“Technology and the film industry is always going to change - there’s no way around that. As an AC, it’s my job to make sure that I have the knowledge and skills needed going into my next job. You can’t always stick with what you know, because eventually you’ll fall behind as the industry moves on to do better things more efficiently.” - Tyler Hollman, 1st AC based in Grand Rapids, MI. (@foquista)
Anyone in the industry can tell you that even though film tech is constantly evolving, sometimes getting filmmakers to update older systems can be tough, especially on big productions. Honestly though, who can blame them? They know the tools are tried and true, and they don’t want to risk holding up the entire set just to be on the cutting edge of technology. When careers are on the line, everyone is risk-averse.
But amazing new film tech is being developed every year in this industry. Cameras now shoot in 8K, monitoring is completely cable-free, and many tools that we used to have hardware for can now be done from the convenience of our smartphones. It’s not just the camera department either. Lighting, production design, hair & makeup - tech is making its way into every gap and making our films better than ever before. We have the pioneers to thank for that.
Keeping up with tech is important, especially for filmmakers who work closely with the camera package. Tyler Hollman, a 1st AC based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, shares the gear he takes to every set and his tip on keeping up with the latest and greatest.
Finding My Passion
“When I went into film school, I honestly didn’t know much about the different roles on set. I always thought I’d wanted to become a cinematographer because they’re the camera guys and that’s what making movies is, right? Well, it didn’t take long before I learned that a film set is much more than just the cameras. We have different teams doing different roles, and the one that appealed to me most was the one building the camera: 1st AC.”
“I was more interested in thinking about the day and not the entire project. What we’re going to need for this specific day of shooting, what we need to prepare for, what lenses we’ll need, monitors, etc. I wanted to be doing the camera builds, changing lenses, and pulling focus. Even though my school Compass College of Cinematic Arts had one of the first RED ONEs (our school was pretty much built around having that camera), my interest was finding ways to support the cinematographers. It’s certainly not the conventional route into filmmaking, but it’s such a collaborative industry that you can make a career out of focusing on any department. I found my role and made a career out of it.”
What’s In Tyler Hollman’s Kit?
“Here in Grand Rapids, we don’t have Panivision, Keslow, or any of the big rental houses here. It’s also mostly commercial productions for companies in the city. So a lot of the tech we use on set are products that I own. I have to be very strategic in what I choose to invest in. Here are the main tools I bring to almost every set:”
SmallHD FOCUS 7 Bolt RX - As a 1st AC, I’m always pulling focus. I need images that are sharp and that I can carry around wherever I am on set. When I had to choose between this and the 703 Bolt, I realized that the FOCUS was better for me in every way. Lightweight, cheaper, the same image quality as the 703, and has wireless video built-in. I have the FOCUS 7 Bolt and the FOCUS Sidekick.
Goal Zero Yeti 400 - Power is a big thing. This is a solar-powered, big brick battery that I use to run video village all day. It’s a situational piece of equipment. If we’re out filming in the field and the location we’re at has no way to charge batteries, I want to have a backup.
Media Blackout BreakerBatt - It’s a Sony battery with 2-pin LEMO ports so you can pass power to other devices that don’t have dedicated DC inputs.
Blackmagic SDI to HDMI Mini Converter - People on our jobs roll in with production vehicles that have TVs that don’t necessarily take SDI. I have a bunch of these converter boxes so we’re always prepared with the right inputs and outputs. At the end of the day, if it means getting a monitor for the clients, I’m happy.
Teradek RT CTRL.1 - I love the simplicity of the follow focus along with the new tech Teradek is bringing to focus pulling. Everyone in the industry is stuck on Prestons and ARRIs, but I think that tech is getting old. Not to mention that the MDRs from those systems are huge. So I went with the Teradek RT follow focus kit. The motors are super quiet, MDRs are tiny, and the controller is very user-friendly. It’s also integrated with SmallHD monitors, hence why I chose the FOCUS Bolt too. The CTRL.1 looks to be the future of follow focus.
Keeping Up With Tech
“Tech knowledge is part of the job now for everyone in the industry. 10% of the tools I own are actually used by me - the other 90% goes to the crew. When I hand them tools like handheld monitors, usually they already know how to use it, and if they don’t, it’ll show in their work. As an AC, it’s even more important that I’m familiar with the tech. I’m the one on set who everybody relies on for technical knowledge and I need to have answers for their questions. I sometimes travel to Detroit for bigger jobs (it’s a much bigger market than Grand Rapids), and if I arrive on set without knowing what’s going on, I’m going to get there on prep day and ask too many questions. It’s critical that I know what I’m doing because I never know what hand I’m being dealt. Any phone call can be the biggest job I’ve ever worked on.”
“Following the latest tech isn’t hard either, especially with how huge social media has been lately for filmmakers. If you follow some of the bigger Instagrams, you’ll know what I’m talking about. There are people like myself who get questions from people asking what hardware I use on my setups. When I make a post on a cool new piece of equipment, I’ll get questions on how I built it. When I see something interesting from other filmmakers like Joshua Cote or Brian Aichlmayr, I’ll ask questions too. It’s the best approach to learning about new tech you’ve never seen before, because these guys aren’t going to sell you something they don’t genuinely like. It’s the most authentic way to learn now.”
“We’re at a point in our careers where you’re expected to show up on set knowing exactly what to do so other people aren’t picking up your slack. If you have the knowledge of these new tools, and you bring these tools to your next production, your peers will see how knowledgeable you are and remember you for future jobs. That’s why we should all do our part and contribute to the knowledge of our community.”
Tyler Hollman is a 1st AC based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. See more of his work on his Instagram here.