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, August 28, 2016

Making it Work

                             You do whatever it takes to get the shot...
                                    (photo courtesy of Mike Murray)

Fresh out of college forty-plus years ago, I agreed to help a former classmate who was about to produce, direct, and edit a short film he hoped would win him entrance to the American Film Institute. As the premier post-graduate film school on the West Coast, a degree from the AFI was -- and probably still is -- a direct conduit to a Hollywood career.* 

A twenty minute drama filmed in 16 mm color with sync-sound and amateur actors is hard enough to make under the best of circumstances, but even harder if you have to plead for help and scramble for every penny. My friend needed all of his considerable ambition and drive, because he had to beg and borrow from many sources to get his film done -- but he pulled it off. When the editing was done, he paid for and supervised a thoroughly professional sound mix, struck a couple of prints, then held a public screening to thank all those who helped or contributed to his project in any way. He reimbursed the camera rental house for the 12-to-120mm zoom lens we dropped on the rocks of the Santa Cruz Harbor breakwater one very bad day, and eventually paid back those who lent him money to make his film.

He was indeed an honorable young man.

Unfortunately, ambition, drive and honor couldn't overcome our limited knowledge and lack of cinematic sophistication at the time. The end result of all his effort was a sincere but deeply flawed film that failed to punch his ticket to the AFI... but the experience of making it taught us all valuable lessons about the reality of filmmaking.** Although I didn't know it at the time, those two or three weeks of chaos, confusion and unfulfilled ambition would turn out to be excellent preparation for what awaited me in the SNAFU world of non-union, low budget feature films in Hollywood. 

More importantly, I learned that solving problems on the fly -- making it work with what you have -- is a blast.

My first lesson in this came while we were preparing to film a drive-by, panning with the picture car as it came down a road and rounded a corner -- a simple shot complicated by the car moving from full, hard sunlight into deep shade at its closest approach to the camera. Our film stock didn't have the latitude to deal with such a stark contrast, and with no big lights, generators, or reflectors, we had no means of brightening the shadows. We could expose for sunlight, then lose the car in the dark shade, or expose for shade and leave the beginning of the shot looking as if it had been filmed under the glare of a nuclear blast somewhere in the  barren wastelands of Death Valley. 

The other option was for the director to pick a different stretch of road, but he was reluctant to compromise.

Just as it seemed we'd reached yet another impasse, I had an idea: we could expose for hard sunlight, then try an "F-stop pull," opening the iris as the car entered the shadows and swept by the camera, which in theory could allow the film to be more-or-less properly exposed throughout the entire shot. But since none of us had tried it before, we had no idea if it would actually work -- and there was a good chance it would look really lame.

With no other choice, we gave it a try -- and being my idea, I got the task of handling the iris. We did two takes, and although both seemed to go pretty well, we wouldn't know for sure until the film had been processed and printed, so we just moved on to the next shot.  

The cast and crew gathered a few days later to screen the rushes in a darkened living room, where we held our collective breaths when that drive-by shot came up, watching as the car moved from sunlight into shadow... perfectly exposed. The F-stop pull worked like a dream, allowing the entire shot to look good. It was like magic -- and all these years later, I still remember the elation of that moment.

Hey, problem solving is fun.

I wasn't on the job with that 18K-on-a-dolly rig in the photo above, and don't know why the shot required such a big moving lamp or what lighting problem it addressed, but that doesn't matter. It's just another example of the fun aspect of working below-the-line in the film and television industry: coming up with a way to get the shot.

Problem solving -- making it work -- is very satisfying when you've got the budget to get whatever equipment you need. It's always great to have the proper gear, which allows you to get the desired shot faster and safer than might otherwise be possible. But we don't always enjoy working with a fat budget, and even when we do -- especially on a distant location -- directors have a way of coming up with a new idea for a shot that demands on-the-spot improvisation. 

Without the specialized equipment that would make it easy, the question becomes "Can we make it work with what we've got?"

                                                      Nice

Film crews get paid to say "Yes" -- to make it happen -- and that's where the Gaffer and Key Grip earn their money. It's also where they have fun, because making it work with whatever's at hand really scratches that creative itch. That's one reason I like Shitty Rigs, which demonstrates how crews from all over come up with improvisational solutions to on-set problems using whatever they could find. Granted, some of those solutions broach the line between sketchy and dangerous -- and you really do have to think twice before crossing that line -- but in a situation where there's no other way (and assuming everybody on the crew is fully aware of what's going on and kept clear of any danger), it's a case of no harm, no foul.  

Talk to any industry veteran for a while and you'll learn that creativity on set is not limited to the writers and directors. Our work below-the-line can be endlessly repetitious for very long hours, but situations arise that fully engage our collective resources and ability to think creatively in solving the problem.

 That's when it stops being "work" and starts being fun.


* And speaking of fun -- there doesn't seem to be much of that at the AFI nowadays

** Among those lessons, that truly bad acting will kill you every time.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Writing Game

       "Sometimes a useful delusion is better than a useless truth."
              Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad


People come to Hollywood to tilt at the windmills of the film and television industry for a variety of reasons: to act, direct, produce, or write. There are also those who come to carve out a career below-the-line (me among them), but that subject has already been covered here.

I make a point of asking the PAs on my shows what their goals are in this industry, and the vast majority respond that they want to write for movies and/or television.* That's no surprise. Writing requires very little physical exertion -- no heavy lifting, no toiling in the hot sun all day or freezing rain at night -- and if professional success is achieved, the money can be very good indeed. As an added plus, those who write for television get to work in a Writer's Room full of very smart, very clever, very funny people, and are fed pretty damned well every working day.  

What's not to like about that?

The downside is they often end up working very late nights all season long to come up with two intertwining plot lines and a tag laden with laughs for each episode -- a new one every week -- all the while swimming upstream against an endless flow of "network notes" from non-writer network executives who often don't have a fucking clue.

That's no easy task. Believe me, those who write for television earn their money.

While I admire the energy, enthusiasm, and optimism that keeps the dream alive for so many young wannabes, I'm not sure they understand just how high the odds are against making it in Hollywood… and this is where that quote from Colson Whitehead at the top of this page comes in, because if those kids knew how steep and rocky the road to success as a writer really is, most would drop to their knees in despair.

Exhibit A -- the slush pile in the photo above, which displays a portion of the scripts a certain agency accepted for consideration, the overwhelming majority of which are doomed to wind up in the recycling bin. 

But none of that bothers the kids, thanks to an impenetrable bubble of youthful enthusiasm and ignorance that generates a state of bliss that makes all things seem possible. And really, why the hell not? After all, you'll never succeed at anything unless and until you try, and you're not going to do so if someone has convinced you that there's really no chance of success.  

That's one reason young people shouldn't listen to grumpy old geezers who delight in reciting a litany of things the kids can't do and shouldn't even try simply because it's too damned hard. Of course it's hard -- most of the things worth doing in life are hard. As the Anonymous Production Assistant pointed out in a recent post, a little ambition is a good thing in this town. Aim high and you just might hit your target, but even if the arrow falls short, something good is more likely to happen.

Still, those who actually nail the bullseye are a fortunate few. Wanting to be a paid professional writer in Hollywood is a lot like trying to become a major league baseball player -- thousands of superior athletes chase that elusive goal every year, but only a handful make it. Most would-be writers will be lucky to have any of their scripts land in one of those giant slush piles, never to be seen again. Then there are the writers who succeed at making a living writing and selling scripts that never get made into movies. I can only imagine the very special form of Zen mastery required to maintain one's internal guidance and emotional balance in that situation.

I know a few people who've been beating their heads against the brick wall of screenwriting for a while -- people smart enough to keep their industry day jobs, but talented enough that their scripts continue to open doors for meeting after meeting with serious network and feature development executives. Thus far -- and we're talking years, now -- none of those meetings has landed a sale.  

"Wonderful writing, love your script, we'll be in touch," the smiling faces say. Hands are shaken, backs are slapped, and then…nothing.  

I really feel for these people, who keep working at honing their scripts all the while enduring one disappointment after another. For whatever reason, they haven't yet managed to connect, but nor have they folded their tents. They're still trying. 

The fickle nature of Hollywood holds the tantalizing prospect that it could happen tomorrow, of course, which would turn this entire lugubrious narrative around on a dime -- and I really hope it does, because they sure as hell deserve some reward for all their hard work.

But that might never happen. Hollywood truly is a town without pity, one that has been crushing dreams for a hundred years now.  

Over the five seasons on my last good show, I made an effort to get to know some of the writers -- not from any desire to write scripts myself, but simply to find out who they were, what makes them tick, and how they made it.** Besides, I like writers, who tend to be smart, interesting people. A few resisted, suspicious as to why some  toolbelt-wearing Morlock was violating the unwritten upstairs/downstairs dynamic on set by chatting them up, but most were friendly and open, including one who eventually became the head writer. Our encounters were fleeting -- we on the crew usually come on stage to do our work as the writers are heading back to the Writer's Room to resume theirs -- but at a post-show party that final season, I finally got a chance to ask how she got started as a professional writer.

While still a struggling young wannabe, she managed to land a spot in a Warner Brothers program that put her in the Writer's Room of a multi-camera sitcom, where she was paid a modest stipend to work with the staff writers on the weekly scripts. At the end of the program, the show had an option to hire her or let her go... and they opted for the latter.

Still, the show runner said she could stay on for two more weeks -- absent the stipend -- to keep plugging away. That's what she did. The show then brought in a "punch-up" writer for some ungodly sum ($15,000/week, as I recall) to help the staffers juice up the script, and she noticed that most of his very expensive ideas were things she'd thought of earlier, but was reluctant to voice. With time running out on this precious opportunity, she shed that reticence, then unfolded her wings and began to fly, speaking up whenever she had an idea that might help the script.

Apparently she came up with a lot of good ideas, because at the end of her second and final week, she was hired as a staff writer.  

Like most feel-good success stories, this one comes with a lesson: don't be shy, don't make a half-assed effort, and never be afraid to show them all you've got. If you want to be a writer, go for it.  Holding back only cheats yourself. Whoever and whatever you're auditioning for, give 'em the Full Monty, and they just might buy it.

Or not. Let's face it, writing for money is a crapshoot all the way. If nothing else works, you can always follow Rob Long's advice from a recent Martini Shot commentary, which might cut way down on your workload at the keyboard. This cut-paste-and-reverse tactic worked (sort of***) for the writers of the recent Ghostbusters reboot, and was employed by the writers of Oceans Eight, which holds the promise of being yet another lamentably derivative, highly unoriginal, and creatively barren ripoff of Oceans Eleven -- itself a modern redo of an older film.

That's the way it is in this era of gazillion-dollar tentpole franchise features, where originality is scorned and the rare good idea invariably begets a series of progressively worse sequels. The feature world is for the most part a wasteland these days, each new putative "blockbuster" bigger, noisier, and flashier than the last -- movies that are, as The Bard wrote on a very different subject: "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

But hey, it's a living -- that much, I understand -- and the paychecks those writers collect are a lot bigger than mine.

So to all you wannabe screenwriters out there, nurture those "useful delusions" as long as you can. You'll need them.

And good luck, because you're going to need a lot of that too...  


* For what it's worth, here's a previous post about writers

** I like to write, and love to read good writing, but screenwriting has never interested me. Go figure.


*** "Worked" in that they got paid to write the script -- but since the movie bombed, they won't get paid to write any sequels, so maybe it didn't work so well after all...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Last Tango in Hollywood


"You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need."
The Rolling Stones


After six weeks of gainful unemployment, the alarm at 4:30 in the morning comes as a rude awakening -- literally -- especially for somebody who absolutely hates to get up early.  

That would be me.

I'm fine once the sleep has drained from my head -- the world at that hour a dark, peaceful place quietly awaiting the dawn -- but transitioning from the dreamspace of O-Dark-Thirty to the physical realm is brutal. If I'm lucky, I'll awaken moments before that alarm blares, but more often it wrenches me from the warm embrace of Morpheus into a dizzy state of WTF? confusion.

With the long-awaited mid-summer frenzy to get the new fall TV season up and running finally upon us, arising before the crack of dawn is now my workaday reality. I was sure the big rush would start a couple of weeks earlier, and thus had begun to wonder if maybe I’d been “retired” without even knowing it -- which can happen in a town where the no-mans land separating temporary from permanent unemployment remains as unfathomably mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle. So long as you’re working or have a firm promise of work, you’re good, but when the phone just…won't…ring, a guy starts to wonder.*

Thus I was very glad to receive a call to help a new show get airborne back on my home lot, even if it meant setting the alarm for 4:30.** It’s just a temporary gig -- I’m not on the core crew -- but there’s a chance they’ll put me on as their regular "extra guy" as the show marches through their thirteen scheduled episodes on the road to Thanksgiving. That could mean anywhere from one to four days a week, depending on how many swing sets the writers decide they need to generate some laughs.

If this isn't exactly what I wanted, it just might be what I need for my Last Tango in Hollywood. But if I don't get that extra-man gig, or it turns out to be only one day a week… well, I'll drive off that bridge when I come to it. There are no rules for this tango, which means I'll dance as fast or slow as is necessary to make things work.

It was good to be back on the lot. There's an energy in a new season that feels a bit like spring training in baseball, when hope is in the air and anything seems possible -- each new show holding the potential to catch fire and run for a hundred episodes. Five-ton trucks were everywhere, offloading sets, set dressing, greens, cameras, peds, dollies, and sound gear. Forklifts buzzed back and forth, bringing heavy loads of lighting and grip equipment to the stages. The intermittent rumble of air compressors filled the air, punctuated by the staccato beat of nail-guns and the high-pitched scream of chop saws ripping through wood, all of it blending with ever-present reek of diesel exhaust to form a dense, chaotic sensory stew. Familiar faces were everywhere, all of them grinning, happy to be here.

Me too. It felt like coming home. 

The first week and a half on a show is a special time. With no actors, producers, or directors around yet -- just the construction crew, set dec department, grips and juicers -- the stage is ours.  We work through each day at our own pace, bobbing and weaving through the sets to the beat of several boom-boxes. The various departments continually bump into each other, everybody in each others way, but we make it work. Despite the crowding, everybody's still grinning.  

Given that we're working on an air-conditioned sound stage, getting paid full scale, and not getting our asses kicked, there isn't much not to like. The only thing better for me would be to sign on as a member of the core crew, but that's not in the cards this time around.

We go at it all week, hanging, powering, and adjusting lights, following the old familiar rhythms: two hours of work, then "coffee," followed by three hours of work before breaking for lunch, after which we're back at it until quitting time. Getting up so early every morning means going to bed early each night, and soon each day begins to blend into the next -- lather, rinse, repeat. Before I know it, Friday is here, my final day helping this crew get their show off the ground.

Towards the end of the day, the gaffer asked me to move a couple of big studio 5 Ks that had been hung and powered early in the week. Since then, the construction department moved a very large set piece at the request of the director/producer, so now both lamps were in the wrong place to do their job. Trouble is, many more lamps, meataxes, flags, and teasers had been rigged along those pipes before the set piece was moved, which made the job of getting up to those 5 Ks a real challenge. It took several minutes of very careful maneuvering -- inching the lift forward, then up, again and again -- to avoid banging into any set walls or lighting equipment while getting the bucket close enough to reach the first lamp. At that point I still had to stand up on the top rails of the lift to get the job done.*** With another steel pipe in the way, I couldn't just loosen the clamp and slide the lamp to it's new position -- instead, I'd have to "jump the pipe," which meant loosening the pipe clamp all the way, taking the fifty-plus pound lamp up and off the pipe, bringing it under the cross pipe, then lifting it back up and onto the correct pipe and sliding it into place.

If I had unfettered access to the lamp, this job would have been a breeze -- instead, I was perched on the top rail, leaning forward as far as possible in a decidedly precarious position.  A mistake here could drop and destroy that big lamp, seriously damaging the set in the process, which would make this the last day I'd ever work on the show.

Still, I was happy for this assignment. Doing a tricky job that demands total concentration feeds the beast within, scratching a psychological itch that would otherwise go unattended. When fully engaged in such a task, the rest of the world and its troubles vanishes -- all that matters is what's right in front of me: getting this job done right, with no drama. 

For reasons I can't really explain, that satisfies in a way nothing else can.


That's a Studio 5 K on the left -- the juicer's head provides an idea how big the lamp is

I moved the cable safeties so they couldn't impede the jump, but still offer some security if something went wrong.  After running a rope over the pipe, I tied it to the lamp, then dropped the other end to the Best Boy on the stage floor. When he was ready to take the weight, I loosened the pipe clamp, lifted the lamp off the pipe, pulled the lamp under, then -- with the help of the Best Boy and that rope -- raised it back up and onto the pipe. With the clamp still loose (but not so loose it could come off the pipe), I untied and released the rope, then slid the lamp to its new position and securely tightened the clamp with my C-wrench.  

One down, one to go.

The second lamp also had to be jumped, but was much easier to reach. Unfortunately, it had been rigged with a bad hook: a crappy pipe clamp that's flat instead of curved inside -- a toothed angle that keeps the lamp on the pipe until the clamp is securely tightened. A lamp this heavy should never be hung from a bad hook, but apparently somebody wasn't paying attention when they put it up.

There's no finger pointing -- I'm not throwing anybody under the bus -- but I let the Best Boy know that he should weed out those bad clamps and send them back to the lamp dock. He tossed me a good one, then I ran the rope over the pipe again and tied off the lamp. With the Best Boy gone off to put out a fire elsewhere on the stage, I tied the rope off to the lift.

That's another official no-no from the Safety Patrol, but part of knowing the rules is understanding when and how to break them.

I climbed atop the rails again, loosened the clamp and lifted the lamp off, letting it dangle by the rope while I pulled the bad clamp off and installed the good one. With that done, I threw one arm over the pipe, and used both hands (and most of my strength) to lift the lamp back up to the correct side of the cross pipe. After sliding it into position, I tightened the clamp, then re-powered and aimed the lamp. The task accomplished, I untied the rope and brought the lift down, my part in helping get this show up and running officially over.

It's been fun, but exhausting, and I'm looking forward to sleeping in for a few days. The next time I walk onto this stage -- if I do -- it will be as an eight-hour day-player putting my shoulder to the wheel of a working show. And although that's not what I was hoping for, it's the best I can hope for under the circumstances.

I guess it'll just have to do.


* Not that there's any such thing as a "firm promise of work" in this town, of course -- such promises usually aren't worth the paper they're not printed on

** As luck would have it, back on the very same stage I helped wrap a six weeks ago -- and where I spent several seasons filming this show

*** Standing on the rails is strictly illegal at every major lot. This particular studio threatens to fire anybody caught doing so and ban them from working on the lot.


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Summer Re-Runs

With several posts in the works, but none quite ready, today's offering is a re-run from 2013, slightly updated a bit to be more comprehensive.

Hey, it's summer, and those of you of a certain age might remember that summertime was when the three major networks had nothing new to offer, so they ran old shows from the previous season: re-runs. That meant we could pretty much ignore television from late spring until early fall, when the new season would commence.

Ours is a very different world these days, in which television refuses to be ignored. Cable and Internet networks are challenging the broadcast world in a big way, which is one reason the year 'round television season is with us now and forever. The sheer magnitude of production in this era of Peak Television is mind boggling, a tsunami of new shows hitting the beach at a frequency that has driven re-runs to the verge of extinction.

So let's just call this re-run an homage to the old days, motivated by a reader who wondered when I was going to do a post on the tools a juicer needs on set. It may not be of interest to anybody else, but what the hell. This one's for you, J.D.


                                        What to Carry?


                                      "Be prepared."

                                 The Boy Scout motto

This blog generally stays away from the nuts-and-bolts aspect of the job, but a few questions have come in lately from readers wondering what tools I carry on set, and how I carry them – in my back pocket, a small belt pouch, or a full-bore tool belt?

The answer is always the same:  it depends on the job.

During the dozen or so years I worked as a gaffer, all I carried was a light meter, a small optical/digital frequency meter,* and a pair of gloves.  As a Best Boy, those same gloves dangled from my belt and a “Wiggy” lived in my back pocket.  The Wiggy (an earlier version of this model)  was a simple hand-held solenoid voltage tester that issued a mild vibration in contact with 120 volts AC, then buzzed like an angry rattlesnake when contacting 240.  Although it was capable of reading up to 600 volts, I never had reason to get close to such high voltage.**  That basic meter (no batteries were needed) could also read DC, albeit crudely -- the readout was the same, but the unit didn't vibrate at all on direct current -- allowing me to determine at a glance whether the line was running 120 or 240 DC.

The beauty of this ugly little beast was its simplicity and durability – in a pinch, I occasionally used mine as a hammer with no apparent effect on its functionality.  It was common in those days to use concurrent generators capable of producing AC and DC at the same time -- 120 AC for wardrobe, makeup/ hair, craft service, and any small HMI’s or tungsten units, 240 AC for 6K HMIs (the largest HMI lamps available back then), and 120 volt DC for carbon arcs, the BFLs of that era.  This is where the ability of that Wiggy to quickly read the various cable runs for the right AC or DC power really paid off.  With the typically short cable runs used on commercial shoots, I could monitor the precise voltage using the generator's meters without fretting about line loss – and for longer runs, I kept a multi-tester in my work bag to read the end voltage at the set.

With three different voltages to worry about, a Wiggy was all I needed to make sure the proper power was run where it needed to go before plugging anything in. Of course, this depended on me doing everything right. In the over-caffeinated rush to get the first setup underway in the morning, mistakes were an ever-present danger -- and they could be expensive

In time, the big carbon arcs were supplanted by 12K, then 18K HMIs, and DC pretty much disappeared. The new HMI lamps were much more sensitive to voltage levels than those old arc lights, demanding more accurate metering than my stone-age Wiggy could deliver -- but I still have one in the bottom of my work bag, just in case.  

So what do I carry on set as a juicer in these modern times?

The idea is to carry everything I’ll need, and nothing more. The basic work bag goes with me on every job -- as the Mother Ship, it holds all my work equipment, allowing me to pick and choose what I’ll need to carry on my belt for each particular gig.  If I’m rigging, all I need are gloves, a crescent and T wrench (for hooking up lugs to bus bars on gennies, sleds, and spider boxes), and a knife or pair of dykes for cutting hanks of tie-off rope.  If the rig only involves cam-loc cable and distro, (meaning no lugs, bus bars, or spider boxes), the gloves and dykes are usually enough. If we'll be breaking down equipment for a stage wrap, I'll add a small pair of channel lock pliers to deal with cotter and hitch pins, and a six-inch crescent wrench to pull pipe clamps off the lamps. For all rigging and wrapping, I prefer Easy Fit gloves from Set Wear, which are made of a fabric strong enough to protect my fingers and hands, but thin enough to allow me to tie and untie sash cord without too much cursing.

They don't last too long -- a month of regular use, at most -- but they're cheap, so I usually buy three pairs at a time.

When on location working with an HMI package, a good pair of sturdy leather gloves (definitely not Easy Fits) accompany a small but accurate volt meter, a 4-way screwdriver, a small razor knife, a T wrench, and the channel locks.  That's the bare minimum.  If it's a night shoot or indoor location using a tungsten package, I add a flashlight, dykes (or "diagonal wire cutters," to use the politically-correct terminology) and a Bates pin-splitter.  On stage, a six inch adjustable crescent wrench (for stirrup and pipe hangers) comes along for the ride, as well as a small homemade power tester utilizing a tiny 4 watt incandescent bulb for sussing out power problems.  Those cute little neon testers will light up with "ghost voltage" even when a dimmer circuit is all the way down, rendering them useless on stage.  A resistance load is required when working with dimmer circuits, which that little 4 watt bulb provides.  I also carry a small continuity light/buzzer for testing tungsten lamps 2K and under (with Edison plugs) then add a short pigtail made of a quick-on plug and zip cord for testing lamps with Bates connections.***

When lighting on stage or with a tungsten package at night, I always carry a continuity tester -- with a buzzer --  to check bulbs and/or lamp switches if a light isn't working.  I don't bother carrying a digital voltage tester on stage, were electricity is supplied by the studio using city power. Such a tester is rarely necessary there, and when it is, I've got one in the work bag. Besides, that's the Best Boy's job -- and Jesus H. Christ, the BB has to do something other than hoover up all the donuts at crafty and fill out the time cards once a week…

Judging what tools to carry is a balancing act, and only experience can teach you what is truly necessary on your crew. The trick is to avoid loading yourself down like a pack mule, while carrying enough so you won't get caught at the top of a 12 step ladder or 20 feet up in a man-lift without the one tool you need to diagnose a problem. I've worked with juicers who festoon themselves with every tool they could conceivably need -- guys who clank around the set like some post-apocalyptic combination of the Tin Man and the Road Warrior. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the juicer who breezes in with only a pair of gloves and a big smile -- then proceeds to borrow everybody else's tools all day long.

As far as I'm concerned, that kind of juicer is himself a tool, and not the kind I want on set.

In their desire to lighten the load, many juicers carry a Leatherman multi-tool rather than a crescent wrench, channel locks, and screwdriver. Personally, I don't like the Leatherman for on-set work -- there's one in the glove box of my car, but not on my tool belt. The Leatherman is a jack-of-all-trades tool that can perform many tasks, but none of them particularly well. I'd rather have the right tool for the job -- a tool that works -- and if that means carrying a little extra weight on my belt, so be it. This is all a matter of personal taste, of course. If you'd rather travel light with a Leatherman, more power to you -- but those things aren't insulated, so be careful. And when you finally realize that your fancy Leatherman isn't really worth a damn for juicing, you can borrow my channel locks or crescent wrench once -- after that, you'd better show up on set with your own tools.

As for how to carry tools, that too depends on what you're doing. I generally wear the same pouch/toolbelt combo on every gig, adding or subtracting tools as needed.  Given that I use a pair of construction suspenders with this belt, production people sometimes mistake me for a carpenter at first, but this rig works for me. Given my stovepipe hips, I'd have to cinch a standard tool belt extremely tight to keep it where it belongs -- and as geezerly as those suspenders are, they distribute the weight pretty well, and are much more comfortable over the course of a long day on set than a belt alone.

Besides, I really have reached the age of geezerdom, so why try to hide it?

When rigging or wrapping, I'll bring the whole tool belt to the set or location, then leave it nearby while carrying a pair of dykes (and crescent + T wrench if needed) in my back pocket. You don't want to be wearing a bulky tool belt when slinging 4/0, five-wire banded, or 100 amp Bates cable all day long, especially up high on stage.

In the final analysis, every juicer has his/her own ideas what tools to carry on the job, and no doubt many veterans out there will disagree with my choices.  But they work for me, and that's the point -- it's an individual decision, so whatever best serves your purposes and working style is the way to go.

One last word: in a business where time is money, it's better to carry one tool too many than be short the one you need. The bottom line is to get the job done in an efficient manner, so make your choices accordingly.****


*  All we had were magnetic ballasts in those days, which were not flicker-free.  The genny's output had to be kept within 1/2 of a cycle -- meaning the frequency had to remain between 59.75 and 60.25 hertz during filming.  If it wandered below or above that, the dreaded "flicker" could occur, which would show up in dailies as if the camera assistant had been opening and closing the iris while the camera was running.  Flicker meant disaster for the DP and Gaffer, which is why I paid $450 in 1988 money for a small meter that could read the generator's frequency output by pointing it at a burning HMI.  A few years later, the advent of flicker-free solid state ballasts rendered that meter obsolete.

**  This was decades before the big Softsun lamps arrived, the first lights I saw that required a 480 volt input.


***  If tasked with hooking up a few dozen practical fixtures, you might want to add a pair of wire strippers to your tool pouch.


****  I discovered a new (to me) and very useful tool last year -- a small telescoping cable puller that has made my life much easier when working in a man-lift hanging and powering lamps on a pipe grid.  With the soccapex breakouts often just out of reach, this nifty little tool allows me to hook up the lamps without moving the man-lift closer -- which is often impossible due to the sets being in the way -- and has thus spared me endless aggravation while lighting.