Although film crews of old used to use hand signals to communicate, nowadays we use walkie talkies. Not the cheap ones you can get in the sporting goods stores – the ones we use are similar to the police models, which means they have a longer range (from several hundred yards to half a mile, depending on conditions and terrain), and are, alas, very heavy after they’ve been hanging on one’s tool belt for 14 hours.
Generally, one can predict a walkie’s range by how urgent whatever it is one needs to say, how far away from set one is, and how little cell signal there is in any given area:
Gaffer’s car being towed away + 100 yards away from set + no cell signal = nothing but static.
Comments about why the director’s doing 47 takes of a guy walking down a fucking hallway + 1/2 mile away from set + fair cell signal = fuzzy but audible.
Seeing the biggest rat in the Western hemisphere and screaming like a girl while accidentally depressing the microphone button + 2 miles away from set on top of an abandoned building + full cell signal so co-workers can call up and offer impressions of said scream = loud and clear.
Except today. Today, our unit were on the lot in West LA, and the main unit were downtown. Since the important people were off the lot, we went onto the standard electric channel (Transpo, 3. Camera, 6. Electric, 7. Grip, 8. Production, 1 for normal stuff, 2 for ‘I have to put out this fire’ stuff. If you’re bored, always listen on channel 2. That’s entertainment) instead of our alternate (we give the main channel to the main unit when we’re close enough that we have to go on different channels).
The other unit could hear us, even though they were over 10 miles away. One of the teamsters on the lot held a lengthy walkie conversation with a colleague downtown and when we wrapped, we used the walkie to tell the main unit’s best boy.
Freaky. I can honestly say that’s never happened to me before.