It’s your first time on a movie set. You’re nervous, excited. You watch impressed as more than a hundred crew members scurry to set up a shot that’ll probably last no more than 5 seconds in the final film.
Then, someone turns and asks you for a C-47.
Not wanting to reveal your inexperience, you nod knowingly and begin a frantic search around the set. C-47…Sounds important. Maybe it’s a type of light? Or a camera filter? Then again, C-47 sounds vaguely electrical – maybe it’s a cable?
Nope. It’s one of these:
One of the great things about film production is the slang, much of which dates back to the early days of Hollywood. Spend enough time on a set, and you’ll hear dozens mysterious terms: jokers, hot bricks, redheads, stingers, sticks, the martini, the Abby Singer, cookies…
My favorite is the slang for a simple wooden clothespin – C-47 (also known as 47′s, CP47′s, bullets, ammo, and pegs).
I was indeed asked for a C-47 on one of my first film shoots (by someone I suspect was just trying to make me look dumb). I spent a solid ten minutes pretending to know what I was looking for before someone finally reached into a cloth bag and pulled out a handful of simple, ordinary clothespins.
Why is it called C-47? There are a bunch of stories, all of which are probably apocryphal. One has it that C-47 refers to an extremely versatile type of military plane used during World War II. Because clothespins are also versatile in film production, they were honored with the name by returning servicemen.
Another story goes that C-47 was simply a catalog number for a bag of clothespins (or in an alternate version, a World War II requisition number). A third is that a particular movie studio stored clothespins in a bin marked C-47, and the name just stuck. A fourth: the patent number.
The REAL story (at least, the first version I ever heard and my favorite of the bunch) is that back in the early days of Hollywood, studio heads auditing equipment requests from lighting departments would go crazy over the idea of spending good money for something as simple and mundane as clothespins. Hence, “clothespin” was quietly changed to the far more impressive-sounding C-47, and all requests were immediately approved by clueless execs.
One final version: it was actually to avoid the IRS, who would not consider clothespins to be work-related expenses (but had no problem with C-47′s).
PS – Feeling creative? Flip the spring on a clothespin to turn into a pair of wooden tweezers, and you’ve got a C-74!
PPS – Bored on set? Play the amusing game of trying to clip as many C-47′s to a person’s shirt as possible without them noticing.