With the support of CVP, first AC Phil Smith unscrambled the numerous challenges he faced on a trio of epic productions.
With a whopping 54 credits to his name, Philip Smith has worked across many illustrious projects. Born in Wellington, New Zealand, he began his career on a 2001 film that needs no introduction. With an estimated one out of every 160 New Zealanders taking part in The Lord of the Rings, we can only assume the role of second assistant camera was preferable to an orc.
Smith continued to provide his camera skills to productions like The Last Samurai, Avatar, The Hobbit and Mad Max: Fury Road, before moving to the UK in 2014. He progressed to first AC, and is credited on big blockbuster films like Solo: A Star Wars Story and Dune.
Of course, no production is ever a walk in the park, and being on fresh soil meant he needed all the help he could get. Smith breaks down two of the aforementioned productions, as well as the recently wrapped The Batman, looking at the technical challenges, as well as the advice and kit CVP provided to help resolve problems.
“Aaron at CVP has become the only person I reach out to when
I need to find a piece of equipment,” Smith says. “His experience as
a technician and in a rental house means he has a knowledge and appreciation of the equipment filmmakers need and when we need it.”
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY
“Solo: A Star Wars Story was the first big feature film I worked on when I arrived in the UK. I operated the B camera as first AC and was lucky enough to be teamed up with Jake Marcuson, who was also first assistant, but on the A camera. We decided early on that we would need identical equipment set-ups, as this would give us more fluidity to react to any situation on set.
“After a lot of testing, DOP Bradford Young decided on a combination of Arri Alexa 65 and Alexa Mini cameras. Since Jake is a veteran Arri WCU-4 user, it was the perfect opportunity for me to follow suit and finally commit to a WCU-4 system. After talking with Aaron at CVP, I purchased two of them, alongside many other items, which included – but weren’t limited to – three CLM-4 motors, two CForce Plus motors, a CForce Mini motor and a UMC-4.
“The kit was extensive, but it enabled us to shoot handheld on a Libra remote head and in studio mode, with minimal re-rigging when moving between shooting modes
on the Alexa 65 and Alexa Mini cameras. Also, with the production taking place in many unpredictable locations – from the sandy Canary Islands, to the snow-laden mountains in the Dolomites – we needed equipment that we could rely on.
“With this kit, we were additionally able to supply Dan Carling, Bradford’s DIT, with a full WCU-4 handset. This enabled him to have full control of the camera and lens functions, and was therefore able to finesse the look throughout the shoot with minimal fuss.”
“Dune was also shot with Arri cameras – the Alexa LF. It was another opportunity to work with Jake, so using the WCU-4 as our wireless focus system was a no-brainer. The Cine RT had also just been released and it soon became evident that it was the go-to ultrasonic ranger for the industry.
“After much debate, I ordered one. In conjunction with the WCU-4, this became our standard set-up. The Cine RT had the ability to be built into the camera without any extra boxes or kit and this, again, helped us when going between remote heads on a crane, handheld and Steadicam. Pulling focus on the larger sensor of an Alexa LF is also something that always keeps you on your toes, so the WCU-4 combined with the Cine RT was invaluable to us for this film.”
“Having just finished Vengeance – which is about a radio host from New York
who attempts to solve the murder of his girlfriend – there’s not a lot I’m allowed
to disclose. However, one thing I can talk about openly is a sequence in The Batman that first AC, Tom Lane, needed help with.
“We discussed early on that we would need to remotely control the cameras placed on vehicles, which would be travelling at speed a long way away from where Tom was standing. Arri had just released a new piece of equipment called ERM-2400 LCS, and we were fortunate to be able to test this in prep. It has a range of 1km, so was perfect for what we needed.
“Once we knew this, we then had to source several for the shoot – and this
was an issue, because there weren’t many available at the time. Luckily, Aaron worked his magic and found us the only units on the market in time for production.”