What Does a Focus Puller Do?

Kaci Lane Hindman

On a film crew, the focus puller is responsible for adjusting the lens to keep the subject matter in correct focus during each camera shot. In America, a focus puller is referred to as the first assistant camera (1AC). Typical responsibilities for this job include setting up the camera for each shot, changing lenses and filters, and adjusting the camera speed and focus. The focus puller is responsible for the technical aspects of the camera and assists the camera operator.

Proper focus is maintained by a focus puller during each camera shot.
Proper focus is maintained by a focus puller during each camera shot.

The entire camera team is led by the director of photography (DP), who answers to the director of the project. Sometimes the DP is also the camera operator, but this is not as common on larger jobs. Either way, the focus puller answers to both titles. As head of the technical issues, the 1AC gives directions to the video split operator and the clapper loader.

Focus pullers often start out working as a clapper loader or second assistant camera person.
Focus pullers often start out working as a clapper loader or second assistant camera person.

Camera assistants may have unpredictable work schedules since they generally work on a freelance basis. A typical day at work can last as long as 12 to 14 hours and can be physically tiring. Most jobs come from recommendations by the DP, a camera operator, or a senior camera assistant. Networking with others in the film industry will increase the chances of getting work as a focus puller. Camera assistants who have established themselves as reliable workers with good connections have the potential to earn a good living.

A lot of focus pullers start out working as a clapper loader or second assistant camera (2AC). This person is responsible for loading and unloading the film magazines into the camera. The 2AC also gathers information to give the script supervisor and slates each take, which is where the clapper part comes into play. Clapper loaders work directly under focus pullers, making them better equipped to move up one day to the position of 1AC.

As in most professions, attending a college or trade school and earning a degree can help a person preparing to work in the film industry. The work of a focus puller is very precise and can be tedious, so hands-on industry experience helps more than anything. Working for a camera team is a great way for someone interested in this field to gain knowledge of the camera technology and the film industry. Patience is required; most focus pullers break in by starting out at the bottom, and even working for free at first.

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