What in the world is a 'gaffer'?

NKC Tribune, August 20, 1992

By M.J. "Squeak" Giaudrone

On location with Northern Exposure

Anyone who has ever watched television or movie credits roll up he screen at the end of a film have had to have seen the odd titles given to normal people. "Gaffer" is one of those titles and it means very imply you're the chief lighting technician.

Being responsible for lighting an entire sound stage set in a studio has got to be tough, but taking the job on location--wherever that may be--must be a challenge under any circumstance. Scott Williams is the "gaffer" for Pipeline Productions, the Redmond-based company

Responsible for getting Northern Exposure exposed every Monday night on CBS

Scott is responsible for a seven-man crew who must every two weeks or so, haul miles and miles of electrical cable to Roslyn, connect it together, make sure it works and that all of the light bulbs and accessories arc in their proper places. If the right place is running down a sidewalk, up the side of a building, across a street, or under one, too, I suppose, it's Scott's job to figure out how that will be done. Then it's up to thc crew to accomplish thc task and carry out his orders. The term "gaffer", Scott said, is an East Coast term, which he said he guessed came from the gaffing hook used to pull cable and wire in the theater.

Of all of his responsibilities, Scott says the hardest part is handling the wire because of its weight. But the best part, possibly, is having an assistant lighting technician--or "best boy" Dan Linnick. Scott says that when the best boy goes home at night he must use that time to figure out how to accomplish everything for the next shooting session. Scott gets to go home and "watch the Olympics."

His Name is John

John White is a man that you may not notice at first but if you pass him more than twice on the street you will not forget his infectious smile. He is a pleasant and helpful man and can often be seen escorting people across a busy street corner; advising people to speak quietly--or not at all if necessary--if filming is taking place. His eyes are everywhere and his smile quickly follows. This man with the thick English accent finds most everyone in Roslyn--residents, tourists, cast and crew--to be "just delightful people". That attitude may have a lot to do with why he thinks everyone is so nice--he gets back what he gives. But don't be fooled into thinking there isn't a more serious side to John. He wouldn't be head of security on the show if that were the case.

Maggie O'Connell, played by Janine Turner in the show, is the person perhaps one would expect to be in charge of security. But it is John, in fact, who takes charge when Janine is on the set. He is also her personal bodyguard.

Remember Morty?

There are two animals strongly associated with Northern Exposure--about as opposite from one another as any species could be. One is real the other is not. One has tourists flocking to use it as a background for travel photos; the other has difficulty being photographed at all and if he were in Roslyn today no one--save one person in particular--would recognize him anyway. The non-real animal of course is the camel painted on the side of thc Roslyn Cafe AKA Roslyn s Cafe in fictitious downtown Cicely. I even stopped once to help a couple from Tennessee so they could both be in thc picture beside the cafe rather than wait for them to have to take two separate pictures.

Morty the live animal, is no longer the wobbly baby moose who opens the series each week wandering the streets of Cicely. Morty, according to Anne Gordon, the show's animal handler, is fully grown, still resides at Washington State University in Pullman, and became a father this past spring. In fact, Anne said, he is going to be a daddy again.

Anne's job is to locate the animals needed for the show and to assist in the handling of them. "I usually let the animal's owner handle them," Anne says, but she is no novice when it comes to handling them. She was a zookeeper at Woodland Park in Seattle for 14 years. Answering my question as to why there had been so much secrecy and subterfuge surrounding the filming of Morty. Simply put, Anne said, "Moose are animals that have never been worked before and they are totally unpredictable. We did not want anyone around; I didn't even let the film crew on the set until thc last minutes, because it could have been very dangerous. Even a kick could be lethal, because moose are so big." Morty's "pay" for appearing in the show came in the form of a $5,000 donation to WSU.

As we visited, someone spoke to Anne's dog,"Magpie", and asked it to "speak." Magpie didn't reply, but I suggested that not be something they teach the dog for fear they would end up with a dog which did little else. Ironically, Anne said teaching a dog to speak was the first thing to be taught.

"As soon as the dog learns to speak on command, then you can teach it to 'not speak'. 'Speaking' is the most-often requested trick from a dog in the movies." Anne is now a freelance handler, and has made a lot of contacts through her years at the zoo. She is currently scanning those contacts, attempting to locate a crane (the feathered type) for a future episode [4.7 The Bad Seed].

"Ed (played by Darren Burrows) has some kind of a relationship with a crane . . ." Anne explains, ". . . sort of a 'mother-fixation thing', since Ed has raised it from a baby." Anne had not located it at the time of the interview, but she also hadn't hit the panic button yet, either. "That comes later," she said.

Created 2/14/02
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