Many years ago, when I was helping out on one of my first Vimeo Staff videos, Blake asked me to see if we could borrow a C-stand from our friends and neighbors at College Humor. I had no idea what a C-stand was. How would I know what to look for? Once I had it, what would I do with it? And what does the “C” stand for, anyway? If only I had Vimeo Video School back then, I would have known exactly what to do!
Thankfully my shame faded and I now understand enough to help you. So Let’s dig in and find out what C-stands are and why they’re used in productions so much. To start us off, here’s a video tutorial from our friends at Framelines TV:
So to recap, a C-stand is a very handy piece of equipment used most often by the grip department on a set. It’s essentially a heavy-duty tripod used to execute various lighting and rigging tasks. The “C” stands for “century,” which was the name of the most common size of reflector held by these stands in the early days of filmmaking.
Anatomy of a C-stand:
C-stands are composed of a base, a stem, a grip head, and a grip arm. The base has three legs of varying heights. The stem usually has two to four risers that can be extended to add height to the stand. The grip head is what attaches the arm to the stand, and the arm in turn supports clamps or knuckles that hold various accessories. Below is a basic C-stand for reference:
Here’s a C-stand holding a scrim, which is used to block a light source. (Note: the C-stand arm is extended to the wrong side, but more on that below.) Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
C-stands are most often used to position elements in front of a light source in order to modify the light given off by that source. Objects like flags, scrims, and reflectors are used to block and direct light; these are typically positioned and held in place with C-stands. Additionally, color gels, silks, and cucalorises (or cookies, which are surfaces with holes cut into them to create shadows and patterns) can all be used to alter light. And as you might have guessed already, C-stands can also be used to hold and position light sources themselves. To learn how to properly set up a C-stand, check out this tutorial by John DeMaio:
Here are some C-stand tips to keep in mind:
- When attaching an element to the arm, make sure the arm is extended out to the right of the grip head. That way, the weight of the object will push the arm down and tighten the head. If the arm is extended to the left, the weight of the object could loosen the head, causing the arm to fall. If you’re not careful, whatever the C-stand is holding might end up falling on your set — or worse, on a crew or cast member. And as you can see in the C-stand image above, the scrim is attached improperly to the grip head. Look out below!
- With this previous tip in mind, always set the arm slightly higher than where you want the light source to hit, as the weight of the attachments will likely cause the arm to move down slightly.
- Don’t forget your stability sandbag! C-stands can be dangerous if not properly balanced, and a sandbag or two will help keep your C-stand from tipping over. Generally, you want to place sandbags on the opposite side of where weight is extending from the stand.
- When you add an accessory that extends far beyond the base of the stand, make sure the highest leg is positioned toward the accessory. This will enable the weight to lean on a longer leg and increase overall stability.
If you’re unsure of anything, don’t hesitate to ask those you’re working with. Hopefully this brief overview will be helpful if you’re ever a production assistant on set and someone tells you to “Stop standing around and set up some C-stands!”