Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Happy Elephants

Time for a little "inside baseball"
                    Three Happy Elephants in action...

This blog generally avoids wandering into the nuts-and-bolts weeds of technical matters regarding set lighting -- there are other blogs out there that do a great job of covering such issues, and my own interests lie elsewhere -- but in light of last week's discussion (and the endless quest for clarification), here's a photo showing two 650 watt Tweenies and a 1000 watt Zip (soft light) mounted underneath Happy Elephants screwed into the set walls. 

I'd rather use a Grumpy for this kind of thing, since a Grumpy has two baby pins, one facing up and the other facing down -- but all the lamp dock could offer us that day was a small herd of Happy Elephants, and in this business, you make do with what you've got.  When using a Grumpy, if the gaffer or DP takes a look and decides that the lamp should be six inches higher, it's a quick and easy fix, with the added option to mount another small light on the unused pin if necessary.  You'd be surprised how often we do this in the multi-camera world, and in that regard, a Grumpy is more versatile than a Happy Elephant.

Since sound stage sets typically have a pipe grid hung above, we can always mount small lamps from telescoping stirrup hangars clamped to the pipes, but that usually requires a man lift to get up there, and some of these sets are too cramped and narrow to maneuver a lift where it needs to be.  It's usually quicker to use a ladder and wall-mounts to set small lamps, and in a business where time = money, that can make a difference.  Besides, nobody wants to spend any more time lighting than is strictly necessary.  Still, there are circumstances where it's better to use a stirrup hangar.  If a scene includes a door being slammed hard -- and sit-coms are all about domestic conflict -- a wall mounted lamp (whether it be on a baby plate, baby plate with an offset arm, a Grumpy or Happy Elephant) can shake when that door hits the flimsy set wall.  If there's any chance that shaking light will show up on camera, we'll take the time to hang the lamp from the pipe grid, which is not connected to the walls.

For the same reason, we always hang a Source 4 (which throws a precise pattern on a wall) with a stirrup  hanger.   Otherwise, that pattern can visibly shake after a door slam as if an earthquake just hit.

Given that all three of the lamps in this photo are under-slung, the proper term is "Unhappy Elephant -- the name telling you whether the the lamp needs to be slightly above the set wall, or a foot below.  When the gaffer calls for "a baby on a Happy Elephant," he-or-she is telling you to mount the device with the pin pointing up, while the term "Unhappy Elephant" means the lamp is to be under-slung.

In a perfect world, I'd rather use a baby plate and sliding offset arm with a double pin than a Grumpy or Happy Elephant.  An offset arm allows the lamp to be mounted top or bottom, with an additional fourteen to sixteen inches of movement using the slider.  You can even rotate it all the way back in the other direction if necessary, which saves the time of moving the baby plate.  In the multi-camera world, once the actors are on set and ready to go, production really hates to wait on lighting -- even when a last-second change of blocking by the director requires a re-light -- so the ability to make the needed adjustments quickly is priceless.

When extending a slider all the way, though, you have to make sure that plate is screwed solidly into the top of the set wall -- and never forget the cable safety.  Due to the leverage involved,  I don't like to use any lamp bigger than a Tweenie with a slider at full extension.  I've done it using a Baby many times, but only when there wasn't a viable alternative.

All of these wall plates are meant for studio work on sets built for filming, not on location in the real world.  Screwing anything into the walls of a civilian house or office is a good way to make the Location Manager turn purple, cost the production additional money, and burn a bridge for the next film crew that comes along.  You'll also make the rest of your set lighting crew -- including the Gaffer or Best Boy who hired you -- look very bad.

If you want to remain employed, avoid doing that at all costs....

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