To those of us in film, an apple box isn’t something your newest iPhone comes in. It’s a standard piece of film equipment that serves so many purposes on set, you couldn’t even count them if you wanted to.
They come in handy as seats, as support for equipment, and can trick the camera into thinking an actor or actress is taller than they actually are.
While on set, you’ve probably popped a squat on an apple box, but do you know all the sizes and names for them?
If you’re new to the film industry, it can be confusing to hear someone call for a few “pancakes” well past breakfast time. And what purpose could a box of apples serve those trying to make a movie?
The origin of the term “apple box” is murky, but its modern incarnation is used to describe a standard size wooden box on film sets. They’re a common piece of grip equipment and are used for a wide variety of purposes.
I’ve seen apple boxes take part in helping light stands stay level, keep dollys flat on steep slopes, provide higher footing for short actresses, act as seats for weary directors, and even get rigged to a ladder to hold a camera high in the air.
You likely have similar stories of the imaginative ways apple boxes get used on set.
What it comes down to is these small to medium sized wooden boxes provide limitless possibilities to resourceful crew members.
Apple Boxes in the Camera Department
In the camera department, apple boxes are most obviously used to elevate the camera anywhere from a few inches to a few feet. Investing in some camera wedges — like these from FilmTools or shims from a hardware store — is smart to help level the camera for times when the boxes are wobbly.
Apple boxes are also heavily used as seats for camera operators and camera assistants (AC).
If you’re in a situation where your camera operator or director of photography (DP) needs an apple box, always give them one first. Many times you have to suck it up and stand/squat/kneel or sit on a more uncomfortable half-size apple box.
Since I’m short, I’ve stood on many apple boxes when the camera is high on sticks. The same rule as above applies here too: always offer the camera operator or DP to have a box before you use it yourself.
A third common use of apple boxes is for resting the camera on them in handheld situations.
If you’re a 2nd AC, have an apple box on standby for the 1st AC to rest the camera on between takes. This helps them so they don’t have to lift the camera from the ground all the way up to the operator’s shoulder every time.
Of course there are a million more different uses for apple boxes, but many of them are unique to specific situations. These are common instances in which they come in handy.
Sizes, Types, and Names of Apple Boxes
When you use the term “apple box” it generally refers to a full-size apple box. However, apple boxes come in a variety of sizes:
- Full Apple (8″ x 20″ x 12″)
- Half Apple (4″ x 20″ x 12″)
- Quarter Apple (2″ x 20″ x 12″)
- Pancake (or Eighth Apple) (1″ x 20″ x 12″)
The different sizes are designed to be modular so two half apples would be the same size as a full apple box or two quarters would be the same size as one half apple — so on and so forth.
Because there are various manufacturers of apple boxes, exact measurements may be slightly different than those listed above.
There are also nicknames for apple boxes when you want them to be placed in a certain position. These nicknames are based off three major U.S. cities: New York, Chicago, and L.A.
- New York position: the apple box stands tallest on its smallest side.
- Chicago position: the apple box lays on its narrow, long edge. Also known as Texas.
- L.A. position: the apple box lays completely flat on its widest and longest edge.
For instance, say you want to place the camera on an apple box laid completely flat, you would request for it to be placed “L.A. style.” Or if you wanted to use it as a seat, you can ask a grip to stand it up “New York.”
These various positions aren’t hard to remember when you imagine the geography and layout of the various cities.
How Do You Use Apple Boxes?
I’m always impressed with the creative ways grips, camera assistants, and various other crew use apple boxes. They’re often handmade rigs that achieve a single, yet practical, purpose.
I’d also argue the humble apple box is one of the great unifiers of the film set. They get used in every department — including by the talent — and are omnipresent on productions as small as students films to ones as large as Hollywood blockbusters.
So how do you use apple boxes on set? Are there any great tips that most camera assistants overlook when using apple boxes? If you’re in another country, how do you determine their positions? What’s your favorite apple box story?