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Here's one hell of a cautionary tale


Brian Rose
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It's a sad lesson to learn. The DP is more culpable than the "Gaffer" in my opinion. Maybe equal but that guy was no gaffer. The DP should not have been directing a condor towards any wires. It's just stupid. I know everything there is to know about electricity and that is to stay away from it and leave it to the pros. That's all you need to know about it.

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I've seen alarmingly similar things almost happen.

 

The problem is that it's difficult to be the whiner, no matter how right you are. Other than just stepping away from your equipment and refusing to service the shoot, which will just get you fired, what the hell are you supposed to do when people start promulgating these ridiculous situations.

 

P

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Thank you for the link Brian,

 

I think this quote says a lot:

 

For many NYU film students, it was the death of something less tangible, too.

 

"I was shocked and horrified by the accident, both because of the loss of a colleague and also because of its impact on our sheltered, invincible student-film bubble," says one student. "We could do whatever we wanted prior to that moment. We never actually got hurt, or did anything dumb. We always took risks, but never really believed anything bad would happen."

 

I cringe when I hear people recount stupid risks they've taken to make a film.

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James Neihouse posted a link to this stunning article about an event NYU and those involved essentially swept under the rug. It's a pretty appalling story.

 

NYU Student Filmmaker Killed

 

Since there are a lot of young filmmakers who read this site, it might be wise for all to read this article.

 

I think back to my film school days when I realized that there might be some danger to all this electrical stuff. I went to a technical book store and bought a text book about electricity for some community college course. The book gave me knowledge and an appreciation for the danger of electricity. Maybe saved my life, who knows.

 

I do know that I tied into many electrical boxes...while safely insulated...until the time there just wasn't enough room in the box. While I was safe from electrocution by using thick rubber gloves and standing on an apple box, the power box exploded and sent shrapnel flying everywhere. It was the last time I tied into a box.

 

Safety training in film school ought to be a required course before any filmmaking commences.

 

It's always amazed me that lamp operators are called electricians, when many have little knowledge of electricity...

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I wouldn't venture to guess who's guilty of what just based on an article from the internet. It does appear that the condor ran the frame for the silk into the high voltage lines, which sent high voltage through the whole electrical system and back to the guy who was killed on the far side of the house. High voltage is strange, it doesn't require direct metal to metal contact. It can strike an arc through the air, and sustain it over a distance of several inches up to several yards, depending on the voltage.... Almost like a small scale version of lightning.

 

We had a case a few years back where a TV news van cranked their microwave mast up into power lines. The reporter in the front seat was fine until she got out to see what the noise was. IIRC, she lost both her hands, and very nearly died.

 

 

 

-- J.S.

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I wouldn't venture to guess who's guilty of what just based on an article from the internet.

 

As I see it, it's not going to be a matter of guilt, because that suggests someone took an active part to bring this about. It's all going to be about negligence, which was in spades. I read this article, and I see the story of a bunch of hungry kids eager to make their calling card to Sundance and Hollywood, who violated a lot of rules, by not having qualified people on staff, not being in proper communication with the authorities, not being properly informed of the site, and being far from help. Either they should've had qualified people on staff, and an on-site paramedic for safety, or they should not have used the site, and relied on something safer.

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as a professional gaffa i have a working conditions agreement which producers must

agree to before i will work on their project.

 

clause 9 states...... i reserve the right to refuse to work in conditions i feel are

unsafe or dangerous.

i have invoked this clause on several occasions.

if i have to argue about it, i switch off the lights, pack the truck and drive away

 

ian

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Guest Martin Newstead

That is a sad, sad story. As the saying goes 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing'. Couldn't be truer.

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clause 9 states...... i reserve the right to refuse to work in conditions i feel are

unsafe or dangerous.

i have invoked this clause on several occasions.

if i have to argue about it, i switch off the lights, pack the truck and drive away

 

ian

 

Ian, care to share an anecdote (if you can, no need to name names or anything). It would be valuable for me, and I'm sure a lot of other young DPs to hear a real world example of a situation where you had to make a courageous judgment call.

 

BR

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hi brian,

both cases involved water....the mortal enemy of gaffa's.... one a sudden tropical downpour the other working around a swimming pool.

 

when it comes to electricity i consider myself the final decision maker and brook no

argument.

 

if you have a setup or situation and a little voice in your head says..i am not sure about that........thats your subconscious telling you something is wrong ....you must listen to it.

professional shoots are usually no problem...... a professional crew know safety comes first and if you have to pull the plug will have a contingency plan.

 

student and indie films are another matter entirely. listen to that little voice in your

head......... never be afraid of making a decision about safety.

 

after all it is just a film...................

 

ian

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So, what can we do as a forum here to promote safety in student and low budget movie making? Maybe a safety FAQ? It could go in a subforum dedicated to safety, perhaps? Back when I was in the union, they had this "Safety Passport" program. You had to take little safety classes from time to time, and get a stamp your booklet. (The best one was the fall arrest harness -- they'd actually rig you up and drop you.) Maybe some of that information could be put into the FAQ.

 

 

 

 

 

-- J.S.

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Safety Passport is alive and well. I have classes I need to take before July to stay current.

 

I left a job a long time ago, which is something I NEVER do. But, it was a low-budget indie movie. Everything was rush rush rush and the DP was a hack. The Key Grip wasn't much better and frequently overlooked basic safety measures. Amongst the daily problems I ran into, the following week was going to include helicopter work. I had realized by that point that if I couldn't trust this production with basic production safety, there was absolutely no way I was going to trust them to operate near a helicopter. I was nice and gave the UPM a few days notice to find a replacement. As I recall, the day after I did that, the entire Electric Department decided to leave without warning. So it wasn't just me.

 

It really is up to everyone to watch out for themselves and for others. Accidents do happen, but usually only when there is intentional neglect due to that attitude of "rush rush rush" or trying to do something on the cheap.

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It really is up to the professors who send these kids off to shoot movies. In a film class that I had taken, a gaffer actually showed us how to tie in. That had to be the stupidest thing ever. Bottom line is that you need a qualified person on the set who knows how to deal with electricity. It's insane to operate a generator without proper knowledge or go near any type of wire strung from one pole to another. As mentioned earlier there is enough blame to go around but right now with the court case it is about proportioning liability and holding those people accountable for their negligence. They aren't bad people, they just did something stupid and will now have to pay for it. Just remember when you take a freelance job and operate equipment you are responsible for any death or injury that results from your action or inaction.

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So, what can we do as a forum here to promote safety in student and low budget movie making? Maybe a safety FAQ?

-- J.S.

 

 

John, I think this is brilliant. I'd second this motion for a dedicated section for covering all issues relating to protecting the health and well-being of the crew, and also the gear.

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the location recce is probably where safety should start but with student and indie films this almost never happens.

for night exteriors i always insist on a day recce, thats when you can see and note the hazards. power lines, water flows, traffic, terrain etc.

get a rough idea where the action is and use a mark 1 eyeball to check for hazards

in the air and on the ground. make a note in the little notebook you always keep in your back pocket and discus any concerns with your dop and 1st ad.

 

i have yet to work with a professional dop who has given me grief because i cant

do his setup because of safety concerns.

 

i trust him to make great pictures and he trusts me to keep the set safe.

 

ian

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I don't know where to start really.

One thing I want to underscore is that you shouldn't really be operating a crane near overhead lines of ANY type. In the story there seems to be some feeling that it would be okay if the lines were carrying telephone signals. NO it would NOT be okay! :(

 

Firstly telephone lines carry voltage. Not that much maybe but it could be enough to cause a serious problem.

 

Also they carry telephone signals, if you take out those lines and someone somewhere is having an emergency and is cut off it could put lives in danger. I'm sure the people in this story know what it feels like when something really bad has happened and you can't ring for help.

 

Lastly I don't know much about cranes but the interaction between overhead cables and cranes could cause danger to the people being lifted or possibly to the stability of the crane (???). Falling cables could also cause injury to those on the ground.

 

Stay away from overhead lines!

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Also you should have a plan of action in the event of an emergency.

 

The minute those people realised there might be a serious contact situation with the crane they should have evacuated the site immediately (to their safe meeting point, that I'm sure they didn't have). It's clear to me that these people weren't even sure whether the cables were electricity or telephone as otherwise they wouldn't have asked the electrician. They shouldn't have taken the risk in the first place but given that they did, they should have at least thought about ways to mitigate risk and what to do in the event of an emergency.

 

Say what you want about the idiots doing their own tie in with information they found on the internet but at least they had a plan for what they were going to do if things went really bad and someone was going to die.

 

This NYU shoot was so badly thought out that they didn't even think about what they would do if it rained!

 

I've worked on student shoots myself and the last one I worked on I had my own concerns about safety and took them up with the producer. I never worked on one of their shoots again (remained on good terms with producer tho) but I don't in the least bit regret it. In my experience film students have a very strange kind of desperation that will cause them to do all manner of very questionable things. It's quite odd.

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