Film Set Etiquette is very important on set and having bad set etiquette can go as far as getting you fired or put on someone’s blacklist. Bad etiquette is something even the most experienced person is guilty of from time to time, but it is most common with people new to film sets.
The problem is that most new, less experienced people especially ones fresh out of film school or kids that have taken online film courses have an uncontrollable desire to show you just how much they know or how good they can be at every job. What they don’t understand is that making those comments and suggestions or doing someone elses job is hurting their career more than doing them good. Soon they will be known for having bad etiquette or being a know it all.
In this blog we will talk about general onset behavior as well as behavior in real on set situations…
General Film Set Etiquette:
- Drug and alcohol use is frowned upon on set.
- Keep you mouth shut and your ears open.
- Respect the chain of command.
- Be polite, say please and thank you.
- Learn people’s names. This is a big one, camera department gets to cheat and tape the actors grid that’s on the call sheet to the camera, others aren’t so lucky.
- Be watchful and respectful of your co-workers. Just because farting is okay on the grip truck doesn’t mean its okay in front of the talent.
- Try to show up a little early. Do some networking, learn where the equipment is, read the call sheet, have a coffee. Do whatever it takes to prepare yourself for the day.
- Arrive on set prepared with the tools you need to do your job.
- At top of day report to your department head, introduce yourself and be respectful.
- When given instructions in person or over the walkie be sure to acknowledge by saying “copy” or “copy that”. Do not copy if you do not fully understand the instructions. Feel free to repeat back, ask questions or do whatever it takes to fully understand what you are being instructed to do.
- When in need of a washroom break be sure to tell your boss! In film school you might have been told to ALWAYS tell the Assistant Director as well, that is great in theory, but on larger sets the AD has so much to deal with that they really don’t need to know which tech is pooping. You are fine as long as your boss knows and someone is around to cover you. Now, that goes for lower level crew mainly, as a Cinematographer or any higher up position the AD must be told.
- Watch your boss and be aware of what is going on in your department and around you.
- Work hard, but don’t over do it. ‘Work smart, not hard’ is a goo motto to follow is a good motto to follow, but that doesn’t mean be lazy. Pace yourself, the days are long and there will be plenty of work.
- Allow others to do their jobs, don’t be a hero. Don’t chirp in about things that have nothing to do with you or your department.
- If you want to help another department ask them if they need it first. A simple “may I?” before moving a camera case or stand can save you a lot of grief later. The bigger the set the less likely you will be allowed to touch anything that doesn’t belong to your department.
- Take a call sheet at the top of the day or print one the night before. In most cases many of your questions can be answered by looking at the call sheet
- If on a longer job don’t be afraid to ask for a one liner, It can help you to be ready for future days.
- Communication. When turning on a light, flying in track, dolly or anything in general call it out. Don’t just walk on to set with a 10 foot chunk of metal, that’s how people get hurt.
- Do not just plug items into any available outlet. Never unplug anything. ALWAYS ask an Electric.
Dealing with people directly below you:
When I started off in film I wasn’t the nicest to the people below me. I was quite tough on them, but only because I didn’t know any other way to be. I was taught a certain way and thought that was the way it was. As I gained more experience and worked with different crews I learned to take traits from techs that I liked and make them my own. Now, I’m still a bastard when I need to be, but am much nicer in general.
- Learn everyone’s name and be nice to them. Too many gaffers have not cared to learn my name and use it. To them I am expendable (which is true to a certain degree), but that doesn’t mean treat me that way. The nicer you are to me the harder I will work for you.
- Be patient with the less experienced and try to teach as you go. That doesn’t mean take everyone aside and teach them how to set a flag when you’re supposed to be dolly gripping. Pick and choose your moments, it’s as simple as explaining why you bagged a stand a certain way as you do it.
- Don’t be afraid to assign tasks or delegate responsibility, even if someone is working for a lower rate or for free that doesn’t mean baby them. In most cases people working for free are there for the experience and would be willing to do almost anything within reason.
- Appreciate their hard work and thank them graciously. It’s a simple as saying “great morning guys, thanks for the hard work” or “awesome work today, thanks” at the end of the day. Even covering one pitcher sometime and saying “thanks” goes a hell of a long way.
- Look out for your people! Don’t let them get taken advantage of, make sure they are being paid fairly, being well fed and getting their full lunch hours. Why? Because they deserve it, the better paid, well rested and fed they are the better they will make you look and the better you will make your boss look.
- Be assertive when you need to be. Don’t be too nice because you will be walked all over. I recently had this experience…I had hired two guys to finish up a job with me, it was the last few days of a four-week feature film and I was being overly nice with them. On the next job I found their work to be sloppy, slow and careless. I let them hear it and suddenly they were working well again, they were working the way they did on the first job. Later I realized that I was so nice on the first one that they thought they could get away with being lazy.
Dealing with Production:
- If you have a question or concern make sure you are bringing it to the right production team member, don’t hassle the director about something the PM should be dealing with and don’t ask the PM something that the AD’s should be dealing with.
- Know the roles of the production staff, it will get your issues dealt with more efficiently.
- When you are asked to reply to an email or phone call try to do it as soon as possible. It makes for a very stressful day if you can’t get in touch with the crew the day before a shoot starts.
- If anything strikes you as odd or concerning on the call sheet let the distributor know as soon as you receive it, don’t wait until you are on set and it might be too late.
- Keep a copy of the call sheet on you at all times, production doesn’t need to be bothered with questions that can be answered if you just read the call sheet.
- Don’t ignore the call sheet, some people think that all they need to know is what time they show up and then act surprised when there is a location move. Production doesn’t spend hours working on them for you not to read them.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions or raise concerns, there is a lot going on in a production office and it is possible that things get overlooked.
- Respect the home owners wishes. If the home owner is around or you’ve been given instructions to not unplug something or avoid going in a certain room follow those instructions to a T.
- Be cautious with stands and lights. Tennis balls can be attached to each leg or location mats can be placed down.
- Careful when removing tape from painted walls or hardwood floors. Although you should be using 2 inch black paper tape (painter tape essentially) it can still cause some damage, so be gentle.
- Do your best to return the location to the condition it was in when you arrived. Put back any bulbs you’ve replaced etc.
- If you damage or break something tell Production ASAP. Even if it’s something tiny they can easily be doing damage control or figuring out how to repair or replace it.
Dealing with the Sparks:
One of my biggest pet peeves on a film set is when someone asks me for extension cords, then acts weird when I ask what they’re plugging in and where. The truth is that I would rather give you every little piece of cable you need, run it all out for you and plug it in for you.
I need to know exactly how much amperage you’re running, where you’re needing it and for how long. It’s not a power trip (no pun intended) there are multiple reasons.
- They are balancing the load and need to know exactly how much of the 60 amps is left on that dief.
- Based on your power needs they can decide if they can get away with running one line and leaving you a cube tap or if you actually need two lines. Not all sets have endless budgets and often times they only have so much cable.
- They need to be sure you are being safe and not doing anything dangerous.
- If you do run it yourself you will run it messy and leave a tripping hazard. Guaranteed.
Based on that information here’s how to deal with the Electrics:
- Tell them that you need a line for a certain item, don’t just ask for cable. You could go as far as telling them the wattage, but just saying “Hey, I’d love a line for my smoke machine” is enough. That sentence alone tells them that it will probably be 10-15amps and from there they know exactly what they can do.
- When they say they will get to it, they will get to it. Don’t pester. Things are prioritized and in many cases there are 5 things that need to happen before they can get you power.
- When and if you’re done with the line tell someone, don’t just leave it laying there. You could also wrap it yourself, but be sure you know the proper way of wrapping cable.
These are your Film Set Etiquette basics, If you have any funny stories feel free to share below.