Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

The amazingly elastic walkie-talkie range

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.

Filed under: Work

4 Responses

  1. JCW says:

    I’ve thought about doing some PA work, but frankly the whole walkie-talkie multi channel thing always strikes me as confusing and a little intimidating.

    (Not to mention that PAs often seem to be the whipping boys/girls on set)

    Yes…. I’m technologically retarded.

  2. One day during a 2nd Unit shoot for season 3 of Lost, we were shooting high up on a mountain and we could hear 1st Unit at Kualoa Ranch (the jungle scenes) over 25 miles away. It was a really clear day with an almost perfect line of sight (if we could see that far).

  3. lizriz says:

    Wow, must be this incredibly clear air we’re having?

  4. Simon says:

    A good rule of thumb to use with walkie-talkies is that they work on line of sight.
    If you can see the area where the person you need to talk to is, you can probably talk to them concrete & stone will really reduce your range though.
    Of course you could always get a repeater system and send someone to carry it and a big antenna up to the highest point available. Or for added fun mount it in a car and play the “can you hear me now” game to find the best spot

    Peggy sez: We could not see the other unit at all, and there was about 10 miles of concrete and stone between us. Just a freak thing.

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