How to Identify Trucks on Set

My parents were visiting from out of town, and the came by set last week. Since we’re still in prep, I had time to take them on a tour of our offices and stages. We passed by the transpo office, and I mentioned that’s where the teamsters hang out when they’re not in their trucks.

“You have teamsters?” my dad asked.

“Well, sure. We’re a union show. Who else is going to drive all the trucks?”

“What trucks?” That’s when I realized, I’ve been doing this for so long, there are some things I just take for granted, like the number of semi-trailers on a film production.

If you’re new to L.A., you might wonder why you occasionally see dozens of white, unmarked trucks and trailers congregating in large parking lots. These are, most likely, film or television productions shooting on location.

You see, not only does a show require hundreds of people, the also require hundreds of tons of equipment. When you’re on location, you need to bring all of that with you.

To start, there’s the semi-trailers: grip, electric, and, perhaps surprisingly, costume.

On a smaller production (or student film), grips and set lighting often get lumped together, so I’ll excuse you if you’re confused. But professional grips and SLTs1 will not. It’s easy to remember, though– electrics add light, grips take it away. If the truck is full of lamps, that’s the electrician’s truck; if it’s full of flags and stands, it’s the grips.

The tractor hauling the set lighting equipment will often have the generator attached. This is called the “gennie truck.”

It may not be immediately obvious why wardrobe needs an entire semi-trailer, but it makes sense when you think about it. A typical show has eight regulars, plus guest stars and bit parts. Each one of those needs an outfit for each script day, at least, and several duplicates, in case they get dirty or wrinkled. Even more duplicates are required for stand-ins and stunts. And that’s not counting all of the extras. Plus, the set costumers need a place to wash, dry, and press outfits, just in case.

Honestly, I’m amazed they can fit it all in one trailer.

Next, there’s a camera truck, which is usually a little bit bigger than a cube truck, with specialized rooms for changing film mags and the like. This truck is often the closest to set, since camera assistants have to run to their truck all the time.

Other trucks of similar size would be the props truck, and maybe a set dec truck. Set decoration will also likely have another truck for doing runs and prepping future locations and sets. Depending on the show, you might have a special effects truck around, too.

My favorite truck, of course, is the catering truck. It looks like a typical food truck you’d find a street fair, without the crazy paint job. It’ll be one of the first trucks opened up on a given day, to serve breakfast as people arrive. They’ll also generally leave in the early afternoon, after lunch is served.

If you’re in a really remote location (and the show has a big budget), you might also have a lunch box. It’s a massive trailer with walls that slide out to become, essentially, a dining hall for the crew.

Much nicer than a bunch of pop-up tents.

Then there’s the trailers. Lots and lots of trailers. Most are about the size of large campers, retrofitted for specific purposes. There’s going to be a transpo trailer, where the transportation captain works. Naturally, this is always a very nice trailer.

Next, there’s the AD trailer, sometimes only half a trailer, which the ADs (or, really, 2nd ADs, since the 1st ADs tend to stay on set) work out of. The director may or may not have their own trailer; it’s rare, in television, since they only shoot a single episode and don’t really have time to settle in.

Hair and make-up will have at least one trailer, to share, or a trailer each, depending on the needs of the show. These are easy to spot, since they basically look like a salon inside. Also, there’s generally a few stylists in there willing to chat with a bored PA.

Craft services2 might be a truck, might be a trailer; that’s up to crafty. Sometimes you’re allowed to go onto the truck to get your food; sometimes they prefer to keep that area private and clean. In those cases, they’ll set up a tent for the snacks and drinks, instead.

Most important are the actor’s trailers. The regular cast will have at least have a trailer to themselves, if not a whole trailer. Some really famous actors own their own private trailer, which can be… impressive.

This is the inside of a TRAILER. The house I grew up in isn’t this nice.

But that’s mostly for movie stars. TV stars just get their own Star Wagon. Which, you know, still aren’t half bad.

This one is bigger than my current apartment.

That’s a lot of trucks and trailers. Did I miss any?

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Set lighting technicians.
  2. Which is not interchangeable with catering.
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11 Responses

  1. Whenever I’m kind of lost looking for a location, I search for a gaggle of big white trucks. Works every time!

    Getting an entire shoot organized in one day is pretty much an amazing feat.

    Do trailers tow them in and then leave? Seems like there’s more trailers than trucks to tow them.

  2. We do use tow-plants (generators) when necessary, but big shows typically use gennies (often twin gennies) mounted directly behind the driver’s cab of the electric truck. The gennies can thus be easily moved wherever they need to be without moving the entire electric department.

  3. Camera truck. Sometimes there’s a sound/video assist trailer. I’ve seen a small separate paint trailer too, but that’s uncommon.

    1. I mentioned the camera truck, but you’re right, for certain kinds of shoots, there’s the video trailer. It’s not common on features and narrative TV series; it’s more for sports and game shows when a control room isn’t available on the stage.

  4. The Honeywagon! It’s the bathrooms, offices and tiny cell-like rooms for the dayplayers.

    To get more nuanced, there will be rigging trucks that aren’t necessarily always with the shooting company. And on bigger budgets I’ve seen actors bring in Gym trailers that will go next to their own campers.

    1. Of course, the honeywagon! So dumb.

      True, rigging grip and electric often have their own trailers, and you’re exactly right, they’re often at the next set.

      I’ve never seen a gym trailer! That actually sounds kinda fun.

  5. You left out the most Important trailer of them all……The Honey Wagon….When you have to …You Have to go…..

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