Heads Up! Communication is Key

by Mikela Cowan

One of the most common phrases we are taught early on in our careers is “Heads up!” Sometimes it’s a shouted phrase from above to give anyone below them a warning to move. Sometimes it’s a loud notification from the fly-rail or deck that pipes are coming in. In either situation, communication is key to the safety of our brothers and sisters.

When on the fly-rail one may be running line sets and in constant communication with the loading-rail or folks on deck by voice (yelling) or radio. The TD or head carpenter may be on the deck calling pipes in and out, constantly talking to the head fly-man about which line sets to fly which directions, weights, or the progress of loading or unloading weight. Then the head carpenter can tell his crew or other departments when they can hang on a pipe, transfer goods, or drop units. In turn, the fly-rail is in constant communication with the loading rail to ensure they are awake and adjusting the load properly. Occasionally the fly-rail will need to call the loaders for a rub. Also moving above the crew’s heads are pics and cables of varying size and weight. It is crucial that hands lowering in or taking out Socapex cables and pics use their outside voice to notify folks on deck about these pieces. If nobody hears the heads up, they likely won’t move and may end up with a lead pipe on their head. The same idea should be applied to anyone in a lift or focus chair when dropping in a bag for supplies. Nobody wants a bag full of dead lamps crashing in on them.

When communicating verbally there are two basic paths of audial travel: your outside voice (don’t be afraid to yell when necessary, but please be considerate of the person standing next to you) and radios. In tech or show mode, com belt packs and head sets are often utilized. If this includes you, please use your inside voice and don’t leave your mic on unless absolutely necessary. On the radio, standard operating procedures can make communicating clean and efficient. When calling for someone hold down the button and say “<your name> calling for <their name>.” Give them a moment to reply, “Go for <their name>.” Please be succinct in your communication or request. Hopefully they will be as well – it is not only clear but also polite to your department, if not the whole crew.

It’s good to use your outside voice when calling to others from a distance, say, calling down from the top of a ladder to move. When you are a few feet away from a colleague and lifting a heavy object together, don’t yell, when you confirm you are both heading in the same direction, and lifting in tandem. These are basic communication skills and safety, not rocket science, folks. Verbalizing things that may seem intuitive can save somebody’s backs or toes. When you are pushing things onto the truck at the end of the call, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance with unwieldy pieces. Also, it’s good to wait for one of the loaders to call for another piece, there is no hammer space on a truck.

Sometimes you may lock eyes with another stagehand, and think they know you are silently telling them to take a heavy object from you. They may just be spacing out, pondering what props brought for break that day. Please be smart, be safe, and use your voice to communicate.