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It's time to look at some of the most under-sung heroes of the film world, Grip and Electric. Doing everything from setting up dollies and tripods, to helping the cinematographer shape the light with flags and silks, the Grips are there to make it work properly. And when working with electricity (as pretty much ever film set does) you need experienced technicians to make sure you are doing it safely and that you'll have the power you'll need. Which is where the Electric department comes in.


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  Intro (0:00)


Have you ever tried to take a picture of a sunset? How'd it turn out? It probably looked pretty bad compared to the real thing, right? 

Now, have you ever taken a picture of your friend, when she was lit by the sunset? It probably looked amazing. The sun can be so fickle. But we need it for...life. 

Luckily, we don't need it for filmmaking anymore. We can recreate a sunset and make it last for hours. We can light a lightning storm or make a room look like it's lit with just a few candles, but still be able to actually see. 

Light can accentuate drama or play up humor or build suspense. And, without it, the camera literally captures nothing. Without light, film is...radio. And the production departments that control the light are usually grouped together as G&E: Grip and Electric. 

We've talked about the designers who build the mise-en-scène through sets, costumes, hair, and makeup, but the lighting design is just as important. A blank wall can be transformed with light and shadow. I mean, you know this - an Instagram can be made into art by controlling light and shadow.

This is part of the reason Grip and Electric work so well together. The electricians bring in and control the light, while the grips control the shadow. 

[Opening credits]

 So What is Grip and Electric (1:16)


Both the grip and electric teams work together as an arm of the camera team. The Gaffer, Best Boy Electric, and electricians work with the cinematographer to design the lighting. And the Key Grip, Best Boy Grip, and grips work with all the non-electrical equipment for the lighting and camera departments. The Electrical Lighting Technicians, or ELTs, are responsible for getting light, but also power, to the set.

Like almost every crew position, it's a mix of creativity and technical skill. When it comes to lighting, though, it's especially technical. Like, there's math. The electric department has to make a new plan for every lighting setup at every location. This plan is informed by the look the director and cinematographer want to achieve, but also by the power that's available on site or from the generators they're able to bring. 

So the electric team isn't just lighting a set. They're also bringing power to it. A lot of power, that could be deadly if it's not handled safely. But, who's responsible for safety on a set? That's easy. You are.

There are too many moving parts and changing orders on a film set for safety to not be everyone's priority. So, trust me when I say, if an electrician tells you to do something on set, do it. It's for your safety and everyone else's.

The gaffer and the electric team have to understand the capacity of their equipment and the power supplies that they're pulling from. They also need to stay up to date on technology changes. LED lights, for example, are just starting to be used on sets.

But, of course, the whole purpose of the electric department's technical skill is to put it to use creatively and convincingly. It can be easy to think of light as just light, but think of the light in an old church or the light in a big box store. They're different, right? Think of a cold rainy beach or a sunny mountain top. It's the same sun but it looks so different.

 Let's Talk About Color (2:51)


Grip and electric teams work to control light, and one of the most important tools at their disposal is understanding color temperature. Think again about that old church versus the rainy beach: they're about the same brightness, but they're different colors. 

The light in the church is what we'd call "warm"; it's kind of orange. Whereas the light on the beach is "cool"; looks more blue. That's because the light has different color temperatures, which we measure in Kelvin, or K. 

Typically, outdoor lighting is about 5600K, or what we call "daylight balanced," because the sun's light is 5600K. Indoor lighting is 3200K, or "tungsten," because tungsten is what the filaments in incandescent lightbulbs are made from, and it puts out light at 3200K. 

Obviously, there's a whole lot of wiggle room between those, and the camera needs to be set up to match the color temperature of the lights. When you see a video that looks really orange, it's because the lights are tungsten but the camera is set to daylight balance. And vice versa when the video looks really blue. 

You can get bulbs that are either daylight balanced or tungsten, but if you only have one type of bulb to light your film inside and out, you can change their color temperature pretty affordably with gels. 

Gels are transparent color filters. The come in many colors, but they're most commonly used in blue or orange. And they come in different densities, too, depending on how much light you're working with. 

  Controlling Light (4:00)


Once the color temperature is right for the scene, G&E still has to control how the light moves. We talked about the basic 3-point lighting set up when we talked about cinematography. The key light, the fill light, and the back light, or hair light, all work together to give a scene depth and allow the audience to feel like they're looking at a real space, not a screen.

But you don't just put up three lights in a triangle. The electricians and grips shape the light to create the look the gaffer and cinematographer want. Under the direction of the gaffer, the electricians use the lights themselves to do this, and grips use several tools to block and steer the light. 

Because, remember that fickle sun? Light will go wherever you let it, but it needs to be guided. The first way to do this is with different lights. The key, fill, and hair lights usually descend in order of intensity. The key will put out the most light, then the fill, then the hair light. 

But, not all light sources are lights. Frequently, the fill light is just light from the key light bouncing off of a white wall, a mirror, or, appropriately enough, a bounce board. A skilled grip can aim light with a bounce board, but beyond that, there are many more ways to control the light.

The lights themselves have barn doors that control how much light comes through and how it's aimed. Barn doors are also where you can clip your gels, if you need them, with your trusty c-47s. G&E equipment gets the best names. 

A lot of the effort in lighting is spent trying to avoid unwanted shadows, but sometimes you need shadows to shape the light how you want it. And the grips have all the rigging and equipment to do that. Some of the most versatile pieces of equipment that grips use are flags mounted on to c-stands, to block, or "cut," the light. 

They'll block light for the camera, but because the grip department oversees pretty all the non-electrical equipment for the set, they'll also block light for things video village. And no, that's not the last of the DVD-rental chains - it's where people who can't see the camera can watch video playback of what the camera is capturing. For this, the team will usually use a special kind of flag, called a floppy, because it has a floppy drape that can be opened to block out more light.

Flags are also sometimes called cutters, too, because they break up the light sharply. But when the shadow needs to be more subtle, G&E will use diffusion. If the electricians want to less the intensity of a light, they can add diffusion to it, much like how they would add a gel. On some lights they can add screens called scrims over the lens of the light. 

Grips can also bring in flags called silks to put in front of large lights to diffuse them. And really big silks are used to protect an entire set from the sun for an outdoor scene. Indoors, grips can control the light in a scene, by using black wrap, or cinefoil, to direct light or seal the windows from sunlight.

 Safety and Other Things (6:21)


Now, not only do grips have the power to block out the sun and build the rigging for light and and shadow, they also build and manage the equipment for the camera department. In fact, the ways in which the camera moves are almost all built and maintained by the grips. 

If it's a locked down shot, the grips set up the tripod. If it's a dolly shot, grips lay the dolly track and control the dolly movements. If the shot calls for a jib or a crane, grips build and control this movement as well. Even handheld shots often rely on grips, because the camera operator may need to be up on a ladder, which may be help by a grip, or they may put the camera on an apple box between shots, which would be provided by the grip department. 

And I can't mention this enough, just like the electricians have to manage safety of the electricity and cables and bulbs they're using, grips are always thinking about safety with equipment. From the way a c-stand is positioned to the way a screw is tightened, there is a protocol and a language for everything the grips are doing to keep everyone on set safe. 

Two of the most common words you'll hear from G&E are "striking" and "points." Striking is called when an electrician is turning on a light. It's a courtesy for anyone on set to look away from the bright light, but it's also a warning that something something potentially dangerous might happen. A fuse might blow, a bulb might break, and by calling "striking" the crew is getting a head's up. 

Points means someone is carrying something big and pointy, probably a c-stand. So be aware and watch where you're moving. Knowing those two words will help keep you safe, and also keep you from being obnoxious on a film set. All good things! 

 Review and Credits (7:44)


Today we learned about the electric team and how it balances the technical and the creative sides of lighting. We looked at some of the equipment electricians use to shape light and talked about safety, and talked about safety and language associated with the electric department. 

We also talked about the responsibilities of the grip department and how they support the electric department, the camera department, and all the non-electric equipment being used by various departments on set. Next time, we'll get even more into movie magic with special effects, both on camera and in post-production. 

Crash Course Film Production is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel, check out a playlist of their latest shows, like Braincraft, The Art Assignment, and Eons. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in the Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of all these nice people. And our amazing graphics team is Thought Cafe.

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