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Big productions use crewmembers who are often electricians, qualified to some sort of legally mandated standard.

Most productions don't. ENG crews, most documentaries, factual and certainly the overwhelming majority of student shorts and the like are happy to plug in their own lights for a sit-down interview.

So where's the dividing line? I know very well that anyone who's ever been paid as a set electrician will tell me that they're always required, all circumstances are extremely dangerous and the only question is how many of them I need. Possibly the real issue with this is insurability, so in any specific circumstances it's likely to be a question for the insurance company.

But has anyone ever asked this question before?

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In my experience (I still work as a set electric for the majority of my real income) the dividing line occurs when a show or commercial is under union jurisdiction, where you need an electrician to ha

Most of my work falls into this area (running off of household circuits), so my gaffer (if I have one) is often making the call on who to hire.  I would say whenever possible, I want the most exp

That looks the same exact product that is in the kay lites link. Edit: ** It is the same product, Manufactured by AC Power  Kaylites' description: Manufacturer AC POWER Guardian's Description

For me, the dividing line is when you need generator power or high amperage stage power with distro, lunch boxes, GFCIs, etc. 

If we’re just plugging lights into Edison household outlets and using 15/20A circuits on a small little shoot, then I think it’s more of a ‘nice to have’ kinda thing. 

Of course, I have seen malfunctioning 2Ks and stingers start to burn/melt in some of these ‘easy’ shooting situations in the past, so YMMV? 

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in the 80,s ,on a shoot where I was the assistant .. we took 1 x 2K Blond, 1 x stand ,2 x ext leads .. And .. an electrician ! .. known as a Spark in them olde days .. this light was used exactly once in the 2 week shoot , bounced off a ceiling ..  The reason being a BBC rule that only an electrician could touch ,let alone plug in a light .. it was totally mad for this small doc shoot.. but Ive seen it the other way too.. people with no idea what they are doing blowing up stuff.. I think its really down to common sense if you need sparks or not .. LED lights has greatly reduced the blowing up / burning side of things .. and being able to run off batteries .. in the doc/corp world.. 

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General Liability Insurance here doesn't require a set electrician.

That's what the insurance is for. 

That's why it is prudent to have Liability insurance along with coverage for Misc rented eq, Props, Wardrobe, 3rd party property damage.





 

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18 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

Big productions use crewmembers who are often electricians, qualified to some sort of legally mandated standard.

Most productions don't. ENG crews, most documentaries, factual and certainly the overwhelming majority of student shorts and the like are happy to plug in their own lights for a sit-down interview.

So where's the dividing line? I know very well that anyone who's ever been paid as a set electrician will tell me that they're always required, all circumstances are extremely dangerous and the only question is how many of them I need. Possibly the real issue with this is insurability, so in any specific circumstances it's likely to be a question for the insurance company.

But has anyone ever asked this question before?

In my experience (I still work as a set electric for the majority of my real income) the dividing line occurs when a show or commercial is under union jurisdiction, where you need an electrician to handle every light and every stinger on set in the same way you need a grip to handle every flag, c-stand or sandbag... which is definitely preferable, this method does keep people both employed and safe

 

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2 hours ago, Kyle Perritt said:

In my experience (I still work as a set electric for the majority of my real income) the dividing line occurs when a show or commercial is under union jurisdiction, where you need an electrician to handle every light and every stinger on set in the same way you need a grip to handle every flag, c-stand or sandbag... which is definitely preferable, this method does keep people both employed and safe

 

Thing is, doesn't that leave us in a situation where someone can turn up with a 100KVA generator, run three-phase all over the place, fire up a brace of huge lights and not need a spark because... it's not a union shoot.

Unlikely, perhaps, but it really does seem that it's a matter of some opinion.

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21 minutes ago, Phil Rhodes said:

Thing is, doesn't that leave us in a situation where someone can turn up with a 100KVA generator, run three-phase all over the place, fire up a brace of huge lights and not need a spark because... it's not a union shoot.

Unlikely, perhaps, but it really does seem that it's a matter of some opinion.

Yes, unfortunately this happens... there might be a gaffer on the call sheet or someone with the word gaffer beside their name and that might be it for the department, maybe a couple swings or "Lighting PAs". I know a lot of rental houses will send one of their techs on small jobs with the truck and generator so that theres at least someone there who knows how to tie in and operate the genny. They're not technically a spark but they know the gear.

It's really up to the Keys and the producer/UPM... I've done a few jobs where I've asked for an experienced juicer and got the "we already hired this kid to be your swing G&E" response more than once, and in my experience that behavior is pretty non existent on union gigs, though the shady, slimy types of producers who will do anything to save money and "get the shot" occasionally pop up in the Indie Tier world...see: Midnight Rider, Randall Miller

 

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I think this has become a little US-centric; the union situation is not the same here in the UK, although I would expect that most people who work as qualified set electrics would be union members and working on the sort of jobs that would typically be unionised in a US context.

I'm just not sure if there's any really formal way of dividing situations where they're required from where they're not, and given that electrons are electrons regardless of jurisdiction I suspect the answer to that is fairly international. We'd presumably all agree that it would not be sensible to hire someone for a day to plug in a few hundred-watt LED panels for a sit-down interview. Likewise, a job with several generator trucks and hundreds of kilowatts of light would naturally require a proper team of people.

The issue is the dividing line. I'm uncomfortably aware that this is the sort of thing that only gets talked about after there's been some sort of safety problem, at which point the decisions made are subject to a huge inquisition. I guess I'm just trying to have that inquisition before the job.

Put it this way: last time I was involved in doing anything serious, we were wetting the area down, and I had to argue with my (largely unqualified) crew about putting electrical connections up on apple boxes. And I'm not even a qualified electrician.

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11 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

I think this has become a little US-centric; the union situation is not the same here in the UK, although I would expect that most people who work as qualified set electrics would be union members and working on the sort of jobs that would typically be unionised in a US context.

I'm just not sure if there's any really formal way of dividing situations where they're required from where they're not, and given that electrons are electrons regardless of jurisdiction I suspect the answer to that is fairly international. We'd presumably all agree that it would not be sensible to hire someone for a day to plug in a few hundred-watt LED panels for a sit-down interview. Likewise, a job with several generator trucks and hundreds of kilowatts of light would naturally require a proper team of people.

The issue is the dividing line. I'm uncomfortably aware that this is the sort of thing that only gets talked about after there's been some sort of safety problem, at which point the decisions made are subject to a huge inquisition. I guess I'm just trying to have that inquisition before the job.

Put it this way: last time I was involved in doing anything serious, we were wetting the area down, and I had to argue with my (largely unqualified) crew about putting electrical connections up on apple boxes. And I'm not even a qualified electrician.

Most of my work falls into this area (running off of household circuits), so my gaffer (if I have one) is often making the call on who to hire. 

I would say whenever possible, I want the most experienced and most talented people on the crew that the budget can afford, regardless of what’s required. Sometimes that’s a whole team, and sometimes that’s just me and a PA with grip experience.

If that means the guy who worked on ‘The Matrix’ just ends up holding a bounce card, then usually we are both ok with that. I’ve found that most of these folks are happy to do simple things, as long as it’s done well.

At the end of the day, I don’t want to be the smartest guy in the room, I want to be the dumbest guy. I feel pretty safe in that room!

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Is the need for an electrician (or not) inherently a safety thing?

No special expertise is needed to plug in a vacuum cleaner or a lawnmower at home, but if a house needs rewiring most people would definitely get an electrician in. Is similar true here?

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1 hour ago, Mei Lewis said:

Is the need for an electrician (or not) inherently a safety thing?

No special expertise is needed to plug in a vacuum cleaner or a lawnmower at home, but if a house needs rewiring most people would definitely get an electrician in. Is similar true here?

Frankly, yes, but there's a considerable grey area.

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The g&e is a huge grey area in the indie shoots and there is lots of additional risks because people may not be experienced enough or their skills may lack in specific areas which are not apparent to other crew members.

Rigging safety is one of these fields and basic electric planning is another. So I would be extremely cautious in situations which involve overhead rigging or enough lights to burn fuses or overload the genny. (because I have seen literally dozens of people who can't count in their head how much wattage one can take out of a certain amperage fuse or have any idea how to rig something properly to the ceiling. Large frames etc. Can be an issue as well. The problem is that they may be confident enough to try. I have seen for example 5k worth of lights plugged to the same household socket which can only supply about 2k) 

 

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One of the surprising fields which is lacking in the low budget shoots is the use of sandbags on stands and how many are needed for this and that situation. People will of course do what they are told but they may not have a basic hunch of how many bags would be at least good to have if the light is down vs. fully lifted up on the stand and that compared to the possible wind conditions. Generally speaking, people tend to hate carrying heavy objects around so most likely they are using way too few sandbags for the job. Everyone can imagine what could be the problem with that :P

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On 12/20/2020 at 10:30 AM, Satsuki Murashige said:

At the end of the day, I don’t want to be the smartest guy in the room, I want to be the dumbest guy. I feel pretty safe in that room!

 Nice saying! Love it. 

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On 12/19/2020 at 4:11 AM, Phil Rhodes said:

... The issue is the dividing line. I'm uncomfortably aware that this is the sort of thing that only gets talked about after there's been some sort of safety problem, at which point the decisions made are subject to a huge inquisition. I guess I'm just trying to have that inquisition before the job...

As we all know producers would squeeze Lincoln off a penny if they could, so they cut corners where-ever they can, including when it comes to worker safety.  As Phil suggested in his OP,  let’s litigate this issue as it would be in a court of law.

Every province, state, or municipality has a body of law that pertains to this question and it has nothing to do with common sense. I highly recommend that anyone handling or energizing lighting equipment familiarize themselves with their local laws. That being the case, it is simply wrong to say: “General Liability Insurance here doesn't require a set electrician.Insurance regulations are based on prevailing law. If you fail to follow the law, your insurance is null and void.  Insurance does not provide blanket protection against breaking the law.

In the US local laws are based on the National Electrical Code (NEC), which a state or municipality adopts in its entirety or modifies when adopting it into law. From a regulatory standpoint, the dichotomy Phil sets up in his original question (set electrician vs. non-set electrician) is a false one because the classification “set electrician” has no meaning in the NEC.  Regulating agencies in the US identify three classes of worker: licensed, unlicensed trained workers (qualified personnel), and untrained workers. It is important to understand the difference between each class of worker and what they are permitted to do under the law.

The prevailing Code article for what we do is NEC Article 530, Motion Picture and Television Studios and Similar Locations. In the 2017 edition of the Code (the edition adopted by most states) Section 530.6: Portable Equipment states: “Portable stage and studio lighting equipment and portable power distribution equipment shall be permitted for temporary use outdoors if the equipment is supervised by qualified personnel while energized and barriered from the general public.”

While the term “qualified person” has a very broad meaning in a general context, in the codes and standards world, what constitutes a qualified person in the context used within contained requirements is very specific. The NEC Section 100 definition of a qualified person is “One who has skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of the electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to recognize and avoid the hazards involved.” As used in the NEC, the term “qualified person” primarily relates to the ability to understand the equipment and installations covered by the code and how to attain compliance with NEC safety rules when performing installations. It is important to note that in this definition the NEC does not indicate who performs the work (i.e. a licensed electrician or not). It also does not regulate a person’s qualifications or credentials in the craft. 
That’s because when it comes to codes and standards, local regulatory agencies establish the requirements for industry licenses or certification. NEC Article 530 simply requires that an individual using portable stage and studio lighting equipment and portable power distribution equipment know how to comply with NEC safety rules when performing installations.

Most states have strict electrical licensing and electrical inspection requirements. In general, qualified persons are only allowed to connect or inter-connect multi-conductor cords and single-conductor cables that are equipped with approved separable multi-pole connectors (Twist-Lock or Bates) or single-pole connectors (CamLoks). Licensed employees of licensed electrical contractors are required to connect or terminate cords and cables that have bare ends, clamps, clips or other types of connections other than the approved separable connectors mentioned above. Licensed employees of licensed electrical contractors are also required to perform all electrical work on interior or exterior premises wiring systems or any other fixed electrical infrastructure, regardless if it will be dismantled, abandoned, or removed at the conclusion of filming. Technically, that includes the use of zip cord and add-a-taps to energize practical fixtures.

NEC Article 520: Theaters and Similar Locations goes one step further by noting an exception to this general rule. In Section 520.53 Supply Conductors, (P) Qualified Person the Code states:

"The routing of portable supply conductors, the making and breaking of supply connectors and other supply connections, and the energization and de- energization of supply services shall be performed by qualified personnel ....”

But then allows the following exception: “A portable switchboard (distro) shall be permitted to be connected to a permanently installed supply receptacle by other than qualified personnel provided that the supply receptacle is protected for its current rating by an overcurrent device of not greater than 150 amperes, and where the receptacle, interconnection, and switchboard comply with all the following:

(a) They employ listed multiple connectors suitable for the purpose for every supply interconnection

(b) They prevent access to all supply connections by the general public

(c) They employ listed extra-hard usage multiconductor cords or cables with an ampacity not less than the load and not less than the ampere rating of the connectors

The intent of this 520.53(P) exemption is to separate what are acceptable practices in professional theatre venues from those in amateur theatre or educational venues.  The basic requirement of 520.53(P) allows for such things as single-conductor (CamLok) feeder systems, feeder taps, and the over-sizing of breakers by 400% if feeders are sized for the current-connected load, and so require the services of a trained qualified person. The exception to 520.53(P) permits an untrained person to use only listed plug and cord connected distribution systems of less than 150A.

It is important to note, that the Code article pertaining to motion picture studios, NEC Article 530, does not make an exception for listed distribution systems of less than 150A suitable for use by an untrained person. All portable power distribution equipment, regardless of its rated ampacity, is to be handled only by trained qualified personnel.  It is also important to note that the qualified personnel requirement of Section 530.6: Portable Equipment pertains to “portable stage and studio lighting equipment” as well as “portable power distribution equipment, which means, the fact that you are plugging lights into house receptacles does not exempt you from the Code requirement that you know how to comply with NEC safety rules. This becomes abundantly clear when you consider the new Section 210.8(B)(4) requirement for GFCI protection on all outdoor receptacles of 125V or less to ground, 50 amperes or less. This Code requirement applies regardless whether you are distributing power from a generator or running a stinger out a window to power a light.  If the receptacle is outdoors, it requires a GFCI by Code regardless whether it is permanent or portable. Ignorance of this Code requirement is not an acceptable excuse for violating the law. In other words, regardless whether it is a union or non-union job, whether the light is plugged into a wall outlet or into a portable power distribution system, NEC Article 530 requires that the individual handling the light ”has received safety training to recognize and avoid the hazards involved.”

This fundamental Code requirement was brought home to me when I was tangentially involved in a workplace accident.  The insurance adjuster was interested in knowing only one thing, had I received the safety training required under the law. The reason big budget studio productions use union crews is not because they are better (there are some very good non-union crews), but because the unions provide their members the safety training required by law that protects the studios from liability (which is the purpose of the Safety Pass program administered by the Contract Services Administration. Use this link for details.)  Of course, the safety training received by union crews also makes them better. For example, not only are union crews trained when to use GFCIs, but also what GFCIs to use to minimize nuisance tripping in electrically noisy environments like movie sets (those manufactured by LifeGuard, Shock Block, and Shock Stop) (Use this link for more details.)

So, to answer Phil’s question as it pertains to film production in the US, any work that occurs in the special occupancy of a motion picture production (regardless whether it is a big budget studio feature, commercial, or low budget indie) by law must be performed by an individual who has received formal training on how to comply with NEC safety rules when performing installations. For those non-union set electricians who want to protect their employers from liability by receiving recognized safety training, the Entertainment Services and Technology Association (ESTA) offers the Entertainment Technician’s Certification Program (ETCP) for Portable Power Distribution Technicians (PPDT).  A rigorous four-hour exam administered by independent local testing agencies, the ETCP PPDT exam covers a broad range of topics including NFPA 70E, the standard for electrical safety in the workplace recognized by the NEC. Passing this exam demonstrates that an individual has the appropriate knowledge and skillset to distribute power and has received safety training to identify and avoid electrical hazards (use this link for details.)

Guy Holt, Gaffer, ScreenLight & Grip, Lighting rentals and sales in Boston

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24 minutes ago, Guy Holt said:

So, to answer Phil’s question as it pertains to film production in the US, any work that occurs in the special occupancy of a motion picture production (regardless whether it is a big budget studio feature, commercial, or low budget indie) by law must be performed by an individual who has received formal training on how to comply with NEC safety rules when performing installations.

Yeah.

And the problem is that this implies that quite literally anyone using any form of electrical equipment, for any reason, at any time, under any circumstances, requires the services of an electrician to plug it in. Someone plugging in a laptop in the production office should have an electrician to do it for them. The hair people should be followed around by an electrician to plug in their curling tongs.

In a more realistic sense, this implies that anyone plugging in a hundred-watt LED panel to light an interview should have these qualifications.

Obviously, this is balls. It's not what anyone would expect, it's not what anyone is doing, and it's not what was intended by the people who wrote these rules.

So the question remains open.

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Could anyone recommend a good book where I can start to learn whatever electrical skills would be practically useful on set?

I’m in the UK but I assumed electricity is mostly the same around the world. 

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6 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

...this implies that quite literally anyone using any form of electrical equipment, for any reason, at any time, under any circumstances, requires the services of an electrician to plug it in...

No. In the codes and standards world, language is used very precisely. The qualified person requirement of NEC Section 530.6: Portable Equipment pertains to the use of “Portable stage and studio lighting equipment and portable power distribution equipment” outdoors, not someone plugging in a laptop in the production office or hair and make-up plugging in a hair dryer.  And as it states in its beginning, Section 530.1 Scope: “The requirements of this article shall apply to television studios and motion picture studios using either film or electronic cameras, except as provided in 520.1, and exchanges, factories, laboratories, stages, or a portion of the building in which film or tape more than 22mm in width is exposed, developed, printed, cut, edited, rewound, repaired, or stored.”  So clearly Article 530 applies to business ventures in film, not to an amateur making a film of the local high school play.

Guy Holt, Gaffer, ScreenLight & Grip, Lighting rentals and sales in Boston

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17 minutes ago, Guy Holt said:

 film or tape more than 22mm in width is exposed, developed, printed, cut, edited, rewound, repaired, or stored.” 

I don't know what the rules are here, but I suspect the rules there could do with a bit of an updating. I'm not sure they'd make that much sense even then. It tries to answer the question about when this applies by making some sort of allusion to the recording media in use, which doesn't actually make much sense, even in a historic context.

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5 hours ago, Mei Lewis said:

Could anyone recommend a good book where I can start to learn whatever electrical skills would be practically useful on set?

In my opinion, the two best introductory books for set electricians are The Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook by Harry Box and Electricity for the Entertainment Electrician and Technician by Richard Cadena (an ETCP certified trainer.) For more advanced reading on the use of power in motion picture production I recommend a series of articles I have written for Protocol (the quarterly journal of ESTA.)

Guy Holt, Gaffer, ScreenLight & Grip, Lighting rentals and sales in Boston

 

 

 

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24 minutes ago, Guy Holt said:

In my opinion, the two best introductory books for set electricians are The Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook by Harry Box and Electricity for the Entertainment Electrician and Technician by Richard Cadena (an ETCP certified trainer.)

 

 

 

Note to people who aren't in the USA - many of the basics will be the same (the physics is the same) but the detail may differ significantly worldwide.

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7 hours ago, Mei Lewis said:

I’m in the UK but I assumed electricity is mostly the same around the world. 

Yes, but no. 

The Laws of Physics remain true wherever you are in the galaxy!

But:
1) rules and regulations change significantly from country to country (or state to state, or even city to city in some instances)
2) amps and voltages (& KHz too) varies around the world (for the average household), which may impact your calculations. 
(for instance, most homes in the U.S. are wired with 15-amp 120-volt 60KHz outputs, while here in NZ they'd be 10A 230V 50KHz outlets)

Edited by David Peterson
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