The Scale of Hollywood (why did we hire this knuckle head?)

(Because he keeps the Gaffer laughing and it makes life easier on us)

The terms of employment in the entertainment industry are well defined by our unions and history.  What isn’t stated in the negotiated contracts is the unspoken terms of expectations of your social duties within the community.
In the freelance, volatile and transitional employment terrain of the entertainment industry resumes are only a portion of the process of crew/staff selection.  We spend more time with each other than we do with our families so chemistry and the ability to get along with others sometimes take precedence over technical or physical ability.   We consciously or subconsciously evaluate and select our staff and team mates using a two part grading scale: The humor/competence scale.
The 1-10 scale of personality versus competence.


On set most departments have a crew of about four to six permanent positions.  Each department is like a small family. Just like any family, the dynamics unfold as time goes by. To keep things balanced most departments hire personnel with varying skill sets. The unintentional outcome of these hiring practices is the 1-10 scale of personality versus competence.
If we grade on seperate scales of 1-10 of personality and 1-10 in competence, the totals must add up to no less than nine. No one expects a 10/10 and nobody is going to put up with a 1/1.

A sample of the criteria…

In this example the driver and the AD are marginally employable depending upon how busy it is in Hollywood (pilot season).


We of course know why it is prudent to have highly skilled and competent crew members.  We work in a highly competitive industry with many high paying jobs. Protecting our departments integrity and reputation may depend upon the skills and execution of a key member of our teams.


One particular day on set I was frustrated to no end (as is the danger of being an onset) as we were changing camera angles and I was simultaneously making a space for the cameras to land while I was restoring the furniture on the opposite side of the restaurant. The AD’s were herding background and the crew was hanging out on the set and in the doorways. I politely asked people to
move to the other side so I could dress the set. No one was moving and everyone was chatting and paying no attention so I spoke up,


The AD’s thought that was pretty funny and proceeded to clear my paths. You see, SOMEBODY has to have some people skills and humor or the vibe on set can be a drag.

Obviously I was hired for my ability to execute and not my charming personality (that’s just a little bonus).

On sets in tight quarters the last thing we want is tension or bad vibes on the set. When the crew gets cranky, the actors feel it also and this vibe can effect the quality of our or work. We must create a balance of focus and levity to spend 12-14 hours armpit to armpit and nose to nose with each other.

Q:What do you call an AD with NO sense of humor?

A: An asshole

Q: What do you call an AD WITH a sense of humor?

A: see above


We will never see that way (an onset dressers nightmare)

The inspiration for “Anatomy of the tech scout” was the frustration that we,  on the shooting crew, experience on “the day” when everything discussed on the scout, in the production meetings and the call sheet has no bearing upon what we’re shooting.  

I was the production designer on a film in 1990 and it was my first “real” production design gig. I was ambitious and wanted to leave no stone unturned. During the scout for a barber shop I was reading the dialogue and there was a mention of a gun store, i.e.: “in this neighborhood there are plenty of liquor stores and gun stores but no book stores”. I wanted to place a “gun store” sign or dress a “liquor store” sign. There were indeed liquor stores in each direction so  I asked the D.P.  and he said that we would never face west. I assumed that it was because of the time of day and the sun would be backlighting our scene.  I drew up a quick map and asked him to mark and initial where we would see.  He looked at me like I asked him to sell me his daughter.  The UPM pulled me aside and asked me not to do that again. Apparently asking someone to be accountable for the words that emerge from their mouth is a version of blackmail in this business. I had a “GUN STORE” sign painted on the building to the east. 

Of course on the day of the shoot we were looking west and the D.P. Threw me under the bus. I learned a valuable lesson that day (other than D.P.s are assholes). : We will always see the entire world. 

Lesson learned

If directors, producers and directors of photography had to put $200 into a fund every time they said, “We will never see that” and WE DO,    we could fund the bitchenest wrap party ever. 
It’s called a REVERSE! If we have more than one person in a scene we will most likely see the world from both characters points of view. DUH?
As an onset dresser I can’t tell you how many times a production designer or set decorator has told me that we were never supposed to see in that direction as I’m scrambling to dress an area that was omitted on the scout. The entire company is now in a holding pattern as we put together a set that could have been dressed two days ago.  It begs the question, “what happens on the scout”?  “What do you people discuss in the production meeting”?  
Then as we are dressing the set everyone wants to chime in: You know what would be cool? (Yeah, you getting out of the way and letting me do my job)

                                          The other obstacle when faced with improv set dressing is all the opinions.  

                                                Opinions are like children; if they’re not mine, they’re annoying.  

Several times while scrambling on set and correcting what “you people” messed up I’ve asked for help from the AD’s. Not physical labor just get some of these opinions and supervisors out of my way so I can get the job done. My go to is, “WOULD SOMEONE WITH BETTER PEOPLE SKILLS GET THESE [fine people] OUT OF MY WAY SO I CAN DO MY JOB”? (please).  So the lip flappers have been herded back into their respective boxes and we can continue dressing what we were never going to see.  The DP decides to use a lamp that we saw on the other side that we only have one of,  assuring us that we will never see both sides of the room (really, isn’t that how we got here in the first place?). 

Without fail as soon as the area is dressed and we are putting the last set dressing in place, the AD rolls the cameras before we can take a shot for continuity.  

CUT! OK, we got that! Now we need a reverse master. I look in my butt for another lamp and somehow, it’s there!  I clean it off (sometimes) and put it in place. 
The AD usually thanks me for the hustle and I remind him to read “Anatomy of the Scout” again. I would think that those in charge of a $10k/minute production would be little less myopic.  I am fully aware of changes in this business and if you can’t deal with change you are indeed in the wrong business but the next time you’re on a scout and you hear, “We will never see that way” respond with, “you wanna bet?” 

Through the looking glass (The view from the other side of the camera)

The TV/Film industry is the evolution of the second oldest form of entertainment; THEATRE.
The elements of theatre are a setting (stage), an audience and an actor(s). In our medium the camera is the audience. Modern theatre is simply a feature film that never cuts out of the master. What has remained a constant through the hundreds of years of theatre is that the actors have the final say. The show is the thing and all the fine lighting, set design, photography and sound recording won’t mean anything without the performance of a human being transferring what’s on the page to the stage.

ACTION! (no pressure)
This simple phase initiates the “entertainment”. It say’s to the performer:
THIS is the moment we’ve been waiting for. This is the culmination of weeks or years of preparation. We’ve spent countess man hours and dollars to build and light a set, decorate it in a fashion to reflect the mood, tone and specifics of the scene. All that is left is for YOU to hit your mark, recite the dialogue without stammer, stutter or misguided inflection. If you have an accent from the region you were born in, divorce yourself from that dialect and adapt the generic pronunciation of each word (unless the character calls for a different accent, then do THAT). While you’re at it, your facial expressions and performance will also have to show the emotion of what the writer intended and the director wanted although neither have communicated specifics because they aren’t quite sure and want to “see what you do with it” then take credit for your creativity (but I digress). Your volume, tempo, inflections, hand and eye movements, looks, breathing and posture must be consistent with the character. You’ve had to have learned the dialogue, breathed it, bathed in it and infused it into your DNA because just learning the words handicaps you in a way that musicians who just “play the notes in the page” can’t “bleed soul” into the music, they can just sight read, you nail the dialogue and your performance inspires…
Ya gotta do it again.
And again.
Until you hear:

Then a frantic person with an open script marches purposely toward you and you realize that you may have leaned to the left when you took your off camera look toward the A list actor that won’t do the off camera lines and the stand in who was reading it has vastly different pacing, volume and diction than that of the principle or you said the wrong name of the antagonist that was changed two takes ago. Again you try to match everything and BINGO! Everything went perfectly.
NOW, it’s time to turn the entire thing the other way, put the cameras and lighting on the other side of the set and move the furniture, adjust the background actors and walls and do it again…
And again…
And again…

Oh yeah…remember that dialogue that you learned so well? While you were performing there was a rewrite during the last take. Let’s try it from this angle…(oh joy)

@There is a disturbance in the force…

In February 2009 a video surfaced of the actor Christian Bales verbal pyrotechnics directed at the director of photography of “Terminator Salvation”. During an emotional and very important scene the DP was adjusting a light and distracted Mr. Bale and disturbed his performance. What followed was an F-bomb laden tirade. Perhaps my IATSE brothers and sisters will disagree but I stood firmly with Mr. Bale.
I asked myself if Carey Grant, Sidney Poitier, Barbara Stanwyck or David Niven would ever behave in such a manner. My response was NO; because our predecessors in our crafts had respect for the actors. The founders of the film and television crafts unions were about two generations from the time of exclusively live theatre as entertainment. They were well aware of the fragility of live performances. I can’t imagine a crew member on a set with Marlon Brando or Audrey Hepburn making a sound or movement while the cameras are rolling or the cast is rehearsing or defining the dialogue.
To the uninitiated acting looks easy. They show up, stand there, say some words and leave. How hard could it be?
The fragile world of make believe.
When Mr. Bale was performing an emotional scene he had entered a fragile world he alone was responsible for maintaining and as suddenly as the Big Bang the world vanished when an interloper from another dimension crossed through the forbidden zone.
Depending upon the depth of the material actors must enter a world that only exists as they build it. The challenges of defining and delineating a charter require them to crawl into the soul, flesh and being of an infinite number of entities with the only points of reference either research or history.
The world for whom only those who reside there truly understand. Personally I want nothing to do with living in a world that is as volatile, unstable and inconsistent as the make believe world that actors are required to inhabit.

Quiet on the set, please.
As a crew member I endeavor to support a safe, productive and creative environment for all of my coworkers. Experience has taught us how each department and craft functions individually and in cooperation. The actors are also my coworkers and hold the final piece of the puzzle that the carpenters, accountants, painters, producers, special effects, property, lighting, camera, production designers, art directors, graphic designers, wardrobe stylists, legal clearances, writers, directors, drivers, craft service, decorators, set dressers, laborers and all other departments have assembled to present a believable vision of cinema, television or live theatre.
Why do crew members talk on set during filming? I have no idea what is so important that must be discussed during the six minutes of a take that we as a production have spent months preparing for. It is not THIER work that is going on during a take, it’s OURS!
Actors rarely disturb the process of building, painting, decorating and lighting a set while we are in progress*. The least we can do is be as supportive of the end of the process as they are to the beginning.

*A certain well known actor I’ve worked with was a most chatty fellow. Between setups he’d start a conversation with any crew member and hold the persons elbow as to deny escape. I made a suggestion to the A.D. “assign” a background actor to him so he’d stop holding crew members hostage. It took the A.D.’s a day to understand but they eventually understood and gave him his own “detective” to talk to. I’ll tell you his name but only in person and I’ll deny it later.
Bruce Bellamy local 44 – 3rd, 4th or 5th best on-set dresser in the biz (depending upon how much coffee I’ve had and who else is available)
(323) 382-5412 iPhone

Why Tarantino got it completely WRONG! (Quentin, sit yo drunk ass DOWN)

Goofy assed white boys often think black people are automatically cool (unfortunately not true). That’s why a group of nerds will have their one black friend that hangs out with them. They think that they are showing the world that they are not racists and it keeps them from getting their asses kicked when they go into what they think is hostile territory.

Black people hanging with white people;

Token/wanna bee:

The “token” they’ve chosen is often not cool enough to hang with the real brothers so he’s been demoted.

Sometimes that person has just as much if not more fear of and disdain for African Americans as they do. This is the sellout or “sunken place” person.


Wants to know if white people truly are as clueless and hostile as thier parents and older black people have told them they are.


Taking mercy on the clueless group to elevate them and lend some swagger, vibe and “color” to the environment.

Who cares:

The other “black person hanging with white people” is just a regular cool person hanging with regular cool people. He doesn’t care about the skin color of the guys and they don’t care about his. Believe it or not but there ARE people who absolutely don’t GAF about another persons skin color.

However if you and your “Malibu’s most wanted” crew want to look cool, The current mandatory minimum for white friends to black friends is 3:1.2.

Some white boys think that they are so cool that they can say “that word” and that’s why I must explain.

No Tarantino is NOT a racist. He’s just a goofy-assed white boy trying to be cool by saying….

The N-word…
Twenty seven years ago a young Quentin Tarantino granted himself membership into a fraternity that he was never invited to join. He indoctrinated himself into “the brotherhood” by evoking the most viscerally divisive and polarizing word in the Western lexicon.

Nigger: Sociologically the word has proven to be a weapon of mass destruction. Just like any other weapon, it’s usage should be taken seriously.


The word is so powerfully derogatory that is is frequently used as a suffix (qualifier) to emphasize disdain for other ethnic groups; Arabian: “Sand Niggers”, Italians; “Pasta Niggers”, Latino; “Bean Nigger”, etc. One of, if not the most abrasive and caustic words in modern English usage. The word was penned exclusively to designate a group of people as “less than human livestock”.

The fact that the word is as popular today as it was at its inception should end the argument that slavery was so long ago in our society’s history that it has no impact on the lives we live today. If the notion of slavery was so distant and antiquated an institution as is implied by those that maintain that is was so long ago that its social and psychological impact has no bearing on modern life, the term NIGGER would be as foreign and repulsive as “BLOODLETTING” and “HUMAN SACRIFICE”.

The history of this nation has been the dehumanization and demonization of the African American. The N-word is the exact embodiment of that mission. The word is used to describe livestock that is both strong, less than human and ultimately a utility or commodity for “polite society”.

An educated, articulate, well behaved and “well spoken” (a future discussion) African American poses no immediate threat. The “NIGGER” is infinitely intimidating.

They were bold, strong, docile yet unpredictable, potentially wild and dangerous therefore social limitations had to be designed and enforced to “keep them in their place”. Eventually those fears became so pervasive that African Americans used those fears against their hostile environment.
The African American community (somewhat) disarmed the abrasiveness and caustic properties of the word by pressing it into common usage. It was in essence an inoculation from the cruelty of being referred to by the population at large as a subhuman tool destined only for servitude and usage as bipedal livestock.

Wresting the N word from it’s moorings in racial hatred and diminishing it’s potency was the task of those most targeted by it. 
 The ancestors of the kidnapped Africans commandeered the word by necessity and rebellion.

The societies fear of the ancestors of the kidnapped Africans reached critical mass in 1974 with the release of the great Richard Pryors album, “That Nigger’s Crazy”! Pryors masterful l exploitation of white peoples fears and African Americans frustrations gave a voice and a song to the social challenges on both sides of the color line.

The word was popularized as a loud and vulgar “BOO” to the fragile and precarious conscious of white society. Suddenly African Americans had an instant weapon to validate the fears of America. Yes, “Those people” are indeed, powerful, fearless and dangerous. African American movies, music, poetry and literature tapped into the shock value of the N-word to draw attention to the voice of a underrepresented demographic. The serendipitous result of the popularity of the word was a diminished impact the word has on African Americans.


The N-word became a commodity of boldness, bravado, machismo, sex, rebellion and defiance. Just like any other commodity, the White man wanted in.

There’s a word for white peoples who try to act black:

Wigger (Wanna-be-Nigger or White-Nigger)[/caption]


noun US informal

a white person who tries to emulate or acquire cultural behaviour and tastes attributed to African-Americans.
Conscientious African-Americans hold a subtle disdain for wiggers. They conveniently don the robe of repression and marginalization that every African American would gladly shed. Wiggers playfully splash around in the waters of disdain and marginalization that the ancestors of the kidnapped Africans have been drowning in for 400 years.  Wiggers are free to leave at any time. They walk into a prison with and open door that African Americans cannot escape.

The American view of the B-L-A-C-K people has been traditionally primal and passionate (read over sexed) and resourceful (read lying, cheating).
This American “Negro” supplied the world with a brand new swagger unique to this culture. Being a “Brother” or a “Sistah” was cool. Being a “Niggah” was only available in a positive light to those within the tribe. So fascinated was the rest of society that they questioned the usage of the word by those that were supposed to be offended by it. When they realized the exclusivity of entrance to the “club” they wanted and in some cases demanded entrance to this new club.

The fact is:

*as a consolation prize we allow the useage of the international black man nod of acknowledgement. The slightly raised head and eyebrow that black men who have never met throw at each other when they see another black man in Bend Oregon, Utah or Orange Country, CA. or anywhere that is the last place you expect to see another member of the tribe…accompanied by the inner dialogue “what’s up mah nigga”…We’ll allow white men to use the nod, just realize that you can only THINK it…use your inner voice or risk an uncomfortable situation.

Eminem has maintained an authentic hip hop career over 20 years and has managed to avoid the N-word. Perhaps because as I, he is also from Detroit and knows the rules.

Which brings us to exactly why “Jimmie”, the Character in “Pulp Fiction” horrendously misused the N-word in his dialogue.

The Bonnie Situation…
From the movie “Pulp Fiction”
Jimmie: I don’t need you to tell me how fucking good my coffee is, okay? I’m the one who buys it. I know how good it is. When Bonnie goes shopping she buys SHIT. I buy the gourmet expensive stuff because when I drink it I want to taste it. But you know what’s on my mind right now? It AIN’T the coffee in my kitchen, it’s the dead nigger in my garage.

Jules: Oh, Jimmie, don’t even worry about that…

Jimmie: [interupting] No, No, No, No, let me ask you a question. When you came pulling in here, did you notice a sign out in front of my house that said “Dead Nigger Storage”?

Jules: Jimmie, you know I ain’t seen no…

Jimmie: [cutting him off again; getting angry] Did you notice a sign out in front of my house that said “Dead Nigger Storage”?

Jules: [pause] No. I didn’t.

Jimmie: You know WHY you didn’t see that sign?

Jules: Why?

Jimmie: ‘Cause it ain’t there, ’cause storing dead niggers ain’t my fucking business, that’s why!

Let’s clarify this for Mr. Tarantino, shall we? 
The the people on the “other side of the color line” (a line created by the white supremacists) the dialogue between African Americans using the N-word toward may seem like reinforcing an extremely negative designation. It is not. Just as many words have multiple meanings, the N-word can have vastly different connotations depending upon many factors including but not limited to tone, inflection, volume and the person saying it.
For purposes of clarification lets differentiate between the two most popular manifestations of the word.
In it’s original design…(remember the word was invented by white people)
Primary definition:

Nigger(as directed toward an African American by a white person): 
A servant or servile human being. A less than human livestock, born and bred for the sole purposes of servitude, property, labor or anything it’s master dictates. A thoughtless, mindless tool of a white person. A low class citizen with no free will or motivation. An essentially valueless and ultimately expendable Homo sapiens of African dissent. The bottom rung of any societal ladder. Sub Human filth…(you get it)
Definition of nigger

1. usually offensive; see usage paragraph below : a black person

2. usually offensive; see usage paragraph below : a member of any dark-skinned race

3. : a member of a socially disadvantaged class of persons.      <it’s time for somebody to lead all of America’s niggers … all the people who feel left out of the political process — Ron Dellums>


1. Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive.

a contemptuous term used to refer to a blackperson.

a contemptuous term used to refer to amember of any dark-skinned people.
2. Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive. acontemptuous term used to refer to a person ofany racial or ethnic origin regarded ascontemptible, inferior, ignorant, etc.
3. a victim of prejudice similar to that suffered byblack people; a person who is economically,politically, or socially disenfranchised.

Secondary definition(s)

Nig, Nigga, Niggah, ma-NIG-uh (as spoken by an African American TO an African American). 
When the word is spoken BY an African American TO another African American the word can take on MANY connotations, none of which are by design malicious or derogatory.
The word can mean:

Affection, “Nigga, you ain’t too grown ta give your uncle a hug”,
Frustration: “Nig-if yew don’t stop changing them channels I’m gone knock yo ass out”!
Anger: “Nigga, sit you drunk ASS DOWN!”
In any of the above samples feel free to substitute the N-word for a proper noun or any of the following adjectives or terms of endearment : fool, motherfucker, nut-bag, asshole, idiot, honey, sweetheart, etc. and you can see how different scenarios define the true meaning of the word within the African American culture in everyday usage.
White people who are truly immersed and indoctrinated into the African American community are acutely aware of these distinctions (If not at their own peril). The implication in Pulp Fiction was that the Character, Jimmie was one of those people. I argue that his usage of the N-word indicated that he was not.
Let’s dissect his dialogue:
The Bonnie Situation:
Jimmie: …But you know what’s on my mind right now? It AIN’T the coffee in my kitchen, it’s the dead NIGGER in my garage.
Jimmies usage is clearly the primary pronunciation and the more offensive connotation. He’s referring to the corpses specific racial designation. It is a racist statement. He emphases the word “nigger”. The shock of the impending arrival of Jimmies wife will have nothing to do with the ethnicity of the corpse. She won’t give a rats ass that it’s an African American corpse.

The fact that Jimmie uses a decidedly racist term to refer to a deceased person indicates that he is indeed a racist. If he was not a racist his emphasis would be on the state of the corpse and not the ethnicity.

Examine the two sentences and appreciate the emphasis:
“It AIN’T the coffee in my kitchen, it’s the dead NIGGER in my garage.”
“It AIN’T the coffee in my kitchen, it’s the DEAD nigger in my garage.”

These two sentences may SOUND similar but they are worlds apart in terms of point of emphasis. One emphasized the state of the human being. the other focuses on the ethnicity of the corpse

The devil is in the details. Bonnie, a nurse and an African American woman would know that this man is a racist and would never marry him unless she had extremely low self esteem. If he was so indoctrinated into the African American community (fkn wigger) as is implied by the storyline he’d know the proper usage of the pronoun. However, neither Tarantino nor “Jimmie” are so immersed in “the club” as to be “allowed” to use the word in that manner.


There is a popular theory that the hall pass for “white boys” has an allowance for usage as long as the ending is “ah” in lieu of a hard “R”. I refute that theory and reject it. As the term itself was penned and popularized BY whites for the intent and specific purpose of suppression of the Orphans of Africa’s humanity, it is a bullet from a deadly gun.

Let’s face it, it is a rhythmical and powerful sounding word. The world is fascinated by the impact the word can have in pop culture, music and media. White people must have a difficult time accepting limitations and restrictions. Tarantino ignored the guard at the door and bullied his way into the club uninvited.

As Jules is in a tight spot and is in no position to assert his frustration he would most likely be visibly agitated by the “white boys” usage of the word. The specific ethnicity of the corpse is not the driving factor of this dilemma. However the focus and emphasis on the cadavers color leads us to believe that Jimmie is indeed a myopic racist. Tarantino, the urban, uninvited “white boy” missed by a mile on this one.

Just a word of caution to “Wiggers”, search for an exit BEFORE attempting to grant yourself entrance into a club that YOU HAVE NEVER nor WILL NEVER BE INVITED to enter. Don’t let two seconds of thinking you’re so “down with the brothers” that you get your ass kicked. I’d advise you just leave the forbidden fruit alone, tempting as it may be. Life in the movies is a bit different than life on the street.

Sociologically the word has proven to be a weapon of mass destruction. Just like any other weapon, it’s usage should be taken seriously.
Ultimately the word has power and with power comes responsibly. Writers have a responsibility to be authentic and the lesson (IMO) is knowing the terrain before embarking.

Further reading:

Ta Hanesi Coates on white people and the N word :

Louis CK on “The N-Word”:

Akala on the use of the N word

Bruce Bellamy local 44 – 3rd, 4th or 5th best on-set dresser in the biz (depending upon how much coffee I’ve had and who else is available)

(323) 382-5412 iPhone

Who are all these people? Part 3: The Grip department

The lighting department is comprised of two separate but equally important departments; Grips and Electricians (lamp operators, lighting technicians).

 How can you tell a grip from an electrician?  

I’m not going to answer because I have to work with these people on set.

However the answers are here:
This entry, The Grips…
When “real people”or “civilians” (our terms for those not in the industry) refer to the personnel in our industry they call everyone “grips” because that term that is most associated with “the Biz”.   We envision Grips as the hard as nails, too cool for school, muscle of the entertainment business.  This perception is reinforced in the feature film, “Tropic Thunder”:

The Tropic Thunder production crew have a video conference with studio exec Les Grossman]

Les Grossman: Which one of you fuckfaces is Damien Cockburn?

Damien Cockburn: Uh, that’s me, sir. It’s an honor to finally meet you. Get some face time.

Grossman: And who here is the key grip? [the key grip raises his hand] You? You! Hit that director in the face, really fucking hard!

Key Grip: [reluctantly walks over to Damien] Sorry, man. [punches him in the face]

Grossman: This is all your fault, you Limey fuck! You shit the money-bed, my friend.


Ouch!  Gets funnier every time I see it.

The grip profession predates the film industry.  When the major forms of entertainment were carnivals, theatre and the circus the only riggers with experience working with canvas and rope were the ex sailors.  These men landed on shore and took jobs in the theatres and in carnivals.  They could easily handle the jobs of rigging the canvases of the tents of the circus and the backdrops of the traveling theatres.   

   The sailors had canvas duffle bags with drawstrings. When the circus train reached its destination, the grips would grab their duffle bag exit the train, toss it on the ground and start the day’s work of erecting the circus tents and rigging.

At the end of a long day of hoisting canvas, tying ropes and driving stakes into the ground they were too exhausted to reach down to the ground and hoist the duffle bag onto their shoulders so they sewed canvas handles or “grips” onto their duffle bags. They were referred to as the guys with the “grips” on their bags or simply “grips”.   

When the moving picture industry started the men best prepared to deal with a mobile theatrical production were the theatre and circus grips.  Silent pictures we initially filmed outside in the bright sunlight on giant turntables that the grips rotated to face our most economical lighting source, the sun. They also erected canvases and shelters to reflect light or cast shadows. The industry’s 12 hours standard work day was intially installed to take advantage of every hour of availble sunlight. The Standard 14 hour work day that we work today was designed to take advantage of dedicated professionals that love the job and could care less about raising a family and maintaining marriages (Like you didn’t know I’d sneak a shot in). 

Duties of the Modern era grip department 

The Key grip (head of the grip department)

The Key grip is not just the person put on the production to punch the director (one Steven Spielburg for every 300 Damien Cockburns) in the face. He/She has many duties and there is usually a long line for that task.  

Steven Spielbergh once said that if he was ever on a desert island he’d want to have a good book and his key grip.

The Key grip is the mobile engineer and rigging master of the production. The history of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of key grips are the main reason directors are so obnoxiously unreasonable, demanding and oblivious to safety and possibilities.


We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

Konstantin Jireček

The key grips and their crews have been spoiling directors and directors of photography for so long that they feel comfortable asking for pretty much anything. That’s one of the reasons that the key grip is also charged with making sure rigging and camera movements are safe and practical. Someone has to be a clear thinking and responsible adult when you have directors and DPs that are hyper focused on “getting the shot”.  The key grip generally tempers the enthusiasm on the set with knowledge, experience and ingenuity. He guides the crew of grips in rigging and safe camera setup and movement.  

As a part of the lighting crew the grips also have the responsibility to help shape and enhance the lighting. After a fixture (lamp) is in place and lighting an area there may be areas of the set that have to be protected from light such as a reflective surface or a shadow created to define a doorway or keep light off a one subject (talent/actor) or out of the lens of the camera.  The key grip directs the crew of grips to set the necessary “flags” to accomplish this.  A well placed flag can be the difference between seeing a boom or camera shadow  or the “ghost” of a crew member in the reflection in the window. 

The key grip is just as much a master of engineering improv as Kevin Hart is at comedy. This “thinking on your feet” ability should be ubiquitous in our business and in all departments and generally ferments with experience.  The grip department is also responsible for set mobility, “wilding” (moving) set walls and set re-construction. The key grip is also the default construction foreman. His crew will deal with structural elements of the built set. If the construction crew built it, the grip crew makes sure it moves in and out safely.  

Best Boy Grip (master seargeant or first lieutenant)

The day to day labor requirements,  equipment order and preparation is the responsibility of the “best boy” grip. The term “best boy” is applied to the seargeant at arms for both the lighting (electric) and grip departments.  When the department heads or “keys” we’re employed by the studios they often wanted to bring their entire crews. The studios however kept a staff of lighting and grip crews in house.  Since training a new crew to exactly how the keys wanted tasks executed in the manner of which they were accustomed to the keys would lobby to at least be allowed to bring the most experienced and dependable member of their crews that could relay the keys orders and preferences to the crews on permanent staff at the studio. 

The best boy keeps track of personnel or manpower requirements, equipment and expendables orders and tracks budget for the grip department. Dollies, cranes and special equipment orders for each shooting day as well as maintenance are guided by the best boy.   He is essentially the key grips right hand man (which frees that hand up for punching the director in the face, really hard).

Company Grips (hammers) 

The grips that work with the shooting company are the standby infantry to execute the orders of the key grip and work with the electricians and camera department to set up lighting and camera. These are the crew members that lift and move the dollies, set the flags, tie off the rigs and safety the lights. The company grips are usually extremely familiar with the methods, style and tendacies of the  key grip, gaffer (head lighting technician) and director of photography. That’s one reason that lighting and grip crews stay together for many projects. They build rapport and efficiency which expedites setups and facilitates anticipation which is the benchmark of a great crew.  An ounce of anticipation is worth a pound of reaction. The company grips also move all scenery and sets that were constructed by the construction department. “Wilding” walls ( removing and replacing the modular walls of a set) is also the duty of the company grips. 

Rigging grips (more movie ninjas)

When the shooting company arrives on location and can get right to work it’s due to the prep crews that arrived two days before and done a lot of “heavy lifting”.  On the stages the modular walkways that hover above the “permanent” sets are also rigged and constructed by the rigging grips. There are various other duties that the rigging and company grips have which cantu sulky evolve as the industry expands.  The rigging grips come a variety of flavors: chewy, salty, bitter and sweet. They generally are not required to have a working “set equiette” as the duties are straightforward and are determined by notes from the scout.

“The Anatomy of The Tech Scout”:
Bruce Bellamy        IATSE Local 44.     (323) 382-5412.   

Best or ninth best on-set dresser depending upon how much coffee I’ve had and who else is available. 

Who are all these people? Part 2:  The Hollywood Teamster -Transportation Department 

If a film or television production ever invades your neighborhood you’ll see an entire city appear and disappear in the matter of hours. This is possible with the unheralded heroes of film production: 

The Teamsters.


The international brotherhood of teamsters was founded in 1903. The first mass produced automobile was introduced in 1908 so they got a head start on the business of transportation. They were the custodians of goods, services and horses. The Hollywood Teamsters have a unique challenge when addressing the needs of production. This department must somehow transport the entire circus to location before the shooting company arrives, maintain it in silence while the production is recording sound and move it to the next location after working a 13 – 16 hour day.
The typical base camp (our mobile circus) will contain:
Base Camp Generator Tractor

Wardrobe Tailer: A 53′ mobile mega-closet/office/laundry that stores and maintains the costumes for the actors. 

Grip 40′ trailer: carries the camera doilies and grip expendables and equipment

Electric 40′ Tailer and Generator Tractor: carries all the lights and stands for the lighting department. The generator supplies the electricity for the shooting company. 

Honey Wagon: small dressing/changing rooms and a mobile lavatory.

Prop Trailer: carries the prop department mobile office and every prop that is called for in the script (and other magic tricks that the director is going to ask for but hasn’t realized that he or she needs it until :45 before we roll or two seconds after we slate).

Special Effects Trailer: A mobile fabrication shop and greasy and exploding things, the special effects men. (Could have used a semicolon I suppose)
Actor Trailers: On a typical single camera episodic for doubles and two lager “Winnebagos” for the number one and two main actors.  
Hair and Makeup trailer

 Double mobile office for production/transportation  

Craft service truck: the mobile kitchen snack/ caffeine depot that fuels the crew

The Catering Truck: The Kitchen and Crew that serves breakfast and lunch to the whiny crew.

The double trailers and offices are pulled to location stake bed trucks that the drivers also make supply runs and help move what needs to be moved before, during and after the shooting day.  


The Camera Truck is usually parked close to location to allow for faster mag changes, camera maintenance and to quiet the crybaby Director ofPhotography. 

If the company wrapped the night before at 8:00 PM and the call the next morning is 7:00 AM do the math and eliminate any paradox applying Einsteins theory of relativity and explain how this happens. I’m waiting…

In addition to base camp there are typically four 15 passenger vans* to transport the crew to and from parking to location, do small runs and pickups for the various departments and hold the actors out of the cold or heat between shots when the trailers or too far from the company.  

*The van drivers are also certified psychotherapists and know who hates who and who has a crush on whom. They may not speak much but they hear everything. 
The challenges of the Teamsters never really end so I give them a break for being a bit cranky.  
There are also “off production” drivers and vehicles to help prep the sets and locations before the shooting company arrives and clean up the mess after we’ve moved on to the next invasion.

The Transportation Coodinator: The coach. Sets the game plan for how the circus will land, disperse and return.

The Transportation Captain: Quarterback. Executes the game plan and tells the play to all the players (drivers)

The Picture Car Coodinator: Finds, rents and arranges for delivery to set of the vehicles required per the script. Fire Engines, police cruisers, ambulances, sports cars, jalopies and all manner of motorized vehicles have to get to the set and operate properly.  

There’s an army of drivers to pilot each vehicle and most of them have some knowledge of how to maintain and patch up the vehicles that take a beating with all the wear and tear.  

Before a company arrives a Teasmter (location manager) has scouted and prepared the residents/occupants of the coming invasion. We try our best to be considerate and curteous as we are guests. When a shoot invades a business or residential area we light up the place with excitement, buzz and energy. After its all over we have disappeared with no trace and we can thank the teamsters. 
(I hope I don’t have to write this on top of a doughnut box to get a review)   

Speaking of doughnuts David Marder, a seasoned teamster that I know through Casual Sex* wrote a wonderful book entitled : “It takes more than a doughnut to make a movie”.

*Casual Sex?  Feature film:;
Next: The Lighting Department: Grip and Electricians            

Bruce Bellamy IATSE Local 44. (323) 382-5412.   
Best or ninth best on-set dresser depending upon how much coffee I’ve had and who else is available. 

Please feel free to leave a comment or suggestion for topic for inclusion. 
Through errant operation of the WordPress app I lost the first draft of this post. If you spot any incongruences, repetitive statements, redundancies or run on sentences that say the same thing over and over again, please leave a note or comment for me down there so I can correct it. Okay?

Who ARE all those people? A series of descriptions of various production personnel. Part 1: The Production Assistant (being a PA is a pre-existing condition)

Cincinnati, OH 1990…

I was best boy grip on the feature film, “A Rage in Harlem”.  We were shooting in Cincinnati and I hadn’t seen my mother for two years so I asked her to come down from Detroit for the weekend.  Two things astonished her when she came to a movie set for the first time; how hard her “baby boy” worked and how much “crap” we needed “just to make a movie”.  To the uninitiated, film making may seem like a traveling circus. Because it is.

The Performers:

A few years ago I was working in downtown Los Angeles. I was working on a single camera episodic when an older gentleman approached me with a question. He was retiring soon and he wanted to know how to get into doing background (extras) work.  I was too busy moving furniture or playing “words with friends” so I suggested to him to find a PA and he’d get a better answer.  I told him to find a young person under the age of 30 trying to project authority with a walkie and headset that had an expression on their face of equal parts entitlement, bewilderment, consternation, confusion and fear and that would be a…*

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT (vigilate productio canis)

Q: What’s the difference between a Border Collie and a PA? A: It is generally frowned upon to kick a Border Collie in the ribs.

When you approach a movie set on location you will most likely be greeted (barked at) by a territorial perimeter PA to keep you from entering the shot or the crafts service area.
The ASPCA has vastly more powerful lobbyists than the AFL-CLO and Amenesty International so it’s safer to hire (imprison)  young kids than border collies. At the end of film credits is a disclaimer, “No animals were harmed in the making of this film”.  We say nothing about Production Assistants.  Coincidence?  Even the most hardened of us frown upon hanging a goat upside down and slicing its throat but when a sacrifice needs to be made no one bats an eye at sending a PA to roust a drunk, angry, 314 lb. homeless guy out of the shot. PAs eagerly do all the nasty jobs that not even that homeless guy would do for a bottle of Jack Daniels. The PA position is entry level position that requires no specific skill other than enthusiasm, the ability to listen, understand and a modicum of common sense.  **


(You can assign anything to a PA as long as you avoid one word, “AND”.)

A long time ago in an industry far, far way actors would report to make-up, wardrobe and come to the set and hit their marks.  Now actors have the attention span of kittens on adderal.  Assistant directors and producers have a valid fear of volatile, toxic and unpredictable explosives. That’s why they send PAs to base camp (the group of mobile offices ,trucks and trailers) to compel the actors to come to set and perform their duties.
The PAs are also charged with escorting (herding) groups of background (extras ) to and from the set to background holding.  Background actors have varying degrees of commitment and focus so production makes sure to charge responsibility for the group of extras by telling the PAs to, “Go get YOUR background”.  Just as the shepherd must protect it’s flock from distractions and predators, the PAs must get groups of background to and from the set without losing any to natural disasters or crew members trying to get phone numbers from the attractive women.  A young person entering the industry will be able to observe and gather information about the various departments and how they work together from the vantage point of the PA.  History and the unions have defined the duties of the various other crafts and departments.  The PA position in our industry doesn’t have a long history or a union so they pretty much do everything we tell them to do. Although the PA is often viewed as an expendable position thier duties are invaluable.

For want of a nail a kingdom lost…
I’ve heard a 1st A.D. say to a group of PA’s, “I can drive down to Home Depot and replace you all at lunch”. He’s not correct.  There are many tiny details that can derail a $5000 per minute production; An actor leaves his prop watch in his trailer,  a contract needs to be brought to the set for a signature, an orange cone is in the middle of the shot or an old lady wanders in to the path of the stunt, all these “little” problems can add up to push even the most modest production over budget and off schedule.   This is why an alert, aware, anticipatory, agreeable and ambitious production assistant is a valuable production asset. The ambition of the PA is to rise from a lowly position that gets bullied, condescended  to and yelled at by the 1st AD to become a 1st AD who gets bullied, condescended to and yelled at by the director, the producer, the studio, the unit production manager, the actors, the cops,  the public and the on-set dresser.
*Incidently the gentleman did return, smiled and told me that I was absolutely right.

**My advice to new PAs and many young people entering the film industry: GOLF. You don’t have to be that good but you really should invest in learning to play at a level to keep pace with the DGA members who will be mentoring you. Turning down a golf invitation is turning down a promotion.

Try to carry a pen, small pad, sharpies, multi-tool and flashlight.

My prepared advice to DGA Trainees and PA Alike:

From the outside looking in:

1. Be proactive in seeking improvement. Constantly ask what you’re doing right or wrong. Sometimes the AD’s and other people would rather talk ABOUT you rather than TO you about your performance.

2. Believe in yourself and don’t allow others to condescend just because they have more experience.
3. Take copious notes because it’s very easy to be tossed under the bus for something you could not anticipate.

4. If you ever have a question that you don’t want to ask because of fear of a condescending reply, ask me I will give you an honest answer or guide you to the truth. If you have common sense and common courtesy you’re already ahead of 2/3 of most people.

5. Expedience is best facilitated by anticipation, not “panic” or “visual hustle”. Try to say “we’re going to need…(future)” more often than “We need…(now)”. Don’t run because it looks like your department is panicking and has not planned properly and on a set where six different departments are always moving it’s unsafe. My personal motto is “Only the incompetent ever need panic”

6. Always be PRO-active vs RE-active: don’t SAY, “That trash bag is in the shot”. MOVE THE TRASH BAG OUT OF THE SHOT!

7. LISTENING is a skill. Cultivate the skill of listening with the intent of gathering information and intel, not with the intention of responding. Debate is for politicians looking to “win” a pointless argument and not a way to show your attention span.

There IS a difference between “hearing” and “listening”. If you don’t know the difference, many of your relationships will fail.

Your most important function is to listen and follow instructions!

You can NOT talk and listen simultaneously.

Close mouth and open mind.

You cannot learn with your lips flapping.

Your supervisors and mentors want you to succeed but the more experienced the person, the less tolerant they are of smart alec know-it-all’s. There is a thin line between confidence and cockiness. Navigate carefully.

I wrote this three years ago but you can apply it to your life as a PA…

A great article for filmmaker magazine about the unwritten rules of on set etiquette:

Bruce Bellamy IATSE Local 44.  (323) 382-5412.

Best or ninth best on-set dresser depending upon how much coffee I’ve had and who else is available.

Please feel free to leave a comment or suggestion for topic for inclusion.

Through errant operation of the WordPress app I lost the first draft of this post. If you spot any incongruences, repetitive statements, redundancies or run on sentences that say the same thing over and over again, please leave a note or comment for me down there so I can correct it. Okay?