If you’re a professional within the film industry, whether in Hollywood or beyond, chances are good you have spent quite a lot of time on hectic film sets. Moving from the sometimes years’ long slog of pre-production to the speed and intensity of active production can be confusing and overwhelming for many, not matter how experienced or professional they are.
Luckily, no matter how seemingly chaotic and kinetic the set may seem, there are some simple and straightforward rules you can look to follow in order to make sure that you are behaving professionally, respectfully and productively.
To help with your way around, whether this upcoming production is your first or 100th, here are some crucial and unwritten rules of etiquette for any film to television set.
Walk don’t run, whisper don’t shout
There is essentially no instance in which you should be running on a movie set. No matter what needs to be done, what your responsibility is and how much pressure you are under, the fastest you should be moving at one set is at a brisk walk. Make sure you are in control. The reason? People running on a film or television set are likely to generate a certain amount of discomfort amongst the people who are around them.
Remember that while your job is surely crucial to the film, the main focus should always be on what is going on directly in front and directly behind the camera. Drawing attention to yourself by running from place to place is not something you want to do.
Beyond that, with countless heavy and expensive machines and devices on many sets, running can put yourself, others and the expensive devices on set at risk.
When it comes to the volume of your voice, you would be wise to always consider the camera to be rolling, even if you know for a fact that it is not. You have no idea who needs to focus at any time on a film set and it is wise to actively try not to disturb anyone while you go about doing your daily work.
Understand who you should communicate with and who is in charge of you
Over the past 100+ years, the film set has been designed and refined to make sure that scene transitions and issues that arise during production can be processed and solved as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Whether it’s a massive scene with hundreds of extras, a stunt that can only be done once, or an emotional scene that requires top-tier acting, you have to know exactly what is expected of you so that you can serve as the most productive cog in the fast-moving wheel. When it comes to working efficiently, one of the best things producers and directors can do to make sure everything is ship shape is plan for everything and anything. Ideally, all factors can be considered alongside one another. One of the best ways to do that is through Setwerks, a brilliant program that allows producers to schedule and manage everything and anything involved with a successful film set.
On top of this, it is always important for you to know who you report to. Knowing who you report to and what they need of you is the best way to ensure that you are doing your part to keep the film set working. Failure to follow these important hierarchies can lead to miscommunications and can get in the way of the smooth and upbeat film set.
Listen to the director
This shouldn’t be too difficult of a concept to grasp, but you would be shocked by how many professional film sets have that one person who thinks it is their responsibility to tell others what to do. NEVER be that person.
Remember, that even though you may have bosses on set other than the director themselves, the director is the singular person responsible for setting the tone of the set. If they say something, you listen.
Beyond listening, you need to respect the wishes of those superior to you on set even if it may go against what you think is right. Likely, you are not being paid to offer your opinions on how a set should run. Because of that, even if you disagree with something your boss – or their boss – says, you should respect their wishes and do the tasks that are expected of you.
Unless you are on set to be working on any of the expensive and delicate machinery that is being used there, remember to keep your hands off and keep your distance at all times. Some devices that are regularly on film sets can cost tens of thousands of dollars, or more! It simply does not matter if something is in the way or you need to get somewhere fast, touching the equipment of other departments on set is not only ill-informed, it is downright taboo.
That being said, if you are in dire need of moving something, always make a point to ask either permission, or for someone in that department to do it for you. Ultimately, everyone on a film or television set is there for the same reason and all share a unified goal. Making sure that you go through the correct avenues when you need something or need something moved is the best way to make sure that you are keeping both yourself, and the others around you, safe.
When the camera is rolling, don’t move
The steps that lead up to the camera finally rolling follow a clear structure in almost every film and television set. To start off, the director will announce which camera shot they want to film. The next step is to rehearse. After that, shooting finally occurs until the director is satisfied with what has been shot. If you want to make life as easy for yourself and those around you during this process, make sure to stand still and out of the way. Of course, this rule changes if you are directly responsible for working while the camera is rolling or are asked to do something in between takes. If you are not, however, it is always a good bet to stay as out of sight and out of mind as possible.
After all, there have been some pretty infamous moments on film sets when someone decides to move and distract in between takes.
Don’t make corrections right before rolling
This is sort of an extension of the previous rule, but it should be emphasized on its own because it is just so important. The rehearsal period is taking place and you realize that some kind of correction needs to be made. So, when is the time to go in and make the necessary changes? Certainly not right before the camera begins to roll! As rehearsal begins to wind down, the actors, director, and other individuals tasked with working while the camera is rolling are working to get into the right focused headspace in order to perform at their best. The last thing any of them need is a long break right before the first take.
Keep in mind, the sooner you notice that something needs to be changed or fixed the better. Nothing is more annoying on a film set than when the director is satisfied with a take, but something has gone wrong that is under your responsibility that forces another take to be done. If you spot something, announce it immediately and get it taken care of as quickly as possible in order to avoid becoming a nuisance to any of the performers or creative individuals on set.
Behave as you would off set
Just because a film set is a less-than traditional work environment does not mean that any of the rules of manners and social etiquette do not apply there. Every single job on a film set requires a high degree of responsibility and pressure. They are also all essential for the film to run as smoothly as possible. All that to say, whether you are near the bottom of the totem pole on a film set, or reporting directly to the producers of the project, treat everyone around you with the same level of respect that you would want them to treat you. No one likes to be yelled at, and while sometimes harsh words must be said in any work environment, it is always best to keep it as positive as possible.
Finally, remember to enjoy the experience. There are thousands of people who dream of working on a film set. And you’re lucky enough to do it! Whenever you are feeling down, or wondering why you put yourself through all the hardships to begin with, remember what the ultimate goal is and what you are passionate about. While you may not be the famous actors or director on set, you are just as important when it comes to getting the work done from day to day.