How many camera operators does it take to change a light bulb? None, they’ll frame it out. To most, it’s not very funny. But it’s an example of how in-jokes are vital to keep the wheels turning on a shoot.
Every industry has its own language and its own witticisms. It’s part of what we do to make us feel that we belong to the tribe. In a family, you have your own words for certain things, in relationships; pet names and phrases are adopted very quickly (even Kate apparently calls William ‘Babe”)
Humour can be used to alleviate tension in times of stress. From my background in journalism, the seriousness of a story could be measured in how quickly the black humour came out; usually jokes started to flow within minutes but for the more shocking news stories, it took up to a day. But, however long it took, the jokes always came.
(Incidentally, a recent study from the Medical University of Vienna suggested black humour was a sign of high intelligence, but I digress).
The level of humour on a shoot is a sign of how well the team is operating. Crews can be very good at skipping the so-called forming and storming stages in group dynamics and going straight to norming and performing. There’s usually no time for individuals to push against boundaries and vie for position. We need to get the job done. When it works, and in the majority of shoots, everyone knows their role and knows what they have to do. Respect for the other team members and their skill is key.
Recently after a day’s shoot, our presenter surmised we must have known the sound-man for years. We’d just met him that day. Matt was a great example of being confident in both his own abilities and our abilities and fitting seamlessly into the group to get the job done.
Understanding the humour was part of that. He picked up on certain phrases we used, and, despite being from another culture, he saw how our humour was used to deal with tension on set or to issue instructions – for example, commenting that ‘it’s getting dark soon’ is a phrase we use when we want someone to just get on with it.
The humour is often offensive and personal. Once a fact is known about the background of a member of the team – for example, like the time they attended a stationery conference not to film but as a delegate (!) – it’s never forgotten and held against that team member for the rest of time. There are endless puns that are shared and created, continual insults traded.
Sometimes the only options are laughing or crying. A good crew will always opt to laugh – and probably at each other’s expense.