These days, not only is every filmmaker a director, editor, and DP, but it seems that a lot of us are having to be electricians as well. With little lights and high ISO cameras, I see a lot of people playing gaffer and lighting their own sets. That’s fantastic, except when it’s dangerous.
I’m no electrician. I know maybe two things about electricity on a set, but they’re biggies so here goes:
- Never hold one light in each hand.
- Make sure any circuit you plug into has a ground fault circuit interrupt (GFCI).
Here’s my understanding of why you never hold a light in each hand: Something, something, something, electricity can shoot through your heart. There might be a more thorough explanation on Wikipedia, but really, do you need one?
As for the GFCI, this is a device that detects whether there’s some kind of electricity leakage in the ground circuit. “Electricity leakage” as in, through somebody’s body.
Many low budget film and video sets that may not have a dedicated, trained gaffer—let alone a real best boy electric—can sometimes get a bit shady on the electricity side: Stingers (aka extension cords) plugged in every which where; Lights left out in the rain (“It’s just drizzle!”); Cables and switches just a little more worn than they should be. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how a “teeny” puddle or a knocked over light stand could cause a short that invites electrocution.
But not for you, budding gaffer, because you plugged a GFCI device into the outlet and ran your stingers from that. So when the short happened, the GCFI tripped in less than 1/40th of a second and everyone on set groaned about the darn lights going out, instead of getting sent to the hospital for burns and EKGs.
GFCIs are cheap insurance against hurting someone or losing your shoot. Most indoor circuits already have them so you just need to find the receptacle and test it before plugging in. Often outdoor outlets or older buildings lack these and that’s when you plug in your own.
Just remember that a GFCI will only kill the circuit downstream from itself, so plug it directly into the outlet and plug your other stingers into the GFCI. Also, be sure to use one on every outlet you plug into. And do a quick test of the device before you plug in. That’s it. Not that hard. And look at you! You’re practically a gaffer already!
Okay, there you go. Be safe out there—I love you!
Douglas Horn is a feature film writer-director and a creator of independent series. Douglas and Dan Southworth founded the web media company Popular Uprising. The company’s action/sci-fi series DIVERGENCE is currently in release on YouTube and IndieFlix. More information at: DouglasHorn.comand WhatIsDivergence.com .