On-Set Rules (#1-4)

typewriter_keyboard_01Hi there! Ranty-man is having a doze, so I thought I’d actually write something that actually might pass for actual advice – after all, that was the whole point of me starting this blog off in the first place.

Just like any workplace or social milieu, a film set has its own unique rules of behavior. I’m now going to stick my neck right out and attempt to make sense of these and write some of them down, even though the First Rule of Fight-Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.

Rule #1: Shut the fuck up

Seriously. I cannot stress this one enough.

There’s a good reason that the 1st AD calls “quiet for a take.” Even if you’re not recording sound, even if you’re just filming a pack-shot, you keep quiet and you’ll get the shot done a lot quicker and in fewer takes.

And don’t think you’re immune to this rule just because you’re off-set. We can still hear you.

I know I’m stating the bloody obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many times I’ve had to go for another take because someone was talking. If you’re talking, the odds are you’re not paying attention to the set and, therefore, to the shot.

This rule extends to that plastic lump in your pocket…

Rule #2: No mobile phones on set.

You’re observing rule #1 – it’s all quiet on set – everyone is focused for the take… then the phone rings… CUT!

This will get you thrown off set quicker than almost anything else.

When you get off the breakfast bus in the morning, turn your phone to silent. When you’re getting ready to go for the first shot, turn the damn thing completely off, or prepare for the bollocking of your life.

It’s an easy mistake and it catches us all out. My phone once rang while the word “cut” was still echoing around the set – I got a chorus of “oooh” and lots of air being sucked through teeth. A lucky escape.

I used to work with a 1st AD who had yellow and red ref’s cards in her pocket and would actually ‘send you off’ if your phone rang – that was a red-card offence.

Another 1st used to charge people a fiver every time their phone went off – people soon got the message.

I did a job where a Location Assistant’s phone kept ringing and it was really getting on the Director’s nerves. One night, we were shooting by a canal. The phone rang. The guy took the call. The Director let him finish his conversation then very politely asked if he could borrow the phone. The guy was dumb enough to hand it over. The director then threw the phone into the canal, turned to us and, without missing a beat, said “ok – so the next shot is…” and got on with the job. Location-monkey complained to the office and, strangely enough, it turned out his services were no longer required by production.

Even if you’re not shooting, if you’re on-set, get off your phone!

Rule #3: Respect the chain of command

Working on-set is a lot like being in the army – you get told where to be and when, when to eat, what to do. It’s little surprise that so many ex-forces people end up working on Film crews. I guess there’s a comfort and familiarity in the regimented routine.

Unlike the forces, being on-set is not a matter of life-and-death, even thought many of the people around you might act like it is. Don’t let that particular hysteria get the better of you, or you’re done for.

But that’s not Rule # 3. This is (and it’s worth stating twice): Respect the chain of command.

Like a military unit, the orders filter down from above, with each person being told what they need to know, according to their rank and responsibility. The Director only needs to tell a select bunch of people what their intentions are and it’s up to the Heads-of-Department to interpret and disseminate those orders to the foot-soldiers in their team (that’s you I’m talking about).

The problem is, a lot of Directors don’t understand this and they’ll try tell you directly. This results in you working for two masters – never a good situation to be in when the shit hits the fan and your day over-runs. People will soon figure out that you’re all running late because you’re trying to follow two contrary set of commands.

Like any good soldier, you have to know when to disregard a command when it would be to the detriment of the unit. Just listen to what the Director has to say, nod understandingly, then tell them you’ll pass that request on to your HoD.

Problem solved.

This rule applies to anyone who thinks they’re the boss of you, when they’re not. You can get this kind of trouble from all quarters, but I find Directors and Producers to be the worst offenders. Have you ever heard a Director suggest a lens for a shot when they clearly haven’t got a clue what the difference is? It’s really embarrassing for all concerned. What’s worse is working for a Director who used to be a DoP and who won’t leave the camera team alone.

Which segueways nicely into a rule on a more personal note…

Rule #4: Regarding the size of the Camera Department

Ask yourself this simple question: Am I part of the camera team?

If the answer is “no” then stop hanging around the camera. If you stand there for too long, the Grip will ask you to lift some heavy stuff. If you’re not up for that, then move along.

Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule.

The Continuity lady can hang around, as I’m just old enough to remember when Continuity was considered part of the Camera Team. Think about it: before there were loads of video monitors cluttering up the stage, Continuity had to stick by the camera, as looking through it was the only way of seeing the framed shot.

On-set key personnel from Makeup and Costume can hang around, on the proviso that they can put-up with the Grip and Focus Puller flirting with them at regular intervals.

The head of Standby Props is more than welcome to come by and say ‘hello.’ I know they like to check our monitor, rather than go all way back to Video Village.

The Camera Dept’s favorite runner can hang around, just as long as the coffee and tea keeps coming (that’s coffee, black with one and a chocolate bourbon – thanks). Don’t worry – we’ll get you on our next job as a Camera Trainee. The hard work and schmoozing does pay off, just don’t overdo it.

As for the rest of you, I’ve got some crane-weights that need shifting. Not interested? Then bugger-off back to Video Village, where you belong.

We know that everyone wants to be near the camera because, let’s be honest, it’s where the magic happens. You can’t help but get caught in its spell. But either retrain or go away. We’re not trying to be anti-social, or get all ‘us and them’, but how can you expect us to bitch about you when you’re standing right next to the dolly?


~ by mchawk on 29 December, 2008.

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