Student Handbook

How To Behave On Set

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If you’ve never been on a set before – do not worry about it – there is a first time for everyone. The following guidelines can help you be a productive member of the team. They can also help you develop professional work habits that will serve you well throughout your career.

  • If you’ve volunteered to help a classmate with their film, honor your commitment.
  • Keep your word and give them a full day of honest work.
  • Treat it like a job even though you’re not being paid.
  • Arrive on time. “Call time” means the time you should be ready to begin work. 
  • Be prepared. If your job requires hand tools, be sure to bring them with you. If you’re going to be moving lights you’d better have some gloves. In general, arrive on set ready to work.
  • Be pleasant and enthusiastic 
  • Be courteous to everyone – always. Call people by their names. Use “please” and “thank you”. 
  • Pay attention. Don’t stand in front of the camera lens when the Cinematographer is trying to set up the shot. Get out of the way when the Gaffer is setting a light.
  • If you need to leave the set make sure your department head knows where you’re going, why you’re going there and when you’ll be back.
  • Anticipate.The filmmaking process is highly repetitive. You’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly. Anticipating what will be needed can save you a lot of extra steps.
  • Don’t assume anything. If you are in doubt – ask.
  • Don’t play with the props. They’re not toys.
  • Don’t move equipment that is not your responsibility – without permission. For example, if you’re working in the grip department, don’t move the lights. If something is in your way ask the appropriate crew member to move it.
  • Work quietly. If everyone on the set is jabbering and making noise then the people who really need to communicate about the shot can’t hear each other.
  • Keep your sense of humor.

How to Dress

  • Wear proper footwear and clothing. Flip-flops and sandals are never appropriate for a film set. A good pair of work shoes or boots is a worthwhile investment. Avoid wearing tee shirts with offensive language or statements. 
  • Make sure to bring protective equipment with you like gloves, sunglasses and a hat. It’s not a bad idea to carry sunblock, Chapstick, Visine, Aspirin and the like.
  • The weather can change. You should carry a “set bag” with you that contain rain gear and cold weather gear.

Walkie-Talkie Procedure

The most important thing to remember is to turn your walkie-talkie OFF when the AD calls, “rolling” – and to turn it back ON when the Director calls, “cut”.

Shooting the Right Way

One of the hardest things for beginning filmmakers to internalize is that there is a smart way to organize a shooting day. Try to follow this simple plan: BLOCK, LIGHT, REHEARSE, SHOOT.

Any professional will tell you that the time you spend in blocking out the entire scene — from top to bottom — in the actual location where you’re shooting, will more than make up in time savings.

Once your sound, picture, wardrobe, production design and assistant directors see exactly where the characters will be moving, it becomes way easier to set up for the actual shooting.

During that time, only the actors and the director are actively working. Everybody else — especially the department keys — are watching. They are examining how the blocking of the scene will affect their work. If there’s a potential problem they can discuss after the actors are released to go into wardrobe, hair and makeup.

Occasionally there will be changes that need to be made in the blocking because of technical issues. When the cast arrives back on set, after the lighting is done, the rehearsal can incorporate all of those changes much easier — because everyone has worked on the original conception.

The rehearsal is also where you can do the actual fine-tuning — where the edges of frame are set so the boom operator doesn’t invade the frame, for instance. But spending the 15-30 minutes that it will take to block out the scene ahead of time will make each of the ensuing steps easier 

Lockdown

If you are a production assistant you will probably be expected to help with “locking up” the set when it comes time to do a take.

You will be assigned a position at the perimeter of the set. It will be your responsibility to keep everyone in your area aware of when the camera rolls and to make sure there is no noise.

When the AD calls “PICTURE UP” repeat the message in a loud, clear voice so that everyone knows that the camera is about to roll. If you’re carrying a cell phone make sure it’s turned off.

Do the same when the AD calls “ROLLING”. At that point no one makes any noise.

When the camera is rolling use hand signals and pantomime to alert people approaching the set that a “TAKE “is in progress. Rotating your index finger in a circle is a universally understood signal for “ROLLING” – simulating the take up reel in the camera. 

When the director calls “CUT” repeat the message so people will know they can resume working.

Production Assistants or other crew members are never permitted to control vehicular traffic. Only designated law enforcement officers are allowed to stop or direct traffic.

If you are shooting in an area where there are “civilians” (citizens not involved with the production) treat them with respect and politeness.

Wrap

  • Put your tools and equipment away – then help others. 
  • Make sure you’ve filled out all the necessary paperwork before you leave the location. 
  • Make sure you have the next day’s call sheet and map before you leave the location.

When You Make a Mistake

  • Take responsibility for your screw up. As a beginner you are still learning – and as a human being you are not perfect. People will still be upset that a mistake was made, but they’ll respect you for being a stand-up person and taking the heat.
  • The most important thing is to learn from your mistakes.