Like Theatre, Film is a weird, small esoteric world with lots of incomprehensible rules, hidden pitfalls and awkward faux-pas waiting to happen. Read this list so you don’t get caught out when you’re next on-set!
Some film sets are big, others are small. Some require radios for the crew to keep in touch, others work better with direct communication. There’s one thing all professional sets have in common though: however big or small they may be, they’re quiet. Efficient filmmaking requires efficient communication skills and shouting is not part of those skills. Nevermind the fact that if you raise your voice, you’re likely to screw up sound for a take / disturb the director and actors while they work / annoy everyone around you.
OK, maybe making films is a bit like going to school. Don’t shout, don’t run, no playing with scissors. There’s good reason for this though: film sets are frequently dark and strewn with cables, bits of expensive equipment and sleeping grips. So if you don’t want to break yourself, the kit or the staff, keep your pace controlled and slow.
8) Ignore your radio / Not learn how it works
There’s few things more frustrating than having to go and manually check that a radio message has been received, only to discover that the person the message was intended for heard it but couldn’t / didn’t bother to reply because they have an issue with working their radio. IT HAS TWO BUTTONS, LEARN HOW TO WORK IT.
7) Sit down
There’s a saying in the army: Look Busy. Even if you’re not drowning in tasks, make sure you look like you’re on the ball. Sitting down and doing nothing, especially if you’ve got a stand-up sort of job – e.g. as a Runner – will make you look lazy, or it will make people assume that you’ve got nothing going on and will happily do whatever they task you with. If you do find yourself with a bit of spare time, make tea & coffee rounds instead. It will make you look good and make you friends on the set, too.
6) Talk back
It’s easy to get bollocked when you’re just starting out. There are 10 things you shouldn’t really do on this list, but there’s hundreds out there in the real filmmaking world and doing any one could get you a telling-off. Some rules are really stupid. Some rules seem really stupid until you know the reason behind them. Whatever the case, things work a certain way and if you get something wrong there’s no use talking back to more senior members of the crew. Bite your tongue for now and save changing the world of filmmaking for when you’re Director.
5) Interrupt the Director when he’s working with Actors
Actors in film get precious little time to rehearse. Their main rehearsal period will be while the rest of the crew move the cameras and lights about, so it’s a critical time for the Director to relay as much as possible about his vision to them. Interrupting this exchange for anything other than an emergency / on the behest of the 1st AD is a big no-no, and doing it could get you some serious stink-eye from the ‘creative’ team.
4) Interrupt the 1st AD – ever.
The 1st AD is the person whose word is law. With a single instruction they can move cranes and trucks, cameras and lights, people and animals from one corner to the set to the other. They orchestrate the beautiful, complex choreography of people and machines that allows the making of a movie to take place. Are you going to stop them mid-flow to ask a question? No. Wait for them to come to you, or approach them when they’re looking the least angry, busy, shouty and frustrated.
This is a bit of a weird old wives’ tale, but we’ll say it anyways. Pointing is rude at the best of times, but rumour has it it’s especially rude on a film set. No idea why, but better be safe than sorry and use the open hand to gesture at things that need drawing attention to. ‘But what about all those pictures of Directors pointing at stuff?!’ we hear you murmur, suspiciously. We answer that all those pictures are staged publicity shots and not real documents of actual Directors doing their thing!
2) Touch things that aren’t your department
If this isn’t the cardinal rule of being on a set, we don’t know what is. The lighting guys work in the lighting department, and as a reward they get to carry heavy lights and cables around the place all day. The grip guys carry heavy poles and clamps and camera heads. The camera guys only touch things related to the camera. Departments don’t mix duties, because they don’t know each other’s equipment. Similarly, if you’re a PA or a Runner, DON’T TOUCH ANY EQUIPMENT unless you are specifically told to and supervised by someone from the department that thing belongs to.
1) Let your Actors see the monitor
It’s OK to say that Actors are vain. Even most Actors acknowledge it. With that in mind, why would you choose to let them see what they’re doing? The moment they catch a glimpse of themselves they’ll want to turn their head a bit more, get rid of that unflattering shadow, tuck in the hint of a double chin. As the Director, you want truth. As Actors, they want beauty. Who will win? Better avoid the whole issue, hide the monitor and repeat after me: ‘That was just FABULOUS darling, you looked DIVINE.’