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Hair in the gate
I'd completely forgotten I'd taken this. To the uninitiated, this might look bizarre in extreme - unfathomable, even.

Let me explain: This was taken when I was still a Focus Puller (2nd assistant Camera in the States), and the technical-looking device in front of you is an Arriflex 35III movie camera. This was 'wild' in that it makes lots of noise - we generally used them as a workhorse, either for commercials, high-speed or for when you didn't need to record sound.

The film you can see is similar to the stuff you used to put in domestic cameras, but the small aperture in which the rabbit has appeared is known as the film gate - where the image is recorded as the film whizzes through vertically, top to bottom, stopping and starting as much as 120 times a second.

(Deep breath)

Film was (and still is) made in large sheets about 1000' long and 4' wide, and then cut or 'slit' into the various sizes - 10X8" sheet for large format cameras, 60mm for medium format (the 6X6 format still in use) 16mm and here, for 35mm. The film is perforated, wrapped in black plastic and then put in film cans ready for use.

Although this is all in a strictly controlled environment, slivers of film can be left attached to the rawstock, and if they get caught in the gate, you can have something the size of a tree trunk running across a complete take of whatever you're shooting, potentially ruining it.

So ... once a successful shot has been accomplished, the 1st Assistant Director asks the Focus Puller to check the gate to make sure there are no slivers of film, or 'hairs'. This is done in the manner demonstrated, usually with a pentorch to better see what's going on. If the focus puller calls 'hair in the gate' everyone groans and we do another take.

Still here? Good. So a 'Hair in the gate' can be an annoying thing to have - which is what we have here - a 'Hare in the gate'. Yes, quite a groan, really, but you can see I was relentlessly pursuing lame jokes long before I was published. What do you expect?

The fingers belong to Charles Shenstone, a frightfully pleasant chap indeed.Yes, I know it's a rabbit. I used to find a hair in the gate perhaps once in every twenty or thirty days of shooting if we were using Fuji or Kodak, more if we used Agfa.

There is always a suspicion that a Focus Puller might have pretended there was a hair so he could have another go on a shot he'd screwed up, but I never did this myself. When I muffed a focus pull, I 'fessed up.

Cameras Ltd, Westway Studios, 1992

Nikon FM, 50mm Macro, Ilford FP4.

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