Apr 15

Film Set Etiquette


This is definitely one of those moments in life when I will say, “People, for the love of all that is holy to you, please pay attention!”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across talent and crew, equally, with absolutely zero film set etiquette.  This comes down to having some sort of work ethic, manners and education, at the very least.  How you conduct yourself and how you express frustration or stress, is very important and crucial to the future of your role — as an actor or a crew member.

I completely empathize with a rookie, I’ve been there, WE ALL HAVE, this is nothing new.  No matter which film set you work on, there will ALWAYS be one person on that set who has never, ever, been on a set before.  Now, unless you are one of the many AD’s, the LP, the UPM, the PC or something similar to these titles, DO NOT tell anyone what to do or how to behave.  Even if they are comfortable enough with you and ask what they should be doing… stop.  No.  It is not your place.  They have their own supervisor and that is who they need to be asking.  If you are a department head, then yes of course, delegate tasks, etc., to those who are in your department.  But if you are a department head, you know this by now and you don’t need me to tell you.   I hope to the film gods I don’t.

Honestly, no matter how many articles you read or classes you take, the only way to really learn something is from personal experience, and you can only know if something was handled properly or incorrectly in hindsight.  But you’re at Tips for Actors here and because we are so awesome and love to share what we have learned through the years and sets we have run, or worked on in some capacity, I’m throwing a few into the tip jar for you.  On us.

So, to make this post easier — for all of us — I’m going to make a list of some film set etiquette standards you should follow at all times, period.

BE EARLY:  This is a phrase I was taught by a Theatre professor early on in college and it is one to live by in almost every aspect of your life.  It works wonders when applied to arriving on set — stage or otherwise —  “If you are early, you are on time.  If you are on time, you are late.  If you are late, no, don’t even think about being late.”  This is a no-brainer, guys, there are no excuses unless it is a matter of life or death.  You will be excused in cases like that, of course, but grandma can only die so many times, you know?  At most, twice.  So leave with plenty of time to spare for whatever mayhem the outside world throws your way, and you won’t have to use poor ol’ grandma’s life as a cliché excuse for your tardiness.  Keep in mind: time is money.

WHEN YOU ARRIVE TO SET:   Crew: Immediately report to your department head.  1st Team Talent: report to your 2nd AD — he/she will escort you to wherever you are needed first.   BG: report to your 2nd 2nd AD — you will be escorted to bg holding, etc.

What’s slated for the day?  Take a call sheet at the top of the day, if you didn’t print it out at home the night before — it will save you the time it takes asking or wondering what the schedule looks like.

On DAY 1 of Production: introduce yourself to your department head and peers.  Make it a point to at least say hello to those around you, even if they are not in your department.  Make friends, because you are going to be spending a whole lot of damn time together.

  • CREW:  keep your mouth shut and eyes and ears open.  Always pay attention to what is being done, what needs to be done or what is coming up next.  Preventing accidents and moving at a quick pace is KEY to a positive working environment.  Do not give your department head and/or supervisor(s) your unwanted opinion, unless asked.  If they need your help or suggestion, trust me, they will ask for it.  When handling and moving large, heavy and/or hot equipment, ALWAYS, call out loudly: Points! Hot Points!  Whichever applies.  No one will move if you go around softly saying, excuse me.  What?  Crew reacts to either points or hot points.  They will move out of your way very quickly.  Lastly, NEVER plug items into available outlets, even worse, NEVER unplug anything from an outlet… you should ALWAYS ask Electric.  Bottom line is: you don’t know if that outlet is available or can blow a fuse and/or your device if used.  Electric is the only one with the answer to anything and everything “electric” on the property.
  • TALENT:   DO NOT, under any circumstances, give your “expert” opinion, suggestion(s) or friendly advice to a fellow actor.  They are your equal peer(s) and the only people allowed to freely open their mouth to express any of the above nouns to any talent is the Director, DP and/or 1st AD.  The reason I say this, with emphasis, is because the director could very well want (or have asked) their talent to deliver a line a certain way or blocked the scene a certain way for X reason and you are messing with their vision.  If it is something that is affecting your performance in a negative way and you want to discuss how to improve or work around what is happening, then please by all means, speak up — but speak up to the correct person.  Your peer is NOT the correct person to bring this up to.

ALWAYS BE POLITE & RESPECTFUL:   Say please and thank you — it doesn’t cost you anything to be courteous and appreciative.  You will (9 out of 10 times) be met with the same regard.  Don’t forget to smile.  A kind gesture will go a long way.  There is absolutely no need to be rude or disrespectful, nothing warrants that.  Letting things go and either brushing it off or taking it up with the chain of command is always the best approach.  DO NOT get into a physical altercation with anyone on set.  IT IS NOT WORTH IT.  EVER.

  • CREW:   If you’re going to crafty for any reason, offer to bring the peers in your department water or something to snack on.  If you have an extra hand and don’t mind asking anyone else around you — who is not in your department and busy working — if they would like something from crafty, you will be a hero.  Moviemaking is a collaborative effort and if one of us has a moment to step away while the rest of us are still breaking a sweat to get the next shot or scene set up, be an awesome person and help keep others hydrated and tummies not completely empty.
  • PA’s:   Separating you here from crew to make it clear that it is (technically) in your job description to bring water to set for the rest of the crew who cannot leave the set and for the talent.  It gets really hot, and sometimes claustrophobic, on set and it’s great to have water available when needed.  I am so, so aware that a PA has a million things to do — there are a 100 different people pulling you a 100 different ways — and it can be so completely overwhelming, that you think (if even for just a second), “this is bullshit and not worth my efforts at all.”  Seriously, who the hell wants to be a professional PA forever, right?  I’m here to tell you that it is worth your efforts in the beginning — WE ALL HAVE TO PAY OUR DUES — and you will get through it and be happy that you had the experience if the movie industry is where you absolutely want to remain for the rest of your working life.  Being a production assistant builds character and patience and tolerance for some of the most insane situations you’ll ever be in: it’s called filmmaking.  If you get through being a PA on a low-budget film set, my friends, you can do ANYTHING.  Don’t believe me, go ahead, ask away next time you’re on a set.

SPEAKING OF CRAFTY:   I have quite a few TIPS in this category.  Craft Services is godsend on a set and it keeps you going when the going gets tough, no doubt.  BUT!  READ: Crafty is not your own personal refrigerator stocked with food for you to consume to your heart’s content.  Be considerate of others… especially the very hardworking crew!  What most people don’t realize is that the crew arrives way before talent and wraps way after talent.  And no one stays longer than transpo and the production department… they will always be the very last to leave set.  There are exceptions, of course, like with everything… so, depending on what department had the heaviest day on set that particular day, they may be one of the last to leave, but the P.O. crew will ALWAYS be after you no matter what.  Been there, done that.

Getting back to crafty:

  • BG:   Being a background actor has its perks, and its disadvantages, sure.  I get it.  Disclosing some info about me here: even though I profoundly loathe being in front of the camera, and avoid it at all costs, I started off by working as bg on set — simply and solely because I WANTED MORE THAN ANYTHING to be on set — so, I do get it when I say, I get it.  But there is no excuse to EVER park your behind directly in front of crafty and grab several of everything on the table(s).  I should not have to even say this, but I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve seen poor crafty going out of their mind stocking up 3 times more frequently because the BG actors are being gluttons.  Do you wholeheartedly believe you have every right to take everything in sight, since you are at base camp or at holding, not doing anything other than playing on your phone or other electronic devices?  A tiny bit of consideration is the least you can extend the crew who will be on set for 12+ hours with no downtime, and the 1st team talent who also, usually, barely have a moment to breathe.  Yes, you’re working too, and you are allowed to pass by crafty and take a few snacks for yourself, no one is denying you that right or telling you not to go at all.  Please, do go and enjoy, just be moderate in your portions; remember you’re not the one who needs the most energy on set.
  • CREW:   If you’re part of a department that has lots of downtime, some of you do during certain moments, don’t spend it all, also parked in front of crafty.  Same logic applies to you as well.  I honestly hardly ever know where the hell crafty is even set-up, unless it is right outside of set.  I don’t have time to go to crafty often or to go crafty hunting, wondering where it is.  There are some days I don’t eat or drink anything until we break for lunch.  Not telling anyone to follow this lead, it’s actually not good or healthy in any way, but it’s just the way some days are laid out for me, because I’m running my department all by myself.  That’s set life.  No complaints.  I love it for what it is and am enormously grateful for every minute of it.

HMU & WARDROBE ARE NOT YOUR MOMMY:   Not trying to be a jerk — to not insert another word there — but a lot of the time spent on set as an actor is with the makeup and wardrobe departments, it can be a comfy place, understandably so.  In turn, you get very well acquainted with the people who are in charge of making you look pretty awesome and camera-ready… then naturally, somewhere in process of making nice, some of you make a mess.  I adore you guys, truly!  No lie; no exaggeration.  But, please, do not EVER think that these two lovely departments are your laundry room or bathroom, where you can freely toss all your belongings, all over the place.  Now, not every actor does this, not at all.  It is, honestly, only a handful of actors who, I don’t know, think it is their birthright to have others pick up after them?  Where they picked up such a concocted notion is beyond my understanding, apparently.

  • I WANT TO BE CLEAR: when you have to be on set and you need something held for you, to make you more comfortable or warmer in between takes or immediately after you wrap a scene and head back to base camp, I will ALWAYS happily hang on to anything for you.  No question.  It is my job, and it is my pleasure, to do so.  The issue is not that in any way, shape or form; the issue is the few who believe the makeup artist or costume designer is there to cater to their every whim, like mommy used to when they were a child.  Nope.  We are not there to clean your disasters, we are there in your best interest, to look after you appearance wise, and to an extent, comfort you when you’re on set shooting a scene(s).  If you feel more comfortable or safer asking one of us to please look after something for you in our department, instead of leaving it in your trailer or on set, by all means, please don’t hesitate to ask.  I have no problem whatsoever keeping something for any actor and making you more at ease knowing it’s being taken care of while you work on your scene(s) for the day.  Again, that is not the issue.  Regardless of what you do, we will always be super accommodating and pleasant — well, I speak for myself, of course — but return the favor, and our time together will be much more fun and lovely!
  • FRIENDLY TIP FROM THE WARDROBE DEPARTMENT:   Pin your rings to your bra or underwear.  Not a joke.  You will lose it somewhere along the way.  If you have a nude scene, well, in such a case, ask someone in wardrobe to hold on to your engagement ring or wedding band (for dear life).  It will be okay.  But for any other time, if you’re wearing clothing, it is a far better idea to pin it to your underclothes.  You’re welcome.

BE AWARE OF THE BIG PICTURE:   As I mentioned before, time is money.  Wasting time is wasting money.

  • Don’t complain, it’s unbecoming and irritating.  Every person on set has a list of things to do, so unless it is a safety issue or harassment of some sort, don’t complain.  Yes, we’re all there working long, endless hours, same as you or more.  We’re already exhausted, and maybe a bit agitated, and you’re only adding fuel to the flame.  Patience is a virtue.  Learn it and live by it.
  • Have fun!  Being on set is a privilege, so have a positive attitude.  Take everything in, it’s a different experience every time.  No two sets are alike.  Some will teach you many great things that you can take with you to other jobs and others will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.  No harm.  Move on.
  • Be prepared.  TALENT:  Know your lines.  Know what scenes are being shot.  But do keep in mind that not everything on the call sheet is written in stone, things get moved around all the time, so also be prepared to shoot a scene you thought was going to be scheduled at the end of principal.  Surprise!  We’re doing that right now!   CREW:  Have your tools, they will be needed to do your job.  It is best to have some sort of a tool belt, production bag or pouch you can strap to yourself, for safe keeping, and to have your tools on you at all times.  Don’t ever wear open-toe shoes, under any circumstances, it’s dangerous.  Always be “clothes” ready for all kinds of crazy weather conditions, because I’ve been on set a day that was supposed to be sunny and suddenly it’s raining, and vice versa.  The AD’s do not control the weather patterns — although they would LOVE to have such abilities — they only let you know on the call sheet what the weather forecast is for the next day and nature has a way of doing whatever the hell it pleases.  On that note: sunglasses, caps/hats to cover your head and face from being sunburned is important.  Sunblock and any other medication will be provided by the set medic, if there is no set medic for any reason, the P.O. or Crafty should have such items available for you.

There are many, many more tips, of course, but there is only so much I can write here — before you want to fall over into a comatose state — the jar is full for now.  Be alert!  Be safe!  Oh, and learn people’s names!

—  Koumendakis

P.S.  If there’s anything you’d like further explanation on (acronyms, terminology and whatnot), please, leave us a comment below and we will be delighted to answer any of your questions!  Don’t be shy.

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