As you've noticed, if you visit here regularly, we Film Folks (I love saying that), have a lot of our own jargon. And we're kinda like magicians. We don't want everyone else to be clued in because understanding all of it proves that we're on the inside and you're not. Hey, it's bad enough that a bunch of kids who never leave their basements knew everything there was to know about the last Star Wars movie before the script was even written.
I will now (cue dramatic music), clue you in to a few things we know that might leave you scratching your head. Please use this information only for good. Evil is EVIL and using this information to get on to sets where you don't belong will result in an outbreak of Zombies, Vampires and Hitler's Brain-in-a-jar plaguing the earth...and you wouldn't want that, now would you.
Recently, I discussed using radios on set. We also have some hand signals we employ when using the radio would be a problem. One, that I learned early was when I was standing near the Craft Service table with all the other P.A.'s on a commercial. The 2nd A.D. waved to get all of our attention and then, with a really dramatic scowl, he made a motion like a slow-pitch softball pitcher lobbing the ball. This sign, I discovered, meant one grenade, which was shorthand for, "You assholes don't belong all in the same place at the same time where one grenade could wipe out the entire production staff in one fell swoop."
Another archane hand signal is to get the attention of a coworker and then wave your hand over the top of your head, hand flat and palm down, followed by a motion in front of your chest with both hands similar to wringing out a wet towel. This signifies, "Cover for me while I go choke the chicken", meaning, "Damn, I gotta go pee right now!"
There are a couple of terms that are among the most important terms we can hear on a set because they both signify that we'll get to go home soon. First and most important is The Martini Shot. When the Assistant Director announces that we're on the martini, he's telling us that it's the last shot of the day. Presumably, this originated as a way of telling the crew they'd be having that after-work cocktail soon.
Another term used near the end of the day is when the A.D. tells us we're on The Abby or The Abby Singer. The Abby is the 2nd to last shot of the day. The reason for this is that when he was an A.D., Abby Singer was notorious for announcing the Martini and then when it was done and the crew was furiously packing their gear away, he'd take it back and say, "Oops, we have one more shot. I need everybody back on the set."**
I had the pleasure of meeting Abby Singer once (when he was shooting exteriors for St. Elsewhere in Boston). At the time, I only knew that he was "the guy in charge"...not that he had a term universally used, named for him, nor that he was a legend in his own time. I mean really! Take another look at the guy's credits...Wagon Train? Newhart? Cannibal Attack? Holy crap! What a resume'.
At this late date in my career, I'm probably not going to match his output, so I can only hope that somehow, I get some shorthand term named for me. I'd be proud as all get-out to know that future P.A.s were saying, "Call me Nathan" in place of making that hand signal about choking the chicken. Yeah, that'd be a legacy.
**There's an alternate version of the story that says when he was a Production Manager, his appearance on the set was a warning to the Director that he could finish the shot he was on and one more before wrapping. This is probably the true story, but the first version is more prevalent.