Focus Puller Job Explained
A Really Simple, Really Difficult Job
This is a collection of notes, tips and theory that I have written down, discussed with colleagues, and tried to pass on to my loaders and trainees. It's aimed at people who are already in the camera department and probably already doing the job, so I assume you'll understand the jargon. You are free to pass it on subject to the conditions at the end of the page.
In these notes, I use Director of Photography (DoP), cameraman, camerawoman and cinematographer to mean the same thing. In American credits, 'Focus Puller' is 1st Assistant Cameraman, 1st Assistant Photographer or 1st AC
Now I'm behind the camera myself, after 12 years as a focus puller, I can reflect on what an impossible job it is: unlimited responsibility with no power, nobody takes any notice until you get it wrong, and nobody knows until the next morning - at the earliest - whether you really got it right. Whenever I was asked by someone outside the film industry to describe the job, I would say that the Focus Puller looks after all the technical aspects of the photography so that the cinematographer is free to deal with the artistic aspects. However, it's important to realise:
The Director of Photography is responsible for focus
The Director of Photography is responsible for focus for two reasons:
The DoP is the Head of Department, so they’re responsible for everything that goes on in that department. That’s why they get the big pay packet.
Also, they set the parameters of every shot - if they want to shoot the entire movie at T1.9 and hand-held, then they can’t complain if there’s a high percentage of soft material and they should stand up for their team if this becomes a problem.