Spring 2009

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

The scene opens on a calm, eerie lake. Cut to a woman running through the forest. As she looks back at whatever’s chasing her, she trips and falls down. She scrambles to get back up, when out of the fog comes...

Fog and smoke have been used to set the scene and create tension or tone for years. What are some important things to know while working in smoke? First off, you should know your rights. Producers should let you know you will be working in smoke or dust at the time of booking and/or at the audition. Whenever possible, notice also should be given by stating on the call sheet that there will be smoke. In addition, the producer must make available the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), which details which chemical substances are being used to create the smoke, with potential physical reactions and side effects. If a copy of the MSDS is not given to you (usually with the call sheet), you can request one.

When working with smoke on an interior set, there are precautions that can be taken to ensure the safety of the actor. According to the safety guidelines, the stage should be ventilated periodically and/or all performers should be allowed to step away from the stage to a smoke-free environment at appropriate intervals. Even if you do step away, some people still have adverse reactions to smoke and dust, such as coughing, itchy eyes and a dry throat. To slow this reaction, you can wear a mask when you are not filming to help keep dust out of your airways. Eye drops and throat lozenges are good for keeping you from drying out.

The final issue to look out for, especially with fog, is condensation and low visibility. When you are rehearsing, make sure you know your path. Walk it a few times so that you don’t unexpectedly come across some cords or small prop pieces. Then do a run-through with the effect going, so you get a chance to troubleshoot without the cameras running. Finally, the floor can get slippery from the condensation, so wear shoes with tread or non-slip pads, and move slowly until you are sure of your footing.

Effects are getting safer and safer each year. If you keep your eyes open and you’re aware of all the possibilities, you can do your part in making a safer work environment.