Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Practical Jokes During Filming & Strange Deliveries


Once we had a 1st who kept borrowing others tools. Arrgh! We took his measuring tape(a steel 25' ) and trimmed it to 7'. He goes speeding off and BAM. Like a Trout in a stream.

Does anyone else have some good Practical jokes? I pull out a few if I think the time is right. I have an exploding sharpie pen....perfect for that tense moment on a low budget movie. Also, a pretty good looking Prime lens made out of PVC plumbing parts, painted black with lens markings and loaded up with plexiglass "lens" parts.

Great to drop and freak everyone out. Not for every gig of course...

Anyone else?

Kurt Rauf

Please excuse the run-on sentence that follows, it's necessary for the mood of the gag.

I've found that if you take about 3 feet of raw stock, tape the ends together to form a loop (emulsion side out), then tuck about 6 inches of the taped part inside the lower part of a mag barney so the loop of about 1 foot dangles from the mag, and then tell the assistant that you heard strange noises during the last take, you should be prepared to call 911 or know cpr.

An alternate take is to just do it and then stand back and observe as it's discovered. I've noted that the standard response is for the first look around to see if anyone else noticed it, then pull the Barney.

Jerry (give and take) Wolfe

P .S. This is not reccommended if your a.c. is large/vengeful/the producers kid.

When I was a loader, the focus puller on a film decided to have some fun on April Fool's day. The cameraman was in on the game and went with it. I was instructed to load 100' of gash stock into the take-up side of a 535 mag and keep this mag at hand on set. After the first scene of the day was in the can, there was a reload and the focus puller was checking the gate.

Quietly he pulled the mag of exposed film off the camera and replaced it with my mag of gash. Nobody on set was paying attention as they were all thinking about the next scene; that is until the focus puller started having difficulty with the camera. As he was clearly struggling with the film in the gate, the cameraman, 1st Ad, directors (they were twins) started crowding around concerned that there might be a problem with the difficult scene we had just filmed. Just as the tension was reaching its peak, the focus puller feigned losing his grip and knocked the loosened catch on the mag allowing all the 'exposed' film to come spooling out onto the set floor. Everyone turned to me in horror and I had to admit that that was the already exposed film lying in a pathetic heap on the floor. The expressions on the directors' and actors' faces are ones that I will take to my grave with me. Fortunately as we were already five weeks into the shoot and everybody was very happy with the results so far, the joke was taken with good humour.

Tim Palmer

I once taped the clapper closed on a sound take in response to some practical jokes going around. It was an intense bar fight on a smoked set, with Kevin Bacon and another guy all wet down for sweat and posed in punches for the close ups. Camera rolled and "marker" was called. But the slate was taped shut and wouldn't open. Camera was cut and my friend and I laughed at the embarrassed 2nd AC pulling the tape off the slate.

The director got ticked and asked us to leave the set and when we went outside we encountered the sound man with his speakers up full and about 100 locals listening to the entire scene. We were a little embarrassed.

But the next day Mary Steenburgen, who was producing the film, came up and told me she was very upset with me. Expecting to be reamed out, I started to apologize when she said she was upset that we didn't let her in on the joke beforehand. She thought it was very funny and from now on to let her
know of any good practical jokes going on.

They're fun but often at someone's expense. One must be careful.


Jim S.'s a few more. When I was a Second AC once while slating, I accidently knocked a burning cigar our actor's mouth. Just about the time I was feeling two inches tall, the First AC turns to me and says, "Don't worry about it, I knocked a bottle of ink into William Holdens lap once!" God Bless Ya, Pete Kuttner!

The best and cruelest trick ever played on a Best Boy by his Gaffer (I know I have told this before) . . . . While at lunch, the Gaffer puts one of those clip-on reflector units that you generally put a standard screw in light bulb into behind every HMI in the studio. The rub is . . . in every one of the clip-ons, he screws in one of those magnesium flash bulbs that look like standard household bulbs (you know, the ones that cost about 10 bucks a
piece). We get back to the set from lunch, and the AD yells, "We're Back, Light'm Up." The Best Boy throws the master bull switch, and it looks like he has blown every globe in the house in the process, drops to his knees like a lightning bolt and pulls out his meters . . . you can guess what the expression was when he figured out the joke was on him.

Last one . . . a grip falls asleep on the set wearing his sun glasses. His fellow grips seizing the opportunity, slip his glasses off and covers the lenses with black tape, and put them back on him . . . still asleep, the Key Grip hollers, "Will someone PLEASE get me a C-stand!" I swear he thought he was blind for an instant. -

Mark Simon

A friend of mine once had a fellow doing a "Making Of" of his shoot who had the habit of leaving the video "Making Of" camera on the floor in a corner where he thought it was out of the way and going off for a cup of coffee.

During one of these absences, the special effects guy glued a black tape onto the video lense in the shape of a crack. When the guy came back and turned on the camera to shoot, he was appalled. However, instead of looking at the lense, he put his finger on and had the misfortune to miss the tape. He then proceeded in panic to white and black ballance the camera, try all of the camera filters, the genlock and phase buttons and anything else that could be pushed on the camera.

Every so often, the DOP would wander by and shake his head in "consternation".

Finally, after about 15 minutes of agony, he noticed that some members of the crew were having trouble trying to hide their laughter. Then it finally occurred to him to check the front of the lense.

Bruce Douglas

Meanist trick I've heard of. 1st AC friend of mine goes into the darkroom during lunch and notices loaded/exposed mag sitting on table to be downloaded.

He downloads the mag and crams a bunch of film from the scrape bin into the mag. Retapes the magazine so that it looks still loaded. The loader comes back after lunch with the most sheepish look on his face.


I heard this one from a Gaffer who said he used to work at the old General Camera.

A Panaflex mag comes back at the end of a feature with the word "chatters" in big red letters on camera tape stuck to the mag.

As soon as the check-in techs open the magazine they hear the chattering noise. It is a pair of those wind up teeth, chattering away.

Steven Gladstone

When I was a student I had the opportunity to watch Ivan Strasburg light a shoot with Mike McShane (a very large Candaian comedian). Half way through the afternoon the gaffer brought me a polaroid camera, of the sort that feed the picture out of the front as soon as the picture is taken, and told me that the make up artist had asked him to take a still of Mr McShane, but that he didn't feel he had the necessary photographic skill to do the job properly, and would I mind? Of course I was only too pleased to help, and so I took the camera and asked Mr McShane to come and stand in the light to get a good likeness. Just before I took the picture the gaffer reminded me that the picture needed to be a biggish close-up, so I leant a little closer and pressed the button. Out of the camera, right in Mr McShane's face appeared a big close up alright, but of the gaffer's hairy, and very white, arse. Mr McShane looked closely at it for a couple of seconds before muttering "Damn, these British makeup artists can't do anything right. The script says I'm supposed to have a tan."

Chris Merry

One day when I was an AC, I was prepping a camera at a rental house, and my second came in to load the mags for the next day. The prep tech at the rental house thought he was being cute when he told the 2nd that there was a really bad light leak in the darkroom after she loaded all the mags. So living up to the old adage of don't get mad . . . get even, I thought I would get him with the gag light meter routine which was half of a ping pong ball glued to black foam rubber, the spitting image of a Spectra. Seizing the just the right moment, his back to me while he was writing up the order, I yelled, "hey Joe, can you hold on to this for me?" I proceeded to toss the meter in the air.

He turns with astonishment and drops the 6X6 filter he is holding, which of course shatters into a million pieces.

It turns out that the filter was sub rented, and I had to call Denny Clairmont and explain how the filter got broken . . . $250 later, the joke was on me, and that was the last time anyone ever saw the most expensive gag light meter!

Mark Simon

I once did a picture with a DP who shot an excessive amount of polaroids for every scene in the movie. Bored with this practice, I took a white showcard and wrote in big bold letters *TRY 2.8* . . . I underexposed it by a stop and left it in the camera so he would double expose it when making his evaluation. . . he wasn't amused, but it was rather funny at the time!

Mark Simon

One of our favorite tricks is to take the pocket "happy snap" camera, foolisly left lying about by one of the married crew members. You "borrow' it whilst the said crew member is otherwise busy, and sneak off behind the set to run off some quick snaps of a willing female crewmember's breasts and arse, no face, of course. Then you sneak the camera back into the rightful owner's place of safekeeping.

Then you wait, giggling at the thought of him asking his wife, "Honey, while you are out, could you please pick up the processing I dropped off yesterday?" And of course you know she is going to check out the photos on the way home! Great fun! Best to be off the set on a run for whatever, when he arrives the morning after!

Bill Bennett

When I visit sets these days, it all seems to be long faces, dtrained with the fear that if anyone actually has the temerity to laugh or to be happy, he will be sacked on the spot.

A few practical joke from the past:

When I started in the labs (well in the sound dept actually) I was sent off to stores for a Long Weight. Now I knew tat weights were hung on the sude of the processing machines to maintain correct tension so I naturally assumed that I had beensent to collect one of these. So I waited, and waited, and waited..... I was victim No. 35 on this one!

On a BBC drama series, there was one particular actor who insisted on aways looking through the camera, much to the annoyance of the DP. We cured this one by closin the shutter and smearing the eyepiece with black makeup. Obviously, he ouldn't see a thing so I explained that you had to rotate the eyepiece to open the shutter.... He went through a complete rehearsal, no realiseing while the whole crew - includin the director - were killing themseoves laughing at him.

A couple of sound ones (well, we all work together, don't we?) We were shooting a film of a lecture given by the late Sir Alexander Pilkington (of the Pilkington Glass Works - a huge British company) After the main shoot we asked the client to help us out with a buzz track. We carefully explained that we needed a continious sound to go into the background and smooth over any edit points. So far, so good. The sound recordist then got him to don a lapel mic and make a buzzing sound, thus 'Buzzzzzzzz'

Naturally, he wan't having it, he knew us only too well! So I explained to him that we weren't kidding, that the sound would be put through a pink noise filter to randomise it. Being a Scientist he fell for it hook, line and sinker!

There he stood, in the middle of the lecture theatre going 'Buzzzzz' for all he was worth. But the recordist shook his head, 'No, it needs to go up higher.' Our client immediatly got the picture and proceeded to Buzz one octave higher. 'Cut!' By now, I chirped in the fact that Sir Alister had been on a stage (since struck) and that the echos were therefroe different.

So we then had the client standing on a chair, buzzing away, blissfully unaware that the crew were creeping out of the room!

Only two other comments, this is quite true, and for some unexplained reason, none of us have worked for Pilkington Glass ever since.

Brian Rose

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