Name: Alex Martinez
Occupation: Second Camera Assistant/ musician
Place of Residence: Gastown, Vancouver
Employer: freelance through the International Cinematographers Guild
Interests: Football (soccer), music
Favourite Quote: "Our souls are gone, our minds are shot, but the liquor we still got."
What’s your job?
As a freelance camera person, Martinez makes sure to hook up with a good team of techs so that he can keep working on different movie sets in Hollywood North and elsewhere. Martinez works on the big Hollywood blockbusters. Last summer, he spent many hours commuting between Vancouver and Whistler to shoot The Fantastic Four with Jessica Alba. He is usually in charge of the camera department on a movie set. But he hopes to climb to the top of the ladder and work as a director of photography.
Other than focusing on fantastic-looking stars, how do you spend a workday?
Martinez must take care of keeping camera gear in working condition, ordering film, supplies, and weather maintenance. That last task is of utmost importance in Vancouver where the weather can be a major threat to equipment that is very delicate to water.
Why you want this job:
Well…beyond the reasons aforementioned, Martinez gets a real sense of artistic satisfaction from his job. His favourite movie is Blade Runner for its wide range of cinematic eye candy. ”I'm a very visual person, right from the start,” says Martinez. “When you make a shot that you look at through the lens of the camera and it comes to life by the acting and the style of the cameraman, it's the most heavenly feeling of absolute triumph. Because that shot isn’t possible without every single crew member's input. It’s a real bond when you work with people in a movie crew and you get along. It's a family.” Plus, Martinez is happy to travel and work with people he idolized while growing up. It must be nice to be able to hang out with Robin Williams as part of your work.
Why you might not want this job:
You have to be prepared to work in a very unreal setting on a very unusual schedule. “I mean you’re making a movie,” says Martinez. “It is surreal to begin with. It really does your nut in, when you work in a fantasy land 17 hours a day.”
Martinez worked as a sports photographer after high school. It doesn’t hurt to go to film school where you can gain some hands on experience. But Martinez says that common sense and a lot of hard work will get you there (geez, everyone keeps saying that). “You’re making a movie and millions of dollars are being put into it,” says Martinez. ”But at the same time, it's not rocket science. It’s entertainment, and you’re getting loads of cash for it.” And Martinez's golden tip for breaking in: “If you love the job, it won't be hard for you.”
Talk the talk:
Academy leader - This is also known as SMPTE LEADER. That funny countdown that goes from eight to two just before the film begins. This is academy leader and it's purpose is to identify the number of frames left before your film will begin. It is also there to help synchronize sound to the film. When the number two appears all sound tracks should beep, alerting that everything is in sync.
Day for night – ie. “We can either shoot it tomorow night or fit it in this afternoon as a day for night" - Popular in the 60's for TV series, 'day-for-night' allows you to shoot night scenes during the day. If you're using a camcorder lock off the white balance, add a blue filter and underexpose the shot. Remember to switch on lights that are normally on at night. If you are using a lighting kit (redheads etc.) add a bit of extra backlight for that moonlight effect.
An even better method for night shooting is to use the end of the magic hour. Shoot on a clear night when the sun has only just gone down and the sky is a dark blue (rather than black). Streetlights are on and there's still enough light to shoot without your image becoming too grainy.
Redhead – ie. "Plug the Redhead in and stand well back." - Redheads are pretty standard lights that you can hire from most production workshops. Called Redheads because the back of them are red (well, a deep orange really), but apparently its because the more powerful ones are called Brunettes and the most powerful are called Blondes (well, they do say that blondes have all the fun).
There's a couple of things to watch out for when you are using these. Be very careful when adjusting the barn doors as they tend to get quite hot (here speaks a man who saw the skin of his fingertips vaporize before his eyes). Oh, and make sure that the stands are secure and that nobody can accidentally knock them over, as a hot moving object crashing down on cast and crew is a bad idea.
Walk the walk:
If you are looking to be an Oscar winner, you may want to head straight to the University of Southern California. People like John Singleton, Ron Howard and George Lucas have graduated from there. And here's what their website says: “Every year since 1973, at least one USC graduate has been nominated for an Academy Award; and alumni have held key creative or production positions in all of the 10-highest grossing movies in history!”