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15 years in Motion Pictures - Part 1
I have been working in the Motion Picture Industry in Vancouver, BC for the last 15 years. My job has taken on a wide variety of forms but the bulk of the work has been on set as a Grip, Key Grip, Best Boy, Lamp Op, Gaffer and even as a Cinematographer. 
One of the really exciting aspects of the job is the miraid of loctions we end up shooting in. Anywhere  from a remote Glacier in the coast mountains to the top of the Hotel Vancouver rigging light onto the roof. We go places very few people do I am constantly bewilderd by the locations we are expected to shoot in and the shots we are expected to acquire. The first reaction is usually incredulity but eventually by sheer detremination (and a lot of expense) we get them. Chalking it up as yet another first time experience. It is a lot of hard work and even more fun. 
I have taken numerous photos over the years on a wide variety of productions. I try to avoid taking shots of actual scenes and the talent but occasionaly they creep in. I keep it to behind the scenes. I always found that the elaborate setups creates to put the images on the screen are almost as interesting as the images and films themselves. 
This will be a slowly expanding selection of those photographs in somewhat chronological order.
I hope you enjoy a look at my life behind the scenes. 
The very first film I worked on. It was a feature film. It was for free and it was called "Savage Island" . It was god awful. I went in to get experience as a grip and  I got a deferred contract as a Key Grip/Gaffer and Special Effects asssistant.
Never did see any money... 
One of the drier days on set.  We shot for 6weeks. All on location, in November in the rain. I was completely beaten up by the end of it. Waterlogged, ocassionaly electrocuted, poorly fed, working 13-21 hour days, an hour's drive from home it was the worst experience in all my years. I just had no idea of what to expect so I rolled with it. 
A serious jury rig on "Savage Island". The biggest stand we had only went 26' high. I managed to get them to go 36'. 
The experience on "Savage Island" tought me a lot of things. Not the least of which was how much punishment I could actually put up with. I moved on to a more normal career soon after.
 
 
A typical  layout for powering a set behind a set wall. 
Crew relaxing during a lunch break.
Two 12' x12' silver reflectors lighting an exterior scene on a TV series. The ropes are used to keep the wind from blowing the devices onto set. 
A typical lighiting setup for three 6kw HMI light through three different window to an interior set. The lights produce a colour similar to daylight and the flags keep each light focused on a single window to eliminate multiple shadows.
 
A very interesting and unusual setup involving plugging Kino's (flourescent fixtures) into a device that creates a flicker effect (Magic Gadget). The device is meant to be used with Tungsten lights for the flicker effect but with Kino's the illusion of power outages is very convincing. 
A plan view for a set on the short film "Once a Fish"
An elevation of the set for "Once a Fish"
The set after it was built and during production
 
The same set viewed from the outside. 
A very elaboratre setup involving an 18K (18000 watts) on a scaffold that was aimed through a scissor lift all sorts of large flags modify the light before reaching the scene in the corner of the room. 
A pair of extras taking a break during the filming of a horror flick. 
An 80' snorkel crane being used as a lighting platform to bring light to a set without being in the shot. The ladder was used to access the bucket. 
A pair of 18kw HMI "Silver Bullets" standing by. 
 
Operating an 18k on a cold windy day in Squamish, British Columbia.
 
Inspired by the Vampire movie being shot, a crew member gets into character. 
Location intensive shows, especially period pieces, tend to become very dirty affairs. The equipment usually needs a lot of cleaning at the end of the day. 
All means of equipment is used to deliver equipment, and in this instance, food to set. 
A lighting and camera setup for a commercial featuring the car's logo.
Dolly's are used throughout the film and television industry to bring movement to shots. Dolly Grips operate the platform in close concert with the Camera Operator (who usually rides it) and the Focus Puller. It is a demanding and well paid job that requires a well developed skill set (Except when you are pretending -above)
The Second Asssitant loads the slate and marks every shot with a device such as this one. 
An important and oft neglected team is the Sound Department. Stuffled off in a corner of the set they can found muttering under their breath about the noise on set.
While walking steadycams are more the norm, it is not unusual to find operators and thier rigs hanging on for dear life in all manner of vehicles. 
A Director of Photography taking a meter reading of the ambient light. With today's digital cameras the light meter is becoming less and less common. 
A quater of a million dollars of gear in river and water situations is always a cause for frivolity.
Life in a studio is not unlike living in a cave, it'll be bright and beautiful outside but the crew inside would never know. 
Lacking sandbags in a remote location one has to resort to putting humans on the stands to keep things safe. 
There are also very basic dollys such as this "Doorway Dolly" they do not have the ability to boom up or down on an arm but can roll on good floors and even on the same track as large dollys do.
A steadycam rig is exceptionally heavy and cumbersome. If you purchase one (New: close to $100000), you are advised to take a weeklong course on how to operate it. A good way to simulate the awkwardness of such a unit is to try to balance a car tire (with rim) on your hip and then walk quicly, in a striaght line, all the while blancing a glass of water on the top of the tire. 
Humorus situations often present themselves and many are happy to record them. This is a director trying to see his tiny handheld monitor in the bright daylight. 
It worked like a charm.
Rigging the aerial boom for work to happen later that night. Coloured gels (this being Cyan 30), are applied to try to simulate moonlight. 
An aerial boom and operator about to go up and spend many long hours 80' in the air. Once the lights are set there is not much to do. Many an operator have fallen asleep in such environments. 
This one was no exception...
A lighting platform on an 80' aerial boom. On board are lights requiring almost 30kw of power. The thick line provides the power and the thin line provides the snacks for the operator. 
Being in an aerial boom can be extremely disconcerting. It is escpcially so when there is nothing tall nearby. Vertigo get especially acute in this scenario. It takes some getting used to. 
An 80' aerial boom's shadow is cast on the set below. At that height one can see for miles in all directions.
Utter failure at setting a flag for lens flare. 
Lighting setups on stairways are especially challenging. On this setup, twelve stands compete for places to put their legs (36 of them) on uneven ground impeded by theater seats. 
T-bar ceilings are little magic doorways to a world of random cables, dust and forgotten debris. Let's put some lights up there!
While rigging the large blacks (seen below) I came across this rather tragic scenario.
Poor fella.
Day for Night (DFN) is always met with trepidation on a production callsheet. It usally entails elaborate "tenting" requirements to make the interior of a set look like nighttime. Some are as easy as putting a black fabric (Duvetyne) on a window but it can go as far as enveloping an entire building in a black curtain eliminationg all sources of sun and then leaving room around the building on the inside of the tent for controlled lighting. 
This is a reletively simple setup for an exterior. Dolly track for a long camera move during the take (in which people will climb along the outer rail of the balcony), Four 2kw lights on the roof as backlights and a large 20kw "moon" on an 80' aerial crame to the right just out of the shot. 
A simulated wind and snowstorm from the same movie forced us to try to control our flags by desperately trying to keep them flying away. The wind came from a Ritter Fan; basically a large airplane prop in a cage. 
The biggest single source light in the film industry, this 20kw tungsten fixture's lightbulb is worth upwards of $3000. 
An Antarctic scene being film in a small sound stage in Burnaby, BC. The tent is an inflatable Quonset hut.
When seen on film most sets are pretty convincing but many times in reality there is not much to them.
5kw Mole Richarson ficture silhouetted against a Vancouver sunset
Gaining access to rooftops is always a highlight as a technician. 
A 12kw HMI perched on the edge of a roof over the scene being shot below is always cause for concern. This one is tied off at various points to ensure a modicum of safety. 
A wide variety light control and modification is used on sunny days. The large 12x bounce is reflecting the sunlight onto the scence while the two smaller 4x frames are diffusing the direct sunlight on the actors to soften the light. 
Multitasking is a very important skill when working in the film industry.
When you can't screw things to cars suction cups come in very handy. Redundancy is crucial when creating rigs such as this. 
Often one is presented an insurmountable task such as rigging a 35mm camera to the side of a truck for a shot in which it drives into a ditch using only the most basic of rigging gear on a depleated rigging truck. 
Again and again a way is found and the shot achieved. 
Filmmaking around water and especially IN water is seriously time consuming. Production time slows to a half speed and danger factor increases exponentially. Equiment gets bogged down, hip waders fill with water, wooden items float downriver and anything that is dropped into the water is lost to the deeps or seriously damaged. 
Trying to move gear through water is an excercise in futility and slippery surfaces only serve to exasperate the situation.
Small films mean small teams. This short film has me doing stunt driving with the actor and camera rigged onboard a fourwheeled cart. The Cameraman and stunt coordinator are providing safety support. (the scene has the actor skateboarding)
Free time on set can lead to strange behavior and even stranger results. 
I tend to decorate the dollies I push
An underslung camera off the end of a Fisher 10 for a low angle shot. 
Another short tha t I worked on. This one I Gaffed early in my career. 
For a short time I worked at one of the lighting rental houses in Vancouver. From general duties picking and testing gear I managed to insinuate myself into the self created position of equipment restorer. 
Posers
Shooting a greenscreen Telus commercial in the tiniest studiuo imaginable. 
 
Another seemingly insurmountable challenge was laying 80' of dolly track across a dip in a field. We did not carry nearly enough wood and cribbing to support it. After some negotiations with other departments we used almost every available cart, crate and camera case we could get our hands on. 
Quick camera moves means great coordination among many people. Added to this is quite often another dolly with which to dance. 
A very elaborate extension being assembled to cantelever the camera 6 feet from the dolly.
Extra rentals tend to fill up trucks rather quickly requiring creative stacking and absolute cramming in some cases.
Two 20kw and two 10kw lights to light a night exterior from an 80' platform. The numbers on the arm of the boom refer to the maximum extensions. The 80 being Maximum vertical and the 60 being maximum horizontal...shortly after which it is liable to tip over...yikes.
"Under one Roof" starring Flavor Flav was one of the first independant Sitcoms to be shot in Vancouver using the Studio Audience format. Though there was no live audience its stage was laid out in three wall set style and four pedistal cameras were employed for shooting. 
Many of the people employed on this show moved on many years later to a new - more successful - series of Sitcoms in Vancouver: Mr. Young, Package Deal, and Some Assembly Required. 
The typical three wall sitcom set... and a typical Grip.
When stranded in a lift maning lights high above a set its nice when people still remember you are up there and provide you with necessities.
This was an 80'  boom that I had the pleasure of driving to the edge of a cliff and them extending the arm out over to light the scene at the base. 
A bit unnerving to say the least. 
Eschewing electric lighting this entire scene in the shade of the trees was light with an array of reflectors aimed onto the set. It was my job to keep adjusting them as the sun moved. 
Rare but still a factor in Vancouver is snow. It can slow productions down considerably and elevate risk levels on many fronts. 
This is my Grip trailer after being snowed in on a multiday shoot far from Vancouver. With just a basic electric heater inside, the office (at the top of the stairs) could become quite frigid. 
The trailer had no lift gate all the carts and gear had to be rolled up the ramp. With the accumulation of snow and ice at the end of the shoot, it took eight of us to load carts that usually took two. 
Shooting in wintery conditions is hard and challenging work, but it really brings out the best in people, all mucking together under the same miserable conditions to achieve a simple goal of making entertainment (hopefully good). 
Carts, thrown onto their side to keep them from rolling down the hill, are slowly buried in the unrelenting snow. 
Most film eqipment is ill suited to extreme weather conditions. Many locally made adaptations are required to keep it working. Tar Papers are thrown over lights in rain and snow to keep them dry. Tar paper comes in large rolls and is cheap and expendable. 
One of a thousand different ways of effecting a moving car sot in front of a greenscreen. The christmas lights represent distant city lights when seen through a camera lens. 
The car is nudged and swayed by grips and lights and gobos are moved all round it to complete the illusion. This is known as "Poor Man's Process" or PMP for short. 
One of the activities a grip is called on to do is "Arts and Crafts". This is where we create an assortment of items made out of Showcard and Coroplast (Corrogated Plastic). The items may be seen on camera as fakeries to hide unwanted elements or to modify light in ways standard gear can't. Sometimes it is to make containment devices for extraneous gear. 
Tents can become quite elaborate and expand as DOP decides to swing the camera from one end of the house to the other in an elaboate day-for-night (DFN) scene. In this case it was decided that the neighbors 10' cedars would add a dynamic element to the window when looking out. This required a 60' by 40'  tarp and equiivalent blacking material from the house to the neighbors yard. A job that took hours to acheive and minutes to dimantle. 
Alas, at least one side was easy to rig. 
As night falls, the tents come down and the HMI's no longer compete with the daylight. 
Crammed spaces always make for challenging gripping. 
When working in an intense department such as Grips and Electrics on indie films chances to take a break are rare. Coffees and sandwiches are usually left half finished if even touched at all. 
Dolly's are ofen used without track and a seat bolted to the top for handhead work. Much like a wheelchair. 
A desparate attempt to make the snow disappear for a scene that takes place in Carolina in May. Hmmmmm
 
As winter recedes so do tent cities and the warm sun is welcomed on our backs. 
Lunchtime. A moment for the crew to pause and and prepare for "round two". A modicum of civility is achived with a tablecloth, good utensils, condiments and table decor stolen from set dec. 
As a Best Boy even my good car is pressed into service to retreive a vital ingredient for a lighting effect. 
Another windy day deputises many other department personel into extra sandbags to retain billowing lighting fabrics. 
Ever in conflict, the two departments most in need of cooperation rarely see eye to eye.
 
A useful and enconomical tool for soaring and high angle shots, a Jib arm is an excellent way to lend production value to any shoot.
To the delight of many of the crew our First Assistant Director decided to perform on one of the camera tests himself. 
Yes, you read that right. 
12' high and 14' wide it took awhile to add diffusion to the back of this set piece.
The effect worked well though.
 
Shaving cream, lots of shaving cream. The crew had a riot predressing this set for the next scene. Everyone got involved. No mess was left unturned. Why grow up, when you can work in film. 
While shooting this scene production halted as the Google Streetview car rolled by. For awhile the scene was available on streetview. It has since been updated. 
Another elaborate tenting rig for a "DFN" scene. The night scene was to play first then we were to strip the tent off for the day scene directly thereafter. 
One of the riggers adding one of the many pulleys into the system. 
The tent assembled and light tight, shooting begins inside. 
The rig worked beautifully and the tent came down in mere minutes.
Up went the lift for additional dircet light through a window and the day scene was shot as the frame of the tent was disassembled on the ground in front. 
My office in the semi-trailer on a particularly hot summer day. No air conditioning to be had,  it hit 46'C in the office. 
The sun beating down on a black truck did not help the situation. Water was employed to little effect. 
Elaborate rigs are constantly being dreamed up, Cross departmental skills are utilized and favors call in to acheive something one department cannot do on its own . Here the grips worked with the Special Effects department to create the illusion of a girl floating effortlessly in front of the camera as it followed her moving across the set. The girl's platform and the platform in front of the dolly had a dynamic hinge that moved semi-dependantly of the dolly while the dolly grip pushed the entire contraption to the direction of the camera op-erator AND the director. 
A tiny jib arm built inside a mini van to make a dynamic shot that would defy expectaions. 
Vancouver, being a location for a lot of Scince Fiction and Action films, has a lot of collective knowlege and resources for effects work. It is used by prodctions both enourmous and tiny. 
A grid layout for the shooting of a Televsion Pilot. Each Square lamp above is about 4'x3' in size showing how big the set is. It takes hundereds of manhours to assemble and diassemble such a studio. A lot of money goes into the shooting of these productions. And more often than not, such as the case above they never see the light of day. 
Every DOP has a different way of lighting a set. There is no right way, but some are definately easier than others. 
Ocassionally we get the opportunity to park our trucks indoors during a production and time permitting, go over everything with the luxury of constant temperature, light, dryness, space and security. 
A shot inside the condensor plant in a decomissioned mine. Again one of the privileges of working in film and in a technical department is access to areas the many others do not have. 
This is the final resting place of a car the was flipped by an explosion from a spot about 10 feet away. next to it is a camera "protected" by two sandbags. 
An elaborite rig holding three cameras for a night chase scene. 
The tent for night sets can get rather large when cameras end  up outside the thins being shot. This tent ended up being 20' x 30'  to acommodate a person entering the tralier and a number of light ligitng the scene. 
Often grips are called upon to bring in a multitude of "butterfly" frames to cover portions of the scene. Usually to bring the ambience up or down and also to give raincover. 
A very elaborate setup to simulate sunlight coming through large plate glass windows of the mansion being filmed. The black "topper" limited the effect to the lower half of the room being lit. The whole setup was erected over a pool in the backyard. 
 
Camera crews are sometimes sent on missions to get additional shots in unusual places. This pair were sent to the flytower of a theatre to get an aerial of the scene below. Alas the only access was the steel vertical ladder that went up 25'. Everything hade to be hauded up by rope or carried up while climbing the ladder. Such challenges take much time and careful planning for safety. 
There is a soulution for everything. On this roof there was nothing to tie the panels to. Short of simply hanging on to the for the duration we simply affixed multiple pony clamps to the flashing and tied the ropped to them in a belay fashion.
Many times we are asked to do things that make us go "Really!?"
Like having for lights lighting a window - but hiding the stands because we are looking out the same windows.
"you've got 15 minutes" I believe was the command. 
This was a particularly busy day of all sorts of diverse elemnts being filmed. 
It is not often that you get to work on the tarmac around a passenger jet. 
It is also not everyday you get to work on a PSA involving your local team and the icons that play on it. 
Often a small band of people get together and pool enough resources and goodwill that they are able to make a short film of suprising high production value. 
Special effect foam spray made to look like floating debris. Disgusting stuff. 
Filming a series of explosions from entrenched positions. 
At the height of the occupy movement we decided to form our own tent city on a set in a small suburb of Vancouver. 
Solidarity!
 
After days of rain I utilize the sunshine to dry out our tenting materials. (this is the last time I ever saw my skateboard too)
After setting his light for the next scene he climbed out of his lift and putted a few rounds. 
 
More to come
15 years in Motion Pictures - Part 1
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15 years in Motion Pictures - Part 1

A retrospective of my journey through Motion Picture Production as a Lighting Technician and photographer
10
421
2
Published: