Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Radio Silence.

When I was starting out - before the days when every juicer and grip wore a walkie on their belt - I marveled at the "set ears" of the veteran crew members. They'd hear things I didn't, and would immediately run to deal with whatever the issue was on set. It took me a while to develop my own set-ears, but when I did, it made me a lot more valuable on set. I wonder if the ubiquity of radios in modern times keeps on-set techs from hearing anything that doesn't come over those radios... and of course, cell phones are probably the worst thing to happen in terms of distracting the crew's attention from the business at hand. 
Of course, I fully understand saying this makes me Grampa Simpson waving my cane while yelling at the clouds...

I started to post a reply to his comment when I realized it was probably going to be a lengthy one. So I'll make a post about it instead.

Michael, scoot over because I'm going to be yelling at the clouds right next to you.

Wonder no more. Radios, do in fact, keeps on-set techs from hearing anything that doesn't come over them.

I've been a day player on too many shows to count where we're all sitting at staging during a scene when I hear a "cut" and some commotion going on set. As a day player, trying to follow the leads of the regulars, I'll usually ask something along the lines of, "Are we moving on?" or "Should we go see what's going on?" And 100% of the time (though I don't know why I keep asking the question) the answer always is, "If he (the Gaffer) needed anything, he'd call it over the radio."

Not sure how to argue with that. Especially with a regular crew member. They'd know better than a measly day player who's never been on the show before, right?

But nine times out of ten, if I get up and go investigate myself, I find the Gaffer moving or adjusting something on his own.

So why doesn't he call for a hand over the radio? Because by the time he's done transmitting and the guys wake up from their Facebook stupor (plus a second or two of the usual, "What did he just ask for?" looks and questions among the guys) and one of them makes their way to set, it's usually faster for the Gaffer to have done it himself anyway. Does it mean he needed help? No. Does that mean he didn't want help? Probably not.

It's like setting up a small light. I could do it myself, sure. But I would appreciate it if you ran power for me or grabbed the stand. Especially if you had free hands. And even more so since it's your job.

And even more to the point, if I had to do this repeatedly by myself despite knowing there are four other guys just sitting on their butts, scrolling through their phones, I would get annoyed after the first few times. And if I was the boss, I'd probably be annoyed before that.

Listen, I get that sometimes there's a lot of downtime in our day. But what I don't get how people don't think they need to pay attention during that downtime. Like, work is still being done somewhere by one department or the other and since all the departments are interconnected, don't you think there's a good chance that an SLT is needed on set? If the Gaffer's not adjusting a light between takes, Special FX needs a stinger for a fan or the dolly needs a bump or the food stylist needs power or etc, etc.

But for some reason, a lot of guys don't realize this and won't take their eyes off their phones unless they hear something being called for over the radio. And even then, there's often conversations like this...:

Me: "Can you grab the stand? I'll get the light."
Juicer: "Huh?"
Me: "Can you grab the stand?"
Juicer: "For what?"
Me: "...a Tweenie. Didn't he just call for one over the radio?"
Juicer: "Oh, I dunno. I wasn't paying attention."



Michael Taylor said...

Even when radios for all the crew became standard, we always kept one juicer on set "in the gaffer's pocket" at all times to handle any adjustments that might need to be made between takes. If something bigger came up, the rest of the crew would be called in via radio to help -- but the gaffer was never left alone on set. Is this no longer common practice?

A.J. said...

Michael - Sadly, it's less common than you'd think.

Anonymous said...

I was always there for the gaffer as floor spark - I would hardly ever leave set. I'd be there for last minute adjustments if the gaffer was checking out the take on monitor or had to leave set for whatever reason. There was one lighting truck guy who was always keeping an ear out on his radio so he'd meet me halfway with whatever equipment we needed on set. But often the rest of the guys were just hanging around, waiting specifically to be called for and by the time they got to set it was all done anyway. I still react if someone calls my usual gaffer's name as I knew to be on alert that something was happening. I know the difference of clanging sound between lighting and camera gear. Unfortunately there were electricians (mostly those who were unable to lift their asses off the tailgates of the trucks) who would have a right attitude towards me, as if I was some sort of threat to them by doing my job and being there for the gaffer...


julian kay said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
A.J. said...

Jenerator - It always baffles me how some guys don't understand how much longer things take when you have to wait on someone not paying attention and coming from staging vs someone who's already on set and knows what's going on. Then they give you the "but I was right there" line. Honey, I don't know where you think you were, but it wasn't where the work was.

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