Grip and Electric: Crash Course Film Production #10

Grip and Electric: Crash Course Film Production #10


Have you ever tried to take a picture of a
sunset? How’d it turn out? It probably looked pretty bad compared to
the real thing, right? Now, have you ever taken a picture of your
friend, when she was lit by the sunset? It probably looked amazing! The sun can be so fickle. But we need it for…life. Luckily we don’t need it for filmmaking anymore. We can recreate a sunset and make it last
for hours. We can light a lightning storm or make a room
look like it’s lit with just a few candles, but still be able to actually see. Light can accentuate drama or playup humor
or build suspense. And, without it, the camera literally captures
nothing. Without light, film is…radio. And the production departments that control
all the light are usually grouped together as G&E: Grip & Electric. We’ve talked about the designers who build
the mise-en-scene through sets, costumes, hair and makeup, but the lighting design is
just as important. A blank wall can be transformed with light
and shadow. I mean, you know this –– an instagram
can be made into art by controlling light and shadow. This is part of the reason Grip & Electric
work so well together. The electricians bring in and control the
light, while the grips control the shadow. [Intro Music Plays] Both the grip and electric teams work together
as an arm of the camera team. The Gaffer, Best Boy Electric, and electricians
work with the cinematographer to design the lighing. And the Key Grip, Best Boy Grip, and grips
work with all the non-electrical equipment for the lighting and camera departments. The Electrical Lighting Technicians, or ELTs,
are responsible for getting light, but also power, to the set. Like almost every crew position, it’s a
mix of creativity and technical skill. When it comes to lighting, though, it’s
especially technical. Like, there’s math. The Electric department has to make a new
plan for every lighting set up and every location. This plan is informed by the look the director
and cinematographer want to achieve, but also by the power that’s available on site or
from the generators they’re able to bring So the electric team isn’t just lighting
a set. They’re also bringing power to it. A lot of power, that could be deadly if it’s
not handled safely. But who’s responsible for safety on set? That’s easy. You are. There are too many moving parts and changing
orders on a film set for safety to not be everyone’s priority. So, trust me when I say, if an electrician
tells you to do something on set, do it. It’s for your safety. The gaffer and the electric team have to understand
the capacity of their equipment and the power supplies that they’re pulling from. They also need to stay up to date on technology
changes. LED lights, for example, are just starting
to be used on sets. But of course, the whole purpose of the electric
department’s technical skill is to put it to use creatively and convincingly. It can be easy to think of light as just light,
but think of the light in an old church or the light in a big box store. Different, right? Think of a cold rainy beach or a sunny mountain
top. It’s the same sun but it looks so different. Grip and electric teams work to control light,
and one of the most important tools at their disposal is understanding color temperature. Think again about that old church versus that
rainy beach: they’re about the same brightness, but they’re different colors. The light in the church is what we’d call
“warm”; it’s kind of orange. Whereas the light on the beach is “cool”;
looks more blue. That’s because the light has different color
temperatures, which we measure in Kelvin, or K. Typically, outdoor lighting is around 5600K,
or what we call “daylight balanced,” because the sun’s light is 5600K. Indoor lighting is 3200K, or “tungsten,”
because tungsten is what the filaments in lightbulbs are made from, and it puts out
light at 3200K. Obviously, there’s a whole lot of wiggle
room between those, and the camera needs to be set up to match the color temperature of
the lights. When you see a video that looks really orange,
it’s because the lights are tungsten but the camera is set to daylight balance. And vice versa when the video looks really
blue. You can get bulbs that are either daylight
balanced or tungsten, but if you only have one type of bulb to light your film inside
and out, you can change their color temperature pretty affordably with gels. Gels are transparent color filters. They come in many colors, but they’re most
commonly used in blue or orange. And they come in different densities, too,
depending on how much light you’re working with. Once the color temperature is right for the
scene, G&E still has to control how the light moves. We talked about the basic 3-point lighting
set up when we talked about cinematography. The key light, the fill light, and the back
light, or hair light, all work together to give a scene depth and allow the audience
to feel like they’re looking at a real space, not a screen. But you don’t just put up three lights in
a triangle. The electricians and grips shape the light
to create the look the gaffer and cinematographer want. Under the direction of the gaffer, the electricians
use the lights themselves to do this, and the grips use several tools to block and steer
the light. Because, remember that fickle sun? Light will go wherever you let it, but it
needs to be guided. The first way to do this is with different
lights. The key, fill, and hair lights usually descend
in order of intensity. The key will put out the most light, then
the fill, then the hair light. But, not all light sources are lights. Frequently, the fill light is just light from
the key light bouncing off of a white wall, a mirror, or, appropriately enough, a bounce
board. A skilled grip can aim light with a bounce
board, but beyond that, there are many more ways to control the light. The lights themselves have barn doors that
control how much light comes through and how it’s aimed. Barn doors are also where you can clip your
gels, if you need them, with your trusty c-47s. G&E equipment gets the best names. A lot of the effort in lighting is spent trying
to avoid unwanted shadows, but sometimes you need shadows to shape the light how you want
it. And the grips have all the rigging and equipment
to do that. Some of the most versatile pieces of equipment
that grips use are flags mounted on to c-stands, to block, or “cut” the light. They’ll block light for the camera, but
because the grip department oversees pretty much all the non-electrical equipment for
the set, they’ll also block light for things like video village. And no, that’s not the last of the DVD-rental
chains — it’s where people who can’t see the camera can watch video playback of
what the camera is capturing. For this, the team will usually use a special
kind of flag, called a floppy, because it has a floppy drape that can be opened to block
out more light. Flags are sometimes called cutters, too, because
they break up the light sharply. But when the shadow needs to be more subtle,
G&E will use diffusion. If the electricians want to lessen the intensity
of a light, they can add diffusion to it, much like how they add gels. On some lights they can add screens called
scrims over the lens of the light. Grips can also bring in flags called silks
to put in front of large lights to diffuse them. And really big silks are used to protect an
entire set from the sun for an outdoor scene. Indoors, grips can control the light in a
scene by using black wrap, or cinefoil, to direct light or seal the windows from sunlight. Now, not only do grips have the power to block
out the sun and build the rigging for light and shadow, they also build and manage the
equipment for the camera department. In fact, the ways in which the camera moves are almost all built and maintained by the grips. If it’s a locked down shot, the grips set
up the tripod. If it’s a dolly shot, grips lay the dolly
track and control the dolly movements. If the shot calls for a jib or a crane, grips
build and control this movement as well. Even handheld shots often rely on grips, because
the camera operator may need to be on a ladder, which will be held by a grip, or they may
put the camera on an apple box between shots, which would be provided by the grip department. And, I can’t mention this enough, just like
the electricians have be manage safety of the electricity and cables and bulbs they’re
using, grips are always thinking about safety with equipment. From the way a c-stand is positioned to the
way a screw is tightened, there is a protocol and a language for everything the grips are
doing to keep everyone on set safe. Two of the most common words you’ll hear
from G&E are “striking” and “points.” Striking is called when an electrician is
turning on a light. It’s a courtesy for anyone on set to look
away from the bright light, but it’s also a warning that something potentially dangerous
is about to happen. A fuse might blow, a bulb might break, and
by calling “striking” the crew is getting a head’s up. Points means someone is carrying something
big and pointy. Probably a c-stand. So be aware and watch where you’re moving. Knowing these two words will help keep you
safe, and also keep you from being obnoxious on a film set. All good things! Today we learned about the electric team and
how it balances the technical and the creative sides of lighting. We looked at some of the equipment electricians
use to shape light and talked about safety and language associated with the electric
department. We also talked about the responsibilities
of the grip department and how they support the electric department, the camera department,
and all the non-electric equipment being used by various departments on set. Next time, we’ll get into even more movie
magic with special effects, both on camera and in post production. Crash Course Film Production is produced in
association with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel to check
out a playlist of their latest shows, like Braincraft, The Art Assignment, and Eons. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in
the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these nice people and our
amazing graphics team is Thought Cafe.

Author:

61 thoughts on “Grip and Electric: Crash Course Film Production #10”

  • Christopher Martin says:

    A backlight is not the weakest light. A scrum doesnt change the intensity of the light. And nowadays its not required for grips to set sticks. Its a courtesy and is dependent on how old school your dp is.

  • Great series. As someone who works with the film industry, I wish all our clients would know at least as much as this series teaches.

  • On the set, one of our talent was getting her neck and shoulders massaged by an assistant. "How should you be listed in the credits?" I asked.

    "Key grip!"

  • thebookthatjackwrote says:

    Unrelated: just saw Lily in Off the Rails at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and she did so great! I kept wondering while watching where I had seen her before, and this show is it!

  • Why use a wash instrument with barn doors when you can just get a source four or ERS of any kind? Hell, you could even use a zoom if you have the patience to adjust those damn lenses… might as well be using scoops. I don't do film, just sharing my opinion, I'm probably completely invalid.

    P.S. Yes, source fours are expensive, but they're some of the most efficient, versitile, and durable lights lights out there. ETC charges a lot for a reason.

  • Adriano Cerqueira says:

    The thing is, this is only valid for big Hollywood productions. Most of us in film school, small productions, and in countries outside of the US will usually work with a maximum of a 3 or 5 people teams. I did a whole short TV series for my national channel with a team of 6 people. The electricians were the cinematographer and his assistant, which was also a camera guy.

  • MakeMeThinkAgain says:

    I thought you would say something about shooting day scenes at night with special lights. I assume they do that to get better control as well as to avoid daytime crowds.

  • Very informative and clears out some lack of information, however, what I think might be missing is more hands on equipment. I worked as a PA, and some of the functions are still a bit unknown to me, even though you mentioned and explained them in the video.
    Thanks.

  • Should be noted that as described this is the ‘American’ or ‘hollywood’ system not the ‘English’ or ‘European’.
    More and more internationally the ‘American’ system dominates, but you will still find ‘English’ system used in parts of Europe and Asia, its was common at the height of HK cinema for example.
    In traditional ‘English’ system ‘Grips’ really only deal with camera mounting and movement while the ‘Sparks’ deal with both lights and flagging.

    Having worked in both I’d have to say the ‘English’ system actually makes more sense logically as much of the friction between departments is ‘Lighting’ or ‘Electrics’ having to get the ‘Grips’ to flag our lights the way we need the Flagged rather than the way they ‘know’ it should be done, allot of frustrations on set spring from this.
    The ‘English ‘ system means more responsibility for the lighting aka sparks but less hassle.

    Part of the reason why the ‘American’ system might have been adopted in hollywood is perhaps because early film lights, carbon arcs, required an operator on each light to nearly continuously monitor it as it burnt.
    You had to adjust the ‘wick’ or ‘trim the arc ’. You can think of Carbon arcs as basically working by bringing two charged carbon welding rod together so they arc the resulting plasma producing light. As they arc’d this plasma ate away at rods so while one rod was could be advanced forward on a timed screw they didn’t burn completely consistently so the other had to manually adjusted to keep the light produced steady.
    This meant at least one ‘lamp op’, or two, per light and then, maybe to keep departments relatively same size, the grips became responsible for flagging as well as camera movement.
    It also helps to concentrate the safety concerns of structural/mechanical rigging of hanging things over people heads separate from those of extremely hot sources of heat and electrical from large power sources.

    In English system the ‘sparks’ just did both.

    As I said the American hollywood system has become increasingly common but will still find crews trained both ways if you travel.

  • Crash course on acting please!!! I want to be a director and I hear every source about learning how to be a director telling me that I should learn about acting, at least the principles. So please make a crash course about acting as soon as possible.

  • Guilherme Carvalho says:

    I'm loving this series immensely, and with every episode I get comforted in the fact that I don't feel any urge to do cinema, because HOT DANG that is a huge world of skills and professions and therefore potential problems whose brilliant solutions I'm super happy to enjoy at a safe distance.
    It's sooooo much easier to be a composer, I mean, really.

  • I just love and am interested in the arts in general….one of them is film….. I can't wait for theater and drama….. maybe arts history will come after theater…maybe,

  • After the cinematography episode I checked the comments and it was packed with, "This is what I want to do!"… Here, no so much. I wonder how many G&E are doing what they planned to do in movies.

  • Considering how jargon-filled this episode was I'm glad that when I directed my first independent movie that I hired a DP with his own crew. All I had to do to was tell the DP in 2 or 3 sentences how I wanted the next shot to look then he organised all the technical details while I ran around putting out other fires.

  • Great video due to the information but who did the sound for this?? It is awful. Sorry but what mics, boom, lavs??? did they use? It is so distracting. But the I learned a lot yay just sound mixer tisk tisk…

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