Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Value Of A Stinger.

Overheard on the set the other day from a Special FX* guy:
"So I was on this one show, and the electricians kept messing with my fans. Burning out the motors, you know? So to get them back, I started stealing their stingers.** Just like, one a day until I ended up with about fifteen or so of them. And they're like, $250 a pop! That's over $3500 I got from them! And those things are great to have around the house. They're totally waterproof, you know? Totally waterproof. And when you burn them up, you just replace the connectors on them and keep going! And that's so easy to do. Even an idiot can do it. Literally. Something's wrong with you if you mess it up."

Okay. Soooo much wrong to unpack there.

First off, unless you're plugging your fans somewhere you're not supposed to (like a 220v line or a dim channel, etc) I have absolutely no idea how we can "burn out the motors." Like, I'm having a hard time trying to think of an intentional way to do this, which means that if it was done on purpose, you must've been one helluva dick to warrant that type of effort in retaliation. Repeatedly.

Secondly, stingers are one of the cheapest things we rent. And one of the most of. There's nothing with a higher count on our equipment rental list than stingers. Which means we lose them. A lot. One a day might be on the high side, but between every department borrowing a couple (and often when we're not looking), it's definitely not unheard of. So it's not exactly a big deal. I mean, I've been on more than one crew who refers to them as "expendables."

"What? Losing $250/day isn't a big deal??" you might ask? It might be, if the guy wasn't a clueless moron. I don't know where he's getting his figures from, but I have never seen a rental house charge more than about $100/stinger lost. And that's for the fifty footers. The twenty five footers go for even less and based on this guy's apparent IQ level on the subject matter, there's a more than great chance he didn't go for the gold and only target fifty foot pieces for his collection. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say he did. His bounty would've still only netted him about $1500 of stingage, not over $3K. And keep in mind, that's the replacement cost rental houses charge. It costs waaaaay less for them to actually get another one. Just because you're paying $X amount doesn't mean something is actually worth $X. If you tried to turn around and sell the lot to someone who actually knows what they're doing for that amount, they'll laugh in your face.

"What? A $1500 replacement fee isn't a big deal??" you might ask? No, not really. On a bigger show, no one's even going to blink an eye at that L&D.*** And figures can almost always be talked down. Rental agents try to keep everyone happy. I've seen them write off the smaller items (ie: stingers) to help the bottom line, which makes the Best Boy happy (because the numbers look better, and in turn, makes them look better), Production happy (they get a lower L&D bill), and the Rental House happy (they're still charging us for something and in the end, the house always wins anyway). And happy people mean repeat business in the future. So even if Mr. SPFX thinks he's shoving it to the Electricians, honestly, I don't think anyone really gives a damn (or for that matter, thinks twice about why a few extra stingers are missing).

Thirdly, and most importantly, STINGERS ARE NOT WATERPROOF. Like, at all. The connectors are technically not even water resistant (and yes, there's a difference between the two terms). When we use them in wet conditions, we use all kinds of protections, from wrapping and elevating the connections to using GFCIs, because, and I can't stress this enough, STINGERS ARE NOT WATERPROOF. Do waterproof ones exist? Sure. But I guarantee you the ones he has are not it. I've honestly never actually seen one on set, and I'm pretty sure the standard rental houses don't carry them for liability issues.

And lastly, what the hell is he doing that he's "burning up the connectors"?? We may fry them all the time on set because we sometimes have faulty equipment running sizable electrical loads, but this guy was talking about using them around the house! If you're burning them up even semi-frequently, you've got a bigger problem than the delusion of a few stingers costing more than my rent.

Listen, if this was a P.A. or even a Grip or someone else that I overheard, it barely would've registered on my radar. I wouldn't expect them to know all this. But this was a SPECIAL EFFECTS guy. The guy on set in charge of blowing things up. And burning things down. And a whole slew of other things that often include electricity, water, high voltage, fast things, and fire; often all at once and all while keeping the crew safe. To hear such misconceptions come out of this guy's mouth is very concerning, to say the least.

But, he did get one thing right though. He's proof that even an idiot can change the plug on a stinger.

*Special Effects/FX is the department in charge of most "movie magic" that's done in real time on the set. Everything from smoke, fire, atmosphere, wind, explosions, etc, to making the leaves on a tree outside a window move from the "wind" and, literally, the kitchen sink.

**Fancy movie talk for "extension cord."

***Loss and Damage.


Phillip Jackson said...

I'd definitely take a few extra steps away from all SFX on that show from now on.

Michael Taylor said...

HA! What you said, and said so very well. I once did a three week commercial in the wilds of Montana, and at the end of Day One - with the sun going down and the director starting to panic - our SFX crew rolled in a big Ritter-like electric fan (not a real Ritter, but a rental house equivalent) and asked us for power. We already had the 2/0 waiting, of course, but warned them not to crank that thing up to "high," then hit the breaker... which is exactly what the proceeded to do. God knows why. There were sparks, a flash, and smoke -- the fan was dead.

The next day, my Best Boy took the motor apart, found the burned out bits, and ordered replacements. They took a while to arrive, so he was still putting the fan back together as we were setting up for that same sunset shot on our final day of filming. He got it done just in time, and - following directions, for once - our SFX guys gradually brought the fan up to speed, and we nailed the shot.

It's a lot nicer when departments work together.

A.J. said...

Phillip Jackson - Let's just say that's not the only SPFX crew I'd steer away from.

Michael - Wow. Just... so much wow in that story. And yes, it is a lot nicer when departments work together!

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