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,