Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Clear The Frame!

  I opened up a can of worms with my comments about crossing the lens or standing in front of it. A commenter named Sarah asked, " When should I use crossing?" This is a confusing issue, since a lot of people do it every time they walk past the lens. I was taught to do it too when I was starting out. After I started pushing dolly I realized that it drives a lot of camera operators and DPs crazy. If you must cross, do it when no one is looking through the eyepiece, or when we aren't trying to line up a shot. There used to be a short block of time (before digital) when the operators, stand-ins, dolly grips, and AC's had a chance to actually line up the shot and see what we were seeing before the set was swarmed with ladders, grips, juicers, art department and everyone else. Now as we try to see the shot we have to look through an army and often don't see the complete shot before we roll. I know everyone has to work and has a job to do. Crossing the lens is unavoidable. Just duck under it or do it quickly if you must while we are trying to see the shot. Yelling out, "Crossing" just draws attention to it and a lot of operators will growl, "Don't say it, just do it!"  The big grievance is literally just standing in front of the lens oblivious to what is going on. I've seen department meetings, people on their phones, or people just standing around in front of camera while we are trying to put 2nd team through their paces to see the shot. This has always been a little bit of an issue and always will be as long as we have several departments trying to all do their job quickly. I get it. But it seems to have gotten much more prevalent over the last few years and I think it's because no one is teaching the importance of not hanging out in front of camera. There was a time when I would get my head bitten off for it and everyone was aware. Now it seems no one is. When I was younger I was taken to the side and many of the rules were explained to me. I don't think that's happening anymore. Anyway, I'm not trying to bite anyone's head off myself, I'm just trying to draw attention to a problem that maybe we can all be more aware of.
Now move it!


Niall said...

I've been working as a grip/electrician for year 8 years now and only in the last year and a half taken to working solely as a grip to hone my craft as a grip.

I agree that there has been a break down in the apprenticeship of film technicians within the last decade. Not enough experienced people are sticking around to help train the next generation. I know I've been damn lucky and learned from knowledgeable people but it's only a few days/weeks out of the year I get to work with them. The rest of the time I'm teaching people or among the most experienced in the department. Few in my generation of techs view our selves as tradesmen let alone as apprentices. I don't blame them or think lesser of them, I work with some smart motivated people. Its something gen y/Millennials view differently. They do something for a year or two and they think they know enough.

It take around ten years to learn a trades craft. I feel I'm of a few in my region that gets that. I'm learning all I can when I can, but till I hit ten years with so many hours behind it, I still have tons to learn and perfect. As my Kendo Sensei once told us 'It take 1000 hours to forge a blade, but 10,000 hours to polish it'.

D said...

I think you nailed it Niall. As I often say, there is nothing wrong with not knowing everything. Everyone starts somewhere. Its the lack of recognition of the need to learn that sticks in my craw. We used to spend our spare time on set studying the Matthews catalog he. Now we spend it playing trivia crack waiting for the key grip to call for something.

JD said...

Do you see part of this problem as being coupled to the demise of the studios, studio system and lack of any type of apprentice or department "internship"? Film schools aren't teaching any of this, not at current tuition rates.

D said...

Not the Studio System. Strangely it seemed to coincide with the widespread use of digital cinema. There's no longer any rythym to the day. Cameras roll indefinitely and film schools are as you say churning out graduates who may or may not understand the 180 degree rule, and certainly don't understand set etiquette. Us older hands aren't teaching them well either.

Unknown said...

I've recently noticed that there are a lot of crews and departments that don't have the same depth of experience as when I first got in the industry. I think because digital is cheaper ( meaning a producer doesn't have to worry about running out of film,) that here are more people coming up that don't have the same mindset/ awareness as when we were shooting on film. I remember every foot having to count and how everyone spent there time counted. Now it feels like, "Oh we can fix that in post, turn into a VFX shot, we can shoot as many takes as we want, etc..." I'm currently trying to figure out how to pass on some advice in my department with saying, "in my day, we never did that!" But at the same time I'm seeing some sloppy habits showing up.

Michael Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Taylor said...

(Sorry about the deleted post -- I wrote it too fast and had to some edits)

The unions -- electric and grip -- used to have a strict seniority system where a new member (having finally gotten his/her 30 union days) started out as a Number 3. For grips and juicers, that meant working on the studio rigging crews for a couple of years, learning from the ground up -- how to hang and rig green beds, backings, blue screens (green screens hadn't come into popular use then) and large blacks. Number 3's never got near a show unless it was to rig something fast on a working set while the show boys were busy doing their job.

When a grip became a Number Two, he could then work shows, assuming anybody would hire him as low man on the crew. Along with learning the craft of gripping on a film crew, he would learn set proper etiquette, when to walk and when to run, and when to keep his mouth shut -- which was most of the time.

Only after several years -- five to seven was the number I heard at the time -- could a Number Two finally ascend to the status of Number One, a journeyman grip who would be hired before any Number Two and Three in the local. Those were the first-call guys for features, in town or on location.

This was a real bitch for the young guys just getting in, because it could take seven to ten years to become a Number One -- but by then, that grip or juicer knew exactly what he was doing on stage, rigging, or on set filming.

The seniority system vanished at some point in the 80's -- I don't recall exactly when -- and it's been pretty much a free-for-all ever since. For better or worse, a "30 day wonder" with only six week's experience in the biz can now walk on a film set as a journeyman grip or juicer. Most of these newbies start out working on low-budget cable rate television, New Media projects, or lower tier features, which most veterans avoid like the plague whenever possible -- so you end up with the blind leading the blind.

When you add cell phones and (as D and Harlem pointed out) the new digital on-set and post-production technology into the mix, you end up with a sandbox where the kids are playing absent much adult supervision.

Although I was never a fan of the old seniority system, it did produce thoroughly professional grip and lighting technicians who knew their business on set. That's one reason Hollywood was the center of the film and television world for so long.

But times change, and not always for the better...

A.J. said...

I think part of it may be that the "new kids" see the seasoned vets sitting at staging on their phones and think it's okay. What he doesn't realize is the guy who's been doing this for twenty years can stare at his phone because he's been doing this long enough to know when something's needed and is keeping an ear out. Meanwhile, the kid just sees the guy on his phone and so he does the same thing.

There's been more than a few times when a co-worker is showing me a video or article on his phone when the Gaffer calls for something, and I'm the only one who hears it. You still have to be able to pay attention to set if you're going to dick around and sadly, not everyone realizes that.