Occupational Folklore- Origin of the term “C47”

The informant is a 27-year old grad student. He was born in Los Angeles, California, grew up in Seattle, Washington, was educated at UC Berkeley and now studying film production in Los Angeles. He’s worked as a freelance writer and filmmaker around Los Angeles and is a teaching assistant at the School of Cinematic Arts. He shall be referred to as NW.

In the world of film production, clothespins are referred to as “C47s” (pronounced, “see fore-tee seh-vens). As NW explained, this is term used by the grips on a film set (those responsible for the physical labor of manning lights). They are used to pull scrims, which are tools for blocking light, out of a hot lighting kit and also useful for attaching colored gels to lights among other simple purposes.

NC explained that the origin of the term comes from the story of a production crew submitting a budget for a producer, which included five hundred clothespins. The producer did not see the importance of these clothespins, so he demanded they be removed from the budget because he didn’t see the value in them. Knowing how important they were for day-to-day work, the crew changed the name to “C47” to sound more technical and important. Upon looking at the revised budget, the producer approved and the crew was allowed to purchase the required clothespins. He told this story to a group of students in a class on film lighting for Film and Television Production majors. He could not remember specifically where he heard this story, but remembered that he was told it when he began working on film sets (as this was the first experience with film lights and equipment for many people in the class, we heard it in the same context he did). He did not provide too much historical context for his background story (such as the time and place), and he was not absolutely certain about five-hundred being the required number of clothespins.

While it didn’t seem that NW takes the story too seriously, he seemed eager to share this bit of knowledge for a group of people just cutting their teeth on film production. It seems to be a sign of acceptance into this field of work. The class immediately adopted the use of the term, rarely using the term “clothespins” but rather “C47.” NW believes that the story is about how even the most trivial items are important on a film set, even if they don’t seem that way to a producer. He said changing the name was  a big “eff you” directed at the studio on behalf of the crew against the “suits.” NW also explained that the use of this term is a simple indicator as to whether or not a person is knowledgeable about film production when starting out on set.

To me, this story expresses the kind of anxiety shared by those low on the film industry totem pole. This is not a story that involves elite directors or celebrated cinematographers. Rather, it is a story shared when young amateurs are starting out in low positions. At least in my experience with the class, everyone was very interested in demonstrating that they belonged in this environment. The story about the producer also illuminates the anxiety felt between those that produce a film and those that fund it. While filmmaking is a very technical craft, sometimes simple tools like clothespins are required. In the story, the name had to be changed to something credible for the crew to get what they needed to make their film. This portrayal of the producer as shallow and ignorant (immediately accepting the change to the term “C47” without further knowledge for their use) reflects the bitterness that can exist between the peons on a film set and the wealthy producers.