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 17, 2010

Green Beds

            The good old days, when green beds were standard on every soundstage set...
                             (Mary Poppins, 1964, Stage 4 at Disney Studios)

A recent post mentioned green beds as my own favored platform for rigging lamps above sets on stage, which brought a question from one reader who has only worked off pipe grids, and thus wasn't sure what green beds are all about. Once standard equipment on every serious Hollywood sound stage -- for features and television -- green beds have been replaced by pipe grids on lower budget productions. From what I've seen, big features and major network episodics still use green beds, but in my little world of pilots and sit-coms, the odious pipe grid now rules supreme. I briefly addressed the subject a while back in a post that opened like this:*

"The widespread use of pipe grids for lighting on sound stages is a relatively recent phenomenon in Hollywood. Studio sound stages were built to facilitate the use of “green beds” – rectangular wooden platforms hung from the overhead perms on chains, then securely fastened together and braced to form a stable work platform over each set. A properly constructed system of green beds provides a safe, user-friendly environment for juicers and grips to work, with plenty of room to deploy most of the lighting equipment required for any production. Green beds allow quick and easy changes or adjustments to the lighting without disturbing the sets down below, or impacting the other departments at all.

That's how it was when I started in the biz, but times have changed in that regard, and not for the better – and for the usual reason: money. Instead of paying for a crew to hang green beds over the sets, the Money Men now insist on using a pipe grid. Although this might make economic sense for a pilot or other short-duration production, pipe grids are increasingly common on long running shows as well. This represents a false economy at best, and a dangerous one at worst. For the producer to save a few bucks at the start, the crew and production end up paying dearly in many ways on down the line. When working with a pipe grid, juicers and grips must rely on small man-lifts and scissor lifts to hang the lamps, which creates a whole new set of problems for everyone involved. But we live and work in the world that is, rather than the world we'd like to see -- and as always, must bend to reality, make the best of a bad situation, and do whatever it takes to get the job done."

The rest of that post goes on to describe the difficulties in getting a pilot off the ground -- a task made all the harder by that pipe grid. If we'd had green beds over those sets, the job would have been so much easier.

While working on the studio's set lighting rigging crew a few months ago, I took some photos of freshly-hung green beds over sets still under construction, including this view of the green beds from inside a set on the stage floor.

Here's a wider view of the same sets from the pinrail, a wooden catwalk half way up the stage walls that runs around the entire interior perimeter.

And here's a view of a much higher row of green beds secured with high-braces nailed into the perms above. Why they were hung so high, I don't know, but below are set walls waiting to be assembled by the construction crew. As you can see -- and sometimes a photo really is worth a thousand words -- green beds really are green (thus the name), and form a wide, stable catwalk above the sets where the grips and juicers can work.

This last shot is a bit confusing. Taken from the cable portal of another stage's dimmer room (where a big-bucks episodic had just begun rigging lights), you can barely make out what appears to be a 2K and a 5K, along with several 1K Babies and Source Four lamps mounted from the green beds, aimed down at the set below. There's also one or two chicken coops in the distance, hanging from up high. Sorry for such a crappy photo, but this was as close as I could get that day,

Although there are certain satisfactions in working from a man-lift (essential when dealing with pipe grids), I much prefer the old-fashioned, user-friendly method of working off green beds. Over the long run, the time savings alone would probably pay for the extra expense of hanging green beds -- but then I'm not some number-crunching, budget-obsessed UPM being whipped and beaten on a daily basis by a merciless producer wearing a black hat, ass-less chaps, and freshly sharpened spurs -- I'm just a juicer trying to do my job the best I can, and in the process, make it through one more day...

* I've done a little editing on these paragraphs for this post.


Phil Jackson said...

Thanks for the write up, always great to learn about different styles of working.

Suzanne said...

Fascinating! Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...