The Top 10 Best Practices On Set
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received came just months after getting into the film business. I was working on a big motion picture as an office production assistant. One day I was tasked with shipping the Dailies off to LA for review. Dailies are the unedited footage for a movie collected at the end of each day for viewing by the big wigs.
The box of film canisters was carefully packaged and handed to me. This was huge… I was told to take the box to the airport, and… “no matter what, they have to be on the plane TONIGHT… Don’t take no for an answer.”
When I arrived at the airport, I was told it was too late. The box wouldn’t go out until the next day… Remembering those final words, I was not going to take no for an answer. So I begged, pleaded, and somehow convinced them of the magnitude of this mission. Happy to say the Dailies arrived on time. Mission Accomplished That was over 25 years ago and whenever faced with a seemingly impossible task, no matter the project, set, or crew position, those words echo in the back of my mind.
There is always a solution you just have to take ownership and find it.
This brings us to The Top 10 Best Practices On Set. Work ethic is real and your work ethic gets noticed. There’s a saying in this business. “You are only as good as your last job.”
Follow these simple practices and your last job will always be your best job!
#1 Take ownership of the position you are hired for and the tasks you are assigned, no matter how big or how small. Find solutions, not problems!
#2 Leave your ego at the door. Production work isn’t about you. It’s about the Director’s vision. There is no room to consider any job or task on a set beneath you. Get water. Get lunch. Pick up trash. Offer to help with whatever is required to make the day go smoother.
#3 Respect the hierarchy … Yes there is a hierarchy on set and it should be respected at all times. If you are a camera person or production assistant… don’t give acting advice. In other words… Stay in your lane.
#4 Go the extra mile… You can still contribute your talents and respect the set hierarchy. Offer to help other departments if allowed. Check with the producer first. If you’ve worked in a restaurant you know this one… “If you have time to lean you got time to clean”
#5 Always be thinking one shot ahead. Troubleshooting is a huge part of helping to make the day go smoothly. Ask yourself what’s coming next, how can I help facilitate the next shot?… or … Lunch…
#6 Be prepared. Talk about going the extra mile… Bring your own PA Kit with you on set. Always print out the production schedule, script, etc.. beforehand. Include in your kit: clipboard, sharpie, pencils, gaffer tape, stapler, scissors, dry erase marker, wet wipes, and snacks for yourself. Put in a pockets belt pack, so you always have these essential items with you. Here’s the thing… if you’re always around to offer these tools to the crew when asked, it speeds up production, makes the day go smoother, and makes you an invaluable member of the team. This brings me to the next best practice…
#7 Always be seen and not heard. More listening, less talking…This doesn’t mean sitting in a chair within earshot scrolling through social media. It means always listening to what is needed on set and being available to pitch in, offer the sharpie, grab the water, or stand-in for lighting if necessary.
#8 NEVER…. EVER… put your drinks or snacks on the camera cart or audio cart. This is a huge no-no. Just because you see the camera people do it… doesn’t mean you can.
#9 Soft Sticks…. AKA My Biggest Pet Peeve…Sometimes on a small crew, you may be asked to run slate. This means it’s your job to call out or “mark” the takes. FIRST… The slate has a place for Scene Number and Take Number. Use a dry erase marker to write SCENE 1 TAKE 1 on the slate. Changing the takes each time the camera cuts. NEXT… Enter the Scene with the Slate OPEN, not closed, Stand where the camera operator tells you, usually in front of the talent. Say out loud “Scene 1 Take 1 Mark.” Then you clap the sticks PLEASE… Don’t do this with loud screaming enthusiasm if you slate right in front of a talent’s face…do it softly… that’s why they call it soft sticks… END MARK… This happens at the end of the scene (usually when you forget to slate at the top of the scene) here you do the same thing but hold the sticks upside down.
And finally….Best Practice Number 10… and in my opinion the most important.
#10 Share kindness not complaints! Yes, it’s long days. Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, it’s a lot of hurry up and wait. Get over it! This is one of the best / coolest jobs in the world, be grateful you’re a part of it.