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When being safe could cost you work


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#1 Tim O'Connor

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Posted 27 November 2007 - 02:00 PM

There is a thread in the gripping forum about a low budget production attempting to
figure out how to get a light elevated to the necessary height in a situation that seems
to call for a Condor but in which there is pressure to keep the costs down and see if
perhaps an electric scissors lift can be used, by leveling it, on unlevel terrain.


This made me wonder. In Massachusetts only a licensed electrician can legally do a
tie-in yet lots of other people who are not licensed electricians, usually gaffers, do
them all the time. I've also seen D.P.s do them, or train first time gaffers to do them,
and have seen key grips do them as well.

Certainly many people know what they are doing but still they face tremendous legal
liabilities as well as lifelong issues of conscience if a house burns down or somebody
gets killed.

Now, some of the best gaffers I know are also licensed electricians but they tend to
work on the higher budgeted jobs and in those cases it seems more common for the
production to get a generator to do the job for a location shoot.

I know a certain number of people who work on lower budgeted features and it's
expected that part of their job is handling the tie-ins. Often they as gaffers do the tie-in
and then have their trusted best boy monitor the power.

Sure, a license may be merely a piece of paper. There was a time when lawyers could
just be lawyers but now you have to pass the bar, even though some of those old-
timers were pretty good.

However, if you grew up rewiring everything you could for fun but you're not a licensed
electrician and you do a tie-in and break the law, if something happens, even if it may
not be your fault, you could be on the hook big time.

How do people feel about this situation? Do you encounter it much? Have you
encountered it? Sometimes I sense a c'mon be a man attitude thrown at the
person asked to do the tie-in, or I suppose some variation on challenging her
bravery and being a team player could be used on a female gaffer although I
haven't seen that particular situation.

It's not about bravery or being a team player or being as tough as the men though.

I should add that the people I know who do, or who for a period of time did this,
are or were non union respectively.

When I was gripping, I worked on many decently paid shoots, often corporate pieces
using a brand new yet unopened franchise fast food place for whatever brand, and the
DP was getting good money for lighting, operating, renting his gear and doing the tie-
in.

I've also been on shoots in old houses in which the DP did the tie-in to a service
that was a lot older than several crew members ages put together. One DP always
had a grip standing by with a 2x4 in case he needed to be "disconnected".

What do you think? Is it like this elsewhere?
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 November 2007 - 02:10 PM

If you get fired for following the law or for being safe, then it's probably better to not be working for those people anyway.

You still have to do tie-ins now and then even on bigger movies, though rare, like when filming way up in a skyscraper. Generally there is a licenced person to do this, sometimes provided by the office building management, working with the Gaffer, who also has licenced people.

The last time I had to do a tie-in on a low-budget movie that wouldn't rent a generator, the Gaffer told me he was trained and licenced to do it, so I let him. While I was talking to the store owners about how my Gaffer knew what he was doing, the Gaffer managed to blow-out the power in the building with a slip of the hand (didn't hurt himself though.) That's basically the last time I did a tie-in other than in these office building situations.
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#3 Robert Starling SOC

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Posted 27 November 2007 - 02:54 PM

There is a thread in the gripping forum about a low budget production attempting to
figure out how to get a light elevated to the necessary height in a situation that seems
to call for a Condor but in which there is pressure to keep the costs down and see if
perhaps an electric scissors lift can be used, by leveling it, on unlevel terrain.

This made me wonder. In Massachusetts only a licensed electrician can legally do a
tie-in yet lots of other people who are not licensed electricians, usually gaffers, do
them all the time.


I've read that thread.

Safety, health and welfare issues should be non-negotiable regardless of the budget. I'll do just about anything, try just about anything to get a shot but safety is where I draw the line, and safety is about the only time I'll be a harda** about something on set. Production insurance and workmans comp MIGHT cover your injuries but when the production is long gone and long over, your accident will be little more than an interesting story for everyone but you if you are no longer able to work. Big studio, little studio, union or non-union doesn't matter. Go read the posts on the Steadicam Forum for Steadicam Operator Bill Brummond who was injured on CSI and got hosed by Production, studios and insurance. He was unable to work for two years or more.

The other aspect of these types of scenarios is the liability it creates. Whether your G&E is licensed, experienced, insured or not, if someone gets hurt on the job and someone / anyone in the chain of command was negligent, those Personal Injury lawyers you see advertising are going to sue everyone they can and force you to fight your way out at your expense. Once you speak up and put it on record that something is not safe, I'm pretty sure it becomes negligence at that point. Even the thread / posting you reference here could be used against you and the others if there was a problem with that scenario. The answer is clear, but obviosly not what someone wants to hear.

I'm not saying all these thing are not done every day by licensed and unlicensed people but accidents happen.

Part of the challenge and interesting nature of our business is to make something happen that is impossible or difficult and capture it to tell a story. But David Mullen is 100% correct that you probably shouldn't be working with the types of people who do not make safety their #1 concern. If you're feeling nervous or seeing red flags pop up, chances are others are too so someone has to have the ba**s to speak up and just say no, wait, stop whatever. Safety isn't always popular because it slows things down or costs money but you have to do the right thing as a professional regardless of the cost.

No job, no shot, nothing is worth injury or the reputation that you somehow accept risky scenarios. You'll look and feel a heck of a lot better walking or getting canned "because THEY were running an unsafe set". Most professionals respect that level of commitment.

Just yesterday the stunt driver team supervisor on a project I was hired onto here in Vegas pulled the plug on the whole day because the insurance coverage was not as specified to adequately cover potential accidents. The set and scenes were as safe as stunt work can be, but the insurance protection for accidents was not right. He was pretty unpopular yesterday but he stood up to at least make sure EVERYONE on set and the camera cars / property were all covered with the best possible insurance.

Robert Starling, SOC
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#4 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 27 November 2007 - 04:07 PM

This is a similar situation in relation to the camera department.
I worked on one particular movie where the director repeatedly wanted to put the camera and me in dangerous places, like in front of a car doing a controlled slide and next to a car that we were flipping at 35 mph (the movie was very stunt heavy). The first thing I would do in these situations was try to find a safer place to be and suggest that alternative to the director, but when he said no (which he normally did), I said no, and he generally ended up operating the shots himself. He came very close to being hit by a car at one point (the back tire of the car hit the front leg of the tripod). He moaned and groaned a little when I refused to do those shots, but not too much. The thing is, no one else was going to look out for me, not even the DP or the stunt coordinator, and I don't think if an accident occurred the insurance company would have covered us because what they wanted to do wasn't safe and could have been achieved in a different and safer way. My life wasn't worth the risk for a shot in a movie. I'm willing to take some risks, but only when those risks are minimized as much as possible.
This director went on to make a very big movie right after that, and I didn't get a call for the job. I don't know whether the previous situation was the reason or not, but I don't doubt that that had something to do with it. Of course, if I had done those shots and something had gone wrong I wouldn't have been available anyway.
It's up to each person as an individual to make choices about what we feel comfortable with and what we don't. Sure, sometimes the stunt coordinator or Key Grip will step in and say, "This isn't safe", and save you from having to speak up, but that's not a guarantee. And if you're hurt or killed because you said yes when you should have said no, people aren't going to take credit for it after the fact. They'll say, "He could have just refused to do the shot".
As Rodney Dangerfield said, "Always look out for #1, and be careful not to step in #2".
Here's an example of what this guy wanted me to do:
He wanted me to be in the back seat of the black Suburban shooting over the shoulder of the driver as the car blew up next to us. I think the picture explains why I didn't feel safe doing the shot.
truckflip_large.jpg
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#5 John Sprung

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Posted 27 November 2007 - 07:46 PM

He wanted me to be in the back seat of the black Suburban shooting over the shoulder of the driver as the car blew up next to us. I think the picture explains why I didn't feel safe doing the shot.

Was there a stunt guy driving that Suburban? What did he think?



-- J.S.
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#6 Darryl Richard Humber

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Posted 27 November 2007 - 08:16 PM

As a dolly grip, I have more than once said, "no" to something that put my operator in jeopardy. I have never had a problem from production about this and if I do, my Key backs me up. You always have to be prepared to walk in situations where production doesn't listen. As a key, I have said the words, "then you've got the wrong guy, get another key grip" and that seems to do the trick. Luckily, the DP has also always been on my side. You have to have knowledgeable people higher up who trust you and you have to be ready to say "absolutely not".
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#7 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 28 November 2007 - 05:45 PM

Was there a stunt guy driving that Suburban? What did he think?



-- J.S.

Yes, there was. I must admit I didn't talk to him specifically about this shot. We had been shooting for close to 2 months when we shot this sequence, and I had already figured out from past experience that on that movie I would have to be the one to say no if I thought a shot was too dangerous, so I didn't bother talking to the driver or the coordinator about it. Of course, I'm very happy with the decision I made.
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#8 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 28 November 2007 - 05:51 PM

You have to have knowledgeable people higher up who trust you and you have to be ready to say "absolutely not".

It's nice when you have the support of your direct superiors, but when you don't you just have to suck it up and do what feels right, even if it pisses people off. The actual people that will be in the danger zone must feel comfortable doing any particular shot, and I think it's OK to say no even if no one else is worried about it. It's easy to feel comfortable about someone else doing a shot when you're not the one in harms way.
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#9 John Sprung

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Posted 28 November 2007 - 06:33 PM

... I had already figured out from past experience that on that movie I would have to be the one to say no if I thought a shot was too dangerous, so I didn't bother talking to the driver or the coordinator ....

That's a shame. This is one place where a crew really needs to be united from the beginning.



-- J.S.
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#10 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 28 November 2007 - 06:55 PM

We have a saying in drag racing when anyone used to complain about the cost of outfitting a drag car to meet NHRA safety regulations, "Just how much is your ass worth?" B)
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#11 Jess Haas

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Posted 28 November 2007 - 06:57 PM

As far as tie-ins go there are safe tie-ins and unsafe tie-ins. If someone feels the need to have someone standing there with a board ready to hit them away it is probably an unsafe tie-in for a number of reasons.

Doing a tie-in to an unenergized box isn't inherently dangerous if done properly by a qualified individual.

I try not to give anyone a financial incentive to do a tie-in instead of renting a generator. Even if I am already working on a job I generally refuse to do a tie-in without being paid extra, and if I feel that it is dangerous I will refuse to do it. I do a lot fewer tie-ins these days, but there are some situations where one is actually called for. The last one I did needed power at the location 24/7 for over 3 weeks. A generator was not feasible so I did a tie-in. I shut the power off to the box, added a breaker, used UL listed adapters to add larger lugs for the neutral and ground, removed the knockouts so that I could properly route the cables out of the box and closed it all up when I was done.

There is very rarely a need to do a tie-in hot. There is almost always a sub box somewhere that can be shut off with a little bit of planning. Also Trico clamps are no longer legal as they lost their UL listing. They also aren't all that safe, especially when used hot.

I would much rather lose a job than a life and I do not hesitate to tell people when I believe something to be unsafe. I can happily say that I have never lost a job because I refused to do something that I felt was unsafe. We have always been able to come up with another solution and in the end I feel that people respect me more because of it.

~Jess
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#12 John Sprung

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Posted 28 November 2007 - 07:18 PM

Also Trico clamps are no longer legal ....

What are Trico clamps? In the old days, I used to use the spring clamps off of car battery jumper cables. But that was for little stuff, under 200 Amps. Tapping was usually done hot back then, because we were going into ordinary residential services where there's only one box.



-- J.S.
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#13 Jess Haas

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Posted 28 November 2007 - 09:18 PM

They are the clamps used by almost everyone to clamp on to bus bars. They have metal jaws that you screw down from the insulated handles, They work fine if used properly but a yank on the cable can pull them loose creating a nice fireworks show. If you ever see a set you will probably notice atleast a few melted bits. They lost their UL listing and are no longer manufactured. Since they lost their UL listing they are no longer legal to use in the US. That is what I understand the situation to be atleast.

Even if a house has only one box there is almost always a main breaker or a bull switch that can be shut off. Then if you want to do things right you pop in an additional 100-200amp breaker, run a set of bare ends out of that, and run your neutral and ground to the appropriate bus bars. This can all be done hot but the neutral and ground can be a pain and shutting off power makes it a lot safer. The other(illegal) and less safe way is to clamp onto the hot bus bars, or to the still hot lugs at the top of the box using tricos or something even less safe.

I have only ever come across one location where it was physically not possible to shut off power to a box. The box was a 3 phase box with the bus bars wired directly to the transformer which was situated on a pole right above it. The box had some other fun characteristics that made a tie-in even more difficult, but I won't go in to that. That was a day where a generator was most definitely in order.

~Jess
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#14 Jess Haas

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Posted 28 November 2007 - 09:28 PM

Found a picture:
Posted Image

or if you want a bigger one: http://www.jcustom.c...Test Clamps.pdf

~Jess
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#15 John Sprung

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Posted 29 November 2007 - 01:28 PM

Even if a house has only one box there is almost always a main breaker or a bull switch that can be shut off.

True, but we never used to bother with that. Mainly I guess because it would mean shutting off everything on the service and re-setting all the digital clocks. I did almost always go in after the main, and never ahead of the meter. That was the one thing that DWP would bust you for. Never had a fireworks show, either. I always roped everything off real well before tapping the box, which may be why it's called a tie-in. Those Trico clamps must have come along after my time. We just had the clamps off of car battery jumper cables. Times have changed.




-- J.S.
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#16 JD Hartman

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Posted 30 November 2007 - 02:58 PM

One DP always had a grip standing by with a 2x4 in case he needed to be "disconnected".

Nice idea in theory, but a myth. The same for having a rope tied around your waist. 220VAC and higher will grab you with a vise like hold and your muscles will freeze up. The amount of force necessary to knock you loose with a 2x4 would also smash your ribcage in. If you have someone standing by, their role would be to disconnect power to the box and call 911.

Has anyone here used Anderson clamps?

I'll post an image of the next student shoot with a tie-in I see. I seem to be drawn to them.
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