Working as a gaffer can be a very difficult and stressful job. It can be very easy to make simple mistakes or let the stress get to you.
There are definitely some things you can keep in mind that will make your day easier, more efficient, ease communication, increase the possibility of a call back and ensure a lasting relationship with your favourite Directors of Photography. Don’t forget to get your copy of The Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook on Amazon
5 Mistakes Inexperienced Gaffers Make on Set:
Let’s talk about the common mistakes inexperienced gaffers tend to make on set. These mistakes aren’t of a technical nature, but more about set etiquette, the way you run your crew and work on set.
Making Inappropriate Suggestions
Part of your job as a gaffer is to look for ways to help the DOP improve the look of a scene or make things more efficient for later scenes. This is all based on what you have already done, the established look of the film or things you know the cinematographer likes.
What I see happen quite often is a Gaffer making a suggestion based on having seen that particular technique done on other sets and not because the scene or shot calls for it. Sometimes a gaffer will even make a suggestion because they are hoping to get some sort of credit, not because it is what needs to happen in that moment.
As you gain experience as a Gaffer making appropriate suggestions will become easier and easier. The best advice I can give you is to think twice before making any suggestions at all. Analyze the scene, what you’ve already done then decided if your input is necessary.
Stepping on Toes and Throwing People Under the Bus
On a film set you will have to work with various departments and the last thing you need is to bump heads with someone all day.
There is his common trend with young technicians trying to be heroes and over stepping the bounds of their positions. This will make people hate you!
Yes, you might be working with a less experienced Key Grip or Camera team, but that doesn’t mean you should make enemies with them or cause them to look bad in front of the rest of the crew. It’s unprofessional and will make you look like a terrible person long term.
If you are working with a less experienced key or crew member, rather than calling them out on mistakes or doing their job for them, simply take them aside and give them a friendly suggestion. Whatever you do, do not embarrass them in front of the DOP or their team.
Not Delegating Tasks
This is a big one because it can slow down your whole day. There are even grips that I have avoided working with because I feel they miss manage their team, causing us to waste a lot of time.
They work as a group and attack simple tasks together, rather than splitting up for the smaller tasks then coming together for the big ones. This is a big mistake.
There is no sense in having your best boy and 3rd tech stand around watching you set a flag just so they can toss a sandbag on it when you’re done. What can save you and your team a lot of time is if you split up to work on the small tasks, then come together for the big ones.
As a Gaffer, you can have your 3rd run your power as you start to set up the light. By the time the light is ready to be sparked the power should have arrived already. When setting up multiple small lights you can all split up and set them up individually, then when the DOP is ready they can be sparked and aimed one at a time.
Not Watching Rehearsals and Takes
When I was coming up as a Gaffer, I was trained to always be on the monitor. At first I never really understood why and I actually hated having to watch every take. I wanted to be able to relax during the roll, not focus on a tiny little monitor. As I started to work for different DOPs I started to notice little things during rehearsals.
Sometimes the key light would be a little off or the back light would be too bright or a wall would look flat. I was able to catch and correct these things before the roll and those DOPs were very grateful for my attention to detail
This goes hand in hand with the first mistake listed at the top. If you are watching rehearsals and really paying attention you can make awesome suggestions that can really improve or even save a scene.
Little things like that are what makes people remember you and want to call you back in the future.
Not Spending Enough Time Near the DOP
It sounds weird, but when ever you aren’t doing something or watching a take you should try to spend that time standing by the DOP.
When I say “standing by” I DO NOT mean just standing around waiting for them to ask you for something!
Watch them, pay attention to what they are looking at…are they metering a lot? Looking around at lights trying to figure out what they are doing? Do they have a confused or anxious look on his face? You can tell how they feel about what is happening just by their look or body language. Not all DOPs will be vocal about how they are feeling about the set up. A good gaffer learns to read their body language.
Often times just asking “everything ok?” or “need anything?” can make all the difference. They might end up bouncing an idea off you or want to discuss a later set up they are unsure about. It is very much a give and take relationship and some DOPs might need a little nudge before they are able to open up to you.
Working as a Gaffer is one of the most difficult and stressful jobs below the line. It is very easy to lose track of things and make big mistakes that can really slow down your team.
So, keep these in mind next time you’re on set and feel free to add any mistakes you see inexperienced gaffer make on set in the comments below!