GAFFER - COLIN HOLLOWAY
Colin Holloway is a gaffer who has been in the film business for 45 years.
He has worked on films and TV shows ranging from period dramas ‘Poldark’, ‘Larkrise to Candleford, to ‘Sherlock’, News and sport events, quiz shows and childrens television.
He runs Grip and Lighting company Eyelights in Bristol, UK.
WHAT IS A GAFFER?
A Gaffer is the most experienced person on set regarding electric and lighting. They work with the lighting cameraperson or DP who would request lights in various positions and orders and it’s the gaffer’s job to make sure it’s done safely. On a small set the gaffer would be in charge of all lights and electrics but on a bigger set he also has a crew of sparks (electricians) and best boys (assistants) working with him to help with this.
HOW DID YOU GET IN TO THE INDUSTRY AND DID YOU GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
I started as an apprentice electrician. There was a small film company in Bristol doing commercials and I was sent by my company to work with them for the day. From there, I worked at HTV (now ITV) for 10 years before going freelance in 1980. I was freelance using other people’s equipment before buying my own kit. Everything progressed from there.
WHAT ONE SKILL OR PERSONAL ATTRIBUTE WOULD YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE BIGGEST FACTOR AS TO WHY YOU GOT TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
Adaptability. To adapt to a specific situation. I would also add flexibility and ingenuity. You can always find a solution to the problem by thinking laterally and outside the box. Maybe the cameraman asks for a particular look or light and you can suggest an approach or an alternative to give them what they want. You have to be able to work together with everyone. It’s called a film unit as you are a unit working together.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A CV/EMAIL FROM STUDENTS TRYING TO BREAK IN TO THE BUSINESS?
I do like working with youngsters on productions. General disposition and willingness to watch and learn from what’s going on. It’s all about adaptability and being flexible. Keenness is good, I’ve worked with some really great students.
AS A LIGHTING AND GRIP HIRE COMPANY, WHAT SHOULD STUDENTS BE AWARE OF WHEN HIRING KIT AND WHAT DO THEY FAIL TO DO THAT PERHAPS THEY SHOULD TAKE IN TO ACCOUNT?
When students come in, we talk about what they want and what resources they have. The budgets are restricted but we can work with that. The main issue isn’t with the people themselves or their budgets but when the kit is returned. In most cases it is not returned how is went out. Cables are in a big pile and not neatly tied up, bits taken off lamps during use are not put back on. Everything is just thrown in boxes and generally untidy. It’s important to be disciplined on set and you really need to watch and see what equipment goes where and retuned it in one piece. We also ask students to cover the kit with their own insurance too. Own insurance covers the kit when we are out using it ourselves, but not with a third party.
WHAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE AND OUTLOOK ON THE CURRENT STATE OF THE INDUSTRY? ALSO, HOW HAVE THINGS CHANGED FROM WHEN YOU BEGAN AND HOW HAS THIS IMPACTED ON YOUR WORK?
General crewing levels have been cut and you work longer, messier days than we used to. You’re expected to work these longer days for the same money too. It’s also changed from the time of shooting on film. The set was disciplined due to the cost of film stock and processing. Now with digital the director can keep shooting all day because they can. It costs nothing to keep shooting except the crew.
ON SET/IN YOUR WORKING ENVIRONMENT:
CAN YOU OFFER ANY ON SET/PRACTICAL HINTS AND TIPS?
From an electrical and lighting point of view, don’t use anything that looks faulty. Wires that are showing or plugs that are loose or a cut on the cable itself. Safety first is the biggest thing on set at any time. Especially when you have cables running across floors, and you need to treat the public with the utmost caution too. You also need to be prepared at all times as you may find yourself working in very odd and unusual places. I’ve worked in most environments from the tops of mountains, to deep potholes, forests and deserts, to perfume factories and sewers, so you must be ready for whatever the location throws at you.
WHEN YOU ARE FIRST BROUGHT ON TO A PROJECT, WHAT ARE YOUR IMMEDIATE THOUGHTS AND PROCESSES?
It depends how I’m brought on to the project. Quite often I’m brought in by the lighting cameraman. That will be someone I know and get on well with. You need to be on a good report with everyone. Budget is obliviously paramount so you need to know how to allocate that budget whether that’s extra labour or extra days work. I ask what are the demands of the production with the time they have available? And that determines whether you can do it on your own or whether you need extra crews.
CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE ABOUT PLUGGING LIGHTS INTO DOMESTIC SOCKETS AND LIGHTING OUTSIDE?
One of the most difficult things to discuss to the uninitiated or inexperienced, is the potential danger of overloading the system. There are rules of thumb; not more than 2.5K on any socket, and if you have another 2K light then that’s fine but after that you’re getting in to the realms of overloading the circuit. The issue comes when you can’t see what ring main in the house that those circuits are on. Unless you test each socket which isn’t practical, spreading the load is the best option. It could be that there is a ring main for the lower floor and one for the upper floor but you can’t guarantee it. You might find yourself working in an older house, a different type of property, commercial, factory, or warehouse. You can’t see the circuit so your can’t assume.
For generators when there is no power available, you have to get one of suitable size and tolerance to plug the lights in to. If you want to use 15K of light then you need a 20K generator. You need to work within the comfort zone of the generator. You can’t run 20K light on a 20K generator. When you switch on the generator there is a load surge and the generator needs to be able to cope with that load surge and have some headroom to play with.
ADVICE AND MISTAKES:
WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?
A cameraman from South Africa said me when I was just starting out, ‘Watch, look, listen and learn.’ So, always pay attention. By standing adjacent to the cameraman watching what they’re doing, you gather a little experience each time. Then you can try and pre-empt their needs.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU COULD GIVE?
Always read the call sheet, schedule and movement orders well. It’s important as tiny details get flagged up that could cause you a headache on set if you’re not ready for them. Also it’s vitally important to read all the Health and Safety and Risk Assessment information, especially in my line of work dealing with electrics and heavy equipment.
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE BLUNDER?
In my early days, I didn’t pick up on a call sheet change and arrived very late for set and all the crew were waiting for me ... I hate being late for things and it never happened again.