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, February 10, 2013

Hooks Redux

And what’s wrong with the Source Four

In response to a comment on the Good Hooks, Bad Hooks post a while back, I checked the pipe clamps on my show, but couldn’t find a brand name on the older bad hooks – which means they’re very old indeed. The Best Boy thinks they’re ancient Mole Richardson clamps, and given that such clamps pretty much last forever, he may be right. A quick quick look at Mole’s on-line catalog revealed nothing, but the bad pipe clamp pictured in the previous post came from ETC, and was bolted to an ETC Source Four lamp. As far as I'm concerned, ETC should be ashamed of themselves for manufacturing and sending out such a potentially dangerous clamp as standard equipment -- but a true sense of shame seems to be an exceedingly rare commodity in this town.

Which brings me to the subject of ETC’s Source Four lamp, which I first saw back in the mid-80’s. Small and light enough enough to hang anywhere, the Source Four could be equipped with a wide variety of focusable lenses and patterns, and proved very useful for adding luminous texture and/or color to set walls. Using an iris, the Source Four could even serve as a low intensity follow-spot.* We used lots of them to good effect on the sets of “Will and Grace,” and every other show I’ve worked on over the past 15 years.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that ETC hasn’t bothered to improve the Source Four much at all since those early days. The 500 watt bulb was upgraded to a 750 at some point, but that’s about it. Given that the lamp was apparently created for the theatrical world -- where lamps are hung and set, then left alone for the (hopefully) long run of a live show – this comes as no surprise, but lighting for feature films and television is a much more fluid endeavor. For the most part, the lamps we use on set were designed for durability, flexibility, and ease of use, but the Source Four remains stuck in a more static world.**

A couple of minor changes would make these lamps much more user-friendly. First, ETC should send all those crappy, dangerous 90 degree hooks back to be melted down and made into good, safe hooks. Then they should replace the tiny bolt on the stem (which controls the right-left pan function of the lamp) with an honest-to-God T-handle knuckle so that a juicer hanging and adjusting the lamp doesn’t have to pull out a crescent wrench just to loosen the bolt, pan the lamp an eighth of an inch, then lock it back down. These two modifications would make the lives of every juicer I know a lot easier on set.

Another long-overdue upgrade would be more complicated, but worth doing – adding some kind of worm gear along the barrel of the lens that would allow the light emitted from the lamp to be quickly and accurately focussed to DP’s liking. The current method is simple – a slot with a screw/knob adjuster – that requires both hands to use.  That's okay when the lamp is on a stand and easy to reach, but we rig most of these lamps on crowded pipe grids that can be very difficult to access. I can’t count the times I’ve had to go up in a man-lift (or climb to the very top step of a 12 step ladder), then stand on the rails in an incredibly precarious position to hang, focus, and cut a Source Four – at which point that sticky lens barrel suddenly makes the job much harder than it should be. A simple worm-gear mechanism with locking knob that could be operated with one hand would make a huge difference, but given that ETC doesn’t seem to give a shit about how bad their hooks really are (much less display any willingness to replace them with good hooks), I won’t hold my breath waiting for them improve the lens-focusing mechanism.

My job as a juicer is to make do with what we’ve got – to get the set lit whatever it takes – and I’ll do that until my days in this business are over and done.  Still, it would be nice if companies like ETC would help us out a little rather than sit there with both thumbs firmly inserted up their corporate ass.

But I suppose that’s asking too much.

 * I’ve done some day playing working for a DP who uses well over a hundred Source Fours on every show.  He’s something of an idiot, though, so I‘ll leave that discussion for a future post. 

** There are exceptions, of course. I don’t like the 200 watt Mole Richardson Inky or 1000 watt Baby Baby, and am no fan of small-wattage Pepper lamps, either.


Anonymous said...

The source 4 "Zoom" actually has a knob mechanism on the side that allows an electrician to focus and adjust beam size with one hand, they are somewhat of a specialty light though and I've never seen one outside of a live theatre.

Anonymous said...

Michael Taylor said...

Anonymous --

Thanks for the link -- I hadn't seen that particular Source Four I did use a type of Source Four knock-off with a zoom lens a few years ago on a show, and that zoom feature came in handy. Still, I'll have to use this one to believe that a slide-focus system can be accurately and quickly manipulated with one hand, especially after the lamp has been banged around in a rental house for a year or two. That's why I'd prefer a worm-gear focusing mechanism -- but hey, I'd love to try it out.