Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Check The Gate

3rd September 2003

I was taught by my mentor, in the good old days, to check the gate after every printed take. This was in the days when we circled select takes rather than printing (or telecineing) everything. Later we would check the gate after every set up before moving on. That way, if you did find a hair or some other Schmutz, one could do another take if necessary. This ritual originated when Mitchell mags were lined in black velvet corduroy. Fibres would work loose and travel down the film to lodge in the milled out recess of the aperture. With the advent of camera technology, actual hairs became less frequent and were replaced by various foreign materials.

The strangest one I have seen was during a telecine session where the entire outline of a large fly could be seen lodged in the top of the frame during an entire roll of film. They shot three set ups before cleaning the gate, and did not go back to re do the 'flyed' footage. It required a re-shoot of the footage the next day, calling back the talent, another day at the location, etc.

Very ugly. It only takes a moment to check, and can save tremendous heartbreak, and possibly your future career.

Ed Colman - SuperDailies
Cinematographer Supervised Video Dailies

Despite gate checks, hairs still occasionally get through. It's one of the prime things to check for in rushes at the lab. Velvet shreds aren't so much a problem as film shavings or build-up of perforation dust if there's anything amiss in the gate mechanism that rubs the film a bit hard (or the rare slitting problem from the stock manufacturer). (I've never seen a fly in the gate though!).

Removing film from the gate and replacing it a perf out (in 35mm) is a nuisance, as the neg has to be cut at the lab or telecine has to be re-racked to bring the image back into frame. This is extra handling, and an extra opportunity for time-code/keykode logging to go awry.

Hair-in-gate is more of a problem in 16mm, as the same sized hair will protrude further into the image area, and also as the projected image goes close to gate edge. This bit is true also in 35mm anamorphic, but there's a safety zone in 1.85:1.

Dominic Case
Atlab Australia

>How many times a day...on average...would you Camera folks be likely >to check the gate?

It seems also a good thing to do to know if the film is continuing to run through the camera, no?

I had a situation where a short end tricked us as the label had 400' on it. It was actually much shorter and we were on the fly. Only when we unloaded the film did it become apparent. The day was gone as was the rented yacht with the shots we found missing at the transfer.

The DP was adamant about not checking the gate in 35mm, he was sure there would be no hairs that couldn't be reframed out in post.

Anyways, let that be a lesson to somebody, somewhere.

Brent Marrale

Dominic Case wrote:

>Hair-in-gate is more of a problem in 16mm

Reminds me of a Pennebaker story. Back in the 70s, before Penny got an Aaton, he was using a weird Auricon conversion that was a home-brew. Looked like a cuter CP16, but somewhat harder to thread. As a result, Penny never checked or cleaned his gate. There are scenes in a 5 hour film about politics (The Energy Wars) that have a huge blob of dust that obscures maybe 1/5 of the frame. Pat Powell, one of the editors, just kept drawing weirder and weirder TV cut-off lines on her Steenbeck to minimize the effect (in their heads, anyway).

Which reminds me of the time Penny had an assistant cut the negative of a (16mm, color reversal, A&B rolled) film. He did fine, except he got backwards the rule re scraping -- he always scraped the black leader, and not the picture.

As a result, every splice was visible. (The film is COMPANY - Original Cast Album -- about an excruciating all night recording session for a Sondheim musical.)

Jeff "I'll shut up now" Kreines

To help me lighten up a session I've got to do soon, does anyone have any anecdotes about soundies? Disasters, blunders, brilliant fix-ups, character pieces or whatever, involving (however remotely) sound for film.

Please - nothing about MOS. All other topics OK.

Credits rolled, beers bought etc for anything I can use.


Dominic Case
Atlab Australia

Dominic Case wrote:

>To help me lighten up a session I've got to do soon, does anyone have >any anecdotes about soundies? Disasters, blunders, brilliant fix-ups

I was told a story years ago Dominic, about a Japanese crew filming a commercial at Ayers Rock (Uluru ) where every time the camera rolled and the audio guy had the boom held up high, he would immediately then call "Cutta" because of a strange audio buzz. Take after take was interrupted as the Japanese audio guy tried every combination of cable and plug to get rid of the noise.

This went on take after take until everyone was very frustrated.

Then the Aussie gaffer politely asked if he could have a listen. He elevated the boom pole into position , closed his eyes and listening very carefully (as Aussie gaffers do) , and then defined the source of the noise as being "yo long" and having six legs. Where upon he removed the sound cover and out flew a bloody big Aussie blow fly.

The rest of the Australian crew hooted with laughter, the Japanese thought the gaffer was God and bought him free beers for the rest of the shoot and no one bothered to ask the gaffer how an Australian blow fly got inside a Japanese wind cover in the first place

Kindest Regards

Laurie K. Gilbert s.o.c.
Global Cinematography for Cinema & Television


In general, cameraman behave as if the sound department does not exist; that they are to be neither seen nor heard. Perhaps these will help:

1/. On a feature many years ago in New York, Joe, the camera operator (no longer with us), kept blaming the boom operator for dipping into the frame on a fairly difficult shot to operate. After a few of his loud, angry "cuts" in the middle of the take, the poor sound man-and everyone else-began to sense that the fault lay in Joe's operating. Just before the critical part of the next take, while Joe had one eye in the eyepiece and the other one closed, the boom man, deliberately and visibly, pulled the mic way out of the shot. You know what happened. I cannot imagine any more mortifying scene in front of one's close peers.

2/. Further to the innate friction between camera and sound departments:
There was (is?) a very nice and good natured sound-man, Bernie, also in New York, who introduced himself to each new DP he encountered by asking if he wanted to see Bernie's copy of the original ASC handbook. With or without interest from the cameraman, he would pull out a badly weathered manual and hand it over. As soon as the DP opened the book he encountered page after page of Braille.

If your audience is appropriate for a rude and appropriately cruel story involving electricians, here's one told me by a very foxy English production designer I worked with in Hamburg.

Be warned, this is an adult story :

On a British-crewed feature being shot in Croatia, which she was designing, there were two majorly alcoholic sparks, who, night after night, became very rowdy and offensive when drunk. One night, after they had passed out from drink in the hotel bar, the crew carried them to a room, stripped them, applied large amounts of Vaseline to their privates, front and back, and placed them in the same bed, "spoon to spoon." Predictably, the crew had one of the greatest laughs of all times when the two very sheep-faced men appeared the next morning for breakfast. Needless to say, their behaviour improved.

You could change departments, from electric to sound, and tell this story, but everyone in the business knows that sound men don't drink (much).

Jerry Cotts

I once found a piece of craft paper covering the entire bottom third of the frame...after a 4 minute dance sequence...

Clean gates are the result of clean magazines. When we were shooting was very dusty/ I was really on my loader to keep the mags extra clean. Part way through the shoot we got a note from the lab saying that our negative was cleaner then most of the footage being shot in Hollywood ... goes to show ...

Mako, Makofoto, Photo-Phile, Glendale, CA

I worked on a feature where the sound guys had a lipstick camera mounted on the set so the mixer could see what was going on. One day, during lunch, someone snapped a Polaroid of the set and taped it in front of the camera.

It worked surprisingly well.

I knew a boom op who would pick a target at the beginning of the day and tap them lightly on the shoulder with the boom at every opportunity. The poor person had no idea where the taps were coming from; they always seemed to be alone at the time. After lunch the boom op would pick on someone else.

There was another feature where the executive producer, a wealthy construction magnate from Texas, decided he should have a supporting part in the film. This guy was a trip: he went on and on about conspiracy theories, UFO abductions, you name it and he either belonged to the fan club or had started it. The boom man would wire himself with a radio mic and just have conversations with the guy and the mixer recorded it all. It was hysterically funny...until none of use got paid for the second half of the show.

On one of my first jobs as an operator I worked with a sound mixer who tried to convince the director to block for sound. (The actors either ended up in straight rows or gathered around some central point.) We had one actress who was drugged out of her mind most of the time and was prone to screaming fits. During rehearsal the mixer told his boom op to get the mic right down to the edge of TV safe. I asked him to move it above Academy. An argument ensued, with the result being that the boom stayed where it was, the DP didn't want to hear about it as he had enough problems, and the sound mixer swore he would take all responsibility if the mic was in the shot.

The editor reported the mic was in the shot, the sound mixer denied all responsibility, and I got chewed out. But at least we got one good take of a monologue before the actress blew her drug-addled emotions all over the set.

I've heard tapes that sound mixers have recorded from shows where the stars had screaming fits on-set. Quite entertaining.

Art Adams, DP
Mountain View, California - "Silicon Valley"

Jerry Cotts writes :

>There was (is?) a very nice and good natured sound-man, Bernie, also >in New York, who introduced himself to each new DP

Bernie is still it, both as a sound man and good natured jokester.

One of his favourite gags is to send the video guy or assistant in search of a loose connection near Bernie's monitor. As soon as the selected victim starts fiddling with the wires in full view of the cast and crew, Bernie sets off a pre-rigged miniature flash pot. Sometimes with the connivance of the gaffer, a bunch of lights also go out.

Brian "once a victim" Heller
IA 600 DP

>As soon as the selected victim starts fiddling with the wires in full view of >the cast and crew, Bernie sets off a pre-rigged miniature flash pot.

Wow. That's way better than the best gag I knew of when I was a camera assistant. A first assistant I worked for put a broken 50mm still camera lens in the lens case. She told me to put the lens case on the other side of the set and when she asked for the 50mm I was to open the case, take out the lens, and throw it to her.

When the time came I threw it straight to her... and, of course, she dropped it.

The look on the first AD's face was absolutely priceless.

Art Adams, DP

Mako Koiwai writes:

>when one checks the should try to maintain that same perf >selection

What's the best and safest way to mark 35mm film to ensure that the claw engages the same perf when you put it back in the gate?

(I assume that you've first inched the camera to make sure the claw is engaged before opening the gate to mark the film, and then inched the camera again to make sure the claw is withdrawn before pulling the film out of the gate.)

Dan Drasin
Marin County, CA

Dan Drasin wrote:

>What's the best and safest way to mark 35mm film to ensure that the >claw engages the same perf when you put it back in the gate?

Mark the frame with a sharpie through the lens port before removing the film.

Jeff Kreines

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