GUEST ARTICLE: CINEMATOGRAPHY DECAL WEEK 9 – RIGGING
The Cinematography DeCal at UC Berkeley – which Tobias is teaching this semester – is not only interesting content-wise, but it also includes hilarious anecdotes and quotes, such as:
“I’ve used a Beadboard Reflector Rig during the shoot of a music video for some Russian, less famous version of Justin Bieber who was very funny.” – Tobias Deml
As in, what? These are moments when I know filmmaking is one of the best things in this almighty world. You get to do the weirdest things and use the skills you learn to do them.
Rigging sounds like an insanely technical, boring, monotonous aspect of film only some people on set need to focus on. Yet, it is essential for films. People who perform rigging as part of their job on set are called grips. It allows you to create the most fascinating and intriguing constructions to hold lights, flags and any other thing that needs to be held in order to create the specific shot you have in mind for that one film that you are working on to win that one Academy Award you have been dreaming of since that one day in your life. Simple.
Let the games begin…
Rigging is Heavy Metal LEGO for adults. It is visually very similar to LEGO and it follows the same mindset:
Construct the coolest, weirdest shapes with the tools you have at hand.
The following are two of the most common stands used on set:
- C-Stands (grip stands): made up of turtle legs and a Gobo arm, C-Stands allow light modifiers, such as flags, silks or nets, to be positioned and held in front of lights on set.
- Light Stands: rigs that allow you to position lights on set at a desired angle, height or distance. Just like C-Stands, they are made out of metal and are secured with sandbags to keep the structure safe.
What do you need to make these stands on set? You need your LEGO pieces. And remember these names really well so that on set you show off your awesome skills and knowledge and get hired again.
The tools are:
- Gobo Head: most commonly used to join two rails together. Remember that any Gobo head must have what it holds positioned to the right in order to be tightened towards the weight. This valuable technique makes sure the weight does not pull the rig over,
- Gobo Arm: rail with a Gobo head,
- Cardellini Clamp: one of the most used tools used in rigs, it can be attached either with a baby spud or a junior spud ending. And remember, spuds look like this:
NOT like this:
- Platypus Clamp: its name derives from the beak of a platypus and is essential to hold boards, reflectors, etc.
- C-Clamp: one of the most used clamps for rigs to be attached to beams and wide blocks,
- Sandbags: super necessary on any set since they hold down all the massive rigs you build with lights, flags, silks, etc. They are there for practicality, your safety, as well as your sanity.
Suddenly, with all these tools you find yourself with a variety of rigs you can build. They are all numbers that can create the perfect mathematical equation. With each rig, you can construct something different and have it have a different function. Examples are:
- Overhead Diffusion: It can be used during a pool party scene where you want the sunlight shining on the actors to be more diffused.
Stand + Sandbags + Gobo Head/Cardellini Clamp + DIY Diffusor = 4×4 or 6×10 areas of total diffusion
- Beadboard Reflector Rig: Rig that is used to hold a rigged, lightweight reflector (this one was used during the Russian Bieber shoot…)
C-Stand + Gobo Arm + Sandbag + Platypus Clamp + Beadboard Reflector
- Menace Arm Rig: Commonly used for avoiding lights to stand in the shot, to create a central light, or to position a light in places you cannot reach. Here’s a good video tutorial.
Stand + Sandbags + Adaptor/Cardellini + Speed Rail (Pipe) + Gobo Arms/C-Stand (+Ratchet Straps) = Menace Arm / Boom Rig
So there you go, simple LEGO, simple math equations.
However, if these simple equations do not follow the rules of safety and their use, one can achieve some catastrophic results – or else known as JERRY-RIGGING. These can be found everywhere on the web, on sites such as:
The best advice one can get though on rigs (lighting and camera) comes from professionals and this week we had the privilege to get some real, hands-on knowledge from those in the business.
Jonathan Williams works as Director of Photography and as a Gaffer. Among many things, he recommended the use of small pieces of wood (cribbing) when using the C-Clamp to not damage the surfaces the clamp is being attached to. Safety is key on set and thus safety chains and never removing sandbags (unless you have checked you can to make a change) are needed in his work spaces. Gutter straps and ratchet straps are also essential to secure and attach loads. One of the most important pieces of advice he offers is: communicate to your Assistant Director on set how much time you will need to rig. Timing is vital to filming and doing a sloppy, quick job on rigs will just end up creating problems, hence: take your time.
A second professional who offered some great advice is Jeanna Kim. Working in the Camera Department, as First Assistant Camera (First AC), she deals with the camera by cleaning the camera lenses, rigging the camera, checking that the camera has enough battery power and that its functions work. Focus pulling is part of her job too. She recommends making sure that everything on camera is locked down properly, mainly the base plate and the filters. When checking the camera, never risk not having enough battery life as a dead camera will ruin the shoot. If you are rigging the camera on a shoulder rig to the cinematographer on set, make sure that the rig is appropriately put on the shoulder and the DP is comfortable and ready to shoot that way. So, don’t be ever afraid to double-check.
So, don’t diminish your shots by not using awesome rigs: they will transform your amateur shots into the real Hollywood deal.
If you are in the Berkeley area and are interested in renting tools for rigging or lights, DTC Grip in Emeryville is the place for you.
Stay safe on set and HAPPY RIGGING!
COMING SOON: An article on Composition and our upcoming “Rigged Imagination” Projects, using 2 professional actors, costumes and a rig.
Simona Sborchia (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Theatre and Film Studies Exchange student from the UK, currently attending the University of California, Berkeley. She is enjoying a cultural experience abroad and is hoping to start her career on this sunny side of the pond. Keep calm and carry on.