4/22/2007

Check the Gate.

The take is finished. The director sits poised for a moment, considering his options.

He turns to the A.D. and says, "I like that one, let's keep it."

The A.D. then turns to the 1st A.C. and says those fateful words, "Check the gate."

For a long moment the set remains silent, forgoing the din of activity that usually follows a take for a collective hush. The crew breathe deeply in anticipation, poised between action and inaction, on the line between work that has been done and the work that will need to be done, shortly.

"Good gate," calls the 1st A.C..

The 1st A.D. keys his walkie and tips the weight of Sisyphus's boulder back towards the abyss, "Moving on."

The crew collectively exhale and the set erupts with motion in preparation for the next angle. Walkies chatter, keys bark orders, equipment moves, carts roll, cable is coiled and the entire apparatus of film making grinds one step closer to wrap.

"Check the gate" is one of those bits of film terminology that is universally understood within the industry but rarely appears in the public conciosness, at least not as often as it's sibling, "cut."

When a particular camera angle has been shot thought and no more takes are needed, the First Assistant Camera Operator, or 1st A.C. as he/she is usually called, removes the lens from the front of the camera, opens the aperture so that he/she can see all the way to where the film is exposed and checks for debris, dust, hair, sand and the like. If there is a foreign object or particle in the gate then everything since the last gate check is potentially compromised and probably cannot be used. The takes will then have to be repeated. We check the gate after every setup so that, if there is something in the aperture, if there is a "bad gate," the position of the lights and the camera is such that the takes can be re-shot immediately. If the gate is clear then the camera moves to a new angle, the lights are tweaked, the grip gear is repositioned and shooting continues into the next phase.

Now, camera people are meticulous about their equipment. In my film making career, which translates to some tens of thousands of camera setups, I have only ever seen two bad gates. I've shot on the beach, in the jungle, in the bottom of a cave and hanging out the side of a moving airplane and only twice has the gate been contaminated. This is a testament to the skill and attention to detail of A.C.'s as a species of film professional. A bad gate is a fluke, virtually an act of an angry God. I've heard first time interns muse that we check the gate too often.

"Check the Gate," though has a much greater significance in the mind of film makers than simply a line in the litany of the shooting day. When the A.C. says, "Good Gate" and the A.D. says, "Moving On," that is a milestone, a marker on the road to a finished film. That setup is complete and we can move on to the next task knowing that that much more of the picture is in the can an on its way to post production. That much more of the scene and thus that much more of the film and of the working day is done and we have taken one more step towards a realized movie. There is a palpable change in the demeanor of the crew as we move from the static, silent tension of photography to the frenetic conflagration of activity of the setup, the company move or the wrap.

"Check the Gate" is also an important cultural artifact for the film making industry. The High-Def cameras that are becoming increasingly more common on film sets have hermetically sealed components and their innards are thus free of debris, ergo, there is no need to check the gate. I think this is kind of sad. While HD has a number of advantages (and disadvantages) compared to film, those three words carry a lot of meaning in this industry. As High - Def slowly supplants celluloid as the dominant method of photography I find I miss the ritual bound up in that utterance. Moreover, I miss the feeling that surrounds them. That simple phrase, more than any other, governs the way that we, as film makers, go about doing what we do.

That having been said,

Good Gate.
Moving On.

15 comments:

Peety said...

I know this story has to be true???

Are you back in town?

How are you?
Wishing you a wonderful day ahead..

*hugs* xoxo

Thanks for your constant support and kindness..

Anonymous said...

Excuse me Mr. Nobody but High-Def cameras are not hermetically sealed. Hermetically sealed means airtight—as in waterproof. You claim to have worked on hundreds of films? B.F.D. You're just another cog in in the film industry. Do you think you're someone important? I've worked with egomaniacs like you on film sets. You're always busy telling everyone what to do. Shut your gob, learn to spell and get back on the grip truck! ("Filmmaker" is one word—not two. Go and look how you spell it on your blog.)

Anonymous said...

I thought it was good..

David said...

Why is it the offer to "post a comment" always seems to solicit the obnoxious, rude, self-indulgent types? This was a highly-informative article. The word "filmmaker" can be either one or two words - check out Webster's New World.
Oh, and "hermetically sealed" does mean "airtight," but not necessarily watertight."

Anonymous said...

I agree. Dude took the time out to share information. Thanks homie. I appreciate your contribution.

FRED CALI said...

Man here I was all happy that I learned something and then Mr/Mrs Anonymous (conveniently anonymous) right below tries to tear you to shreds and, well, that pisses me off. What a "hater"! Geez, I didn't get "egomaniac" from what I was reading. I was reading the words of someone passionate about their work, which is what I try to emulate as a music producer and film composer. So THANK YOU, Thomas, for your time and I look forward to learning more from you sometime soon. I too appreciate your contribution! Now everyone, please excuse me while I address the second matter at hand. This is going to be ugly, I'm afraid.

To Mr or Mrs Anonymous, I haven't forgotten about you. We all know being a runner is a tough job, but honey, it's gonna get better, I promise. Someone will sooner or later figure out you don't belong here with us and we will set you free. Now in the meantime, since you're so concerned with words and definitions, I thought you might like to try this WORD SCRAMBLE puzzle! Yes, you just have to rearrange the letters:

G E F U C K Y O U R S O L F !

Did you get it? I know it was a tough one! OK so now go stick THAT in your "gob" and please, please try not to stutter when you reply (i.e "just another cog IN IN the film industry"). Time for beddy bye, so go on now. That's right, nighty nite. Leave the FILMMAKING (does it drive you crazy?) to the big kids.

JuliaDepp said...

Dear Sir,
Thanks a lot, man! I'm twelve, and it is my hope and dream to be a director. But... It's been pretty embaressing (until now) because I didn't know what "check the gate" meant. So, thanks to you, I won't appear(as) stupid to other filmmakers.
Thanks again,
Julia

Anonymous said...

Yeah I'm just commenting because after reading this interesting post, I saw some idiot's rant in the comments. I also didn't get anything egotistical from this post at all, and clearly whoever posted there has some issues...
Anyhow thanks for posting this because now I know what 'check the gate' means! Have a nice day. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous above. Good article. I'm getting my feet wet in the film industry and am always interested in learning the terminology.

Anonymous said...

I found this article because I saw and heard "check the gate" in a movie I just finished, and wanted to know what it meant. The film uses the gate check as a slight dramatic flourish. It is The Deal (2008), with Wm.Macy and Meg Ryan.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for your clear and informative explanation of a small but significant piece of cinematic jargon, which first engaged my curiosity as I listened to Justin Theroux playing a director in David Lynch's landmark "Mulholland Drive." Incidentally, to the bitter moron who thinks "hermetically sealed" means both air-tight and water-proof: Clearly, you are not the owner of a Rolex Submariner, nor possessed of an astonishing intellect. Otherwise, you would know the difference. May you hermetically seal yourself, and then let us know how you're doing after a few hours...

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this! My Film App teacher's email address is this phrase and it was confusing me...

I suppose I should chime my two cents in and say that the infamous jerk "Anonymous" was out of line. I greatly appreciated your explanation of the phrase and your descriptive writing skills were lively. Great job!

JB Bruno said...

I know this is a very old post, but I just saw it and like it. As career AD and UPM, your point about the meaning of "check the gate" beyond the basic (first and foremost for me as an AD, a way of signaling we had enough of this shot and needed to move on). I had a mentor who said that with a slow or indecisive director, when you think you have it, you call this and let them tell YOU they need another take.)

Great blog - thanks - gonna work my way through.

stefisupersonic said...

I too think the internet opens a whole slew of crazy. But you know this already. Great article, I enjoyed the point of view and the voice, and I learned a lot too!

Anonymous said...

Thank you from a humble but hard working actress who has also studied and worked hard in many lesser positions on set. The other day I heard those words, given with a smile and it filled me with satisfaction and reinforced why, despite the inherent challenges I can't see myself working any where else. Mr anonymous above - life is too short to be unhappy. :)