Focus puller workshop with Gunnar E. Mortensen

In partnership with AV-Professional, we invited LA based first A/C  E. Gunnar Mortensen for a 2 day focus puller workshop at the Vienna Film Academy in January. While the first day was held exclusively for academy students, the second day was well attended by experienced and aspiring focus pullers from all over Austria. 

Read the full story here:

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About E. Gunnar Mortensen

  • Date of birth: 11.10.82

  • Residence: Idyllwild, CA

  • Pulling focus since: 2006

  • cteam member since: 04/2017

  • Favorite LCS: cmotion cvolution

  • left / right handed: right handed on handset, left handed on  knob

  • Favorite camera: Panavision XL2

  • Favorite lens: Panavision C series


 

Interview:

Where are you from?

Denver, Colorado


When and how did you become a Focus Puller?

Started as a camera trainee, loader and 2nd doing car commercials in the mountains of Colorado. Moved to LA to advance to 1st assistant camera.


How did you enter the “cmotion” world?

I was originally introduced to cmotion through an Austrian DP named Philipp Friesenbichler. Once I got familiar with it, it was a no brainer.

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What has been the most exciting project you have worked on so far?

Whatever the next one is, I love problem solving and taking care of the technical side so the DP can focus on being creative. Each obstacle from past jobs has built a foundation to solve the next ones. I find myself missing crews more than shows, on Transparent a bunch of the crew went to Thailand after the season because we gelled so well.


Is there anyone/anything who/what you haven’t yet worked with/on that you would really like to?

That`s a hard one to answer, I am always looking for new camera teams and as a career 1st AC I just want to work on bigger and better projects.


Shout outs to any focus pullers, or camera crews?

I want to take a moment to thank Richard Mosier who took the time to teach me how to thread a Panaflex. He was a great man. I’ve been lucky enough to have other Seasoned 1sts like Tony Rivetti, Bob Hall, Jonas Steadman, and David Eubank around to bounce ideas off of if I’m in a pinch. I’ve known a lot of them since I was cutting my teeth and took a little from all of them to create my own style.


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How did you feel about the idea of holding a focus puller workshop at the Vienna Film Academy?

I am grateful that this was an opportunity presented to me. Thanks AV Professional and cmotion for making this happen. Their hospitality was second to none. I really enjoyed meeting other focus pullers from Austria.


What were your expectations / hopes that the participants could benefit from this event?

My goal was to have everyone get three takeaways that will help them out of a bind. I figured if a tip saved their job then it would be worth the investment.


Were there any notable differences in the course diversity between film students and the more experienced focus pullers?

The main difference was of course on set experience and taking the theory into practical practice. However I will say that I was pleasantly surprised with the foundation that the students had which lends itself to a hands on teaching approach from the Vienna Film Academy. It just becomes muscle memory eventually and the knob is an extension of your hand.


Did you feel connected with the local focus pullers?

Thanks to Thea Adlung for arranging a couple meet ups with the local camera assistants. We had a lot of fun and even though there was a sharing of ideas, we had a lot in common.


During the workshop you were asked for your autograph by some of the attendees. How does it make you feel being someone fellow focus pullers lookup to and aspire to be like?

Well the autographs were a little surprising and in the future unnecessary. We are all in the trenches together. I am happy to share my experiences to make us all a little better. I am just returning the same courtesy that was offered to me when I was starting out.


What industry differences have you seen between Europe (Austria) and the US in regards to work style and budget?

Like I said earlier the working styles are similar but the main difference was budget and a dedicated camera truck. In the States we use either a 5ton or 10ton dedicated camera truck. In Europe it is much more common to build out of a Sprinter van.


What are your 5 most important points of advice you would give to a “fresh” focus puller?

  • Don’t be over reliant on your monitor.

  • The two most important attributes is to be flexible and positive.

  • Remember the 5P’s: Proper, Planning, Prevents, Piss-poor Performance.

  • Hire great people and trust them to do their job.

  • Make an effort to learn peoples’ name.


What are your 5 most important tools in your toolbox (beside the Lens control system)?

  • Bright Tangerine soft tape measure

  • A monitor that you trust

  • Knipex wrench

  • Hilti PD42

  • cine range finder


How did you train to estimate distances?

Measure the distance of you to your TV so you know. I put a T-mark in front of my stove and put distances in several places throughout my kitchen; so when I was heating water for my coffee I could look around and get familiar with the distances. Make a game of it and guess first before measuring.


Do you think pulling focus is an “underrated” job, in terms of fame and credits?

Despite being asked for my autograph I would say that it is an underappreciated job which keeps getting harder. They only notice if we make a mistake. Speaking of which, always tell them you did and need another one because they will know eventually.


Do you have any other words of advice, wisdom or experience that you would like to share?

More important than pulling focus is building relationships. Having good rapport with both above and below the line, means the difference between having another take or being fired for missing the shot.