USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘film students’
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The Martini

In this image my informant holds up a slate for a video project titled “Two Portly Guys.” There are martini glasses drawn around the shot number “2” – this is meant to indicate that this shot will be the last shot captured on that shooting day.

It is a strange paradox of working on film sets that the experience on the set has little to do with the subject matter of the film itself. There is no way to extrapolate from a finished film the experience of the crew members working on the set.

In a set environment at a film school, students who have known each other and worked together for several years are often thrown onto crews together for a project. The familiarity of the students with each other creates a unity to the entire filmmaking process, from pre-production (planning of the film) through post (editing and sound designing the film) that does not exist in the film industry outside of school. For instance, on a USC project the on-set crew will likely know the students who will be editing the film. However, at the USC film school in particular, the way that some classes are organized require that the editors of a film not be present on the set. This results in some pranks played on the editors within the footage.

My informant (in the image above), who had held the slate for a USC undergraduate thesis film prior to the “Two Portly Guys” project, told me that drawing martinis on the slate is one way to bring the editors – friends of the set crew – into the set experience, albeit after the fact. “The martini” is the name given to the last shot of the day before everyone goes home. There are various stories about why the last shot has been named this, but it is an accepted and recognized term. It is common among film students at USC to indicate the “martini shot” on the slate by drawing martini glasses onto it. The slate, as the marker which tells the editors what shot and take of that shot is being captured after the slate has been shown, should be (if the shot was taken correctly) the only indication throughout a single shot that the film crew is there, thus it is the only time that the crew can communicate with the editors as fellow filmmakers.

I feel that the martinis on the slate can also be an indicator of set morale. On the “Two Portly Guys” set I noted that the crew was greatly enjoying their work because the scenes they were taping were humorous. My informant seemed excited when told that the last shot had arrived and quickly draw the martinis. However, my informant also told me that there were days on her undergraduate thesis set that she did not draw the martinis. Though she did not connect this to crew morale, she also told me that there was rarely a day on that set that she didn’t feel tired or stressed by the miscommunications among the crew, or the slow pace of the work. Thus I believe that a crew that is working together well and runs into few problems throughout the shooting day will be more likely to be in good spirits by the end of the day, and have the energy and inclination to take a moment to draw the merry little icons onto the slate. If the last shot of the day lacks martinis, it might be an indicator that by the end of the day the crew was too burnt out to have any fun with the slate.

Customs
Folk speech
Legends
Narrative

What we call a clothes-pin

Context and Informant Bio

My informant is a female USC film student who is studying to become a director of photography (or DP: the crew member on a film set responsible for lighting scenes and composing shots with the camera). She started learning set procedure and lingo even before taking film classes at USC by volunteering to help out on student sets. Today she is well-versed in set terminology and, as a senior film student, enjoys teaching younger students set protocol.

On this set of a USC student project,  my informant worked as the 1st A/C (first assistant cameraman – assistant to the camera operator). At one point she asked a freshman production assistant (or PA:  a person who can help any department on the set with small tasks, such as running errands) to give her the “C47″ she had clipped to her sweater. The PA was unsure what my informant meant, so my informant pointed to the clothes-pin clipped to the PA’s sweater. She then gave the following explanation.

 Transcript

PA: What is, C47?

Informant: Uh, it was a term that was developed back in the day. On equipment lists of stuff, it was listed under C47, so they called them C47s.

Me: And what is it that you’re holding?

Informant: A wooden clothes-pin.

Analysis and Background

There are several variations on the story my informant told about the term “C47″ for a clothes pin. Generally the story involves an official equipment order form, as my informant described, on which the order code for clothes pins was C47. Another version of the story I’ve heard plays on the common stereotype of frugal movie studio executives, and tells that when executives saw equipment listed on order forms that they could not divine the purpose of, they would deny the order. So when reporting equipment orders to the executives, DPs would list C47 instead of clothes pins because the number made the item look like important equipment.

Clothes pins are an item found on film sets that it may be hard to think of a purpose for, but they are in fact very helpful. Wooden clothes pins are what the lighting crew use to clip colored filters (called gels) onto lights to give the light a particular hue.

Film sets are full of strange terms for common objects. The legend about C47s justifies the terms with a simple explanation that basically amounts to: that’s just what we call them. More important than the story about the origin of the term however is the use of the story. The story is never told to a seasoned crew member on a set, it is always brought up in the context of explaining the term to a newcomer, like the freshman production assistant in this instance. Learning terms like C47 and the stories behind them is part of the process of learning set protocol. Once you know the terms, you become an accepted part of the crew, and often this basic knowledge allows a crew member to move up from production assistant to grip (crew member in the lighting department), and beyond in climbing the ladder of crew positions.

 

Folk speech
Humor

F*** Sound

Informant Bio/Context

My informant attends the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts’ film production program. She is primarily focused on camera and lighting work and works often as a director of photography (crew member in charge of lighting scenes and composing shots in the camera). On a recent student film set she told the following joke while waiting for the director to finish rehearsing with an actor. The camera was already set and ready to go, and she reflected that it was a good thing that on this project they didn’t need to worry about recording sound.

Transcript of Joke

So this actress comes to Hollywood, right, and she’s having trouble you know, um, getting in. So she decides to sleep with a sound guy. And afterwards everyone’s all like, why’d you sleep with a sound guy? You should sleep with the director. Sleep with the director. And she says, well everyone’s always saying, fuck sound! Fuck sound!

Analysis and Background

After telling the joke the informant told a brief anecdote about a set experience she had where the assistant director (set manager) needed to find the production mixer (crew member who records sound on the set) in order to shoot a shot because in between shots the production mixer had fallen asleep and was not responding to calls. The informant herself took the joke as a humorous comment on the fact that the sound department has a lot of down time on sets. Like the actors, they are really only needed just before and through the recording of takes. Much of the rest of the time spent on a set changing lighting and re-dressing set pieces is time during which the sound department has nothing to do which gives them, according to my informant, the appearance of having an easy job and being lazy workers.

My reading of this joke however is more focused on the gender and position of power of the subjects in the joke. The main character in the joke is an actress who is portrayed as naive and desperate for fame. The joke plays upon a general belief that sex will help one, especially a woman with little experience, to get ahead in the film industry. The joke assumes a “green-ness” to actresses in Hollywood. The laugh comes from the understanding by film crews of  the truth behind the statement that “everyone’s always saying, fuck sound” and that newcomers to Hollywood would not understand why that is and would misinterpret the meaning. The actress who is new to town can hardly be expected to know the perception of sound technicians with film crews.

Also notice the use of the term sound “guy.” Rarely in the film industry does one refer to a crew member using a female pronoun – often the word “person” is substituted for “guy” or “man” if one is attempting to be politically correct, or even to refer to a female crew member. The gender dynamics of this joke indicate that it is young, naive girls who seek fame and fortune in a male-dominated work environment, where sex appeal is their only power. The desperation of the actress to break into the film business also hints at the brief shelf life of actresses, who seem to age quicker (and lose that sex appeal) in the public eye than male actors. This reveals not so much a gender bias among film workers as a tradition of acceptance of the fact that many roles in the film industry have historically been filled by men – particularly skilled crew roles.

The fact that the gender dynamics of the joke held even when being told by a female director of photography reveals that while the dynamics of film crews and the business itself may change, a stereotypical image of the film industry planted in the 1920s still holds in the public consciousness, and is source of ironic amusement even to modern film workers.

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