Focus Puller at Work: Din

The community is an engaging forum for Focus Pullers around the world. Interesting topics include “10 Best Things in your Toolbag” and “10 Things for Desert Shoots” and “10 Questions about You.” To share your story with the community, you can do so on the forum.

There is also a group interview with 10 questions and every member is invited to share their personal story. Here is the interview from Malaysian Focus Puller Mohd Abudin Abdullah



Clemens Hönig: How did you become a Focus Puller?

Mohd Abudin Abdullah: My name is Abudin. Friends call me Din. I am based in Malaysia. I started as a Focus Puller by accident, to be honest.

I was a 2nd AC on a feature job a few years back. I think it was 2011. At the time, not even once had I ever pulled focus—not even for an insert. So one fine evening, we were at the end of a 14-hour day and the 1st AC became ill. We were down to the last hour of the day and were on a tight schedule. The Director, DP and Camera Operator were discussing what to do. You can probably guess what happened next.

Next, I was on the focus knob for the first time, wondering what I was going to do with an 85mm lens at T2 on an Arriflex 435 with the actors at 15 feet away from camera. I was drenched with sweat as if I had just gotten out of the swimming pool. The AD called out, “Roll camera, and action,” and eventually, “Cut.” I’m pretty sure I was holding my breath throughout the entire take. After two more takes, the AD asked if they were OK. I said “Yes” and he said “Check the gate.” We wrapped. The rushes came back two days later and they were fine. That was how it all began.

My take-away from that experience is a belief in the necessity for anyone aspiring to become a Focus Puller to understand the whole process, not just technically, but mentally.

What do you love most about your job ?

I love the challenges. Sometimes it’s something you’ve never seen or experienced before. I always like to treat every situation as if it’s the first time. I try to bring the same camera team with me, if possible. I strongly believe that our 2nd AC contributes at least 60%, and often more, to the success rate of my focus pulling.

Of course, because we’ve become close friends over the years, every job we got on is an adventure.

From whom have you learned the most and why?

In terms of focus pulling over the years, I’ve picked up a lot here and there. Most of it came from observing how people work. How an actor moves and knowing the story really helps to anticipate moves. Watching a lot of movies helps as well. My father, who is a DP, was formerly a Focus Puller. But he never once shared his secrets to focus pulling. If he hired me as a Focus Puller, he would never give me any pointers. All he did was to grunt and roll his eyes if I missed a mark. But that really became a driving force for me to find a way that worked. And I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for him.

What are your other passions to counterbalance focus pulling?

I was a photographer before I got into the film industry. I continue to shoot stills, but just as a hobby now. I play music and also write poetry. But I am an aspiring DP.
How do you keep up your spirits between jobs? And now, in this time of coronavirus.
I consider time off from work a blessing. The pandemic is a terrible misfortune but it is also a time to reflect and learn more about what’s around you and about yourself as a person.

What can we in the industry learn from the current situation?

Be more forgiving. We’re not self sufficient. We’re depending on everyone to do their part.

What personal experience would you like to share, at this very moment, regarding spirit?

Roughly 4 years ago, in Malaysia, we were hit by the news of an embezzlement of funds high up in the government. A heavy toll was put upon each Malaysian. It affected the way we spent our money, our wages and even the number of jobs in a year. There were more filmmakers in Malaysia than there were jobs. A handful of my friends in the industry had to switch careers because of that. I stayed. I could have followed them but I didn’t.

I didn’t work my way up the ladder just to be taken down by temptation. My wife supports what I do. She understands how much my work means. To sum it up, as long as you’re not going through it alone, you’ll do fine. But if you are, know that it’s a choice you made.

What is your SSSP (soft-skill super power) that makes you a Focus Puller?

I’m told that I have timed my focus well. Some DPs and Directors have mentioned how they enjoyed listening to my insights when it comes to focus pulling. To them, there is a bit of philosophy behind what we do and what shows up on screen in focus pulling. What we do is technical. But, if applied well enough, it becomes a story in itself.


Production: SKOP Productions
Project Title: KL GANGSTER 2
Director: Syamsul Yusof
DP: Azami Alias


This article first appeared in FDTimes April 2020 Issue 101.

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