When it comes to cardboard and gaff tape, I’m a real MacGyver. That combination of raw material brings out the engineer in me. With one in each hand, I’m like Edward Scissorhands in the brush or Michelangelo in a rock quarry. For instance, when I heard a crackle in my radio ear-piece on Below the Beltway for a water bottle carrier, it was no problem. But that was minor construction compared to the challenge I received a few days later from the same guys.
It was while a scene was being lit that the 2nd assistant camera, Camera PA and I were standing around talking shop. At this point the bottle buddy was legendary on set. Everyone knew what I had made and how useful it became. It lived on the camera cart and came with us everywhere we went. I had made something memorable and unique and got proper respect for it.
So, it could be said, I was in good graces with the guys I was working with. We got along great and to this day, I miss showing up to that set every morning. When I finally saw the film, I was glad to see its quality reflect the atmosphere of creativity on set. At this particular moment in time, however, creativity was waiting on some lights to be rigged while we mumbled on about nothing.
“Man, it would be really awesome if we had a 40mm lens,” said the 2nd AC. “Every set-up we’ve done, [the DP] can’t decide between a 35 and a 50.”
We were shooting on Zeiss Superspeed Prime lenses on the show of which a 40mm was not and is not part of that lens set.
I passed the comment off as normal banter and once lights were set, we all went back to our respective duties. For me that meant stepping away from set and checking up on card downloads.
Anyone who has done a similar job as I was doing will know that data loading is not exactly the most time consuming. If everything is going well, it’s a slightly more sophisticated process of copy and paste.
Technically I was a “camera utility” on Below the Beltway. That meant when I wasn’t dumping cards, I was slotted to be an extra hand for the AC’s. I did this when possible, but there were times when the set was too crowded or the setups were small and me being on set became an issue of too many cooks in the kitchen.
On this particular day, I was trying to stay out of the way and let the core crew do their jobs. So I was dumping cards and in between downloads would mosey on over to crafty or cruise through some stuff on my iPhone. Occasionally my ear-piece would go off for a camera reload and I would rush in, grab the card, and add it to the queue.
Today, all was going well and I was watching the blue status bar on the Mac slowly crawl when suddenly:
“Go for Evan.”
It was the 2nd AC over the radio.
“Yeah, this is Evan.”
“Remember that 40mm lens we were talking about earlier? It’d be great if you could make one out of gaff tape for us to give to [the DP]”
“No problem,” I said.
I keyed out the radio chuckling. It wasn’t the first time that the camera department on this shoot had been ribbing each other. In fact, there was one day I remember calling for the 2nd AC on the radio to which he replied with the utmost serious tone thinking there was a problem with the downloads. When I replied, “do you believe in true love?” everyone on our channel gave a bit of a giggle.
I think this time he thought his joke would end there, similarly to mine about true love. But I had time to kill while the cards dumped so I figured why not give it a shot?
I went over to craft services, which usually has all sorts of supplies to build things with gaff tape. It’s where I started with the bottle buddy and it was where I was going to start with my lens. I figured that a water bottle has about the same circumference as a lens so I grabbed a few as my building blocks.
The way I work is that I fully commit myself to something. It’s how I approach camera assisting, it’s how I approach this blog and it was how I approached this lens. If I was going to make one, it wasn’t going to just be some hunk of black tape. No — I wanted it to have individual focus and iris rings that turned as well as look like a lens. I don’t settle for anything. Plus, the better the job, the better the joke.
In between downloads and moving video village (my other main responsibility), I spent my time sawing up the bottle with a pair of scissors and taping pieces together. I came up with a way to have two independently spinning barrels for focus and exposure and I also found a good plastic material that could act as the rear element of the lens.
When I was done, it was a masterpiece.
I knew they were between setups on the set, so I rushed in feigning that I was out of breath, “Here’s that 40mm you asked for.”
The immediate reaction was one of hilarity, coupled by a swift realization that I actually was pretty faithful in recreating a lens out of gaff tape and a water bottle. Of course, when this happened the DP wasn’t around so we had time to prepare the unveiling for him.
When the DP finally asked for a lens the 1st AC asked him, “Do you want the 40mm prime?”
“What? We have one? Where?”
That’s when I came in, holding it as precious as I would a real Superspeed and showed the DP.
“You guys have too much time on your hands! You should go back to working on something,” he chuckled and smirked.
I smiled all the way back to the download station. Sure, what I made can’t mount to an Alexa or an Epic, but it provided a fun moment on set and a souvenir for me from the shoot.
Besides, like all great artists, I can’t be stifled. I sat down and scrubbed through some footage pondering what my next creation was: a viewfinder? a mattebox? The possibilities are endless…