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.
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.