Sunday, May 08, 2011


  One thing about the film business, it's filled with traditions. It even has it's own language and a couple of books have been written defining several terms of that language. One, by my friend, camera operator Dave Knox can be found  here. There's another one written by Tony Bill you can find here. I like the old traditions, some of which, like the process of shooting on film itself,* seem to be dying out. It's a shame. They help keep it interesting. They connect us to our filmmaking predecessors in a unique way. Here are some I like.
For the uninitiated:

The Champagne Roll- It's simply the hundredth roll of film you shoot on a show, and marks a hundred thousand feet of film shot. Traditionally, glasses of champagne are handed out to the crew on this roll. This is one of the one's that will inevitably die out.

Dollar Day- It's a tradition that on Fridays, a PA walks around with a bucket and takes a dollar from all who are willing to gamble. Each participant writes his name on the dollar, folds it in a very special way, and drops it in the bucket. At the end of the shooting day, someone, usually one of the actors or the director, draws a dollar and whomever's name is called wins the whole bucket. Michael over at Blood, Sweat and Tedium has a great post on this tradition here. I've only ever won once. It was around $400.00. I went out  and bought a pair of tennis shoes which I thought were really cool and by three days later I hated them.

Box of F-stops- It's a rather mean tradition to send a newbie to the truck for a "box of F-stops." You may also substitute pig clamp, board stretcher, or air hook.

Watch your back- You'll hear this a lot. It simply means, "Get out of the way." Why this has become so ubiquitous is beyond me but I say it at least ten times a day.

The cadence- "Lights, camera, action!" is a saying wierdly promoted to the public through the movies. Directors don't say this. They don't even start the process of shooting. The assistant director says, "roll sound." The sound mixer or boom operator says, "speed." The 2nd AC says "marker," then the director says "action!" We depend on this cadence as dolly grips to get us ready. Sometimes we'll ask for an "and... action," to help us start a move before the scene actually starts. If the cadence changes and we aren't told, it can screw us up.

Here are some words you'll here on sets everywhere:

C-47- Also known as bullets, or pegs, these simply refer to clothespins which juicers carry to clip gels onto lights.

Stinger- extension cord.

On the day- This means, literally, when we shoot. It doesn't necessarily mean on a different day. It can mean when cameras roll twenty minutes from now, as in, "we don't need to give her the prop for rehearsal, but she'll have it on the day."

Kill the baby- A baby is a 1k light made by Mole Richardson. "Kill it " means turn it off. This applies to other lights as well. You may just as well hear, "kill the 12k," but baby is more disturbing.

Save the baby- Ironically means the same as "kill it."

Crossing- Some people say this when crossing in front of camera. Don't. It tends to irritate camera operators and will often point you out as a newbie. I was told before I ever stepped onto a set for the first time to do this, so I guess teachers are perpetuating this, but don't bother. If you have to cross camera, wait until no one's on the eyepiece and just go. If it can't wait, just go and mutter, "sorry."

Second meal- Producers tend to serve notoriously bad meals for the second meal, which is literally the next meal after lunch if you're shooting a long day. Union rules specify that you are to get a 30 minute meal break every six hours. Producers usually won't stop for this, however, so will often provide a courtesy walking meal, which you eat while working. Usually it's pizza or fried chicken which leads to the phrase, "What's for chicken?" Pizza is called, "circles of death." Azurgrip gave me the idea for this one.

Martini shot- The last shot of the day. It means literally, "the next shot's in the glass." After this, though, comes the JFK, or shot that no one knows where it comes from.

Abby Singer- Next to last shot.

If it ain't it ain't- If it ain't working on this shot, put it in the truck (to get a head start on wrap).

Mickey Rooney- In dolly terminology, it means "a short creep." Not very flattering to Mickey Rooney, who I'm sure is thrilled by it.

Gary Coleman- A short c-stand. I don't like to speak ill of the dead, however.

These are common phrases in the US industry. What are some in your neck of the woods?

* I've still yet to work on an HD shoot. Every job I get, film cameras keep showing up.


  1. Usually, it's "what's for chicken" for lunch, and "grease wheel" for second meal.

    Local Canadian hockey term - "The Bertuzzi Shot" - the one you didn't see coming.

    Also in Canada - "The Martini" is also referred to as "The Window" - steming back to the days which it was the last shot before packing up and heading to the pay window.

  2. The AD saying "Check the gate" has become more of a way to say that you're finished with the current setup than it's actual reference to physically checking the gate in the camera, as it's still used on every show I've worked on that shoots video as well.

    Also in the vein of dirty shot references, here on the East Coast I hear the "Mother-Daughter" shot a lot; same setup, only tighter.

    "Cards" is a popular Friday tradition in NY, similar to Dollar Day. You pay for a card out of a deck, and if your card is drawn at the end of the day you win the pot.

  3. There is also always sending the new guy to the truck for the left handed wedges. "The Mickey Rooney" has now been modernized to "The Ben Stiller," in a few circles that I run in. We used to say we need to "hang some blacks outside that window"...not so much now. It was never meant to be offensive until someone realized it was. We call the "Bertuzzi/JFK Shot," the "Bobby Kennedy." The shot no one saw coming. Dollar day can be as high as $20 day and I've seen the pot hit $12,000. And to round it out, the names we don't use so much anymore for equipment like: the butt-plug, the Ubangi, and the man-maker.

    Great post.

  4. 86 (i.e. eighty-six) meaning get rid of it, as well as meaning: this does not work, different trick is needed... etc.

    DFI (often shouted by a key to his assistent running to the truck to get whatever.) Meaning Different F***ing Idea....

    Checking the Genny: In the old days going down to truck for a beer, nowadays running for a fag...

    WRAP: end of the day, wrap it up. however some people thinking it means Wind, Roll, and Print back in the old days of the Mitchels...

    Men's Maker / Tom Cruise: Meaning an 2 inch pancake (= 1/8 applebox) for rising up a little of the talent in shot for a better match of eyeline (for short-people)

    Over the Hill, meaning halfway scheduled shooting period.

    Are you training for producer? Meaning "get out of the doorway"

    and for a good laugh:

    Good Luck, Onno

    BTW: I am exhibiting at CineGear, who is coming? I'd love to put some faces to names!!!

  5. Anonymous1:47 PM

    second pizza aka the greasy wheel.
    kfc or swiss chalet aka the dirty bird
    veal sandwich aka veal sangweech advice ditch the bread .breaded meat is plenty.
    burrito boys aka the brick.only do half

  6. Good one's all. I left out mother/daughter on purpose but I'm glad it showed up.

    Onno- I was going to Cinegear this year. Unfortunately I will be in Atlanta that weekend. Sorry to miss you. I will certainly direct people to your booth.

  7. Hi D,

    I arribe one june 1st and leav at the seventh. Maybe you have some time left in between???

  8. Hey Onno, I leave the 30th of May and get back on the 5th. Maybe we can get together the 6th. I'll have you out to set or something once I see where we are.

  9. British Grip2:01 AM

    We have 'pound Friday' in the UK too, good to know that's common all over.

    Here a Gary Coleman is a shotgun, because it's a sawn-off stand.

    The late meal is often 'crap on wrap'.

    'Check the gate' on certain HD shoots has come to mean 'Watch back the last 30 seconds of that last take before we move on, to make sure the unreliable piece of junk actually shot it.'

    Trainees can go for a long stand, long wait, sky hook, baseboard ladder, left handed screwdriver, spare bubble for my level, etc. etc.

    '86' over here is 'Spanish'.

    Nobody calls 'flashing' anymore, which really does irritate some DOPs I know.

    Things that are happily more or less a thing of the past include setting the barn doors on a lamp 'Chinese'. Now being repaced with setting them 'Panavision'.

  10. Anonymous9:27 PM

    when we have a bad day where not much is shot, and everyone above the line is pissed off, we call it a "goat rodeo"

    if your cell phone rings on set during a take you have to buy the beer on friday. on one tv series in particular, a DOP bought 3 cases in one week.

    we do $5 draws in toronto. but you can enter more then once, so 4 times for $20 etc. the set P.A. usually walks around with a ziploc filled with sticky notes with people's names on them, and a wad of cash. if you are on a big feature, usually the key actors will top up the pot with chunks of per diem. if someone on the crew is having some sort of unexpected financial problem (eg: unexpected death in the family, sick child, house burnt down no insurance), the crew will surprise that person and give them the whole pot.

    in NYC they say "POINTS" instead of "WATCH YOUR BACK". probably because they are carrying something pointy.

    if you get "pegged" (clothes peg on the back of your shirt), it's a sign from the person that "pegged" you that they like you

  11. Anonymous6:16 PM

    In NYC, an extension chord is a "single" instead of a "stinger". In fact, if you say "stinger" you will be mock for either being West Coast, or just out of film school.

    Similarly, for east coasters a clothes pin is only called a "C-47" by green e's, or other departments.

  12. Cover me, I have to wring it