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, November 1, 2015

Just for the Hell of It: Episode 29

Terminology -- a few more loose ends
                   Reminder note above the Best Boy's desk

(For reasons I don't quite understand, this post went up on the blog for a couple of hours, along with JFTHOI #28 -- undoubtedly due to an error on my part. Since it was then a work in progress -- a first draft, really -- I pulled it down to finish the damned thing before putting it up for real.)

The subject of industry terminology keeps popping up on my radar, the most recent sighting  being a book called Strike the Baby and Kill the Blonde, which should prove useful for industry newbies befuddled by the on-set vernacular of Hollywood. Mind you, I haven't read the entire book, nor am I likely to -- after nearly four decades in the biz, I'm familiar with the lingo below-the-line -- but flipping through the preview pages on Amazon revealed a reasonably thorough (if rather glib) approach to defining the terms I've learned on set over the years, including a few I hadn't heard.*  The book was originally published in 2005, but it appears that Dave Knox updated the current edition. 

I have some quibbles with his definitions, though. Knox claims that a "blonde" is the same thing as a "mighty" -- and although the two lamps employ the same globe and are often used for the same purpose on set, that's where the similarities end.**  Early in my career, more than one DP yelled at me for bringing a blonde when he'd asked for a mighty, so it seems to me that if you're writing a book defining industry terminology, you'd better make sure your definitions are precise.    

Knox wanders into deeper water with an astonishingly lame definition of "auteur theory": 

"French film critics in the 1950s and 1960s, centered on the magazine Cahiers du Cinema, started studying a directors entire body of work and drawing conclusions on the person based on their findings. For instance, Spielberg... likes aliens but is afraid of sharks... something like that."

Wow. I suppose that's meant to be humorous, but it falls flatter than stale tortilla. Humor only works if it's actually funny -- and for that "definition" to have any shot at being funny, the reader would have to know something about auteur theory in the first place… which Dave Knox clearly does not. That makes this passage a lazy effort unworthy of a book meant to serve as a guide through the labyrinth of industry jargon. The saving grace here is that "auteur theory" has no real meaning beyond the over-caffeinated world of film school and the grim academic dungeon of serious film criticism -- and has nothing whatsoever to do with working on set -- so I guess it's a case of no harm, no foul. 

Still, Knox would have done better -- and produced a more useful book -- by sticking to what he actually knows, and failing that, should have done more thorough research before committing his work to a finished book. Google really isn't that hard to find.

From what I saw of the Amazon preview, his book offers a breezy, informative read for anybody new to the film and television industry, or who's thinking about making a career below-the-line. Learning the language of the industry is all part of becoming a pro, and if Strike the Baby and Kill the Blonde is an imperfect guide, it's a lot better than nothing for the newbie desperate to find his/her footing in the biz.

For what it's worth, here's the official blurb:

"Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a gaffer and a grip? Or what makes the best boy so great? In Strike the Baby and Kill the Blonde,* Dave Knox, a top camera operator and longtime veteran of the film industry, gives you the inside story on the lingo and slang heard on the set. This is an A-to-Z guide to making a movie: the equipment, the crew, and the sometimes hilarious terminology—everything you need to know to sound like a seasoned pro.”

That last line overstates the case. Although knowing the jargon is a good first step, we've all met newbies who could talk the talk but not walk the walk -- and they weren't fooling anybody. Sounding "like a seasoned pro" won't mean anything unless and until you know what the equipment is and how it should be used.  Only then will you be taken seriously on set.

I don't mean to be harsh on Dave Knox or Strike the Baby and Kill the Blonde, which looks like a useful book for any industry newbie or wannabe. Just remember to take it with a grain of salt, and not as the final-word gospel truth.

* Every region -- from Hollywood to New York and the Southeast nexus of New Orleans, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida -- has it's own local variations on industry vernacular. 

** A Blonde is a rather flimsy open-face 2000 watt lamp made by Ianero in Italy, while a "Mighty" refers to the Mole Richardson Mighty Mole, a similar, but much sturdier lamp. Not even a blind person could mistake one for the other.


JD said...

Mighty vs. Blonde, one you could drop off a building roof top and suffer little damage, the other perhaps not. Aside from that, so you really see a difference in the quality of the light produced? Many prefer Blondes over ARRI's version, as AJ calls it a "smurf".

Michael Taylor said...

Quality of light is pretty much the same. The Blonde is a more compact unit, and although I haven't checked the specs, I suspect it might have a better flood than the Mighty, which makes it useful for bounce light in tighter spaces. But the barn doors and scrim situation with a Blonde is just idiotic -- the Mighty is slightly better there (although not much), and a lot more sturdy. What really pisses me off about Blondes is the tapered bale which often makes it difficult or impossible to insert a cotter or hitch-pin as a safety when hanging the lamp -- and to me, that's an unforgivable sin.

But if you're just using it on a stand, there's no real difference -- and given the more compact shape of a Blonde, it works fine as a floor bounce.

I haven't seen Arri's version, so can't comment on that...