An Aerial Camera Assistant is highly specialised and combines the roles of 1st, 2nd Assistant Camera (AC) and Grip on a standard crew.
They rig gyro–stabilised camera systems (which help to keep the camera from shaking during flight), onto the side of the aircraft. Before take–off the aircraft and rigging is checked by a Safety Engineer.
One of the main challenges for Aerial Camera Assistants is changing film magazines. As this cannot be carried out in flight because the camera is outside the aircraft, it must touch down for reloading magazines. Good Aerial Camera Assistants co–ordinate reloading with refuelling so that filming is interrupted for as little time as possible.
As aerial camera crews often film in extreme or remote areas, miles away from camera equipment facilities houses, Aerial Camera Assistants may have to dismantle and reassemble the camera system wherever they may be.
They must also operate video playback equipment, ensuring that the Aerial DoP and/or Aerial Unit Director are capturing the shots required by the Director. Whilst aerial crews often work independently, Aerial Camera Assistants usually liaise with the 2nd AC on the main unit to ensure that all rushes (raw footage) and relevant camera sheets are prepared and handed over at the end of each day.
If the aircraft and equipment are being left on location overnight, Aerial Camera Assistants help to tie–down and make safe the helicopter's rotor blades and pack away all equipment.
Most Aerial Camera Assistants also work on standard crews at a senior level (1st AC). Because of the level of trust required and the potentially dangerous nature of the work, aerial camera crews have extremely close working relationships, preferring to work with the same people whenever possible.
Although the hours are long, the work is extremely rewarding
You can take one of the many short courses providing the basic skills for 16mm and 35mm camera assistants. You will also find that training in stills photography provides a good, all-round understanding of composition and light. However, the most important training is wide experience of camera work.
You don’t need to have any flying experience, but an interest in aerodynamics and aviation is helpful. Training in emergency first aid procedures is recommended.
You could train with The National Film and Television School, which offers industry-recognised, short courses in camera work.
You will need to be very skilled in camera work, so you can expect to start your career as a Trainee in the camera crew and work your way up the ranks to 1st AC. As Aerial Camera Assistants carry out the work of an entire standard camera support team, you must be experienced in all the roles.
Specialist aerial filming companies usually work with a small number of Aerial Camera Assistants, who they train in all aspects of aerial cinematography.