Don’t Panic when Someone Asks you for a C47 on Set

If you’re looking to increase your marketability in the film industry, or simply impress your non-filmmaker friends, there’s one essential piece of industry jargon that every filmmaker should know. Something known as a C47 is one of the simplest, but most useful and versatile tools you can have on set. It’s not some type of light measurement device or a specialized lens; no, a C47 is actually just a clothespin. It’s a notoriously cryptic name for something so simple, and no one in the industry really knows for sure where the term originated. Whatever you call it, there’s no doubt that clothespins can be lifesavers on set. A pack of 50 will typically run between $5 and $10 on a site like Amazon, and there are multiple sizes, shapes and styles to choose from. Knowing what to look for when someone asks you to grab a C47 will impress your director and fellow crew members, and will surely save you a lot of time and embarrassment.  Here’s a list of some essential ways that a C47 might come in handy on a film set:

1. Lighting

At some point in your career, you’ll likely work with the tried-and-true tungsten lights. While likely not the most modern or portable option, these lights provide a consistent, reliable light source that can be fairly easily adjusted using a basic lighting kit. Clothespins can be very useful for attaching materials like gels and diffusion to the adjustable flaps, called barn doors, that control the direction of the light. These lightweight materials can be easily attached to the light with a simple clothespin, which provides a secure way to fasten accessories to lights without the risk of tearing or stretching the material. Clothes pins can also be used to hang or position reflectors and sound proofing materials in your shooting space. It’s probably a good idea to choose the classic wooden clothespins for use on set, as plastic C47s could melt when they come into contact with hot barn door surfaces. Wooden clothespins can also be used to manipulate the hot metal surfaces of the tungsten lights in place of gloves.

C47 holding a blue gel on a light.
Use C47s to attach gels or diffusion material to the barn doors in front of your lights. Make sure to get the wooden ones if you plan on clipping them to tungsten light fixtures.

2. Set Modifications

When working on a film project, you won’t always have access to spaces designed specifically for filmmaking. The room or outdoor space you’re working in often requires modifications in order to produce your best audio and visual work. Maybe you have a curtain that won’t stay open (or closed), a noisy air vent or a squeaky chair. These are all scenarios where a couple of C47’s can come in extremely handy! Clothespins can be used to provide temporary repairs or modifications to your physical set and shooting location. Use a C47 to keep a tripod or light stand from wobbling, or maybe to rope off  part of your location or post a sign, warning others that filming is in progress.

3. Wardrobe Adjustments

Creating the desired wardrobe for a film project often tests your abilities to improvise and repurpose the items you already have access to. You might have the perfect outfit for one character, but with a few clothespins in hand it’s fairly easy to shorten, tighten, drape or invent new ways to redesign one piece of apparel for an entirely different character. You don’t need to access a sewing machine or know how to rip seams in order to transform an outfit worn by a tall male character into a shorter jacket or dress for a smaller actor or actress. Don’t spend unnecessary time and money searching and agonizing over the perfect piece of clothing when your clothes pins can easily transform something you may already own or be able to borrow.

You might have the perfect outfit for one character, but with a few clothespins in hand it’s fairly easy to shorten, tighten, drape or invent new ways to redesign one piece of apparel for an entirely different character

4. Paperwork

A less glamorous aspect of filmmaking is the amount of paperwork that is used throughout the production process on any project, no matter how short or simple. A C47 might not be your first choice for organizing forms, but in the heat of the moment on set, you might need to distribute pages of the script, keep track of important insurance papers, call sheets, or rental agreement forms. Storyboarding is often an important part of the pre-production and shooting process, and with the help of a few clothespins, and maybe some string and a blank wall, you can transform an empty space on location into an interactive storyboard and work space. If you’re renting your filmmaking equipment, use a handy C47 to attach the rental form to the bag or the case that each item came in, which will save time when you’re racing against the clock to return the item at the end of your shoot.

5. On-set Repairs

Sometimes when you’re on set, things go wrong. A piece of equipment might break, go missing or malfunction. With plenty of C47’s lying around, you should be able to quickly improvise a solution to most problems involving large scale hardware. For instance, if the clip on your wireless microphone breaks, wrap the cord several times around a clothespin and find a way to reposition the mic on your subject.

Clothespins can be used to corral microphone wires or other cords, keep track of your coffee on set, or for any number of other uses that haven’t been outlined here. And you’ll definitely be glad you already know this term the first time someone asks you for a C47 on set!

Emily is a writer and multimedia producer with a background in video production, journalism, public broadcasting and media education. She currently works as a freelancer, but has produced content for groups like the Smithsonian Institution, Oregon Public Broadcasting and a video news startup called NewsBeat Social.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I’ll never forget back in film school – we sent a 1st year student out to get some clothespins, and they came back with plastic ones, which proceeded to melt onto the barn-doors! Remember, your “C47s” MUST be the wooden kind!

  2. Having lived through the second world war, I remember that the military called the
    wonderful Douglas Commercial Airliner the DC-3, a C-47. So it may have come
    about that film makers may have called the ever present clothespin like the DC-3
    a C-47 when used for very serious work like the DC-3 was in WW-2.

    The models used in the D-Day invasion of Europe had white stripes painted on their
    wings, which set them apart from all other planes at the time.

  3. This terminology is doubly confusing for the British. If you don’t know a C47 is, and then an irate director shouts at you, “a clothespin you dolt! Get a frickin’ clothespin!” they are actually talking about a clothes peg. “Clothespin” is a strange name as it’s not a pin, and I would assume a clothespin was a safety-pin.

  4. How about C-74s? These are wooden clothespins turned backwards by innovative grips so that the long pinchers face forward. These can provided more reach and a lower profile than standard C-47s.

    C-47s are still handy to have, but tunsten lamps are going the way of the dodo. Many lighting techs use LED fixtures these days as they are more reliable, take much less energy, and do not emanate much heat.

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