The Camera Department in film is like a ‘well oiled machine’

Behind the Lens talks exclusively to Marina Selega. She tells us about why she moved to London and how she is striving to become an excellent Focus Puller.

How long have you been interested filming and wanting to work with cameras?
As much as I would have liked to say something grand, like ‘all long as I can remember myself’, I started as a ‘silent observer’. I was always in awe of clever and tasteful storytelling – I’ve always been an avid reader. Therefore, it was only a matter of time, that I became fascinated by the medium of visual storytelling. Observation lead to curiosity and obsession; the desire to analyse, which naturally lead to my interest in cameras.

Did you formally study/train to be an operator?
I have two degrees in TV Production, that provided a healthy balance of theory and hands-on practice. I had a fair share of formal training, however you learn far more on set in one day, then you will learn sat in a classroom for a week.

Did you move to England to work in our glorious industry?
I moved to England to steal your jobs, yes! No, I’m joking really. I came to England to study, of course. However, the British film industry is at the forefront of the film industry, so really – I couldn’t have chosen a better place?
 
What kind of jobs did you to work up to becoming a fully-fledged freelancer?
After finishing Uni up north, I did my fair share of corporate gigs, where you inevitably end up rocking the ‘one-man band’ label. As fun as it was at the time, I felt so detached from the grand meaning of ‘working in the industry’, that after 4 years of jumping between shooting and editing promotional videos, with an occasional broadcast operating job, I soon realised that I might have to press the reset button and start over. I moved to London and started working at various equipment hire houses to further my knowledge of kit and also try and acquire contacts. I had to start from the bottom and, to be fair, coming from a broadcast TV environment, being on set for the first time felt like a completely different world. I started as a Camera Trainee and am now working as a 2nd Assistant Camera.

Fast forward a few years and you will be self-declaring as a..DOP? Cinematographer? Lighting operator? All of them?!
If you were to ask me that before I moved to London – I would have probably said yes to all three. However, having worked as an assistant made me see other paths. Throughout the years of working in different roles and situations, I’ve always preferred working in a team, and assisting is exactly that. 
I am striving to become an excellent Focus Puller. Camera department in film is like a well-oiled machine, if every ‘cog’ is doing their job right. And being part of this mechanism can be stupendously stressful, but breathtakingly rewarding all the same. A Focus Puller is at the top of the ‘assisting’ chain. Not only does one has to have extensive knowledge of kit, both present and emerging, but you also need to be able to predict the wishes of your DoP, as well as managing the rest of your team, troubleshooting issues on the go, working overly long hours, living out of your suitcase a lot, and having an excellent eye for estimating distance. You really do have to be sharp to stay sharp, no pun intended! 

What’s been your favourite camera to use and why?
I love ARRI. I can still remember the very first time working with an Alexa. We were shooting at 1600 ASA with only a few streetlamps as a source of light. The DOP was struggling to get a reading on his light meter, to be fair – the lack of light was straining to the eye. But guess what? Alexa saw EVERYTHING. I remember looking through the eyepiece and losing my jaw to the floor. Alexa’s sensitivity to light is astonishing. Throughout the years I have had a pleasure of working with a variety of ARRI range, however don’t necessarily have a favourite. It all comes down to the purpose and nature of the shoot, I think. I would choose Amira over a Mini in a run-and-gun situation, when time is of essence. However, a Mini would be perfect for an intricate Steadicam set-up, for example. ARRI all the way, really.

You get a wonderful budget for 30 second commercial for a desirable brand (a car advert or perfume ad’ in the Seychelles…nice!) and you get to choose the camera and lenses you most want to work with. Your choices please!
It would have to be some sort of a perfume ad. I really like the recent Daisy fragrance by Marc Jacobs, it’s very dreamy and warm. I would probably try and create something similar, but slightly more Twin Peaks haunting. I’d want it to be fluid, almost circular – with no specific beginning or end.

For that I would use an Alexa Mini with rehoused old Cooke Speed Panchros. These lenses were made in the 1920s and had been a staple in Hollywood for many decades to come. Think – warm buttery glow. These lenses are incredibly temperamental, but so much fun to play with. They flare like crazy! Perfection if you’re going for a nostalgia meets romance kind of look. 

Finally, what film or TV Show in the last 5 years would you have loved to have worked on in ANY capacity?
The Crown. Without a doubt. I genuinely can’t fault it. Perfectly cast, historically smart and accurate, every department involved delivered to the max. Also, shot on rehoused Panchros, by the way, which gave it a very rich, yet soft, period filmic look.