Second Assistant Camera Courtney Harrell
Courtney Harrell,Second Assistant Camera
Courtney Harrell is shooting 14-hour days on an Army commercial in Killeen. It turns out that filmmaking and the military have a lot in common when it comes to gender balance. It wasn't long ago when Fort Hood swarmed mostly with male soldiers, and few women were allowed to shoot guns. Harrell, who has worked on The Rookie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Life of David Gale, occupies a rare position in film as a female 2nd AC, or second assistant camera. Known for marking those slates that introduce scenes, the 2nd AC keeps everything together in the photography department. "As 2nd AC, you run the show," Harrell says. "Anything your loader needs to get, anything your first assistant or your operator or DP needs, you find a way to make it happen."
A theatre graduate of Texas State University, Harrell moved to Austin to intern at the Texas Film Commission in 1997. Then she worked for the Teamsters union, who oversee transportation for films. After dabbling in stunt driving, Harrell interned for the camera department on Varsity Blues, during which time she began her photography career.
Harrell loves working in Austin's film community. "We try to stick together because we want to keep film coming here," she says. "These people are my family."
As pleasing as Harrell's working conditions are, she sees room for expansion.
"I've never worked with a female cinematographer. That's one thing that I have yet to see. In seven years, I've only seen three female directors and one female camera operator. I just wish I saw it more often."
This isn't a phenomenon unique to Austin. "I almost always ask the camera assistants I work with from Los Angeles if they've ever worked with a female DP," she explains, "and I can honestly say I don't think any one of them ever has."
So, is this all about the "weaker sex" theory?
"My body hurts every day. I lift heavy equipment all the time," she says. "But I've only had one person ask me if I was physically capable of doing my job, and she was a woman. I was like, 'Yeah, this is what I do.'"
For the most part, being female has only helped Harrell. "It's to my advantage," she says. "When an all-male crew meets a cool woman who can do the job, they'll keep her in the mix for a little diversity. It's really a whole different energy coming in. That's important."
Second in a sporadic series