1st AC

1st Assistant Camera

aka: first assistant camera, 1st AC, or focus puller

The 1st Assistant Camera is an essential part of the camera department. They work under the director of photography and are responsible for keeping the shot sharp and focused. Above all, it’s a technical job role that would suit someone with a keen eye for detail.

Do you think you have what it takes to become a 1st AC? Keep reading to learn more about this job role, including duties, education, career route, salary, and how to find work.

What is a 1st Assistant Camera?

The main job of the 1st assistant director is to pull focus on the camera. Because of this, their job is also known as the focus puller. The 1st AC is also responsible for running the camera department, including looking after equipment and managing camera assistants.

It’s not a beginner job role, and it will take several years to work up to this position. Furthermore, the job can also change per project with more tasks on low-budget film sets. On major movie sets, the 1st AC might only have to change lenses and keep focus.

Job Description

To begin with, the 1st AC are freelancers who work in the camera department. They work on a variety of projects, including film, TV, and commercials. It’s their job to assist the director of photography and camera operator by keeping the shot in focus.

The role is one of the most skilled jobs on a film crew. The 1st assistant camera focuses by measuring the distance between a shot and the subject, then manually focusing by the lens or using a wireless focus controller. Because reshooting scenes is expensive, the 1st AC is often under a lot of pressure during each take.

At the end of each shooting day, the 1st AC cleans the equipment and packs it up in preparation for the next day. If shooting on film, the focus puller will work with the film lab to note any problems and flaws such as scratches on the camera stock.

Pre-production Duties

The 1st assistant camera job can begin work in pre-production, where they work alongside the DOP to plan equipment. They might hire equipment such as cameras, lenses, and accessories. The 1st AC will also test equipment to check it is working before filming.

  • Create an equipment list
  • Hire camera equipment
  • Test camera equipment

Production Duties

During filming, the 1st AC is always on set, working closely with the DOP. They start the day by unloading equipment and helping to set up the camera. They watch the blocking and then lay down marks for the subjects to assist in focusing. When filming, they make sure that the shot is in focus. After filming, they clean and pack up the camera equipment.

  • Unload and set up the camera
  • Watch blocking and lay down marks
  • Focus the shot when filming
  • Clean and pack up equipment

Education and Skills

The 1st AC doesn’t need a degree or higher education, but you can attend a film school. Many will also take part in workshops and watch videos online to learn the basics. Another route is to work at a camera rental house to get comfortable around camera equipment.

In addition, the 1st AC needs to be reliable and understand the filmmaking process. You need to follow orders from the DOP and work alongside other camera assistants. The job also requires you to work under pressure and with heavy, expensive equipment.

Key 1st AC Skills:

  • Knowledge of equipment
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Be able to work as part of a team
  • Have good stamina and strength

1st AC Career Route

The traditional route is to start out as a trainee and then work up the career ladder to 2nd AC. It can take many years to step up from one job role to the next. To help, many assistants work a step up on low-budget film sets to get comfortable and practice their new role.

To some camera assistants, focus puller is the goal. However, you can progress from camera assistant to the director of photography role. It’s important to note the DOP requires the knowledge of both the camera and lighting departments. Still, the AC role will teach you professional practice, and you can use this job to network within the film industry.


The 1st AC is a below-the-line film crew job role. As such, you will have a daily rate, which will depend on the film’s overall budget. You must negotiate with the producer before starting work on your salary and any extras such as overtime pay and covering expenses.

Another factor determining your salary is whether or not you are part of a film union. If you work in America, being part of a union is integral to getting paid fairly. There are also camera guilds and unions which can help you understand how much to charge per project.

The IATSE recommends that 1st assistant camera has a going rate of $535 for budgets of $1 million and over. Of course, you can change this depending on your experience.

Finding Work

At the start of your career, you can find entry-level jobs on film job sites. Other ways to find work are to look on the career pages of local film companies, join Facebook groups, and assist with low-budget films. It’s typical to begin your career as a PA or camera trainee.

Finding work in the film industry relies heavily on networking and making contacts. After a few years of initial experience, you will find work from recommendations. It’s also typical for a producer and DOP to work with the same people on multiple projects.

US 🇺🇸UK 🇬🇧
Entertainment CareersScreenskills Jobs
Entertainment Careers advertises jobs in the film and TV industry across the US. It specializes in work for production companies in the Los Angeles region. Their website makes it easy to narrow down your search by job type, experience level, media sector, and location.ScreenSkills is a charity that provides industry news, training, and resources for the UK film industry. As well as, having regular training opportunities they also now have a jobs board for professional production positions.

Wrapping Up

To sum up, if you’re a technical person and enjoy a challenge, consider becoming a 1st assistant camera. With this role, every day is different, and you get to work with a variety of creative people. Plus, this job allows for plenty of travel and career progress. 

1st ACs must also continue to develop skills throughout their career by keeping up to date with new equipment. So, it’s essential that you love cameras and learning new techniques. We hope this guide has helped you learn more about this job role and if it is for you.

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