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Posted (edited)
11 hours ago, Stuart Brereton said:

Please don’t presume to tell me what I know or don’t know.

Oh then you've never seen this, even though you say later in your response that you know exactly what I'm talking about. 

11 hours ago, Stuart Brereton said:

Before high def video assists were available the operator was relied upon to see focus. It was as much a part of their job as composition and framing.

No shit 

11 hours ago, Stuart Brereton said:

Did they spot every buzz? No, of course not

Correct and reality is, there is a lot of soft focus on 35mm shows, even modern ones. Yet on digital, this problem is pretty much non-existent. 

11 hours ago, Stuart Brereton said:

they most certainly were not ‘useless’.

I said the operator is pretty useless on a motion picture camera when it came to one thing; focus, which is what this thread is about.

I figured everyone understood I was comparing film to digital. I also figured the OP has not been using a motion picture camera for 30 years+ as a union camera operator and that he probably will not be using one for long enough to gain the experience those veterans have. I also figured the OP probably asked the question because they wanted to know WHY and I explained why. I figured other people would understand my explanation was not a dig at union camera operators, but was an explanation of the limited technology film cameras have compared to modern digital when it comes to things like focus. 

11 hours ago, Stuart Brereton said:

Perhaps you find it hard to see focus, but that doesn’t mean that professional operators suffer from the same problem.

Ahh ok, so you really don't have any idea what I'm talking about. You need to re-watch ALL of Christopher Nolans 35mm movies and then come back and talk to me about focus. You really think Wally and Hoyte are bad camera operators or do you think perhaps, the technology limits their ability to get focus, making all that starting into the viewfinder, pretty useless if the end result is soft focus. 

Edited by Tyler Purcell
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21 minutes ago, Tyler Purcell said:

 I said the operator is pretty useless on a motion picture camera when it came to one thing; focus, which is what this thread is about.

And which is exactly what I'm referring to. Describing camera operators as useless because there are occasional buzzes is like saying focus pullers are useless for the same reason. A ridiculous statement.

24 minutes ago, Tyler Purcell said:

I figured everyone understood I was comparing film to digital. I also figured the OP has not been using a motion picture camera for 30 years+ as a union camera operator and that he probably will not be using one for long enough to gain the experience those veterans have. I also figured the OP probably asked the question because they wanted to know WHY and I explained why. I figured other people would understand my explanation was not a dig at union camera operators, but was an explanation of the limited technology film cameras have compared to modern digital when it comes to things like focus. 

Oh, I see. So 'pretty useless' was doing quite a lot of heavy lifting here to try to convey all the things you assumed other people would take from your post. Perhaps you should try to actually say what you mean in future.

 

29 minutes ago, Tyler Purcell said:

You need to re-watch ALL of Christopher Nolans 35mm movies and then come back and talk to me about focus. You really think Wally and Hoyte are bad camera operators or do you think perhaps, the technology limits their ability to get focus, making all that starting into the viewfinder, pretty useless if the end result is soft focus. 

So you're assuming that they were unaware of these buzzes. I can think of one member of this forum with direct knowledge of that who would say different.

If you want to speak from your own experience, feel free, but please don't make statements on this forum that are not supported by the vast majority of professional practice. 

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33 minutes ago, Stuart Brereton said:

And which is exactly what I'm referring to. Describing camera operators as useless because there are occasional buzzes is like saying focus pullers are useless for the same reason. A ridiculous statement.

Again, it's not the fault of the operators, I never said that. I blame the technology 100%. 

34 minutes ago, Stuart Brereton said:

Oh, I see. So 'pretty useless' was doing quite a lot of heavy lifting here to try to convey all the things you assumed other people would take from your post. Perhaps you should try to actually say what you mean in future.

Yes, I assume too much. 

35 minutes ago, Stuart Brereton said:

So you're assuming that they were unaware of these buzzes. I can think of one member of this forum with direct knowledge of that who would say different.

Yep and he worked on the very films I'm referencing. He's also very good at his job. So is it him, or the tech? I don't think it's him. 

36 minutes ago, Stuart Brereton said:

If you want to speak from your own experience, feel free, but please don't make statements on this forum that are not supported by the vast majority of professional practice. 

It was an easy statement to make based on over 25 years of experience shooting film and digital. Why anyone would get angry by saying film cameras are a bitch to get focus on compared to digital, is beyond me. I simply summarized two dozen sentences into one that contained my personal frustration with it over the years. Then again, I'm not a union member, so that must be the reason why. 

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10 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

Why anyone would get angry by saying film cameras are a bitch to get focus on compared to digital, is beyond me. I simply summarized two dozen sentences into one that contained my personal frustration with it over the years. Then again, I'm not a union member, so that must be the reason why. 

I’m not angry, just disagreeing with you. You stated that camera operators are “pretty useless” for judging focus. That is manifestly untrue. It maybe your personal experience that you find it hard to see focus, but that is not how you framed your comments. Instead you made a sweeping statement that was phrased in a way to make it sound like accepted fact (“remember...”)

I’m well aware that you often speak way beyond your experience, and that you have little regard for facts. I’m just asking you, once again, to state your opinions as such.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Stuart Brereton said:

You stated that camera operators are “pretty useless” for judging focus. That is manifestly untrue.

That's not what I said at all actually. 

"Remember, the operator is pretty useless on a motion picture camera because the shutter drops the brightness of the viewfinder substantially and being able to tell something is in focus or not, can be challenging through the viewfinder when the camera is running."

If you hired someone to build something and they only finished 98% of it and disappeared, you would call them "useless" 
If you had your car fixed and they left oil all over the engine, you'd call them "useless"
If you bought a computer and when you got it home, it didn't have the OS on it, you'd call the person you got it from "useless"

So yes, if a camera system is only 90-95% accurate at determining focus when running, I'd call that pretty damn useless. The moment there is uncertainty, then it's not a good system is it? Again, I'm not blaming the operator at all, the system is just flawed. 
 

1 hour ago, Stuart Brereton said:

I’m well aware that you often speak way beyond your experience, and that you have little regard for facts.

If you think this comment is "beyond" my experience, then you have no idea who I am and how good I am at my job. 

Edited by Tyler Purcell
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3 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

So yes, if a camera system is only 90-95% accurate at determining focus when running, I'd call that pretty damn useless. The moment there is uncertainty, then it's not a good system is it? 

By this rationale, every system is useless, because no system is 100% perfect. I don’t even know what you’re talking about any more. If you had just said that judging focus could sometimes be tricky for an operator, no one would have disagreed, but instead you proclaim that operators are useless for checking focus, and that any camera system that is only 95% accurate is also useless. Do you even know what useless means? Why do you always insist on doubling down on every statement you make, no matter how ridiculous?

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I’ve been silently following this thread for a couple of days now. I wasn’t going to weigh in because there’s no need to repeat past conversations on portions of the above. However, I will say that in the film world, it is absolutely the operator’s job to see and report on focus whether it’s to confirm success or failure. I’ve known several incidents where the operator was let go due to not fulfilling this part of the job. 
 

In the digital world, all focus requirements and practices have changed. With monitor focus pulling and practically  everyone on set being able to judge focus, the onus has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the focus puller. Yes, the job has been made easier since you can immediately see the results but digital focus is much more difficult due to resolution (ie. 8K) and the perception that rehearsals are unnecessary since we have much more liberal running times with the media. Personally, I embrace both of these factors and I enjoy the reality that the art of focus pulling has become more about storytelling rather than a technical process. 
 

G

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On 8/16/2020 at 11:53 PM, Justin Oakley said:

 When watching videos of focus-pullers/1st ACs work, a lot of the time their eyes are often not on any monitor. They are on the action—which is technically the “correct” way? (Taking measurements and whatnot). With a camera on sticks and pre-measured marks it’s simple enough I suppose. Guy stands here, talks to some other dude. He moves to his 2nd mark, and you get there with the focus.

There's a thread on the focuspulleratwork forum about tips pulling without a monitor which may give you insight into how focus pullers deal with the sort of action you describe.
https://www.focuspulleratwork.com/forum/10-things-about/10-tips-of-how-to-pull-focus-without-a-monitor

 

As always, spot on from Gregory. 

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On 8/16/2020 at 11:53 PM, Justin Oakley said:

 When watching videos of focus-pullers/1st ACs work, a lot of the time their eyes are often not on any monitor. They are on the action—which is technically the “correct” way?

I'll defer to the actual 1st ACs on here, but you need to split your attention between what the camera "sees", and what you see. If you just watch the monitor, you are basically just reacting, and that means that you are always slightly behind whatever the actor is doing. If, however, you watch the actor, you can anticipate their move and adjust focus as they do it.

Imagine you are pulling focus on a head and shoulders close up of someone who is sitting down. Halfway through the scene, they stand up. When people go to stand up from a chair, the first part of their body that moves tend to be their hips, as they start to sway their body forward in order to stand. If you were just watching the monitor, you would never see that happen because it would be out of frame, but if you were watching the actor, you'd see it coming, and be able to anticipate the move they were making. It's the same with many other movements that people make. It's almost always feet or hips that move first, upper body second. If you're not paying attention to that, you're going to be purely reactive in your focus pulling. A large part of the job is learning how to read an actor's body language and movement. Those skills also carry over into operating.

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11 hours ago, Stuart Brereton said:

By this rationale, every system is useless, because no system is 100% perfect.

Incorrect, with digital you can get 100% perfection.

Not only do you have excellent assist tools, but someone on set can even zoom up on the image in real time and even double check via playback. So yes with digital you will know with 100% certainty the shot is in focus. The only thing that holds you back is the ability of your crew to use the tools properly. 

11 hours ago, Stuart Brereton said:

 If you had just said that judging focus could sometimes be tricky for an operator, no one would have disagreed, but instead you proclaim that operators are useless for checking focus, and that any camera system that is only 95% accurate is also useless.

Again, read my entire comment. 

 "IDK I find focusing on digital cameras MUCH easier than film cameras. Remember, the operator is pretty useless on a motion picture camera because the shutter drops the brightness of the viewfinder substantially and being able to tell something is in focus or not, can be challenging through the viewfinder when the camera is running. With digital, you can tell if something is right immediately, which makes it much easier. With film ya never truly know." 

I never said USELESS, I said "pretty" useless, which suggests it's doable. I even later state "challenging" and am very clear what I'm referring to is a running camera and comparing it to shooting digitally. 

I even went on to explain it's a technology issue, not a human being issue. The tech simply prohibits verification, per my comment above. 

11 hours ago, Stuart Brereton said:

Do you even know what useless means?

Not useful, which means not practical.

How about this re-phrase. 

If a human being can't ascertain focus due to the decrease in brightness of the viewfinder when the mirror is spinning, then the technology is pretty impractical for insuring you have tack sharp focus like you would be able to achieve with digital cameras, due to real-time focus aids AND replay-ability. 

11 hours ago, Stuart Brereton said:

Why do you always insist on doubling down on every statement you make, no matter how ridiculous?

Why back down from something that's the truth? 

The only reason you dislike what I said is because you're butt hurt that I could say such a thing about camera operators, when in reality I'm referring to A PERSON RUNNING A CAMERA, not some job title on a film set. 

Getting tack perfect focus has ALWAYS been a problem with film cameras, everyone knows that. Just re-watch some of your favorite movies shot on film, you will see dozens of focus issues. Ya just don't see that in modern digital cinematography and that's plenty of evidence/proof that the technology, not the job title of camera operator, hinder the ability to ascertain perfect focus on a running (mirror spinning) motion picture camera. 

 

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3 hours ago, Stuart Brereton said:

I'll defer to the actual 1st ACs on here, but you need to split your attention between what the camera "sees", and what you see. If you just watch the monitor, you are basically just reacting, and that means that you are always slightly behind whatever the actor is doing. If, however, you watch the actor, you can anticipate their move and adjust focus as they do it.

Imagine you are pulling focus on a head and shoulders close up of someone who is sitting down. Halfway through the scene, they stand up. When people go to stand up from a chair, the first part of their body that moves tend to be their hips, as they start to sway their body forward in order to stand. If you were just watching the monitor, you would never see that happen because it would be out of frame, but if you were watching the actor, you'd see it coming, and be able to anticipate the move they were making. It's the same with many other movements that people make. It's almost always feet or hips that move first, upper body second. If you're not paying attention to that, you're going to be purely reactive in your focus pulling. A large part of the job is learning how to read an actor's body language and movement. Those skills also carry over into operating.

And what about with a really shallow depth of field? I guess that’s what I wonder the most. When it’s a game of inches is it ever just a guessing game? Again, for shots with a lot of energy. You’re watching the actor...the hips, etc. They bolt up, lean in, and bitchslap the other person across the table in like a second and a half. Then as soon as they got up, they’re back in their seat. You throw the wheel that fraction of a millimeter or whatever, and hope and pray they’re in focus?

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51 minutes ago, Justin Oakley said:

And what about with a really shallow depth of field? I guess that’s what I wonder the most. When it’s a game of inches is it ever just a guessing game? Again, for shots with a lot of energy. You’re watching the actor...the hips, etc. They bolt up, lean in, and bitchslap the other person across the table in like a second and a half. Then as soon as they got up, they’re back in their seat. You throw the wheel that fraction of a millimeter or whatever, and hope and pray they’re in focus?

It's relative.  Do basketball players react differently to lay-ups they thought were going to be dunks?  I think so, that's the game.  But if an actor suddenly "bitchslapped" another actor out of the clear blue sky, I think everyone would understand if the AC might have missed the focus and maybe we should do another take.

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But isn't that what movies are?  It's all writing and staging performances to camera work and lighting all to bring out an emotion.  If one of those things are lacking, then all of it suffers.  Instinct only goes so far when you're working with 40 other people to accomplish the same goal.

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9 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:
The only reason you dislike what I said is because you're butt hurt that I could say such a thing about camera operators, when in reality I'm referring to A PERSON RUNNING A CAMERA, not some job title on a film set. 

I’m not butt hurt in the least, Tyler. The purpose of challenging you is to get you to explain what you actually mean, rather than the sweeping, hyperbolic statements that you are so fond of making.

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8 minutes ago, Stuart Brereton said:

hyperbolic statements that you are so fond of making.

They're exactly what I'm feeling at the moment. Remember, Internet forums are a place to express yourself. There is no other reason for them to exist. 

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

They're exactly what I'm feeling at the moment. Remember, Internet forums are a place to express yourself. There is no other reason for them to exist. 

But people come to learn too 

Edited by Robin R Probyn

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2 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

They're exactly what I'm feeling at the moment. Remember, Internet forums are a place to express yourself. There is no other reason for them to exist. 

We’ve been here before. The vast majority of contributors here, including the site’s owner, consider this to be a learning resource, not a chat room.

There are many beginners and hobbyists here, certainly in this, the Student and New Filmmakers forum. They are looking for help and advice, not flights of fancy. They may not be able to distinguish fact from opinion. I sometimes wonder whether you can either.

Specifically in this thread, the OP came looking for information on focus pulling. I don’t suppose for one second that he was particularly interested in how you were “feeling in the moment”.

 

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11 hours ago, Justin Oakley said:

And what about with a really shallow depth of field? I guess that’s what I wonder the most. When it’s a game of inches is it ever just a guessing game? Again, for shots with a lot of energy. You’re watching the actor...the hips, etc. They bolt up, lean in, and bitchslap the other person across the table in like a second and a half. Then as soon as they got up, they’re back in their seat. You throw the wheel that fraction of a millimeter or whatever, and hope and pray they’re in focus?

That’s our entire skill set Justin. That’s exactly what we are paid well to do. It’s a game of FRACTIONS of an inch. It takes practice of many years to get good at this and still it may not be for everyone. It’s one of the hardest jobs on set. We focus pullers have to understand human nature and body language in order to anticipate what motion will happen next, we have to understand storytelling and how our focus choices may affect the editing of the shot/scene. We must have a complete mastery of cinematography and how our actions will impact it. Many times it’s guessing what will happen next and sometimes we’re wrong and need another shot at it. Focus pulling is not a perfect science. It’s a human act. And with that comes imperfections that may become part of the cinematic character of the image. That’s not to say we like and accept mistakes. We hate seeing soft focus or choices of where we played focus in a shot that didn’t quite work out. But we are human beings doing this and not machines. If you ever meet a focus puller who says he/she never has a soft shot, I will tell you right now that they are not being truthful or they haven’t done it for very long. 
 

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11 hours ago, Justin Oakley said:

And what about with a really shallow depth of field? I guess that’s what I wonder the most. When it’s a game of inches is it ever just a guessing game? Again, for shots with a lot of energy. You’re watching the actor...the hips, etc. They bolt up, lean in, and bitchslap the other person across the table in like a second and a half. Then as soon as they got up, they’re back in their seat. You throw the wheel that fraction of a millimeter or whatever, and hope and pray they’re in focus?

Assuming that the stand, lean and slap are something that you know is coming, there's ways of dealing with it. You know what the distance is when they're sitting. As people stand, they lean forward. That's measurable too. Then they lean across the table. How far? Well, it will be to their arms length of the other actor because they're going to slap them. Again measurable. You'd be surprised at just how predictable body movements can be, even when they look fast and uncontrolled. Another mitigating factor is that big movements don't play well on tight lenses, so you may have a little DoF than you would on a long lens.

No focus puller gets it right every time, particularly not at wide apertures, but a large part of their skillset is being able to read an actors movements, and to "feel" where the focus should be.

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1 hour ago, Stuart Brereton said:

Assuming that the stand, lean and slap are something that you know is coming, there's ways of dealing with it. You know what the distance is when they're sitting. As people stand, they lean forward. That's measurable too. Then they lean across the table. How far? Well, it will be to their arms length of the other actor because they're going to slap them. Again measurable. You'd be surprised at just how predictable body movements can be, even when they look fast and uncontrolled. Another mitigating factor is that big movements don't play well on tight lenses, so you may have a little DoF than you would on a long lens.

No focus puller gets it right every time, particularly not at wide apertures, but a large part of their skillset is being able to read an actors movements, and to "feel" where the focus should be.

Gotcha. I guess I was getting wrapped around the axel about the idea of some improvised stuff. Kind of forgot about blocking and rehearsals and multiple takes and whatnot. 

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3 minutes ago, Justin Oakley said:

Gotcha. I guess I was getting wrapped around the axel about the idea of some improvised stuff. Kind of forgot about blocking and rehearsals and multiple takes and whatnot. 

Another important point is that the actor's movements are as much a part of their performance as the words they are speaking. A good actor should be able to show you what their movements will be, and to repeat them accurately from take to take. Even when actors are improvising, they are often doing so within certain boundaries, or certain areas of the set, so you at least have a fighting chance of anticipating their moves.

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Posted (edited)
23 minutes ago, Stuart Brereton said:

Another important point is that the actor's movements are as much a part of their performance as the words they are speaking. A good actor should be able to show you what their movements will be, and to repeat them accurately from take to take. Even when actors are improvising, they are often doing so within certain boundaries, or certain areas of the set, so you at least have a fighting chance of anticipating their moves.

I agree with Stuart about his assessment of “good” actors. Sadly, those classically trained cinema actors are a dying breed. Here is a quote from me when recently interviewed by International Cinematographers Guild magazine’s Pauline Rogers on this topic:

 It used to be that actors would be held accountable for their part in hitting their marks and finding their light. They would also have the awareness to find the lens every time and understand frame size. Those days are over. Now we have to pander to their whim of where and when they move, try to unbury them from behind another actor who has also missed his/her mark. A lot of my success is knowing when and how the camera will move to compensate. 
 

ICG Magazine, July, 2020
 

G

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58 minutes ago, Gregory Irwin said:

 It used to be that actors would be held accountable for their part in hitting their marks and finding their light. They would also have the awareness to find the lens every time and understand frame size. Those days are over. Now we have to pander to their whim of where and when they move, try to unbury them from behind another actor who has also missed his/her mark. A lot of my success is knowing when and how the camera will move to compensate. 

I’ve worked with some actors who were fantastic for this. One in particular took it as a point of pride that whatever he did in the rehearsal, every gesture, every movement, he would do in the take at exactly the same point. And if he forgot, or did it differently, he’d come over and apologize afterwards.

Other actors, well, some of them, if they land within three feet of the mark, you call it a win...

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I totally agree Stuart. For many years, I worked for the great cinematographer, William Fraker, ASC. If an actor didn’t live up to his/her responsibilities of their craft, Billy would calmly walk up to them, point out their mark and key light and kindly explain if they don’t pay attention to these, their mothers will most likely never see them in the motion picture! 😂 I loved that he held them accountable for their end of the filmmaking craft. 
 

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This is something that affects editing, too. I remember a few years ago shooting a dramatic scene in which there was a bit of ad-lib business at the beginning, in a vehicle as it pulled up. Because the scene was between two people in the front seats, most of the coverage had both of them in it, and neither of them really seemed to understand the need to do the same ad-lib in the different angles.

I don't know if this stuff is taught in acting school.

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