Date of birth: 10.04.1976
Residence: Munich, Germany
Pulling focus since: First paid gig in 1999, completed the transition to 1st AC in 2002
Favorite LCS: Weapon of choice: WCU-4.
Left/Right-handed: Left, but pull right
Favorite cameras: Grew up on 535B and 435, now Mini LF
Favorite Lenses: Difficult choice… JDC X-Tal Express?
Hey Aurel, Thanks for taking your time for this interview. Before we start asking any questions, please tell us a little something about yourself. (what is your journey, becoming an AC)
Like most of us, I started at a camera rental, in early 1997, went out to sets, did a bit of grip as well until early 1999, got to know the right people at the right time. Mid 2000 I got lucky and became part of the core crew of a well-respected veteran DP (Gernot Roll), with whom I shot almost all features up to 2008. Since then, I worked on commercials mostly, but as of 2018 I’ve been transitioning back to drama.
How did you first learn your skills and what did you do to keep getting better?
Dire necessity. Just after I started working for Gernot, he went on from operating the camera as well to DP’ing only, so both his 1st and I as a 2nd got to move up in what he labeled our internal training program. Being faced with having to pull on 35mm on a big drama, I went through a lot of blood, sweat, and T1.3(½) tears, as I had no choice but to perform. Obviously, I had a very good 1st and our DP as valuable mentors, whom I’m still very grateful to for having given me such a stellar chance.
After the groove-in phase of two years, nothing much has changed since. I think you learn the most by keeping up interest in and respect for the job and people around you, as well as continuously challenging yourself critically, not becoming complacent with your achievements, just like any professional does.
Read, study, put in a lot of personal time, be inquisitive, always be willing to improve; despite pulling off of a monitor mostly, still drill your distances - I think that’s what it boils down to for all of us?
What was the biggest project you have worked on, or you are most proud of?
One that will always be close to my heart is “Nowhere in Africa”. Eleven weeks of stunning Kenya, five of which we lived in tents. Incredible people, landscapes, and full moons. Fun challenges. Animal noises at night. Showers under smoked water. Watching rushes under the starry sky, the screen tied between two trees waving in the wind - let me get away with some buzzes, could always blame it on the wind playing with the screen.
Who inspired you the most during your career?
So many. Certainly my early mentors and their need for speed. But also all these creative, curious, and industrious people out there - just too many to name.
You are from Bavaria. How high is the chance, that we can see you on set with a Lederhose?
Any given Friday. Contrary to popular belief, we Bavarians don’t wear Lederhosen to go to the Oktoberfest only. It was once very much worn as workwear, which by now became almost obsolete. About ten years ago, my then 2nd AC and I wanted to revive this tradition at least a little. So now, just like others have their black-tie or Hawaiian Friday, a few of us wear it (most) Fridays. In addition to tradition, it spreads that wholesome TGIF vibe.
In Germany you have a pretty big local community through a Slack group, where you are also an admin. What do you think is different between this local group and the focuspulleratwork.com?
The Slack group is about 700 strong now, but covering the whole camera department, ranging across all positions, except DPs. We do have channels for technical questions and support by a few companies, also for general questions on set or shooting abroad, but we only have crew aboard based in Germany.
Hence we’re very localized, especially when it comes to questions on regulations and similar matters. This is super helpful to us, giving us somewhat of a swarm intelligence on local matters with mostly very prompt replies. As a bonus, not only on such issues but also on urgent technical problems on set when the rentals are closed or don’t know the answer.
But as FPAW is an international group, albeit maybe less personal to begin with, this offers a much wider range of experiences to draw from and locals to ask, e.g., if you need to know specifics about another country. To me, it seems very important to connect up the whole community worldwide by setting up and using such an international platform.
What do you think, people around the world can learn from other ACs through such platforms?
I’m all in favor of such opportunities and helping each other learn and grow in such a fairly small, hence equally fairly unregulated field, especially in such fast-paced times. What we can learn of each other could include general practices and customs on set, national and international; use of (new) gear; streamlining your camera and department thanks to initiatives like the #cleanbuildchallenge; draw inspirations on what else could be improved; hearing about difficulties others are facing and how they might deal with it; get tips on how to overcome problems we may not have immediate solutions for; saving money through others’ input so not to buy unnecessary or useless gear; a sense of community.
There is a thread on the forum called 10 things… (which can be 10 things you have learned onset or 10 important things in your tool bag etc.)
Which 10 Things are important to you to become a good 1st AC?
Remain kind, calm, friendly, and optimistic as much as you can. You have much more of a calming influence on your department, including those above you, than you may think - on actors too, they see or feel you freak out, it puts them off their game almost immediately,
While you have to demand and challenge yourself to be professional at all times, the film is also everlasting youth. Never forget that never grow old or serious,
Expect yourself to be able to pull it off. There are enough people out there whom you can leave doubting up to. For focus pulling is such a difficult task, there’s really no time for such a pointless waste of it. My first DP, early on, on a very difficult focus pull, once patted me on the shoulder, smiled, and said, “Now is the time for you to decide, that you can do it.” How incredibly true,
Simplicity is key in your setups but also in anything else,
Stay organized as much as you can under any circumstance, so you can be more efficient. This includes specifically assigned tasks for each of you and good coordination, so as few actions as possible are done twice or unnecessarily. You also don’t need to be a total pro at everything - obviously, there are others in your department you can assign tasks and research to,
Keep yourself informed (without annoying your DP or AD), so prediction is easier for you,
Good prep is a show half done. Spend a lot of time on prepping your camera order and all sorts of necessities to have all predictable eventualities covered. Don’t order unnecessarily much, order efficiently, order green.
If it all gets too much at some point, take a step back, take a breath, force yourself to smile and on we go. Same boat for all of us,
At least for your department, be a good leader, be a friend, but also be a role model,
Expect the unexpected and enjoy the journey!