USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Film Industry’
Legends
Narrative

C-47s

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In the film industry, ordinary wooden clothespins are used to attach colored plastic gels to lights and they’re called C-47s.

A prominent visual effects artist told me an origin story of the phrase:

Back in the early days of Hollywood, studio heads would do audits and they’d see that the lighting departments were spending a ton of money on clothespins. And they said “we’re spending all this money on clothespins. This is ridiculous!” And they shut it down you know,  not understanding that the clothespin is a very important tool for lighting that we use everyday. So the lighting guys started calling them ‘C-47s’ so that when the big-wigs saw so-and-so hundred dollars for C-47s and they said, “Oh sure, ‘C-47’ that sounds important, no problem.”

As a film student, I’ve heard several contradictory stories about the phrase C-47. Some of the other prominent origin tales are that they were names after a WWII fighter plane by returning soldiers turned filmmakers, or that C-47 is the patent number.

All of these stories are equally unverified. In practice, the lingo ‘C-47’ mainly serves as a test of membership on film sets. If you’re a newcomer on a set and a grip asks you to fetch a C-47, you have no idea what they mean and are forced to ask someone. It’s embarrassing to realize that a C-47 is just a simple clothes pin. The lingo functions as an inside joke, and an initiation that everyone on a film set must undergo.

Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Assistant Directors Make No Friends

Informant Bio and Context

The following joke was told on the set of a USC student music video. My informant was a grip (crew member working in the lighting department) who told the joke to the assistant director (or AD: production manager who keeps track of time) of the set. My informant is currently a film student at USC and often works in the sound department, but who like most USC film students has held positions in other departments as well. She has also worked as an assistant director and producer, for instance. On this set my informant knew the assistant director from classes and by reputation, and likely felt that the joke would amuse the AD who works as an assistant director almost exclusively.

Transcript

Hey, so why are ADs bad in bed? Because they think two minutes is a really long time.

Analysis and Background:

Understanding of an assistant director’s job sheds light on the reason for this malicious sounding joke.

In the United States, the assistant director (AD) belongs to a film’s “production” department, meaning that they work for the director and producers in a non-creative capacity. Their job is to “run the set” so that the crew is able to capture every shot planned for that day. The AD is responsible for scheduling the order of the shots taken that day for maximum efficiency, communicating with every department so that they know what they need to prepare for as the day moves along, and keeping track of the time. This can mean that the assistant director needs to make decisions that place higher priority on one department’s work over another. For example, if the crew is running thirty minutes behind schedule, the AD may need to talk to the director about cutting a shot, or to the art department about spending less time dressing a part of the set, or to the director of photography about making the lighting on the actress’ face a little less perfect than he wants. Anything to save time. Because assistant directors serve the big picture, they are often viewed as the enemy of the individual departments.

This joke belittles the sexual prowess of the assistant director by using the AD’s primary function as the set’s time-keeper against him. The intention of this is clear – while the joke itself does not undermine the authority of the assistant director on the set, it separates him from the rest of the crew, and depicts him as being the same as, even less than, everyone else in other aspects of his life. The joke tells the crew that while the AD’s watch has power on the set, off of it, it would make him look like a fool.

My subject felt that the joke was humorous simply because it is, in her words, “accurate.” Assistant directors are always keeping track of the time, but off-set in many situations this trait is often inappropriate. In this way the joke also comments on another aspect of life within in the film industry, which is the necessary separation of one’s life in film production, from their home life or social life. The long, fast-paced, stress-heavy hours of film production work are often compared to being at war. One’s mental, emotional – and as this joke implies, sexual – health can only be maintained by a clear separation between life on the set, and life off of it.

Notice too that the joke seems to imply that the assistant director is a man. (Jokes revolving around the premise of climaxing too quickly during a sexual act are typically aimed at men.) This assumption within the joke is not entirely inaccurate as the majority of crew positions in the film industry have historically be held by men. In this particular case the joke was told to a female assistant director, who laughed in spite of her position.

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