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 27, 2013


This is a badly-damaged 100 amp to 60 amp Bates splitter, commonly used on sound stages to power one or two 5000 watt lamps from a single hundred-amp Bates extension cable.  As with all electrical distribution equipment, the "male" part of the splitter plugs into the "female" end of the cable -- the hot part, so to speak -- which helps minimize the chances that a juicer doing the hook-up will get shocked.

It seems there's just no getting away from sex in this business, no matter how many tedious, droning, early-morning sexual harassment lectures the production companies force us to endure.  Given that all cable comes with the male and female parts required to make a connection, it's hard-wired into the process.

In this case, the splitter was used to power just one 5 K head, so the unused 60 amp receptacle was taped over to prevent the energized hollow tubes within from making contact with any random bit of metal that might be nearby.  The untaped -- and utterly destroyed 60 amp receptacle -- was plugged into the 5 K.

I'm not a big fan of Bates plugs in general.  They're fine when new, but  -- as in real life -- the male pins and female receptacles lose their tight fit over time and use, and the resulting sloppiness creates internal arcing that can lead to a melt-down such as this.  Juicers can (and should) always check the fit when hooking up Bates equipment, and if the pins are loose, use a pin-splitter to spread them enough to tighten everything up.

This doesn't always happen.  In the rush to get the stage rigged or a set lit -- or often just out of sheer laziness -- many juicers don't bother.  Instead they tape up the connection, then tie the cables together and hope for the best.  This keeps the cables from separating, but does nothing to stop the slow thermal cancer of internal arcing.  It works for a while, but eventually there will be a problem.

We had a big problem here.  After weeks of working fine, this splitter finally melted down on shoot night in the middle of our live audience show.  The lamp went out, forcing us to stop the show long enough to pull the dead lamp down, then install, power, and adjust a good 5 K head, along with a new splitter.  A maximum effort, take-Mt. Suribachi-charge by the electric and grip crew got the job done in just a few minutes, after which the show resumed.  The melted splitter was fused to the dead lamp, and had to be forcibly removed once everything cooled down.  During the process, two of the tubes in that thoroughly burned-out female Bates recepticle were ripped out and are visible in the photo.  Only the third one (below the other two) remained in the Bates housing.  

After getting my new/old show up and running, I feel a lot like that charred Bates splitter these days -- burned out, over-exposed, and ready for some R&R.  That's why there haven't been any new posts the last couple of weeks.  Between what felt like an endless siege of work and watching/listening to the baseball playoffs (hey, we all have our priorities in life), I haven't had the time or energy to post. Truth be told, I wasn't planning on posting today either, but figured you deserved an explanation.  With the World Series winding up over the next few days -- and maybe (hopefully) a bit less stress and strain at work with the new show now rolling -- I'll be back, but not for another week or two.

Or three...


Anonymous said...

looks like the male 100amp "hot" pin was not too far behind the female in burning out --someone at the rental shop should have caught that or when the gear was picked up --with pins that bad looking I would have rejected it

Michael Taylor said...

Anonymous --

You're absolutely right. Trouble is, this was at a studio with equipment supplied by the lamp dock. Once upon a time, studio lamp docks had the clout to hire enough people to thoroughly maintain their equipment. Nowadays -- with big corporations owning everything and bringing their bottom-line obsession to the film industry -- most studio lamp docks aren't allowed the personnel to make sure every piece of equipment they send out is in good working condition. They rely on each show's best boys to send back the bad stuff, but in the rush to get a show up and running, a few marginal items are installed. Had this splitter been used on a one-week swing set, it probably would have made it through the shoot, but it was on one of our permanent sets.

Ah well, shit happens -- and it made for one exciting shoot night...

Anonymous said...

yep Michael
they are not doing any maintenance any more --as I am one of the guys who fixes this stuff

they are just letting busted stuff get returned and not billed.
one set lighting shop even makes the show put the gear back on the shelf last I heard.
that's like renting a corvette out and letting the customer park it in the back lot and just believing them when they say "its fine no dents or scratches and a full gas tank!!"
just tossing money out the door!!

A.J. said...

"I feel a lot like that charred Bates splitter these days -- burned out, over-exposed, and ready for some R&R. That's why there haven't been any new posts the last couple of weeks."

I feel ya on that one. I hope you're finally getting some much needed R&R this weekend!

Mike, Key Grip said...

Good post!

Michael Taylor said...

AJ --

I think we're all getting a bit stretched these days, but with the Xmas break just around the corner, everybody will have some R&R time. You too, I hope.

Mike --

Thanks -- and thanks for tuning in...