determining where and when to direct the audience’s attention. 

I was just having this conversation with an AC I was working with yesterday and how some people can do it and some people, just can't for whatever reason.  I mean, they can to an extent, but once you move past the pure technical stuff, and you're into instinct and hand-eye coordination, they buzz one out of five takes (and that's being generous).  It reminds me a lot of sports like pool or golf, where there is objective knowledge of the history combined with practice, but only mastered by a person with great hand-eye coordination and a overall talent that unfortunately most of us don't have.  It's a skill, and at Gregory's level, it's an art.

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There are out of focus shots in big budget movies and tv shows all the time. Remember that whenever the pressure starts to get to you. Also: (somewhat counter-intuitively) jobs get easier with bigger budgets, so if you can nail focus by eye on a stills lens with a 3 inch monitor, you can do pretty much anything. 

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42 minutes ago, Frank Hegyi said:

Also: (somewhat counter-intuitively) jobs get easier with bigger budgets, so if you can nail focus by eye on a stills lens with a 3 inch monitor, you can do pretty much anything. 

How in the world did you conclude this??? Bigger budget pictures have higher stakes and many  more complex challenges. Any yes, there are always budget constraints!
 

G

Edited by Gregory Irwin
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59 minutes ago, Frank Hegyi said:

There are out of focus shots in big budget movies and tv shows all the time. Remember that whenever the pressure starts to get to you. Also: (somewhat counter-intuitively) jobs get easier with bigger budgets, so if you can nail focus by eye on a stills lens with a 3 inch monitor, you can do pretty much anything. 

 

last two statements are not true.

the relative ease of a job varies with each project, but in no way does it get easier for a 1st AC (especially A cam) as the budget increases.

also, no, you can't learn focus pulling by eye on a stills lens on a 3-inch screen. how does that even make sense

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I didn't mean to offend or be controversial. The intention of my comment was to encourage the original poster, not be dismissive of others.

The point I'm trying to make is that (in my own personal experience), big budget productions are much less stressful than low budget ones. Of course the stakes, complexity, and accompanying knowledge-barrier-to-entry are much higher on big budget stuff. But you generally have the necessary equipment and (even more importantly) the support of other professionals which allows you to concentrate on your individual job.

By contrast, when I'm shooting indie docs by myself, I'm operating, running audio, story producing, getting location releases, AND focus pulling all at the same time. It's damn near impossible. I guess you could argue that I'm comparing apples and oranges...

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Quote

 

if you can nail focus by eye on a stills lens with a 3 inch monitor, you can do pretty much anything. 

I guess you could argue that I'm comparing apples and oranges...

 

If you're comparing getting focus on an apple hanging from a tree... to holding focus on an orange that falls from a tree and lands on the ground... then you are, by definition, rightly using the term "apples to oranges" in this comparison.😉😁

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12 hours ago, Frank Hegyi said:

I didn't mean to offend or be controversial. The intention of my comment was to encourage the original poster, not be dismissive of others.

The point I'm trying to make is that (in my own personal experience), big budget productions are much less stressful than low budget ones. Of course the stakes, complexity, and accompanying knowledge-barrier-to-entry are much higher on big budget stuff. But you generally have the necessary equipment and (even more importantly) the support of other professionals which allows you to concentrate on your individual job.

By contrast, when I'm shooting indie docs by myself, I'm operating, running audio, story producing, getting location releases, AND focus pulling all at the same time. It's damn near impossible. I guess you could argue that I'm comparing apples and oranges...

I understand what you are saying. A one man show is challenging. This is a very different situation from what I’m accustomed to. Even with the complexities of big budget filmmaking, I have a team of support. In fact, since my heart surgery last year, my team will absolutely not let me do anything but pull focus and run the business of the camera department. They do everything else! I am very blessed. There is no way I could have done or do what you do Frank. Cheers!

G

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On 2/14/2020 at 11:11 AM, David Ishida said:

Practice Practice Practice.   Judging distances is key.   Especially when your monitor dies on you haha.

The main exercise I use is to get my rangefinder (Leica D1, https://www.amazon.com/Leica-DISTO-Distance-Measure-Bluetooth/dp/B01M5CW7CT).   Sit on my couch and pick random points or object in my living room and dining room.  I guess the distance and then check it against the rangefinder.   Take 5min a day to it.

What is your opinion of the Leica?  I have an older model of the Hilti and I'm looking to upgrade to either the newer Hilti or a Leica.  Outdoor functionality in particular is something I'm looking at.  For instance car jobs or working in the snow.  

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On 2/14/2020 at 6:42 PM, Justin Hayward said:

I was just having this conversation with an AC I was working with yesterday and how some people can do it and some people, just can't for whatever reason.  I mean, they can to an extent, but once you move past the pure technical stuff, and you're into instinct and hand-eye coordination, they buzz one out of five takes (and that's being generous).  It reminds me a lot of sports like pool or golf, where there is objective knowledge of the history combined with practice, but only mastered by a person with great hand-eye coordination and a overall talent that unfortunately most of us don't have.  It's a skill, and at Gregory's level, it's an art.

I was recently having a conversation with a respected peer about the simile of being a Focus Puller to a Professional Golfer.  A professional golfer can step up and hit most shots at will.  But when the pressure is on and everyone is watching.. can they deliver?  Not always, but generally better than most and the great ones more.  It's really about knowing everything within the camera system,  understanding the intangibles of the shot and after that trust and confidence that you can hit the shot.  It does take time and experience but even the best ones have "off" days.  It's not just focus on the barrel but also focus within your mind and subconscious.  

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On 2/9/2021 at 10:24 PM, J Phillips said:

I was recently having a conversation with a respected peer about the simile of being a Focus Puller to a Professional Golfer.  A professional golfer can step up and hit most shots at will.  But when the pressure is on and everyone is watching.. can they deliver?  Not always, but generally better than most and the great ones more.  It's really about knowing everything within the camera system,  understanding the intangibles of the shot and after that trust and confidence that you can hit the shot.  It does take time and experience but even the best ones have "off" days.  It's not just focus on the barrel but also focus within your mind and subconscious.  

It's fun to read all of the above.  I've been focus pulling for so long (42 years) that I've forgotten much of what it takes to be good and instinctive for the job.  Like I have stated before, it takes many years of struggling and practice to achieve a proficiency for the craft.  Only after you can get beyond the academics and mechanics of focus pulling can your mind be free to concentrate on the creative aspects of the art.  It's very liberating once that happens and enjoyable!  At this stage of my career, I really don't even touch the cameras anymore.  My extremely talented and qualified team takes care of that these days.  This allows me to fully commit myself to servicing the cinematography to the best of my ability via focus and running the business side of the camera department with the cinematographer, the producers and the studio.  I wish you all the best as you develop into superstar focus pullers!

 

G

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On 2/9/2021 at 9:09 PM, J Phillips said:

What is your opinion of the Leica?  I have an older model of the Hilti and I'm looking to upgrade to either the newer Hilti or a Leica.  Outdoor functionality in particular is something I'm looking at.  For instance car jobs or working in the snow.  

I like the D1 a lot, but it is no good outside.   One of the higher end Lecia's or Hiltis that have a range finder or camera would be better for outdoor work.

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