Non-Fiction Book Review – Gaffers, Grips, and Best Boys

  • Title: Gaffers, Grips, and Best Boys: From Producer/Director to Gaffer and Best Boy, a Behind-the-Scenes Look at Who Does What in the Making of a Motion Picture
  • Author: Eric Taub
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 04/11/2013

I have the 1987 edition of this book. Even in reading the first chapter I had two immediate thoughts, “nice idea” and “too bad it’s so out of date”. This book really suffers from being terribly out of date. It describes the film industry of the 1970s and 1980s, not the film industry of today. I liked that for each job title, the author, Eric Taub, interviews experts in not just the film industry in general but for that particular position specifically. After all, when’s the last time you read an interview with a Gaffer? Or a DP (Director of Photography)? Or even an Editor? Do you know what the people listed in the credits of a film actually do? And this book answers many of those questions. Gaffers, for example, prepare a film’s location and are the manager-in-charge of the lighting crew. The key grip by contrast is in charge of the people who adjust stands for lighting effects such as diffusion and the dollys for the camera. Electricians plug into the local electrical system or arrange for a generator to supply direct current for the film equipment. However, it is also massively out of date. Although editors still arrange film sequences – I don’t think anyone physically splices film together by cutting it and taping it. (Something I myself did in a college film and television production class, with 8mm film.) These days even if a film is filmed on film (not using digital cameras) the film is transferred to digital and then edited. Or, at least that’s my understanding. But there are other areas where this book just feels extremely outdated. And I wanted to read something up-to-date immediately.

That said, this book is a fascinating look at the “non-glamorous” people in Hollywood film-making from pre-production to production to post-production (visual and sound editing only, I was disappointed that music composition wasn’t included). It does not read like a “job manual” because Taub interviews experts with long careers in their individual fields, and sometimes even includes a brief biographical sketch of how they ended-up in The Industry in the first place. As a bonus, an interview with John Lithgow is included. The interview centers on The World According to Garp but Twlight Zone – The Movie and Buckaroo Banzai are also mentioned. Oddly enough the famous deadly helicopter crash during Twlight Zone – The Movie isn’t mentioned – at all, which I found strange.

Besides really wanting to read an updated version of the book (or a similar one); I also found at times I wanted additional interviews with people in different positions. Still it’s a quick, educational read.

By the way, per Good Reads it does look like there is an updated version (it came up first when I did a search). I’ll have to look for it.

Update: I now have the updated version of this book but I have not read it yet.

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Book Review – Woman’s Own

  • Title: Woman’s Own
  • Author: Robyn Carr
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 01/19/2013

This book has been sitting on my shelf for years, but I finally sat down and read it. I must say I did enjoy it.

Woman’s Own is the story of three generations of women in 19th century Philadelphia. I’m more familiar with Victorian England than the US so it was a nice change – though at times I thought her historical detail was just… off.

The book begins with a Midwife making her way to the poorest section of Philadelphia to help a woman in childbirth. She reflects on the many ways women end-up in the shacks along the river, and recalls this woman is condemned even by other poor women because she has no skills – she can’t even make bread if she’s given the ingredients. The Midwife births the woman’s daughter, but, though she normally doesn’t help other women, she takes her in.

That’s the prologue – the book skips ahead about 15-17 years, and the poor woman is now running her own boarding house, and has a fairly decent side business making jams, jellies, and sweetbreads to sell in her new neighborhood. Her older daughter, the one who was a year or two old in the prologue, is now 17. The younger, the one born in the prologue, is now 15. We also meet the men and women living in her boarding house.

Things move along, but through a series of misfortunes, Emily (the mother) finds herself without boarders. Patricia, the older daughter, is set on getting herself a rich husband because she feels she has no skills (unlike the younger daughter, Lilly). Unfortunately, she’s vain, pushy, and doesn’t listen to anyone – including her mother who was abandoned by her own rich husband. Patricia is very like Scarlett O’Hara in the film Gone with the Wind except no one likes her and she’s less sympathetic. Patricia’s shenanigans end up with her being raped. Though her mother is at first sympathetic – both Lilly and eventually Emily end-up blaming Patricia for her own rape.

Lilly is bookish and strong. When her mother sends her to an inexpensive girl’s finishing school, she rapidly gets bored – and starts spending her time at the library instead. There, she meets library patron Andrew, who signs permission for her to read whatever she wants.

With the problems at the boarding house, however, Emily’s health deteriorates and she develops consumption (TB). Just when things seem at there worst – Amanda arrives. Amanda is Emily’s mother. Emily had quarreled with her to marry “the man she loved” – the self-same rich so-and-so who abandoned her. Amanda is filthy rich, having married and been widowed three times – each time more or less to a more wealthy man. (When Emily’s father died he left the family in debt – Amanda’s forced to sell off the family home to survive – it’s the other cause of the rift between mother and daughter.)

Amanda’s return is the luck and the money Emily and her daughters need. Patricia decides she wants to force her rapist to marry her – thinking she wants his money, she’ll be accepted into society – which she also wants, and that no one will love her because she’s lost her virginity. Emily and Amanda warn her – but Patricia insists. Amanda uses her power as a pillar of Philadelphian society to arrange and pay for the marriage. Patricia finds out her mother and grand-mother were correct in their warnings, and is quickly miserable.

Lilly, meanwhile, has her own dream. Seeing how her mother turned the boarding house into a profitable business (for awhile), and having read up on it – she decides to first buy the hotel her grandmother has moved the family into, and then to build her own hotel. Amanda pays for her world-wide “homework” trip, where Lilly learns all there is to know about luxury hotels.

Lilly, Amanda, and Emily are soon running their own hotel. It’s the most interesting part of the book — but it’s a bit anarchistic. In the Victorian Age, American women couldn’t vote, hold property, work, or even read (popular thought had it women’s “delicate” minds would explode if they read books). Occasionally, the blatant sexism of the age emerges, but for the most part the novel lets these women do what they want – acting almost modern. It helps that Amanda is extremely rich and from one of Philadelphia’s oldest, richest, and most respected families. In some ways, the section of the book would make a good television series.

Various other threads of the novel emerge, occur, and conclude. Lilly, eventually runs into her old pal, Andrew again, and they start an affair. Patricia also, after many hard lessons, finds her own happiness – then disappears (tho’ Lilly doesn’t approve of her own sister’s actions).

Woman’s Own is the type of book that’s almost like an ice cream sundae or a rich, decadent dessert. It’s a fun, interesting, and engaging read. But when you think about it – it’s full of a lot of the cliches of quote “women’s fiction” unquote, which is why I seldom read that genre of romantic fiction. I liked Lilly a lot, and she’s fascinating as a businesswoman – but the moment she starts her affair, I thought, “Oh, I’m done.” Still, if you want something frothy, it’s worth it – and the writing style is very competent.