• Jon Bass

Set Story Hindsights: PA to Gaffer in 5 Minutes

Updated: May 12, 2020


One day, I came across this 150/day PA gig & thought it's worth looking to, as I'm not "too good to PA" or work for that rate at all. I sent the job-poster a quick message, asked a few questions, and he responded quickly almost with a sense of urgency.

We began to talk about transportation, logistics, the timing of things, etc. He wanted to set up a phone call almost immediately - he calls to ask about my experience PA'ing, what I've done, etc.

He pauses, changes tone, and says "I've already looked you up, I basically stalked you and your experience, I saw your reel, your website, linked in."

"Oh, okay."

"Look, I've seen your camera experience, but what kinds of stuff have you've gaffed?

"Well, I've done a commercial, short films, corporate gigs, music videos." He barely lets me finish.

"Let me be straight, you're not gonna PA. You're gonna gaff this one."

And just like that, I now have much more stake in the game, not to mention a day rate increase.

Looking back, I got a good laugh hearing him say he already stalked me and found my work, thus deeming be able to gaff this corporate shoot! It's not every day you're flattered about being stalked.

We began talking about sourcing gear, pickups, returns, and coordinating my sub rental from my good friends at Z&Z G&E. I was now more involved, with more responsibility given, much will be asked of.

We had to keep things small scale - both crew and gear. The DP affirmed me that we didn't have the budget to get more lights other than what the studio space had (some off-brand LEDs). But we could do a sub rental of 8 AX1 Astera Tubes to play as pratical in shot. I was honest with him, saying I've only been on 1 shoot with the Astera's at all but that I'd research and get used to it as much as I could beforehand.

After he flew into LAX, he picked me up and we talked more details and I tried to get in his head regarding how we were gonna light & what we were shooting exactly - the creative brief.

He walked me through things a bit more in his rental car as we picked up the AX1's and he dropped me back off to practice with them before the shoot the next day. I then went to my friends at Z&Z to pick up some minimal grip gear.

On The Set:

Booties were a necessity and upon unloading and set up, we soon realized we were at the max output on the built-in studio LED's, so we had to double up two 2x2 LED's on wheels as our key light, & fill light was a ring light strong-armed in.

The DP had to call an audible with the desired look of having a dark back wall (hard to do with a white cyc space lol) - would've worked better in a black studio space instead.

Instead, I turned off all the back cyc lights to lower the wall exposure, thus losing the infinity look but we needed a difference in exposure and still tried to get the background as dark as we could. I also thought about just rotating the cyc lights back towards our talent and off the wall.

We set up the AX1's in a rainbow fashion, around the talent like a semi-circle on their little tripod stands.

Unfortunately, the client soon realized the advanced capabilities of the AX1's and began to ask / demand for pulsing flashes that matched the song playing. Unfortunately, the mechanism isn't that accurate with touch screen sliders and dealing with millisecond differences in speed to perfectly match BPM. The DP thankfully backed me up, assuring them that they were asking for too much and that we can do without the pulsing.

We had a skeleton crew both days; one AC, MUA, one DP, one PA, and the DP/Director.

With multiple setups per day, lighting changes, and talent swaps we had to move quickly and I had to be on my toes for the long hour days.

With the Sony FS7 at 60fps 1/120 shutter, combined with the limited output of LEDs in the studio space - we we're a bit below our desired IRE level on the key light - even though we had it as close as we could, just outside of frame at full output with diffusion.

Key Hindsights:

1. Working with new DP's helps you stay sharp and hone in on your practice in G&E.

I knew this vaguely before but being in a new city, with this shoot - I had to get my mind around being comfortable saying "I don't know what you mean, please explain further. What exactly are we doing?" Before this, I was mainly used to gaffing for DP's I've grown close to, and have a good working relationship history as well as friendship with them, so I was comfortable asking any questions and having a clear line of communication. Lots of pre-pro meetings. With the challenge of gaffing for a new DP, even after all my questions, I still didn't really know what the plan was before I showed up on the set. Always ask more!

2. A Light Meter is very much still necessary in today's entertainment industry.

I thought I could get by without that extra expense but frankly, this shoot had me realize it's irreplaceable even with waveforms and monitors. At the start of day two, the DP came to me after looking at the dailies from day one. We were 1/2 - 1 Full Stop below what we needed in regards to our key light. I would've been able to point that out to him and try and make adjustments, plain and simple. Check the gate, do the due diligence. Read the light levels and keep on top of it. That responsibility falls on me.

Thanks for taking the time to read this!

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Stay safe, healthy, and restored!

"Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up"

James 4:10

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