“If I wanted a long arm I’d have asked for it!”

long armFor the last several years I’ve seemingly become obsessed with something that I’d never once thought about.
What is it? The ‘long arm’!
I’ve been working in the film industry in the US since 1989, and here in London since 2006.
One of the first things I noticed when I started working on sets over here, is that no one uses long arms when using a ‘C-stand’. When the gaffer gets on the walkie and says “Bring me in a tall C-stand”,  90% of the time the spark brings it in with just a knuckle. Then when the gaffer is setting the flag or net, and the DOP says ” Ok, lower that a little.” The gaffer gets back on his walkie-talkie and says “Bring me in a long arm.” Most DOP’s I work with would sit on the dolly opened mouth watching this event.

Now why do you think they don’t use long arms naturally here? I have a few theories.

They’ll say they don’t use long arms because it adds another joint, and makes it easier for the flag or net to droop. That may have been true all those years ago when grip heads (kunckles) were crappy. You couldn’t get a good hold on Small ‘t-handles’ , and the cork washers  used to break apart and supply no grip. Grip heads are so much better now. My favorite is the Matthews Studio Equipment grip head.  It’s got a big ‘T-handle’ only two holes, and locks so tight that ‘righty-tighty’ hardly matters anymore!

They sometimes say that if you use the arm, it’ll place the grip head too high to use. That’s a bit ridiculous considering the grip head is only 2.5 inches. Add another inch of exposed long arm, and at the most you’ve added 3.5 inches to your stand. If you need to be that much lower, or even lower than that, use the long arm! If you don’t “need” the long arm, DON’T USE IT! But that doesn’t mean you have to take it out and dramatically throw it on the floor muttering about how unsafe they are, while at the same time creating a trip hazard.

They’ll say that it’s dangerous to have the arm sticking out at 90°. It is. So set the flag properly and you won’t have that.
I think the main reason why long arms are not used here all the time is that most of the guys don’t know how to use them properly. The sparks here are amazing technicians. Hell, they’ve trained and been certified for YEARS before even stepping on a film set. But they don’t have the same skills setting flags.
Setting a flag is a bit of a juggling act sometimes. Having all the handles loose so you can set the flag fluidly can sometimes be a complicated thing. Knowing where to place the flag or net to make exactly the cut the DOP is looking for can sometimes be difficult.
I’ve seen a gaffer hold a net precisely where the DOP wanted it. The stud of the net was about 4 inches in and over the top of a piece of furniture that couldn’t be moved. When the C-stand was brought to him, it of course, had no arm. Instead of taking the time to get an arm and making the cut, they just moved the net to the stand. Now I realise that moving a net or flag a few inches wouldn’t make much of a difference in the cut. But I don’t believe that. I believe that EVERY compromise you make in setting a flag or net adds up to dilute the quality of the image.
When people here tell me how great American t.v. shows look, like The Sopranos , I tell them “It’s because they use long arms!”

8 thoughts on ““If I wanted a long arm I’d have asked for it!”

  1. KEEP UP THE GOOD FIGHT HOWARD. YOUR YEARS OF EXCELLENT FLAGSETTING MAY NOT BE APPRECIATED OVER THERE BUT EVEN YOUR COMPATRIOTS HERE IN RED, WHITE AND BLUELAND COULD USE YOUR GUIDANCE SOMETIMES. THE C-STANDS ALWAYS COME IN WITH THE LONGARMS BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN ALL ARE ABLE TO DIAL THEM IN WITHOUT EMBARRASSING THEMSELVES (AND THEIR BOSSES).
    CHEERS BRO,
    IAN KINCAID

  2. trained in UK then moved to Aus and other countries where everyone brings a complete c-stand on set when asked for. It makes sense. Now that I’m back in London, I’m struggling to adapt again!

    • I hope when you say “adapt” you don’t mean NOT using long arms again! 🙂 Fight the fight!

  3. I am baffled by someone bringing no long arm. I was always instructed that the knuckle is the joint which allows you to use the long arm to put the flag anywhere. Why would you not want that extra flexibility. I also like to think there is a little bit of art in setting a c-stand correct, especially when it gets to be a “grip-jungle”.

  4. Thanks, Howard that was a wonderful read. Keep it up. I hope the next time I work in the UK, I won’t have to keep saying, “Always bring the c-stand with the arm.” C-stands are tricky and I’ve said they were invented to make a grown man look like an idiot, but they’re an ingenious piece of equipment.

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