What is an Actor Marker and why it's vital for Focus Pulling.

What is an Actor Marker and why it's vital for Focus Pulling.

 

Hi, Focus Rat here, and today we are going to talk about what Actor Markers are, how they are used, and why they are an essential tool when pulling focus, no matter the size of the production.

 

Before we start, there are a few things we need to discuss for clarity's sake.

 

First, what is focus pulling?

Focus pulling is the art of keeping the point of interest in sharp focus during the shooting of a motion picture. It is important to note, that in most cases the main point of interest is the eyes of the talent aka the actors.

The tool known as the Follow Focus is used to physically turn the focus ring located on the lens. The Follow Focus can be rigged to the lens and camera setups, such as the Arri FF5 as well as the Tilta 3010, or function wirelessly with the help of a controller, receiver, and servo motor (ARRI WCU, Preston FIZ, and Tilta Nucleus just to name a few).

 

Where does the Focus Puller fit in the camera crew?

The terms  “First Assistant Camera”, “1st AC” and “Focus Puller” refer to the exact same position. 

The head of any camera crew is the DoP (Director of Photography, often called Cinematographer), followed by the Camera operators and then 1st Ac’s, 2nd Ac’s, and camera trainees. 

 

Why is it important?

It's important for many reasons. A sharp and well-placed focus brings the subject of the scene to the forefront, conveys emotion and motion, and is a subtle but vital way for the audience to connect with the actors and the film's message.

It is often said that focus pullers are the silent heroes of the film crew because their job it’s only noticed when they miss a beat and the focus loses its sharpness.

 

There are a lot of psychological, artistic, and stylistic choices when it comes to focusing. What part of the artist and scene to focus on, and how to pull and manipulate focus distance in order to convey most emotion and really draw in the audience in the scene.

In this blog, however, we will showcase what kind of equipment you need to pull the perfect focus, and how to use said equipment.

 

Three main tools will help you and the talent on set to create the perfect shot. The Sausage Markers, T markers, and Gaffer tape.


T and Sausage Markers.

T and Sasauge Markers

 

As their name suggests, T and Sausage markers are small tools shaped like a T and a straight line that help the actors position themselves during the shot. 

In the case of multiple stops, separate markers are used for each one. Usually, it’s the 2nd Ac’s job to collaborate closely with the Dop as well as the 1st Ac and place the markers in their final position. 

In between takes and rehearsals is the perfect time for this procedure and often times so-called “Stand-In Actors” are the ones helping out during camera/focus rehearsals instead of the A-list celebrities who use this time to rest or double-check the scrip and scene.

 

Now back to the markers! These can be a shape cut out of simple materials or a metal ruler wrapped in tape, however, these tend to move around in windy weather easily or are accidentally knocked over by the talent when they rehearse for the scene, making things confusing.

The professional ones are made out of durable materials and are usually filled with metal granules to provide the necessary weight, making them easy and fast to place down, even in uneven and windy conditions. Ours are made out of durable tarping materials and are filled with recyclable metal shavings, making them excellent for indoor as well as outdoor filming.

T markers are especially useful for tight shots and close-ups. Because of their shape, they will know exactly where to place their feet for them to be in the perfect position for optimal sharpness.

Sausage aka. line markers can be really versatile not only for actors but for the rest of the camera crew and even the grips (marking the end of a dolly track and marking the frames of a shot just to name a few).

Gaffer Tape

Gaffer Tape

 

Gaffer tape is a colored tape that does not leave a mark on the floor and comes in a variety of colors, just like our markers. Because it's a tape, it has infinite uses, you can put it down as a sausage maker, a T marker, or even two dots if you want to make it as small as possible so it does not appear on the final shot.

The drawback is that it's time-consuming to set up and clean up, sometimes it does not stick on uneven, wet, or windy surfaces, and it's not as reusable as the Sausage and T markers.

Same as the Sausage markers, the gaffer tape is placed down by the 2nd Ac, but in a small indie or “Run & Gun” setup the 1st AC or even de DOP can lend a hand in placing the markers.

3 tips to make the most of these tools

3 tips to make the most of these tools

 

Put rehearsals to good use! 

Build a relationship with the rest of the crew, especially the Talent, Stand-in actors, and Assistant Directors as they can be your best friend or worst enemy during these short but vital moments. 

Don’t be afraid to speak up if you need more time or you don’t yet feel confident in your marks. Even if the Assistant Director will try to wrap the rehearsal up it is better for everybody involved if the cameras only start rolling when you’re at least 80% sure you can nail the focus.

 

When a rehearsal is not possible, or in a hurry, or outside, it's best to have weighted markers. These can be placed down quickly and moved around easily without being distributed by uneven terrain or difficult weather.

If there’s no time to mark, just try to find props or landmarks, such as doors, chairs, or trees as reference points for your focus pulling! It comes with time, but estimating distances and getting a real feel of how different lenses and follow focus systems work together is a hallmark of an excellent focus puller.

 

It's best to use different colored markers for each actor, especially in a busy scene with multiple talents. Red and blue are often times reserved for the main actors. If you select a color for a specific actor, especially if they are one of the main cast, stick to that color marker till the last day of shooting to avoid confusion in all departments!


Conclusion

In conclusion, having the right tool when it comes to focus pulling, knowing how to set it up correctly, and communicating effectively with every necessary department is what differentiates a good Focus Puller from a great one.


Invest the necessary time and resources first and foremost in yourself. Pull focus on student or indie films even for free. Practice in your spare time if you have access to equipment, if not just try estimating distances for fun. Don’t cheap out on equipment such as a laser distance measurer, a good quality measuring tape, gaffer tape, and of course our handmade markers available in classic or neon sets.

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