A film set can be a chaotic environment. Crew members may have to work together across large distances. And communication is critical to saving time and money. For all of these reasons, many film crews use two-way radios or walkie talkies.
To gather the greatest efficiency from radio communications, the film industry has developed a specialised lingo and a set of rules for radio use. Learn the lingo and rules before your first film set assignment. You will be helping your team and avoid being labeled a newbie.
Two-way radios usually have multiple channels that allow many different communications, but only one person can speak on a channel at a time. You need to use proper language to signal when you are talking on a channel and when you have finished your message, so that someone else can talk. It is also important that you understand how channels are used by your particular film crew.
Most crews set up a channel specific to each department. Team members exchange brief instructions and responses on these channels. Other channels are usually left open. Use these open channels when you need to have a longer conversation.
Usually, Channel 1 is the main channel and is used by Production Assistants and Coordinators. Channel 3 is for Transportation. Channel 6 is Camera, Channel 7 is Electric and Channel 8 is Grip. Channels 2, 4 and 5 are open. Learn your department’s channel, stay tuned to that channel when not using your radio, and check the call sheet every day for any changes.
You are responsible for your radio equipment. You may have to replace it if you break it, and radios are not cheap. Keep the battery charged. Check your dials often to make sure you have not unknowingly moved to a different channel or changed your volume. Also, take care that you do not depress the speaker button by mistake and disrupt your department’s channel with an unnecessary broadcast.
A holster and earpiece will greatly improve your radio use. On some sets, these are in short supply. When using an earpiece or headphones, run the cords under your shirt for safety.
Most of us are familiar with basic radio lingo from cop shows and trucker movies. These general terms are listed below:
- Over – I’ve finished speaking
- Say Again – Repeat your last message
- Stand-by – I acknowledge your transmission, but can’t respond right now
- Go ahead – I can respond, go ahead with your message
- Roger or 10-4 or Copy – message received and understood
- Affirmative / Negative – Yes / No
- Out – Conversation is finished, the channel is clear for other users.
- Traffic – Transmitted communications
The movie business uses some unique lingo.
- 10-1, 10-100 and 10-2, 10-200 – bathroom break
- Going off Walkie – turning off the radio
- Walkie Check – used when coming back on the radio.
- Good Check – response to Walkie Check
- What’s your 20 – where are you?
- Eyes On X- how you ask if anyone has seen a person or thing.
- Flying In – bringing onto the set.
- Switch to 2 (or 4 or 5) – move the conversation to an open channel
- First Team – the actors in a scene
- Second Team – stand-ins or doubles.
Now that you know what to say on your radio, let’s talk about how to say it. First, think before you push the PTT button. In the beginning it helps to actually practice what you are going to say before you start. Once the button is depressed, wait for a beat before speaking. The radios can take a second to connect and you do not want the first part of your message to be cut off.
Speak slowly, calmly, and briefly. Remember that anything but short instruction and response should be taken to an open channel. Do ask for instructions to be repeated if you do not understand. It is a good idea to repeat instructions back in affirmation. Speak quietly when you are on set and don’t waste radio time with frivolity or jokes.
Finally, listen carefully the first few days on set and learn to recognise your team members’ voices. Say your name when speaking on the radio so that others can learn your voice and do not interrupt when others are speaking.
Pay attention to these simple rules and you will soon be using your “walkie” like a pro. But remember that no matter how proficient you become, there is a cardinal rule of radios on-set. If someone who outranks you needs a battery or an entire radio, you must give them yours, go find another or go without.
Departments may each have their own lingo and each production may have code words for talent. Often the phonetic alphabet is used to spell out words for clarity. The phonetic alphabet is listed below.
A – Alpha
B – Bravo
C – Charlie
D – Delta
E – Echo
F – Foxtrot
G – Golf
H – Hotel
I – India
J – Juliet
K – Kilo
L – Lima
M – Mike
N – November
O – Oscar
P – Papa
Q – Quebec
R – Romeo
S – Sierra
T – Tango
U – Uniform
V – Victor
W – Whiskey
X – X-ray
Y – Yankee
Z – Zulu